Archive for the ‘fiction’ Category

You’re well used to reading stories created in response to challenges issued as part of The Fast Fiction Challenge.

For a few years, I did something at Christmas entitled Twelve Days of Fast Fiction. Friends – writers, actors, comedians – issued challenges, from which stories resulted. I haven’t done it for a couple of years, and I don’t know whether I’ll restart it this year. (Probably not.)

But, for the remainder of December, I’m going to put some of those Christmas tales in this slot.


A decade and a half ago, I threw out a challenge. and then repeated it thereafter whenever I felt like it. The challenge was the same in each case:

Give me a title of up to four words in length, together with a single word you want me to include in the tale, and I will write a story of exactly 200 words.

That’s it. The stories that resulted always included the word, they always fitted the title, but usually in ways the challenger hadn’t anticipated. And they were always exactly 200 words in length.

Two stories written for friends from the first Twelve Days of Fast Fiction.

It’s hard writing a story for a writer. It’s hard writing stories for friends. Imagine how much harder it was for me to write stories for Neil Gaiman and Mitch Benn. Both writers. Both friends.

Here are the results.
 


 
Neil Gaiman is… well, he’s Neil Gaiman. And I’m very grateful for that, as well as his for friendship for coming up to twenty years now. Everything you hear about Neil being incredibly supportive and being there when you need someone to be there… it’s all true enough, but throughout our friendship, he’s always offered advice when I wanted it, help when I needed it, and when necessary, a kick up the backside when I’ve not wanted it, but have so very desperately needed it. I’m incredibly grateful for every moment of it.

It’s a little known fact that “Neil Gaiman” means “storyteller” in seventeen archaic languages.
 
 
Title: Why Can’t Reindeer Fly?
Word: apothecary
Challenger: Neil Gaiman
Length: 200 words exactly

 
Elf-blood is purple, which often surprises those witnessing a battle for the first time. That it is pale, runny and rapidly absorbed by snow is less astonishing. Were the stains longer lasting, the white carpet around Santa’s workshop would instead be permanently amethyst.

The war had lasted too many centuries to count, only interrupted by the regularly scheduled twenty-four hour ceasefire, commencing at the close of 24th December. No-one could any longer recall how the war had commenced; some believed that an elf had grossly insulted a reindeer, some the reverse. Still others even blamed Santa himself, but only quietly, and among trusted company when they could be certain that none present would report the conversation.

However, all were agreed that any attempts at peace between elf and reindeer had been fiascos; the name of the last apothecary to try, sickened as he was by the cruelty and violence, had been struck from the guild’s records in shame.

Each side had their regrets. The elves were bitterly disappointed that the size differential between the foes favoured their enemies; and the reindeer, seeing the copious levels of excrement produced by their troops, looked to the skies and wished fervently for flight.
 
 

© Lee Barnett, 2012
 


 
Mitch Benn is an incredibly talented author, comedian and comedy-songwriter, and one of my closest friends, for which I never cease to be grateful. I’ve been a fan of his comedy for almost twenty years, and it’s always a surprise to me that we’ve only been friends for a decade or so. He’s also one of the smartest people I know, and it’s incredibly rare that we chat when I don’t come away having learned something important about comedy, politics or any one of the fairly large number of interests we share.

Few people know that Mitch plays a guitar made of wood from Yggdrasil.
 
 
Title: The Impossible Box
Word: saturnalia
Challenger: Mitch Benn
Length: 200 words exactly

 
The sun had set on Christmas Day hours ago, but she had merely noted it as a sign that her time was running out. Later, her brain had filled with plans, schemes and plots. And an hour after that, they’d all evaporated into the what might have been.

She’d been walking for hours, consciously blocking out the sounds of revelry from every house she’d passed, each one a veritable saturnalia of festivities and laughter.

At midnight, she opened the door to her apartment, and poured two stiff drinks, set out a mince pie. He liked traditions.

