Free Flash Fiction: “Breakfast on the Moon”

My third story in this year’s flash challenge was inspired by Anthony Jutz, who gave me the title. This story comes in at 1220 words, and is one of the few times I’ve written a in 2nd person PoV/present tense. (It doesn’t usually work for me, but in this case, I like how it turned out.)

Grab a snack and enjoy:

Breakfast on the Moon

Your AI beeps at you until your eyelids flutter open and your eyes, slowly, adjust to the screen in front of you, projected inside your helmet.

“I’m awake,” you mumble. “I’m awake. Stop… making… sound,” you add, struggling a little to find the words. The beeping stops but in its absence, the throbbing in your head actually feels worse. You check whether you can move your limbs, which, yes, are all there, and then scan the readouts for a sign of what’s happened to you.

“Armor is at 45%,” you say to yourself. Your AI already knows of course, but you want to figure this out for yourself. “Everything’s intact, though left leg and left forearm show radiating fractures. So, an explosion, close enough to knock me out, far enough away that I didn’t sustain any serious injuries.”

You make yourself stand up to be certain. You ache everywhere, but your bones support your weight and your armor remains airtight.

“Distance from the ship?” you ask.

“Approximately 340 kilometers,” your AI tells you, then adds, “but it’s in pieces.”

“Figures,” you say, mostly to yourself. “Which direction?”

“The ship is not operational at this time,” you’re told.

“I understand that, but we can salvage from it. Just tell me where to go.” You look around. You’re in a small gray valley, round, undistinguished. There’s a few pieces of twisted metal lying scattered near you – nothing identifiable. The sky is mostly clear, night-black, and full of stars. “C’mon now, buddy,” you say impatiently. “Let’s go.”

“The ship is approximately 340 kilometers–”

“I know that already.”

“Above you.”

You look up again. There is a smear of cloud above you that you’d already decided to ignore, except now that you think about it, the Moon doesn’t enough of an atmosphere to get clouds, so it’s a smear of something else, thinned out and spread across the sky.

“Hey buddy, did the ship explode?”

“Affirmative.”

This valley does look unnaturally round. More like a crater.

“Was I… onboard at the time?”

“Technically, you were falling toward the Moon’s surface at a high velocity when the ship detonated.”

“Okay. This is starting to make sense.” Sort of. “So… what made the ship explode?”

“You ordered it to self-destruct.”

“Why would I do that?” You shake your head but your memories are still in pieces.

“You said it was the only way to kill the Hive ship that had attached itself to us, and the Drones that were breaching our hull.”

“That is… one way to do that, I guess. Can’t go up, got to go somewhere. Is there a base nearby?”

“There was an outpost established 12.5 kilometers from this location. However, it is not currently transmitting on any known frequencies.”

“It’s a place to start,” you say. “And moving is better than standing. Which way?”

Your AI gives you the heading and magnetic declination. It takes longer than you’d like to climb out of the crater, and you can’t feel your left foot at all. Your knee itches, though.

The sensation is familiar.

Once you’ve finally scrambled over the rim, you can see the vast landscape sprawled out on all sides of your position, painted in shades of gray and white. You start walking. You tap open the screen on your arm, and scroll through comm channels, looking for a friendly voice.

It takes two hours to check and double check every frequency. You only hear static.

The itching seems to have moved further down your knee, into the top of your calf. It might have been… your arm? Maybe it was broken once? Or… fell off?

“Hey buddy,” you say, waking your AI. “I’m having some trouble remembering stuff. Did I maybe die a little?”

“The impact did end your biological functions.”

“Huh. Okay.” You look down at your foot. That part of your armor does look newer than the rest. “And then what happened?”

“Repair procedures were initiated. Due to the limited materials available, it took some time.”

“Do I want to know how long I was dead?”

“Protocol suggests that you do not.”

You don’t argue. Instead, you focused on putting one foot in front of the other, trudging across sand and rock, hundreds of thousands of miles from home. While you walk, you sort through the memories you do have, trying to put them into some kind of order.

“Hey buddy,” you ask after a while. “What’s ‘fish’?”

“As a noun, fish is an aquatic Earth animal, and as a verb, it is the act of harvesting that animal.”

“But it’s a food, right?”

