Free Fiction: “A Different League” (flash, noir)

Originally posted August 2013, at Akashic Books. Guidelines required a 750-word limit and a distinctly recognizable setting. Felicia’s isn’t downtown anymore, but everywhere else still exists, and looks a lot like this, under a certain light…

A Different League
by Carrie Cuinn
Downtown, Ithaca, NY

Two a.m. at The State Diner came with a refill on my half-drunk coffee and an impatient smile on the lips of the waitress who’d been hovering nearby. My appointment was late, but my wallet was empty, so I couldn’t afford to leave. A week of poor sleep, too much caffeine, and more than one drive-thru meal meant my stomach was churning like the Buttermilk Falls after a storm, but I glanced over the menu anyway.

“Turkey club, side of fries,” I said. She smiled for real this time, her eyes sparkling. If my taste ran to tired bottle-blondes with swollen feet, I might have chatted her up, but just then the bar crowd stumbled in. Carefully-trimmed beards, pastel plaids, and skinny jeans . . . hipsters from Felicia’s Atomic Lounge, drunk on Black Cherry Old Fashioneds and Fig Manhattans, the upscale cocktail-revival staples.

A petite beauty in a yellow dress disentangled herself from the pack. Naomi Le’s three-inch heels clicked against the tile floor until she paused at my booth, looked back over one shoulder, and quickly sat down. I wanted to tell her she was late, that she was a liar, but too much truth at once and she’d bolt. She had that look about her, as if she was only half-girl sitting on a black bench seat. Her sparrow half was already fluttering away.

“Are you hungry?” I asked instead.

“No,” she replied. “I couldn’t get away sooner. Derek got an internship in DC, and we were celebrating.” She tucked a strand of night-black hair behind one ear, revealing a diamond bigger than a pea.

“That’s a nice dress,” I said. “Vintage?”

She smiled, now on familiar ground. “It’s from Petrune, on the Commons. Have you been?”

“Sure, loads of times,” I lied. The waitress sidled up and set my order in front of me. I waved her away with, “We’re sharing, thanks.” She sighed, but left us alone.

I couldn’t afford to dress out of Petrune’s closet. $250 for a new jacket constructed in a vintage style made the shop popular; only a certain kind of rich could drop that amount of cash on a casual wardrobe. Cornell University had plenty of those, playing out college party fantasies on their absentee father’s dime, and I was just another day-player in Naomi’s life. But I was going to get paid before my scene ended.

I took a bite of my sandwich, enjoying the crispy bacon and the crunch of cool lettuce, before I said, “You were right. Your fiancé is having an affair.”

She gasped, her brown eyes going wide. It was almost believable.

“Are you sure?”

I pulled an envelope, fat with glossy photos, out of my pocket. “I tailed Derek for a week. During the day it was business as usual: classes on the Hill, studying at Olin. But Tuesday night he had a visit from a woman with red hair. She didn’t leave until after midnight.” I pulled one photo from the bunch and slid it across the Formica table. “Do you know her?”

She shook her head. “Was . . . was that the only time?”

“No. There was an overnight stay at The Statler Hotel, too.” I concentrated on my fries while she studied the woman in the photo.

“Do you have any that show her face?”

“Sorry. They were discreet. I only got what I did because I’m very good at my job.”

That line usually does the trick. She handed over a platinum card with a little nod. I scanned the numbers with my bank’s app, and authorized the payment. “I’ll email you a receipt,” I said as I handed the card back. She stuffed it and the photos into her pocketbook and stood up to go.

“What are you going to do?” I asked, staying seated.

She shrugged. “I don’t know. Our families are old friends. Our fathers golf together. I can’t just leave.”

“Of course. Good luck.”

She strolled back to her friends and nestled under Derek’s arm as if she’d never left. I pulled up an image on my phone, one I hadn’t had printed out: Naomi Le in a red wig, checking into The Statler with her fiancé.

They weren’t the first couple to play bad boyfriend/naughty mistress, though not many could afford a private eye to heighten the drama. But what did I care? Mr. Le’s allowance would be paying my rent this month, and tonight I didn’t have to stiff the waitress on the tip.

And that ain’t nothing.

Free Flash Fiction: “The Scent of Food is Memory and Love”

The Scent of Food is Memory and Love

Azedah took the leaves off of the last small, round eggplant, then cut through the dark purple flesh until she had turned it into a pile of thick slices. She added them to the others already simmering in olive oil in her largest frying pan, so wide it covered most of the cooktop on that side of the stove. When both sides were golden brown, she lifted the eggplant pieces out of the pan and put then aside to drain. Quickly, her fingers moving with long experience, she chopped a large yellow onion; the fine slices sizzled when they hit the hot oil left in the pan.

“Azedah,” the house said. “The visitors have arrived.”

“Ah, they are early! Is Yasmin out of the shower?”

“Yes. Yasmin is in the study,” the house replied.