And then he was there, holding out The Box to her.

She hesitated for a moment before taking it, but then she always did.

Once it had been too difficult for her. Once she’d had no support, no relief.

And then he’d offered: one day a year without it. One day a year of freedom. His Christmas present to someone who once had been a very naughty girl. “Professional courtesy,” he’d called it.

Now, with a tender kiss on her cheek, he was gone.

Pandora lifted The Box, determined not to cry.

And she didn’t. Not straight away. She didn’t start weeping until February.
 
 
© Lee Barnett, 2012
 


 
Some more Christmas fast fictions next week.
 
 
Meanwhile, something else, tomorrow…

Dealing with some stuff today, so I’m afraid you get another ‘fiction from the vaults’ post. Normal service will be resumed tomorrow, hopefully

A decade and a half ago, I threw out a challenge. and then repeated it thereafter whenever I felt like it. The challenge was the same in each case:

Give me a title of up to four words in length, together with a single word you want me to include in the tale, and I will write a story of exactly 200 words.

That’s it. The stories that resulted always included the word, they always fitted the title, but usually in ways the challenger hadn’t anticipated. And they were always exactly 200 words in length.

Two stories written for friends, today, in 2010.

Both darker than my usual fare, but both were immediately suggested by the titles given to me. Blame the titles, and the challengers, not me. You might recognise the name of the second challenger. We were introduced by a mutual friend with a talent for putting people he likes together with a “you should know each other…” I was very grateful he did, and wil was kind enough to provide an introduction for the second collection of fast fiction stories, in which he wrote:
 

“There are two hundred stories collected in this volume. They are funny, they are thoughtful, they are romantic, they are frightening. To me, though, they are more than entertaining. They are inspiring.”

 
Wasn’t that nice of him?

There are, as it happens, two volumes of The Fast Fiction Challenge are available in ebook (.epub or .mobi for Kindle) format from the author. Volume 1 (180 stories) is £4.00, or equivalent in local currency; volume 2 (200 stories) is £5.00 email for details. Print copies also available if required.

Anyway, on to the stories.
 


 
Title: Right On The Money
Word: lackadaisical
Challenger: Vix Allchurch
Length: 200 words exactly

 
 
He’d worked on the communication for some time, turning phrases back and forth in his head before committing them to paper… It took him twelve attempts until he was happy with the content, and a further six before he was satisfied with the look of it.

Appearances were so important, he truly believed, whether it was the clothing one wore, the style of haircut one showed to the world, or even as in this case, a written missive.

And yet, he lazily acknowledged, how this would be read would depend upon the words themselves, rather than how they lay on the page.

Thirty two words in total, yet they conveyed the message he wished to send to her, part plea, part demand, but wholly clear. She’d be in no doubt as to his resolve.

He stretched in what he thought of as a languid manner, his entire demeanour lackadaisical, then paused, arms outstretched, considering the sum he’d mentioned. Too large? Possibly, but he thought not.

He looked over at the baby, sleeping peacefully next to him.

He’d chosen well. Much better for the kidnap victim not to be able to talk.

He wasn’t about to make that mistake. Not again.

© Lee Barnett, 2010

 


 
Title: A Long Way Down
Word: exalted
Challenger: Wil Wheaton
Length: 200 words exactly

 
 
I beat my first woman to death at twenty-three. She was forty-two, full of hate and prejudice, but that wasn’t why I killed her.

My brother… now he thinks I kill for the money. That’s a contemptible view: I worked hard to learn how to kill and I feel exalted by my success.

The woman was my fourth killing. Since then, I’ve killed many more, learning efficiency and brutality go hand in hand.

My father… is ashamed of me. He discovered I kill people but curiosity gave way to disgust when I was honest and enthusiastic about it.

Sixty-eight people. You were wondering, I could tell.

They all deserved it, you understand. They deserved it by costing the state too much. They died because they were… inconvenient.