“Affirmative.”

“Spam?”

“Food, and a slang term for unwanted communications.”

“Chicken?”

“Food, and the animal the food comes from.”

“Hmm. I think I’m hungry,” you say.

“That is not unreasonable, given the circumstances.”

“Because of how long I was dead?” You remember the protocol. “Right, no asking. Sorry, buddy.”

After another few kilometers, your proximity alarm beeps. There doesn’t appear to be a structure nearby, only soft dunes. You climb one until you’re standing at the coordinates your AI gave you.

“Is this maybe the wrong place?” you ask.

“The entrance to the outpost is no longer above the lunar surface.”

You think about that for a moment. “So I have to… dig?”

“Yes.”

Digging with only your hands takes time, but the ground is pliable enough that – after a few hours – you bump against a metal hatch. You wrench it open, and go down into the darkness.

Your AI sparks up your suit so you’re your own flashlight, and the helmet display includes a thermal and motion sensor readouts; it’s obvious this outpost isn’t just momentarily empty. Good old Earth military: there’s maps on the wall showing the way to all of the important places. You make a note of the infirmary, just in case, and head to the cafeteria.

Among the detritus left behind, you find a couple of crates of meal pouches, permasealed and (probably) still good. You crack open an “omelet” and a “pancakes with syrup” with one hand, grab a crate of pouches with your other hand, and take a seat at one of the tables.

“Hey buddy,” you say between bites. “This place was abandoned a long time ago, wasn’t it?”

“It appears so,” your AI admits.

You finish the pancakes and root around until you spot an “oatmeal with raisins, hot”. You tap it against the table to activate the heating coil. You don’t want to eat too much too fast, but your ankle really itches, and your brain has finished taking inventory of everything you should remember, but don’t. Besides, it’s not like you’re going to have to share with anyone else for a while.

You need something to eat the oatmeal with, though, and you can’t quite find the word for the thing you want. Shovel? Tool?

Your brain is starting to itch now, too.

“Okay, buddy. I think it’s time you tell me what happened.”

“Protocol – ”

“I don’t care. I’m overriding your protocol.” You stand up. “You are going to fill me on everything I want to know, and I’m going to find a spoon.” You pause, realizing your accomplishment.

“Hey, buddy,” you tell your only friend, “I think this is going to be a pretty good day.”


If you liked this and want to inspire your own story, you can get on the list by donating any amount via my PayPal, here:

You can read more about that, including last year’s flash stories, here.

Last week, I posted two other stories. Read them here:

Free Flash Fiction: “The Roaring Silence”

My notes for this one are at the end, so there won’t be spoilers… #SFWAPro

The Roaring Silence

James sat behind his desk, listening to the couple in front of him talk over each other.

“These behaviors keep going on –” the wife said.

“But that’s not fair –” her husband tried to interject.

“– no matter what you promise –”

“– because you know how work has been lately –”

“– I understand, you know I understand –”

“– I’m not saying your job isn’t hard but I –”

James held up both hands until he got their attention, and the room quieted. “Okay,” he said in a calm, measured, voice. “I hear a lot of tension and that’s completely normal, but we want to make sure that expressing our concerns isn’t getting in the way of hearing your partner’s concerns, too.”

“Yeah, okay, but –” the husband started in, and the wife rolled her eyes, and jumped back into the argument.

While his patients went at each other, James sat back in his chair, and thought about ordering from that Chinese place for dinner. Maybe he’d have it delivered and eat it at his desk like he often did…

He pulled himself away from that thought long enough to wrap up their session, and ushered the couple out of his office with some pleasant-sounding but generic advice he didn’t quite remember a few minutes later. It was after 6 in the evening, so his Stacy (his receptionist) had already gone home, but she’d left out a couple of menus just in case he wanted to work late again. James thought about the case files waiting for him, and decided, this once, to call it a night and finish up today’s work first thing in the morning.

Downstairs, with his coat collar turned up against the late Spring cold, James pushed the front door open with one elbow, and turned in a half circle to carefully maneuver around an elderly woman who had picked that moment to enter the building through that same door.

“Thank you, dear,” she said softly.

James nodded silently, holding his breath – and his belly – in while she scooted by.

