FLASH FICTION CHALLENGE #2: Diplomatic Relations With Angry Rabbits

Over the weekend, I asked people on Twitter and Facebook for random writing prompts. From those, I wrote seven micro and flash fiction stories. I’ll be posting them here over the next week.

The second story is courtesy of Leeman Kessler, who suggested the first line of the story. I wrote the rest, for a total of 1200 words — the longest “flash” story I wrote this week — posted below.

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Diplomatic Relations With Angry Rabbits

“Sorry to disturb you, Mr. Mayor, but the rabbits are back.” At least Siobhan was kind enough to look sympathetic when she said it.

Evan Mikumba smiled slightly. “Thank you,” he said. “You may send them in.” She nodded and left.

Easy for her to feel sorry for me, he thought. She doesn’t have to find a way for us to live together. He shuffled random papers on his table, trying to put the thought out of his head. He didn’t have any proof that the rabbits could read his mind, but they had an uncanny ability to discern the mood of the humans around them. Evan didn’t want his city to end up like that village, Oswald, that collapsed a few miles away.

This group of rabbits had made contact with them, first.

Evan focused on his mental list: Easter bunnies, Beatrix Potter bunnies, Pat the Bunny… He took a deep breath, and forced himself to relax.

They padded in softly, the rabbit envoy and her brood-staff, on all fours. They moved with a jerky, jumping motion that Evan carefully avoided thinking of as a ‘hop’. It as only when he stood up that the rabbits, taking their places in the room, sat back on their heels.

Evan walked around the desk, putting his hand out. “Envoy,” he said as a greeting. She put out her paw, and he shook it, once. Her huge white muzzle came to just below his chin, but the tops of her stiff ears were over his head. She watched him with enormous orange eyes.

Velveteen Bunny, Guess How Much I Love You?

“What I can do for you?” he asked.

“We agree to dig our warrens deeper,”she replied, her voice so high-pitched it hurt his ears. “No more of your buildings will collapse.”

“Wonderful! Our engineers can help-”

“Not needed,” the Envoy said, cutting him off. “We know the earth.”

“Of course,” he said. “You’re right. Thank you.”

The Envoy’s furry face was impossible to decipher. Her whiskers twitched.

“Your food offering is not acceptable,” she said. “We need more, to make peace.” One ear flicked, and from behind her, a slightly smaller, brown-haired rabbit stepped forward.

“We need food for fifty mouths more,” it said. Evan couldn’t guess at its gender. “We visit the amount again in one year.” He wondered at its color. Is this what ‘nut brown’ means? Out loud, he said, “I can get the council to agree to that, if you will fill in the tunnels by the end of the month. We have houses and businesses, whole blocks closed off. My people need to go home.”

“Yes. There is more.” The Envoy looked at him, unblinking, for a long moment. “We also needed the Elgin.”

Evan was startled. He took a step back. “What?”

“The Elgin man. We took him, to make peace.”

“I told you that Doctor Clark is an old man. We agreed that we weren’t going to turn him over. How did you get to him?”

“We took the house. From below.”

Evan jumped, startled. The largest rabbit in the back of the room, a monstrosity of muscle under black and white spotted fur, stepped forward, teeth bared.

“The Elgin, for peace,” the Envoy repeated without flinching. “You were given time to provide him. Decide now if you want peace to continue.” Without waiting for an answer, she flicked her ears, signaling the other rabbits, who dropped to all fours and filed out of Evan’s office.

Evan waited. Siobhan came in a minute later, and shut the door behind her. “They’re gone,” she said quietly. “What did they want?”

“Nothing much,” he lied. “Get Sheriff Lee and that professor from the university on the phone. Have them meet me up the quarry in 30 minutes.”

“Why do you need them, Mr. Mikumba?” Siobhan was obviously worried – her brows were furrowed and her pale blue eyes were tearing up. “My uncle was Oswald. Are we safe here?”

“It’s fine, Siobhan. We just need to organize the food for the rabbits, and we’re looking at the quarry for storage.” He moved closer to her, putting one hand firmly on each of her shoulders. “This is all going to work out.” He grabbed his coat from the back of his chair, and left.

At the quarry, Evan stood by the edge, looking down in the brackish water far below. Behind him, he heard cars approaching on the gravel road. The cars stopped; doors opened and shut.

I liked Bunnicula, Evan thought. I really did.

“What’s this about, Mikumba?” Sheriff Lee called out. Evan turned around. Lee wasn’t a big man, but his thick Texas accent and oversized swagger made him seem larger. Next to him, Dr. Kessler seemed too tall, too lanky, too pale for a man who’d lived a decade under the southern sun.