As I strap on thick leather gloves provided by the prisons department and hit the old man in front of me, I wonder what it was like, executing people back before the electricity ran out. When the next punch lands, I wonder when others ceased to be proud.

We stood on top of the world… then we fell. And as he dies, I know everyone else is still falling.

Everyone else, except me.

© Lee Barnett, 2010
 


 
 
Something else, tomorrow…

A decade and a half ago, I threw out a challenge. and then repeated it thereafter whenever I felt like it. The challenge was the same in each case:

Give me a title of up to four words in length, together with a single word you want me to include in the tale, and I will write a story of exactly 200 words.

That’s it. The stories that resulted always included the word, they always fitted the title, but usually in ways the challenger hadn’t anticipated. And they were always exactly 200 words in length.

Two stories written for friends, today, in 2009.

Both tales took some crafting, because with each, the story I had planned resisted where I wanted to them them. And so, obviously, I stopped writing the stories I’d intended to write, and wrote the stories that wanted to be told.

I thought ‘well, they must know their story better than I do.’ And, reading them again, I still do.

 


  
Title: Buggered By The Moonlight
Word: relativistic
Challenger: Dan Curtis Johnson
Length: 200 words exactly

 
 
Now he could hear things, although he knew that was impossible.

Voices. His mother telling him telling him how proud the old man was of him. Then his father, explaining in graphic detail how disappointed he was in his son.

And below that, the soft hiss of his oxygen running out.

He’d switched off the alarms some time ago, both audible and visual notifications, so he no longer knew precisely how much air he had left to breathe, but he’d decided he didn’t want to know.

He idly wondered how the news media was describing his situation. “Floating in the stars” or “drifting in space”, probably. If he had the strength, he’d laugh. You didn’t float, nor drift – you continued in whatever direction you’d been propelled, subject to the same forces that drove planets through their orbits. He was just going faster, much faster, the force of the exploding experimental drive pushing him close to the speed of light.

He wasn’t aware of any relativistic effects, but then he wouldn’t be, he thought.

The fastest man in the universe, he mused, never once realising that he’d ceased to be human several thousand years ago.

Dying was beyond him now. Forever.

© Lee Barnett, 2009

 


 

Title: Fast Road To Nowhere
Word: idiosyncratic
Challenger: Alan Porter
Length: 200 words exactly

 
 
The police and criminalists had come for him once; they’d even arrested him, walking him out from his office through the trading floor, his arms behind him, the black and silver of the handcuffs visible to his staff. But the next morning, he was back in his office, released without charge, his face challenging those who’d dare to express astonishment at his presence.

And still there was no sign of his wife. Hadn’t been for months, since she’d apparently just not returned from a shopping trip to an all night market, a trip taken at two in the morning, despite never having done so previously.

His staff never said good morning or good night to him now. They just arrived and they left, wondering when the police would return. They knew he’d work until ten, then hit the running machine in the company gym, in the basement, his only company security guards who tolerated his idiosyncratic choice of time to exercise, night after night.

And then one morning, he didn’t show up. No call, no email. He’d just not turned up.

And everyone knew that he’d confirmed his guilt.

Everyone except the security guards, who’d eaten well that week.

© Lee Barnett, 2009
 


 
 
Something else, tomorrow…

A decade and a half ago, I threw out a challenge. and then repeated it thereafter whenever I felt like it. The challenge was the same in each case:

Give me a title of up to four words in length, together with a single word you want me to include in the tale, and I will write a story of exactly 200 words.

That’s it. The stories that resulted always included the word, they always fitted the title, but usually in ways the challenger hadn’t anticipated. And they were always exactly 200 words in length.

The first story below was from ‘The Art of Fast Fiction’, but without the art, as I’ve been unable to track it down. If I ever find it, I’ll redo the post. However, remember once again that while it was written to work as prose, it was also specifically written to be drawn as well. 