On the street, he exhaled loudly. An attractive woman standing nearby noticed, frowning. She turned away and waved for a taxi before James had a chance to explain. He looked down, his shoulders dropping, and walked in the other direction.

As he turned a corner, the street noise dwindled around him, fading into nothing, damped as if he’d lowered a pillow over his ears, and only the faint sound of tinkling, old-timey piano music floated past him on the wind.

A young couple, laughing over their phones, passed him by, and the sound of the world came back on their heels.

James reached the subway entrance and his stomach rumbled. He tilted his head up and sniffed.

“Popcorn?” he said to himself. He looked around, but couldn’t find the vendor, and didn’t want to risk making eye contact with the young black man sitting on the platform next to an upturned hat and a sign that read Homeless and Disabled Please Help.

“Another time,” James said so quietly it was nearly a whisper, to the man, or the unseen popcorn vendor, or both.

He took the seat second-closest to the train’s doors, just as he always did, with his hands folded in his lap, and counted the minutes until they pulled into his station.

As the train slowed, James took his briefcase in one hand, stood up, and positioned the worn leather case in front of his chest like a shield; he fixed his gaze on the far wall, and took a deep breath.

The doors opened, and the crowd – oh, the rush and pull of the crowd! Like a wave crashing against James’ shore! He pushed himself forward resolutely, made it out of the train car, and up the stairs to the street, ignoring all jostling and elbows, all cries or claims or conversation around him.

He made it the two blocks to his favorite Chinese takeaway counter before he relaxed enough to lower his briefcase.

“Hello, how are you, come in!” the hostess said brightly. “Are you picking up or placing an order?”

“Placing, please,” James said, looking at the lacquered sticks holding her black hair into a loose bun at the back of her head. “To go.”

“Of course, of course,” she said, nodding. She kept nodding as he gave her his usual request: steamed brown rice, chicken with broccoli, and a cup of wonton soup.

There were a pair of tiny pink elephants hanging from the end of each hair stick. Every time the hostess dipped her head, the elephants danced.

“Oh, do you want a napkin for that?” she asked suddenly, pointing at his cheek.

He reached up with his free hand and wiped something greasy away. When he looked at his glove, there was a smear of chalk-white makeup on the fingertips.

“Yes, please,” he said, shook, nearly stuttering. “Someone on the train. Must have bumped me.” He dabbed at his cheek with the napkin she handed him. “It’s not mine.”

“Of course,” she said, nodding again. She moved on to the next customer, and James shoved the napkin into his coat pocket angrily.

By the time he got home, he’d lost his appetite. He put the takeout containers, still in their bag, into the refrigerator, and sat at the kitchen table, turning the napkin over in his hands. The makeup felt warm, soft, but solid. It didn’t crumble.

He had a vague feeling as if he should know what it was, but couldn’t remember.

Later, in pajamas, teeth brushed, and the comforter on his bed turned down, James heard the music again. It was the song he’d heard on the street, before those kids had stumbled by, engrossed by their devices. It was very faint, but it sounded as if it was coming from close by, just outside perhaps, or –

From inside of his closet?

He turned slowly, saw the closet was shut tight, and almost brushed off the whole silly idea, when he realized there was a light coming from underneath the edge of the door. It didn’t look quite like the familiar yellow glow of the light that had been in there for years. It was… smokier, somehow.

The music changed, or deepened? Layered in with the organ was… James wasn’t sure.

He carefully lowered himself to a crawling position, putting his head almost on the floor, but from across the room, he couldn’t see anything unusual.

On hands and knees, James inched toward the closet door.

He smelled popcorn.

He went closer, close enough he could reach out and touch the light that splashed onto his rug, if he wanted to. The extra sound, he knew then, was the muffled chatter of people, dozens or hundred of people, milling around in a small space. He knew that sound from somewhere deep in his childhood, a place long boxed up, put away, and forgotten about.

From under the door, a small blue rectangle of cardboard shot out, gliding over the floor and coming to a stop right under James’ noise. He picked it up, turned it over, and read exactly the words he expected to see:

Admit One.