Evan explained his meeting. Lee swore at regular intervals, a colorful mix of Korean words and good ol’ boy phrases that Evan had asked him, more than once, not to use in public. Kessler was silent until Evan finished.

“I can tell you there’s no way to safely exterminate these animals,” Kessler said. “Clark tried, for decades. Explosives, electricity, fire. He was never been able to get them all.”

“What about chemicals?” Evan asked. Kessler shrugged.

“Hormones caused this in the first place. Clark kept experimenting on them, made them smaller, but accidentally made them a lot smarter, too. They evolved vocal chords. It’s, it’s…” he moved his hands in the air wildly. “It’s impossible, and yet, here they are. Creating a government and making demands.”

“I’ve been tellin’ ya it ain’t no accident they burrowed under the city,” Lee said. “They had a plan all along.”

“My studies would lead me to agree with the Sheriff,” Kessler said. “The seismic team hasn’t been able to radar every inch of the warren, so it likely extends far beyond what we’re estimating, as well. I’ve gotten reports that some of those tunnels come up higher under strategically placed targets. If we don’t comply…”

“The city falls down,” Lee finished for him. Kessler shrugged again.

“Exactly.”

“What about the National Guard?” Kessler asked. “I haven’t seen them since they rolled out last month.”

“They were recalled,” Lee told him. “President won’t send the Army against talking rabbits. He’s considering a ‘diplomatic solution’, he says. As if my 12 gauge ain’t diplomatic.”

“Didn’t some of your deputies already try that?”

“Well, I told ’em not to, but yeah, a couple of the stupid ones went off on their own. Didn’t none come back.”

“If we can’t fight them, we need to appeal to them,” Evan said. “We can’t allow them to just take man for whatever kind of justice rabbits come up with.”

“Oh, I think Clark is gone already,” Kessler said. “Rabbits fight to the death, and eat the loser. It’s, uh, really quite violent.”

“Bunnies are supposed to be cute,” Lee said, shaking his head. “I had a pet bunny as a kid. Loved that thing.” He sighed.

Guess How Much I Love You? Evan thought.

“What choice do we have? I’ve decided: we work together,” he said aloud. “For peace.”


Want to write like this? Take my online flash fiction workshop, beginning September 2! Registration is now open — read more and sign up here.

Flash Fiction Challenge #1: “Visitation of Irba”

Over the weekend, I asked people on Twitter and Facebook for random writing prompts. From those, I wrote seven micro and flash fiction stories. I’ll be posting them here over the next week.

The first is courtesy of Paul Michael Anderson, who suggested a story with an orphan and an old man, using the Christ story. All in a flash length piece of fiction. (No pressure, right?) That idea resulted in 1165 words — the top of what’s usually considered “flash” — posted below.

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Visitation of Irba

“It’s hot,” the boy said, pulling at the sweat-damp fabric of his shirt with his slender fingers. “I don’t like it out here.” He sighed then, a long breath that seemed to pull his whole body down as he exhaled. “It’s been all day already,” Dominik said. “It’s my birthday,” he added hopefully.

“Of course it is, little bunny. That’s why we’re here.”

Dominik looked around. “The sun is setting.”

“I’m sorry,” the old man said. “I thought it would be sooner, but we need to wait for it to happen.” He opened a pocket on his faded grey jacket. “I have saved this for you,” he said as he handed over an orange lollipop, still in a wrapper. “It is the last one, so take your time.”

“The last one ever, Grandpa?”

“Maybe,” the man said. “I hope not. Orange is my favorite flavor.”

“Mine, too.” Dominik unwrapped it carefully, handing over the torn plastic. His grandfather tucked the wrapper into his pocket, hand trembling slightly.

“Tell me about that one,” Dominik said, pointing at his grandfather’s chest before plopping the candy into his mouth. A faint breeze kicked up dust at their feet.

“It’s when they made me a general.”

“And that one?” Dominik asked around a mouthful of lollipop, pointing at a different medal.

“That was for living.”

“You get a medal for living?”

“You do when you’re the only one,” his grandfather said quietly. After a moment of silence, he added, “It was for Volgograd. For the battles.”

“I remember that one. The smoke blacked out the sun.”

“Volgograd was lost before you were born. You’re thinking of when Leninsk fell.”

“Oh.”

The air stilled, hot and dry.

After a while, Dominik took the lollipop stick from his mouth, slightly chewed. He rolled it between his fingers, back and forth. The old man took a worn handkerchief from his pants pocket and dabbed at his brow, watching the child, but saying nothing. Eventually, Dominik put his hand out, holding the stick above the hardened dirt. He looked at his grandfather.