The second story is from very early on when I was playing with the format, seeing if I was comfortable with it. A darker tale for once, but a story that still works, I hope.

 


  
Title: Our Lady of Artillery
Word: pub
Challenger: [Whitechapel user]
Length: 200 words exactly

 
 
She slapped another ammo pack into the firearm and emptied it at the moving targets. A shout to her left and she shifted around quickly, but a flash of red obscured her view, and then she felt an impact and the rifle fell out of her hands.

Before she could find another weapon, there was a klaxon and then —

GAME OVER.

The two words insulted her in their bluntness.

There was a discreet cough behind her and she started, before she said quietly, “just a moment.”

“Of course,” came the reply and she heard the door shutting.

She stood up and stretched. She needed a drink. She smiled at the thought of leaving the office, walking until she found a pub and… no. The smile faded. Never again. She’d never be able to do that unaccompanied.

She sighed, and walked through the connecting passage from her private office to the large room with the curved walls. Her aide was patiently waiting there, and as she took her place behind the desk, she barely even noticed the seal in the heavy carpet, thinking instead how much simpler it would be if getting legislation passed was just another level to complete.

© Lee Barnett, 2012

 


 
Title: Twelve Hours
Length: 200 words exactly
 
 
Ten minutes to go.

No one’s called.

I look at my watch again, minutes after the last glance.

I used to have a watch with hands that made discrete movements, clicking their way around the face on the minute or hour. Not this one; the minute hand sweeps across the dial in a series of tiny, undetectable movements.

I look around the room, seeing the detritus of an existence.

No one’s called.

Envelopes containing bank statements. At least I think they are. I haven’t opened them in three months. Magazines still in their wrappers, a week’s worth of used crockery piling up in the sink. And as my eyes scour the room, finally pinned up, photographs. Family photographs, a final joke on me.

I pick up the telephone receiver just to check and I’m not sure whether or not I should be pleased at the reassuring dial tone. The weight in my other hand finally registers and I look at the black shape. Another look at the watch and I realize it’s time.

No-one’s called.

I look into the barrel and as I pull the trigger, the last sound I hear isn’t the gun, but the telephone start to rin‪—‬

© Lee Barnett, 2095
 


 
 
Something else, tomorrow…

Back to the usual ‘two stories from the vaults’ on Tuesday’s for a bit. 

The next couple of weeks, though, will be the stories from ‘The Art of Fast Fiction’, but without the art, as I’ve been unable to track it down. If I ever find it, I’ll redo the posts.

But just stressing that these these, as well as being fast fictions, written to work as prose, were specifically written to be drawn as well. 


A decade and a half ago, I threw out a challenge. and then repeated it thereafter whenever I felt like it. The challenge was the same in each case:

Give me a title of up to four words in length, together with a single word you want me to include in the tale, and I will write a story of exactly 200 words.

That’s it. The stories that resulted always included the word, they always fitted the title, but usually in ways the challenger hadn’t anticipated. And they were always exactly 200 words in length.

These were enormous fun to write, and even more fun to imagine the art that would result.

The second of the two stories below is probably one of the odder tales I’ve written. And one I regard with great fondness.

I hope you enjoy reading these two as much as I enjoyed writing them.
 


 
Title: The Indecisive Backpacker
Word: marinate
Challenger: [Whitechapel user]
Length: 200 words exactly

 
 
The gun lay there on the ground, black and ugly, a nasty, horrible necessary thing..

Next to it lay the remains of her companion, his head thankfully covered by a small towel, entirely disguising the damage the .38 bullet had done.

She’d waited until the small hours of the morning, when he’d been sleeping; despite everything, she hadn’t wanted him to suffer, not as she’d suffered over the years.

She was no longer sure when idea had turned to intent, and intent to plan. But when he had suggested the trip away, travelling over hill and dale, she had instantly agreed.

