Flash Fiction Challenge #1: “Visitation of Irba”

I recently asked people on Twitter and Facebook for random writing prompts, and from those, I wrote five micro and flash fiction stories to share here on my site. The others are:

This story 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 1185 words — the top of what’s usually considered “flash” — posted below.

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Visitation of Irba

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

“It’s my birthday,” he added hopefully, after a while.

“Of course it is, little bunny,” the old man replied. He was the only other person Dominik could see, in any direction. “That’s why we’re here.”

Dominik looked around. “The sun is setting, though.”

“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.

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.

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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).

“One Echo Of An August Morning” Now Live at Kaaterskill Basin Literary Journal

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Issue 1.3 of Kaaterskill Basin Literary Journal is out now, and it includes my weird SF story, “One Echo Of An August Morning”. It’s about math and time and the sound of silence…

I close my eyes to shut out the sight of it but with my face flushed and the blood rumbling in my ears I feel trapped inside my own head. Opening them again, I see the light remains the same as it did at 10:46 am on August the 11th, when I opened the back door onto a new dimension and found only my own deck. If I’d been half the scientist I thought I was, I wouldn’t have let the door shut behind me when I wandered a few steps, looking for a sign that I was somewhere different. I would have realized the sounds of my own footsteps were too loud in my ears, that it was not just a very quiet morning in my little university town. If I had told someone else what I was doing, if I wasn’t trying to prove a theory the doctoral committee had already dismissed, if I hadn’t been alone when the lights blinked green and the gate came online –

I can chase that rabbit down the hole forever without ever getting to Wonderland. I was a grad student with insomnia, 400 feet of 12 gauge copper wire, and 3 notebooks full of equations. I shouldn’t have discovered anything at all.

View the issue online here!

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I went into the woods to meet a girl in Red

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My friend Mercedes lives in the desert, but just this once, she came to a town near me, and I drove out to meet her.

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We had lunch at a little diner near where she was staying, the sort of place where the waitress is overly friendly and the food isn’t quite as good as they think. The buffalo cauliflower was tasty, though.

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Later, we walked and talked and she didn’t laugh when I got fascinated by a boat parked out in the woods, which is the sort of friend you need, when you think about it.

It was a lovely day, and I would do it again if I could.

Sale: “Call Center Blues” (Reprint) to Luna Station Quarterly

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The contract is signed, so I can announce that one of my recent sales was to Luna Station Quarterly. “Call Center Blues” was originally published by Daily Science Fiction, back in 2011, and Luna Station Quarterly is the first to reprint it. With their mission to “display the vast and varied talents of female speculative fiction writers”, I think they’re the best home for this story.

“Call Center Blues” will appear in the September 2016 issue of LSQ. I will post links once I have them, and I hope you’ll support the magazine by reading the story there, even if it isn’t your first time.

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Why Are You Listening to Me? (Another poem by a white person you shouldn’t bother to read)

Why Are You Listening to Me?

Nothing I can say will carry the weight
Of dead and dying and broken and bloody and forgotten
Victims of a system that sees them not
And a public that sees them only for a moment
As a hashtag, as a name on a protest sign
As a mugshot thrown up by media who sells the image
Of a deserving victim, somehow, instead of father
Mother, soldier, sibling, student, angel child

Nothing I can say will lessen the weight
Of anxious tears spilling down the cheeks
Of yesterday’s mother or wife, bearing rushed witness
Desperate for her loss to be heard and felt
In 60 second clips, on the top of every hour
For a day, at most, until another mourner is queued up
An endless cycle of news and blood: wash, rinse, and repeat

Nothing I can say will cast off the weight
Of utter certainty that tomorrow’s headlines
Will be the same as yesterday’s and today’s
Where only the names are changed
And no one’s innocence is protected
And every death is justified

Nothing I can say will transform the weight
Carried by those whose black and brown bodies
Are burdened by the hundred million ways
They are judged, thwarted, held down, beaten, and murdered
For living in a world which centers my whiteness
Every time I open my mouth to speak

So don’t.
Don’t forget them.
Don’t settle for a mug shot.
Don’t limit their grief to a moment.
Don’t let the days and deaths all blend together.
Don’t listen first or most to those white voices you find familiar.
Find the words, screams, pain, and hurt of those affected, and let them speak to you, instead.

Listen to them.

Updates and News (June 2016 edition)

A new thing I’m trying out: I’m going to start each month with a quick list of updates, and news you might have missed. That way, I know everyone who follows me online has seen them, and I don’t have to plaster the internet with handbills.

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There’s. Just. So. Many. Bills.

Ready? Here we go…

In June, I had surgery to remove half my thyroid, found out I had (but no longer have) cancer, and spent most of the month recovering. I’m better now.

I finished the general education portion of school (mostly through transferring classes in, but some I took here), yay! Because I owe money to my college before I can register for fall, I’m putting together a small collection of my Mythos fiction. You can help me out by pre-ordering it via PayPal for $2, or donating to the fundraiser in exchange for rewards like podcasts and beta reads and art.

This collection will have 5 stories; two were previously published by Chaosium, and the other three have never been seen before. I’ve started sharing excerpts:

I still need $695 to make this happen, so please consider telling your friends.