“Why does it matter if we drop our trash?” Dominik asked, not for the first time. He hadn’t let go of the stick, though.

“You know why.” Dominik didn’t speak. “Fine,” the man said, “you will hear it again. We’ve destroyed enough of this world. The cities are gone. Even villages like what used to be here, are gone. Your parents – my daughter Marya – all gone.” The man coughed, a tiny sound, quickly muffled when he put the handkerchief to his mouth.

When he took it away, Dominik could see spots of red on it. “I’m sorry, Grandfather,” he said. He put the lollipop stick into the pocket of his shorts, and made a show of patting his pocket. “There. It won’t fall out.” He smiled, the first time in hours.

“I need you to be a good boy,” the man said, “because I was not.” He picked up the bottle at his feet, and shook it. Only a little water remained, sloshing around the bottom.

Dominik looked at the bottle thirstily, but didn’t reach for it. Instead, he asked, “Will you tell me a story? From when you were my age?”

The man placed the bottle into Dominik’s hands, gently pushing it toward him. As the boy gulped down the last of the water, a distant rumble grew closer. The ground trembled beneath their feet, and then stopped. Dominik looked all around in a panic, but his grandfather put a hand on his shoulder.

“When I was exactly your age,” he said, “I lived in the village this used to be. We called it Irba. The stone we sit on used to be the wall of the church where I was baptized.” He coughed again – Dominik grabbed his arm, but his grandfather gently waved him off. “I am fine, little bunny. Everything will be good again soon.” But he looked older than he had that morning, and in the places where he wasn’t red from the sun, his skin was gray.

“I was a happy child,” the man continued. “I loved being here with my mother. Her name was Marya, too.”

Dominik made a face. “I don’t remember her.”

“My mother died before you were born.”

“No,” Dominik said quietly. “I don’t remember my mother. Maybe, but I’m not sure.”

The old man took the child into his arms then, holding him stiffly, without saying anything for several minutes. When he spoke, his voice cracked.

“My father died before I was born, so all of my early happiness was due to my mother. She was a saint, and she loved me. But when she married my step-father, Josef, all of my days were joy. He loved us both, and made certain we knew it.”

Something black streaked overhead, falling impossibly fast at the earth before them, trailing smoke. It crashed, throwing up debris and noise and a hot wind that rushed through the scraggly trees and blew dust into their faces. Dominik cried out, and buried his face in his grandfather’s jacket.

“It’s all right, it’s all right,” the man said softly. “It’s far away. Now listen, quick, listen – the day is almost over, so it’s going to happen soon, the reason we’re here.” He coughed, hard, then continued. “When I was exactly your age, an angel came to me. An angel, Dominik! It was glorious.”

The boy looked up, tears making his dirty face. “Here?”

“Yes, right here. This exact spot. It came to me and offered me a path to heaven. A chance to be righteous and good, to heal the world.” The old man, older now, older than Dominik had ever seen him, his eyes wet, stared directly out in front of them. “I was foolish, though. I wanted to be a carpenter like my step-father. I didn’t want my mother to see me as anything but her little boy. I said no.

“I said no, and the world died.”

Dominik jumped up suddenly, pointing at a distant figure at the edge of the treeline, too far away to make out. “Who is that?”

His grandfather squinted. “I do not know. It doesn’t matter, the sun is setting, look!” Dominik could see the sky had become orange, the color of dusk, the color of candy. “It will be any moment now, Dominik, please!” The old man grabbed the child by the shoulders, turning him around.

In the distance, the one figure had become many.

“You can say yes. You can be better than I was.”

“I don’t want to leave you.”

“You won’t. You won’t! I will always be with you. But you can fix all of this. You can save us.”

The boy was crying hard now. Far away, the figures could be heard shouting, indistinguishable sounds growing closer.

“The angel will come. Don’t be scared. Any moment now, the angel will come.”

Dominik nodded. “Because it’s my birthday, right grandfather?”

The old man hugged him tight.


Want to write like this? Take my online flash fiction workshop, beginning September 2! Registration is now open — read more and sign up here.

Fred Coppersmith’s Favorite Stories of 2016 (includes my @apexmag tale!)

Over on Twitter, author and publisher Fred Coppersmith has been tweeting about stories he likes all through the year. He starts off with my Apex Magazine story, “That Lucky Old Sun“. Thanks, Fred!