Azedah stirred the onions with a worn wooden spatula, and the smell of their cooking spread across the large kitchen. “Ask Yasmine to greet our guests,” she said. Behind her, the pressure cooker beeped, its cycle finished. She tapped the “natural release” icon, and turned back to the stove.

She reached to her left – but her hand closed on empty air. Continue reading

Free Flash Fiction: “A Revised History of Earth”

A Revised History of Earth

“I don’t care about any of that,” Sherla said without looking up from her nail polish.

“But the tests are conclusive,” Mattie said, shaking her tablet at the other woman. “I’ve got it all right here.”

“Don’t care,” Sherla repeated. She applied another strip of opaque black polish to a blank nail and watched as it slowly expanded to cover her nail perfectly.

“You don’t care that the ruins we found on Planet X are actually older than any known civilization on Earth?”

“Nope.”

Mattie sat down on the edge of her bed with a heavy sigh. “I mean… that’s a big deal to me.”

Sherla was lying on her belly on her bed, only a few feet away in their tiny cabin. She turned her head to look Mattie in the eyes, while still blowing her nails, now finished. “I care that you care, honey. But I think we just see this two different ways.”

Mattie shook her head, barely ruffling her close-cropped curls. “How’s that?” she asked.

“Well, as you and most of the scientists on board see it, this expedition has proved that Earth was some kind of colony, right?”

“Yes, I think that’s got to be our working theory going forward from here,” Mattie said, relaxing a little. “We’ll have to go back and revisit all of the old site maps, build a new history of human civilization. New textbooks, new arguments. Oh no, those ancient alien crackpots are going to have a field day!” she added with a sudden grin. “I don’t envy the folks back home who’re going to have to listen to all of that nonsense on the off chance there’s even one hypothesis that matches up with what we’ve found here.”

“Right,” Sherla said, “because you’re not going back to Earth.” She blew on her nails one last time.

“Well, no, I – the expedition is moving out of our solar system to follow the star charts we found during the excavation.” She frowned a little, her dark eyebrows drawing closer together. “That doesn’t make our find less important. It’s actually the whole reason we’re still on the ship.”

Sherla pushed herself up off her elbows, turned, and sat down on the edge of the bed facing her friend. “No, Mattie, it’s why you’re still on the ship. And I’m glad for that, ‘cause you’re a whole sight better than the last girl they stuck me with.”

“The snorer?” Mattie asked, sympathetic.

“The snorer,” Sherla agreed, and for a moment, they both smiled. Then Sherla leaned in, put her hands on Mattie’s knees, and said with a serious face, “I’m not a scientist, honey. I’m enlisted. They didn’t put all us soldiers on this ship to help dig, and we’re not all heading out into the great unknown for anything other than one reason: someone with more brass than me decided I might have to kill some things.”

Mattie bit her lip. “I know that,” she said after a moment, “but that’s statistically unlikely, you know. Whatever might have been out there has probably been dead for half a million years, and Earth has what remains of its refugees.”

Sherla sat back. “Maybe. I hope so, really. I’d love to spend the next couple of decades learning new things and staying pretty instead of developing any serious holes in any part of my body that I can’t live without. But I have to wake up every day and train for the possibility that what’s out there didn’t want us to find it.”

All around them – the floor, the ceiling, the beds – began to shake, and a quiet hum started, grew louder. Sherla stood up.

“That’s ignition, which means we’re officially under way, and that means the goodbye party is about to start. Come on, honey, tell me how pretty I am.” She put her hands on her hips and posed.

“You’re very pretty,” Mattie replied.

“Which means you’re drop dead gorgeous,” Sherla told her, “and it would be unfair to deprive the folks in Aft Lounge 6 of the chance to see the two of us in all our glory.” She held her hands out.

Mattie took them and let herself be pulled to her feet. “You’re a terrible influence.”

“I plan to be, honey,” Sherla said with a grin. She kissed her roommate on the cheek, leaving a faint red stain behind in the exact shape of her lips. “There,” she said. “Now you’ll look like you started the party early, and everyone will be dying to find out just how fun you are.”

“I should get back to monitoring the digital reconstruction of the dig site,” Mattie said, but didn’t sound certain.

“Tomorrow,” Sherla said as she put her arm around the other woman and steered her toward the hallway. “Tomorrow you can worry about how to find our celestial ancestors and I can worry about how to fight them.” She tapped on the side of their door, which slid into the wall. In the distance, they could already hear the sounds of music, and distant voices.

“Tonight…” Sherla paused, and squeezed Mattie gently. Mattie leaned into her friend and nodded.

“Tonight,” Mattie finished for her, “we’re going to say goodbye to Earth, and drink until we forget that we’re never going home again.”

“That’s my girl.”


Greg Bennett gave me the prompts for this story: “Planet 9 discovered and in close orbit to solar system, woman led exploration mission, ancient ruins, discovery that Earth’s inhabitants are actually refugees…” It took me a little while to think of a way to do that without sounding like Battlestar Galactica, but once I realized I could start after that stuff has already been discovered, I knew the moment, the part of this story, I wanted to write.