In June I also sold three stories – two reprints and an original – to three magazines. I’ve signed contracts for two, so I shared the news about one sale so far, “One Echo Of An August Morning” to Kaaterskill Basin Literary Journal. Click here for more information on that.

I shared two poems with my readers last month. One was “Ephyra” – a short poem inspired by the place where mythic women and jellyfish meet. The other was “The Wanderer’s Lament”, an Old West-theme ballad in the style of cowboy songs. I posted that to my Patreon page, unlocked and open to the public. You can read “Ephyra” by clicking the link, and over here is the “The Wanderer’s Lament“.

In other, not good news: I’ve no work for July, and bills/rent already [past] due. Time for a sale on editing services! I’m experienced, available, and desperately need to fill a last minute cancellation, even book ahead, so I’m offering 50% OFF EVERY EDITING SERVICE. You can find me at  or use my contact form here.

If you like my work as an editor, please share this sale with anyone who might be interested.

I’m in a hard spot, financially, that I haven’t been in for a while. It’s tough not to feel as if it’s one step forward, two steps back, but I know overall life has been better lately, and with the medical stuff out of the way now, I can focus on work. Writing, editing, making a career and a name for myself. If it seems like I’m trying to monetize everything I can, well, I am. I’m doing every kind of work I can do under the circumstances to support myself and my son; freelancing, side gigs, the Mythos project, you name it. I hope there’s something in there that appeals to you, that you can support.

Now, on to July…

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New Collection/Fundraiser Update: An Excerpt from “The Night Hours”

Right now, my fundraiser is at $805 out of $1500, with a goal of publishing a collection of five stories (two reprints, and three originals). With every $300 reached, I officially add another work to the book, so right now, the two reprints are definitely going to be packaged together for everyone who contributed. At $900, I’ll add in a brand new story, “The Night Hours”.

The first two stories include my science fiction tendencies: a tale of robots fighting ghouls after the world has died, and another where the worst of Miskatonic’s dark knowledge finds new life online. “The Night Hours” is different: heavily influenced by pulp detective stories, it follows a Filipino man living in a creepy little coastal town, in Massachusetts, in the 1930s, whose girlfriend has gone missing. He’ll have to risk his life to save her… probably.

If he decides to. It sort of depends on the day.

It was about eleven o’clock at night, mid-October, and Epifanio was supposed to be washing dishes in the back of the steam-filled kitchen. He was wearing a dull (but mostly white) buttoned shirt, with his sleeves rolled up, and a stained apron that belonged to the joint. The shirt was his, along with the black pants and scuffed but comfortable black shoes, but resented that he was required to wear them, and grouched about it, often. He leaned against the doorway, not quite in the bar, and not quite in or out of the kitchen, either. It was a neutral space, that square foot of in-between, where he could claim to be doing other than what he was: watching Willie Green blow the roof off the place with his horn.

“Hey, Chinaman,” the bartender growled. “Stop ogling the skirts, and get back to work.”

Epifanio wasn’t Chinese, or ogling, but didn’t argue the point. Mickey, the barrel-shaped Irishman who ran the place, hired him because he couldn’t tell the “Orientals” apart. So there were some things Epifanio knew to be wrong but didn’t say. Truth is, there were a lot of things like that.

The kitchen was a square, squat, low-ceilinged room with no windows, but it had three entrances. The single maroon door, with the round porthole, Bob let swing shut behind him as he left the bar. The black double doors led into the restaurant, where round, red, lacquered tables and pretty girls in embroidered satin gave the impression that this was where traditional Chinese cuisine was happening. Except it was New England, and Epifanio had never seen that particular blend of tables, patterns, and ink-wash paintings in any kitchen he’d been in before. But he’d never been to China, so what did he know?

Mickey didn’t let colors mix in his dining room. Chances were pretty good that no one eating the roast duck and pan-fried rice knew it wasn’t authentic. Or maybe it was now, a new traditional, a true Innsmouth dining experience, the kind we’d all be getting used to soon enough.

That last door, a scratched steel slab, was all that stood between Epifanio and freedom at the end of the night. It was the service entrance, which Mickey like to call the “servants” entrance, because the staff wasn’t allowed in any other way. Oh, sometimes, one girl or another would get the privilege of walking in through the front door for a few weeks, but we knew the price they paid. All through the evening, the sound of loud voices and clanking silverware burst into the kitchen at regular intervals as the waitresses glided through to pick up their orders, and then back out into the fray. Later, the diners would fade away, and the bar would pick up their slack. On a good night the sound of jazz would leak through under the other door, making our last hour of clean up not quite so bad.

If we stayed late enough, sometimes old Chen dealt cards and we cooked dinner for ourselves, the way our mothers would have, then all of those other sounds faded away, and the only thing creeping in was the pernicious Innsmouth fog, that stuck its fat fingers under doors and slithered in on its belly. Not even the steel could keep it out.

I’m running out of time to pay off what I owe so I can register for Fall, so please, if you can contribute today. I can take contributions via PayPal here (Anything sent this way is still eligible for the same rewards, and I add it to the total at GoFundMe so everyone can see where we are). If you’d like, you can use the GoFundMe instead.