He’s curated the whole list on Storify, which I’ve embedded below:

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Updates and News (July 2016 edition)

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In July:

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Abutilon (Flowering Maple) after the rain, Ithaca, New York

I started taking photographs again. Not many, yet, but I’m trying to get back into it, when I have the time. The idea that I can share a beautiful moment without having to be front and center, letting the image speak for me, is very comforting. In a way, I can be social and introverted at the same time, which suits me best.

I wrote, too, a little bit. A poem about being frustrated at the inevitable whiteness of public grief when the media covers dead and injured people of color. More words on the new stories for my Mythos collection. (You can still get it for yourself by pre-ordering it via PayPal for $2, or donating to the fundraiser in exchange for rewards like podcasts and beta reads and art.)

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Landlocked, Canadice Lake, New York

I took a day for myself — who does that? So novel! — to drive out to the middle of nowhere to meet Mercedes, and it was lovely.

I had sales and publications, too:

Sold a reprint of my flash story “Call Center Blues” to Luna Station Quarterly.

kblj-issue-3-cover

Issue 1.3 of Kaaterskill Basin Literary Journal came out, and it includes my weird SF story, “One Echo Of An August Morning”. I blogged about it here.

I updated my Amazon wish list with some things that will help my life, if you like me enough to support me that way. You can also support me through my Patreon, which gets you poetry and microfiction at the moment, and will host longer stories when more people sign up.

One of the most important things I did was…

I got set up to once again teach my favorite online workshop: Better Writing Through Brevity: Writing/Editing Microfiction and Flash! And I blogged about why you should take this class from me, here. It’s entirely online, it’s less expensive than similar workshops offered anywhere else, and it’s starting in a month, so please, check it out, and tell your friends.

I also wrestled, mostly quietly and to myself, about my work as a freelancer. Most of you know that I went back to editing and content creation full-time because it’s the only job I can work around my son’s special needs, at least until I can finish college and have a real degree to back up my decades of experience (which should let me find a better paying dayjob where I have some seniority and flexibility). I love editing, I love writing, but freelancing is more than those things, and when it’s your only income, it’s frightening.

(Need an editor? I’m available!)

July was my best month as a freelancer so far this year — I got more done, on time! and secured some new work, got paid, too — but it’s still not enough to even cover the rent. I’m very glad to be recovering (recovered?) from being sick for so long; I feel good, I’m getting things done, and I feel confident going forward that I can do more and more. I’ve been chasing new kinds of work: in addition to editing, I did a lot of writing on spec, and at least some of that should pay off eventually. After not having the brain to do a workshop all year, I’m finally ready to do a new one, and a few people have signed up so far, which helped my July income. 

On the other hand, it’s tough to work 40+ hours a week, pull a couple of all nighters, chase every opportunity I can think of — on top of parenting my child — to bring in less than I need to give my landlord this week. Much less the other unpaid bills. It’s disheartening, is what it is.

I admit that I struggle, sometimes, to get up every day and do it again. I hope August is better.

(The list of what I did in June is here.)

New Workshop: Writing/Editing Microfiction and Flash (and why you should take it)

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I’m once again teaching my favorite online workshop: Better Writing Through Brevity: Writing/Editing Microfiction and Flash!

In this class, you will read, write, critique, and edit short fiction of various lengths, including 140 characters, 1 sentence, 100 words, six sentences, under 500 words, and under 1000. Previous students of this class have sold their final pieces to semi- and pro-rate SFF markets. They’ve made friends and contacts — many of them still keep in touch. Most importantly, they’ve been able to take the lessons learned here and apply it to longer stories, and even novels. Once you know how to write well while writing small, you’ll find the benefits across every piece of writing you do.

Why take this workshop from me?

  • I’ve taught it several times before; I know how to present the information so you get the most out if it, on a schedule that works around whatever else you need to prioritize in your life (day job, family, school) and can be accessed by people of different skill levels, online, in different time zones, all over the world.
  • It’s a community, for 4 weeks (and sometimes beyond). I still hang out with many of the writers who’ve taken the workshop. If you’re looking to meet new people who understand the joys and struggles of writing, this could help you.
  • I’ve edited hundreds of short pieces of fiction, both as a freelance editor, and as the head of Lakeside Circus, a magazine devoted to work under 2500 words, so I know what works.
  • As an author, I’ve published microfiction and flash fiction for years. Some of my favorite pieces are:

CLASS BEGINS FRIDAY SEPTEMBER 2, 2016.

THIS IS A GUARANTEED START DATE, SO SIGN UP BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE!

You can read more about the workshop and sign up here (link goes to my freelance editing website).