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.

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!

FLASH FICTION CHALLENGE #4: Dachshunds from Mars

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 Bryan Thao Worra, who suggested “Dachshunds from Mars”, which of course I wrote. (Dachshunds are an easy sell to my brain, right up there with dinosaurs and robots.) Here is my 467-word interpretation of that prompt:

#SFWAPro

Dachshunds from Mars

“Cut!” the director yelled. A bell rang, and the set ground to a stop. On the other side of the camera, the buxom blond teen wearing the shimmery gold bikini and fishbowl astronaut helmet froze.

“I did it again, didn’t I?” she asked, her words muffled by the helmet.

“Candy, baby, if you can’t hit your mark, I’m gonna have to replace you,” the director said. He was a portly man in his late forties with a megaphone and a look of perpetual exhaustion. “You’re blocking the dogs.”

Candy glanced down, and jumped back a little. With her out of the way, the two stiff-backed dachshunds — still holding their positions (facing stage-right, heads held high so the overhead lights didn’t reflect off their miniature helmets) — were perched at the top of a mound of red-tinted sand. “Sorry, pups,” she said, her voice high pitched and contrite.

“Places!” the director called out. The larger of the dogs, a short-haired male with a black and brown dappled coat, immediately turned, walked down to the bottom of the dirt mound, and raised one paw in the air, ready to move forward. His co-star, a long-haired female (white, with large black spots), followed him, setting herself slightly in front of him, and a little behind, so the camera could clearly see them both.

She looked over at Candy for a moment, and shook her head slightly.

“What’s that?” the director asked of the dog trainer, who was sitting in the chair next to him. “Her helmet not on right?”

“Oh, no,” the man said, “Sadie’s just… picky about who she works with.”

“Yeah, well, she’s not in charge of our budget,” the director muttered, “or she’d understand why we hired the producer’s daughter.” Louder, he shouted, “All right, ready?” through the megaphone.

Candy quickly moved to position a few steps behind the dogs. “I’ll get it right this time!” she yelled back.

“I swear to God…” the director whispered, before yelling, “Action!”

Music swelled, the dogs walked forward, backs straight, head’s high, climbing the Martian hill toward the climactic final scene and —

Candy tripped, and fell, showering the dogs in a rain of red sand.

“Cut!” the director yelled. “What’s going on? Did she land on the dogs? Somebody check the damn dogs!”

The dust settled, and the two dachshunds strode purposefully, unhurt, to the front of the stage. Sadie put her head down and used one paw to take her helmet off. Beside her, Kauaʻi did the same. As one, they looked at Candy — who was shaking sand out of her bikini — looked back at the director, and walked off stage.

“I guess we’ll be in our trailer,” their trainer said, and hurried after them.

The director sighed. “Candy, baby…” he said, “we gotta talk.”

FLASH FICTION CHALLENGE #3: Getting To Know You

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 John Teehan, who suggested a “shape-changing battle a la SWORD IN THE STONE, but more contemporary.” Here is my 470-word interpretation of the moment when the fight is over:

#SFWAPro

Getting To Know You

Arthur lay on his side, panting heavily, his right arm still transforming back from fish to man. Across the room, Kyle was draped half across the couch, half on the floor, coughing up water.

“Are we done?” Arthur asked. Kyle, spitting out one last mouthful, nodded. “Oh, good,” Arthur said, “Your parking meter has probably expired already.”

Kyle groaned, forcing himself up into a seated position, and smoothed wet black hair out of his eyes. “You started it,” he said, not quite unkindly.

Arthur shrugged, remembered his bruised ribs, and asked, “How’s that?”

“You clicked on my profile first,” Kyle said.

“I did not. I saw that you’d been checking me out, and looked at your page. And you messaged me first.”

“You invited me over.”

“Yeah, okay,” Arthur admitted. “I did do that. But you turned me into squirrel while I was getting us a glass of wine.”

“You were cute as a squirrel,” Kyle said, managing a slight grin. “If you’d stayed a squirrel, we wouldn’t have made a mess.”

“I am not going to stay a squirrel. I am a much better fox.” Arthur felt around on the floor near him, locating his glasses, and putting them back on his face. He saw Kyle more clearly, and frowned. “Your eye is going to be black tomorrow.”

“I’ll fix it,” Kyle replied. “Or I could keep it and tell everyone you were mean to me on our first date.”

“What? You turned into a wolf and chased me around the livingroom!” Arthur gestured at the room. “Look at this mess?”

“Wolf paws are a little hard to maneuver on. They’re big,” Kyle replied. “You need a new couch anyway.”

“It was a gift.”

Kyle looked down, and then back at Arthur, catching his gaze and staring directly back. “It’s gold corduroy.”

“It’s vintage,” Arthur tried, not entirely sure whether it was or not. “Fine, it’s ugly. But you still can’t manage your paws.”

“I’ll practice that,” Kyle said back, grinning now, “If you put some serious time into your falcon. You hit every single one of these walls, flying like you didn’t know how physics works.” He leaned forward slightly, and added. “That orange and silver fish was pretty hot though. I liked that one.”

“It’s a koi,” Arthur said, blushing slightly.

“Do you want to come sit with me?” Kyle asked softly. Arthur nodded, got to his feet, and walked – carefully, stepping over bits of fabric and broken glass – to the couch, taking a seat a half foot away from his date. “I am sorry about your fish tank,” Kyle said. “My pacu form is kinda big.”

“I can get another tank,” Arthur said. “Maybe you can help me pick it out?”

“Great!” Kyle said happily. “I was just going to ask what you were doing tomorrow night.”