Richard Baron asked me to write a story about an unseen carnival, and this is the result. It’s another “long” flash story, at 1207 words. The name comes from the title of a 1976 album by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, which included “Blinded by the Light”, my favorite carnival-related rock song (even if it’s a more-fun cover of an unsuccessful Springsteen original).

The feeling I wanted to capture — of distancing yourself from everyone and everything, only to feel something’s missing that you can’t quite put your finger on… that’s just life, for too many folks.

I think it doesn’t have to be.

If you liked this and want to inspire your own story, you can get on the list by donating any amount via my PayPal, here:

You can read more about that, including last year’s flash stories, here.

Monday’s story was Mrs. Lesley and the Campers of Troop 83 Vs The Giant Blacklegged Tick of Contrary Knob.

Free Flash Fiction: “Mrs. Lesley Vs the Tick”

Okay, so this one is about 1250 words, which is definitely pushing the limits of “flash” fiction, but I had so much fun writing it I just wanted to keep going. #SFWAPro

Today’s story prompt is courtesy of Jason Sizemore (from Apex Magazine), who wanted to “gift” his editor Lesley Conner with a story about her, a camping trip, and a really big tick…

Mrs. Lesley and the Campers of Troop 83 Vs The Giant Blacklegged Tick of Contrary Knob

The sun beat down on the campers of Troop 83 as they dropped their gear heavily to the ground, and with the kind of sighs only weary teenage boys can make, flopped beside their packs. Only their substitute troop leader seemed energetic. She stood near the edge of the clearing, looking out over the wide valley, and the twisting path they’d all just climbed up the mountain.

“Isn’t it beautiful, boys?” She spread her arms wide. “Look at that view!”

Behind her, the campers struggled to get upright. An older child raised a hand with his thumb up, but fell over with a thud.

“Mrs. Lesley?” one red-haired boy called out.

“Dude, her first name is Lesley,” the boy next to him whispered loudly. “She has the same last name as me and Quinn.”

“It’s okay, Bradley,” his mother said to him, and to the rest said, “You kids can call me Mrs. Lesley if you want. What do you need, Jonathan?”

Jonathan stood up, pulling a dark-haired boy up with him. He signed as he spoke, his hands moving along with the words.

“We need to eat dinner,” he said. He looked at the other boy, who signed back at him. “Matty would like some more water, please.”

“Who here has their Wilderness Cookout badge?” Lesley asked, looking at Matty so he could see her lips move. He raised his hand; Jonathan and another boy did, too.

“Okay, you,” Lesley said, pointing, “and Jimmy, you three can be my helpers. Why don’t the rest of you set up the tents?”

Jimmy, who’d been using his pack as a pillow, said, “Yes, ma’am!” and stood. He stretched dramatically, making a show of bending and reaching, until Lesley had turned away to start a campfire. “You guys figure it out,” he hissed suddenly. “Are we still doing this or what?” He jogged to the fire, throwing one last glance at the rest of the boys over his shoulder.

“Gather around,” Bradley said loudly, so his mother could hear. When the campers were huddled up, he lowered his voice. “Did everyone bring their assigned supplies?”

“Mr. Brad isn’t here,” Quinn said. “We can’t sneak off with Mom watching us.”

“Mr. Brad told us the whole plan,” Bradly shot back. “We’re already here. We can’t just go camping with that thing out there, eating deer and dogs.”

“I don’t know,” another boy — David — said. “It’s not the same without Mr. Brad.”

“Well, he broke his leg, and it’s going to be another 6 weeks before he can walk,” Kendrick whispered. “If we wait, it’ll already be summer.”

“Yeah,” Bradly agreed, “and who knows what the monster will eat next. Maybe some campers,” he added with a knowing look.

The others nodded.

“Do you kids need help with the tents?” Lesley called out.

“No!” they all yelled back at once.

“Let’s do the tents and then we can check over the supplies after dinner,” Quinn said. The rest agreed, and broke off to put their Tent and Lean-To badges to work.

Later, after a dinner of hot dogs and cheesy pasta, and an hour of singing campfire songs while Matty and Jonathan made them all s’mores, the sun had set. The boys said goodnight to their substitute troop leader and pretended to go back to their separate tents. When it was much, much, darker outside – darker than a power outage, darker than an iPod with a dead battery – they snuck out of their pup tents with their secret stash of supplies, and met up a few hundred yards away, where the trees blocked any view Mrs. Lesley might have of their flashlights, if she was still awake.