This is the 4th story I’ve written for this year’s Flash Fiction Challenge, and it’s about 890 words long.

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.

So far, I’ve posted three other stories. Read them here:

My 2016 Awards Eligibility Post

#sfwapro

apex80cover

I have two short stories out this year that I loved and am proud of, for entirely different reasons, and which are also “award eligible”:

That Lucky Old Sun” Apex Magazine, Issue 80. January 2016.

I started out the year with an appearance in a big, pro-rate, well-known, solidly genre magazine. I love that my first appearance with Apex ended up being a solidly genre story which still flips Golden Age conventions on its head.

I write a lot about the people on the edges of, or left behind after, more “traditional” SF tropes have taken place. This one tackles McCarthyism and atomic age SF — stories about nuclear war and rocket ships and fleeing dying planets for new worlds — by focusing on just one little girl, and her mother, and one day of their life together.

Most readers got what I was aiming for, calling it “a very chilling tale”, and “a sad, lovely, hideous, wonderful comment on human folly” so what else could I ask for? (You can read more reviews of this story here.)

Ok, maybe I also am enamored of this review, which said:

“And that the story follows a mother and her daughter on this day is bleak as fuck, but also I rather enjoyed it. There is something to be said about this, that this is where fascism leads, that this is where intolerance and bigotry lead,” and then suggested “it’s a wrenching story and a sad one, very much worth reading but maybe prepare some cat videos for the aftermath.” (I cut out the spoilers but the whole review is fabulous if you want to read it after you’ve read the story.)

One Echo of an August Morning” Kaaterskill Basin Literary Journal. Issue 1.3, Summer 2016.

This is a slightly strange, experimental, speculative fiction story set in the present (sort of), about parallel worlds, loneliness, and the nature of time. I loved being able to focus on details, to write about a woman truly living in the moment, and the fact that I got to extrapolate real science from a real math theorem that really exists.

I love math. And science. And writing science fiction that is solidly founded but still weird. Please take a look — you can also read this for free online — and let me know what you think.

A couple of other things I had published which you might have missed (but aren’t “award eligible”):

  • “If Wishes Were Feathers” (original fiction) appeared in the Art & Words show, October 2016, along with “Myth of the Mother Snake” (reprint poem, link goes to original appearance).
  • “Call Center Blues” (reprint) Luna Station Quarterly, September 1, 2016.
  • “Tomorrow I Will Bury My Dream In The Dirt and Let It Go” (poem) Wordgathering, September 2016.
  • Three SF haiku, Scifaikuest, May 2016 print issue and online.

And original work which is only posted here on my site:

I hope you found something of mine that you enjoy. If so, please let me know in the comments!

Thank you.

Happy Halloween! No tricks, all treat: “On the Methods of Preserving and Dissecting Icthyo Sapiens” (FREE PDF)

#SFWAPro

Art by Shannon Legler, commissioned for my story when it appeared at Mad Scientist Journal (November 4, 2013)

Art by Shannon Legler, commissioned for my story when it appeared at Mad Scientist Journal (November 4, 2013)

I can’t hand out candy over the internet — but oh, my friends, I would if I could — so instead, I am handing out a short, sad, and creepy story I originally wrote for Mad Scientist Journal in 2013. Read the excerpt and download a free PDF below.

Lab Notes, April 23, 1931. The subject has four limbs, but while its skin appears crocodilian, the limbs are not fixed under the body. Instead they appear to be jointed much as a man’s are, with longer back legs and a wide range of motion in the shorter front legs.

Water is everywhere. It is, always, since the earliest memories of my life. I feel it as a warm pressure on every part of my skin. It is an ever-moving source of air for my lungs and food for my belly. When the currents are strong it becomes thick enough to sit on, to grab a hold of and ride. The water is never still because it is never empty. I can taste the time of day.

Though it has a mouth and front facing eyes, it does not appear to breathe air, and instead has several gills hidden under heavy scales on its neck which are easy to miss. Kudos to Johnson for noticing them, or the thing might have drowned before we got its head and neck into a bucket of water.

I was born there, where the river flows into the deep lake. I have traveled upriver to mate, have seen water muddied by great hippos and in places a river lowered by heat and summer sun. I have crawled along the nearly empty river bed, me, who was born in a place so deep no light can penetrate it! I have seen all manner of fish and monsters and men. Everything has a place in the world, everything fits into each other and makes sense, except the men.

Download a free PDF of the full story here.

For more information about Shannon Legler, visit her site at http://lendmeyourbones.tumblr.com.

“On the Methods of Preserving and Dissecting Icthyo Sapiens” by Carrie Cuinn  is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. (This means that you can share the story — including the PDF I’ve provided — freely, as long as you attribute it to me, do not charge any money for it, and don’t change it in any way. Please note this basic explanation is not a substitute for the license terms.)

Thank you for sharing, and reading!