Quinn scribbled on a notepad while his older brother held the light over the page, and the other boys crowded around to read.

“Show what you’ve got,” it said.

One by one, the boys pulled out an assortment pulled from kitchen drawers and the backs of closets: three magnesium road flares, a package of yellow rubber gloves, a half-box of wooden matches, a fancy chef’s cleaver, still in its black box. That last was from Jimmy, who grinned as he handed it over.

“Any other weapons?” Quinn wrote.

A pause, then the others shook their heads. Jonathan waved his hand until Quinn handed the notepad over, then wrote:

“I have two bug bombs and a can of tick repellent!!” And next to it, a drawing of a six-legged bug with Xs for eyes.

David laughed when he saw it, but was quickly shushed.

Bradley took the notepad and pencil away. “I have the map and the compass,” he wrote. “Let’s go.”

Suddenly, from out in the darkness: Snap!

For a moment, no one moved a muscle.

“What was that?” David whispered. Matty shook his head, frowning, so David repeated it in sign, and added, “Sorry.”

“A bear?” Matty signed back.

The boys listened, but heard nothing.

Suddenly, they were bathed in light.

“No, honey, I’m not a bear,” Mrs. Lesley said.

“Mom, I can explain –” Bradley started, but she raised her hand to stop him.

“Oh, I know what you’re doing out here. You’ll all planning to get yourselves killed,” she said. “Back to camp. Now.”

When the campers were once again seated around the fire, their substitute troop leader looked over their pilfered supplies. She sighed a couple of times, checked the map more than once, and sighed again.

“I suppose Brad thought this would be enough for you to take on the Giant Blacklegged Tick of Contrary Knob,” she said finally. “Normally, I’d say you have to treat your troop leaders with respect, but there’s a reason that man broke his leg changing a flat tire.”

Matty was the first to speak up, signing, “You knew? You’re…” he paused, fidgeting.

“A mom?” she said as she signed back. “Yes I am. Do you boys know what else I am?”

They shook their heads no.

“I’m a lifetime member of the Scouts, and I have my Battle Bugs merit badge.” She smiled widely. “My troop took down the Devouring Tuber Worms of Red Marble Corner in ‘85.”

“So, you’re not mad at us?” Quinn asked quietly.

“Well, I’m mad that you were going to go charging off without a decent plan or real weapons,” she said, putting her hands on her hips. “But mostly I’m going to to have a word with Brad about that when we get home.”

Bradley jumped up. “We can’t just go home!” he exclaimed. “We still have to take down the Tick. It’s eating dogs and deer and, and – it’s going to get people next.”

“We have to do something, Mom,” Quinn added.

Lesley shook her head, turned, and stepped into her tent.

Matty signed, questioning, and David shrugged his shoulders in reply.

She reappeared a moment later, dragging a large duffle back heavily across the ground. “Of course we’re going to do something about it, boys,” she said, and opened the bag.

Inside, a pile of sharp metal edges glinted in the firelight.

“Wow, Mrs. Lesley,” Jonathan said. “That’s a lot of swords.”

“There’s a few axes in there, too,” David said.

“I also have my Weaponsmith merit badge,” Lesley said. She carefully picked out a faded scout sash, completely covered in bright-colored patches, and put it on.

“All right, boys. Choose a weapon, gather around, and listen up. You’re going to do exactly as I say…”


If you liked this and want to inspire your own story, you can get on the list by donating any amount via my PayPal, here:

You can read more, including last year’s flash stories, here.

10 Questions About My Writing, Answered

I saw this series of questions going around Twitter, but rather than answer them individually in under 140 characters, behold! A blog post.

1. What kind of writer are you?

I am the sort of writer who writes everything (nonfiction, fiction, essays, articles, literary stories and every other genre marketers have come up with to date), has more story ideas than time, and who genuinely loves everything about the writing process except the fact that it doesn’t pay the bills.

I am the sort of writer who can’t afford to be a writer full-time, not yet, and I miss writing when I’m not, but I feel incredibly guilty when I write for myself instead of the forty other things on my To-Do list at that moment.

I am the sort of writer who’s comfortable being known as a short story writer, or a novelist, or a journalist, or any other flavor of writer, as long as at the end of my life, I’ve completed enough good, solid, work that it can be accumulated into a collection worth reading.

I’m the sort of writer who’s in no particular rush to be famous, but I love hearing when my writing made you feel or see something new, or remember something forgotten, or reconsider yourself. I want to know that at least one other person has gotten out of my words what I put into it. That, and eventually being able to write my way into a decent paycheck and a saving account, are all I want from my writing life.

2. What was it that made you become a writer?

As far as I know, I’ve always been one. When I was very small, before preschool, I was writing stories and drawing pictures, like most little kids do. The first story I clearly remember: I was 4 years old. It was about the life of a unicorn named Fred, who was of course a girl; I wrote it in pencil, on pages and pages of that cheap wide-ruled paper you’re supposed to practice your handwriting on. I illustrated it, too.

I remember being told that my writing was very good, but my art wasn’t, and deciding that okay, I wouldn’t be an artist, but I could keep writing. Up until that point, I’d struggled to make people care about or hear what I had to say, but this story, written down on paper instead of words coming out of my mouth, my mom liked. For a minute, we had connected. I felt understood.

I wanted that feeling forever.

3. Are you super critical of your own work?

It depends on the piece. When I know it’s good writing, it tends to be easier to write; I’m not self-editing every other word, and I enjoy the process of getting the story out onto the page. I write quickly, revise only a little, and am happy with the finished product.

Other times, it takes me years to finish a story, because I know it’s not quite right before I’ve even written it. I’m going to turn it around in my head, let my lizard brain grapple with it, for as long as it takes to figure out what’s wrong. Sometimes, I don’t ever figure it out, and I’m not comfortable sharing those “broken” stories with the world.

4. What do you do to combat writers block?

For me, “writers block” means “I don’t want to write the thing I’m trying to force myself to write”, so I stop trying to write it. I either recognize that there’s something else I want to write more, and jump onto that, or I can see that the piece I’m struggling with isn’t working because I don’t know enough. I have a great setting but I don’t have the plot, or I haven’t done enough research, so I go back to the drawing board and hammer out the missing pieces.

After I’ve written the other thing, or fixed the problem with the thing I’m balking about, it tends to be a lot easier for me to write what I’d intended to do first.

Continue reading

Current novel in progress: Caudal Ballad

#SFWAPro

shark-tail

Caudal Fin

I’ve settled on the novel project that most needs me right now, or at the least the one which won’t let me go. It’s Caudal Ballad, a title that might change later, but works for me at the moment.

I described the elevator pitch for it as “Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, if it was about ghosts and women, and was written by the Illuminati,” on Twitter and Facebook, and got several responses of, basically, “Take my money!” so I’m feeling pretty good about that.

Of course, an elevator pitch doesn’t tell much more than how marketing might sell it, so here’s the expanded version:

It’s the story of several people who find themselves in the same small NY college town when weird and bad things happen.

The story is told mostly chronologically, but not quite.

Interspersed with the tale are quotes and information about printing and typesetting in early America. These bits are relevant to the story. Eventually.

It’s about ghosts.

It’s about physics.

It’s about the astronomical theory of the multiverse.

It’s about what it’s like to be a woman trying to survive alone, at the margins of society, with no family or money or support.

It’s about the way we move through the world when we’re suffering from mental illness, or an excess of dead people, or both.

It’s about the relationship between townies who are stuck in place, and well-funded grad students who are in town to attend an Ivy, and aren’t limited by anything at all.

Some of the extra bits between chapters are architectural drawings, notes from town meetings a hundred years ago, or scribbles on the backs of postcards. Those bits are mostly relevant, too.

It’s about the invisible city on the other side of your town that, if you can get to, you’ll never come back from.

It’s about memories and self-destructive behavior and how “self-defense” doesn’t always look that way from the outside.

It’s about the monster under the bed.

It’s about sex and money and other kinds of power.

But mostly it’s about ghosts.

I’m going to post excerpts to my Patreon over the next few months as I finish up my current draft, and share thoughts about the process. If you want to follow along, and throw a few dollars my way so I can keep writing, please consider joining me there.