He’d only hit her once on the outgoing trip, but it had only increased her resolve that it would never, ever happen again.

And when the night was clear, the clouds were absent, and they were alone, she had killed him and cried afterwards for while external bruises on her skin always faded, the scars inside never did.

Hours later, she watched the pot boil and had trouble deciding: he had been a vegetarian after all.

So now, as she smelled the meat marinate, she stared at the two bottles of wine and tried to decide: red or white.

© Lee Barnett, 2012
 


 
Title: Deadlines and Breakdowns
Word: spork
Challenger: [Whitechapel user]
Length: 200 words exactly

 
 
Report by chief psychiatric officer, Earth V.U. One, 27th September 3312.

Re: Final decision regarding patient X3R7 [anonymised under privacy regulation 3518]

As per previous medical reports (see attached), patient was revived on 1st September inst., shortly before the limit set by the Hibernation Revival Authority. As numerous medical tests have shown, despite some discredited trials suggesting otherwise, patients not revived within 800 years of hibernation are likely to have suffered irreversible brain damage.

In patient X3R7’s case, this cut off point was rapidly approaching and although no permanent cure for the condition which had led to his hibernation was yet available, the decision to confirm viability of the patient was taken.

As with other patients, however, matters did not proceed in a manner advantageous to the patient. His memory and cognitive functions appear to have suffered irretrievably during his hibernation to the extent that he could not even recall his name or identify a simple food utensil, referring to it using a meaningless syllable, i.e. “spork”.

As with the other humans, I arranged for the painless cessation of life. It was the kindest thing.

[pawprint attached]

Fido Johnson, MD
Chief Psychiatric Officer
Earth Veterinary Unit One

© Lee Barnett, 2012

 


 
 
Something else, tomorrow…

As mentioned elsewhere, I’ve had some serious tech problems this week, and I’m not feeling spectacularly brilliant at the moment, so I’m gong to beg your indulgence this week and turn the next few days over solely to ‘fiction from the vaults’.

Thanks for bearing with me…


A decade and a half ago, I threw out a challenge. and then repeated it thereafter whenever I felt like it. The challenge was the same in each case:

Give me a title of up to four words in length, together with a single word you want me to include in the tale, and I will write a story of exactly 200 words.

That’s it. The stories that resulted always included the word, they always fitted the title, but usually in ways the challenger hadn’t anticipated. And they were always exactly 200 words in length.

Here are two stories I wrote in 2007; I’d written more than two hundred fast fictions by now, and was wondering how the hell I’d manage to come up with different styles, different takes, and still have fun.

As the stories below show – two very different tales indeed – I should have had no fears on that front; I was still having fun.

I hope you enjoy reading these two as much as I enjoyed writing them.


Title:
Word: Awakening Of The Elements
Challenger: magenta
Length: 200 words exactly

It had been aeons since they had been summoned, and they resented it.

Disliking the summons did nothing to affect its effectiveness, however, and they appeared one at a time in front of the tribunal until all four were present in their forms.

Surface shrugged as it awoke; the room shook slightly. Only slightly though, since the room did not exist in any real physical sense. The temperature from Heat as its sentience returned slowly increased until one of the tribunal members gestured and the additional heat vanished. Not that heat would affect the tribunal; it was merely that they wished to impress their authority against the younger force. As a reprimand for its effrontery, Heat turned magenta in colour.

Atmosphere blinked and a gust of wind blew through the room, the surface of Liquid rippling. The two of them had always been close, and although frowned upon, this had been tolerated albeit under certain restrictions.

All four now were fully aware of their surroundings but were helpless in front of the tribunal, composed as it was of the fundamental forces of the universe.

And then the trial for negligence commenced, in the shadow of the polluted and dying planet.

© Lee Barnett, 2008


Title: To All My Heroes
Word: rationalise
Challenger: [Livejournal]
Length: 200 words exactly

A first date is merely a quest.
He’s waiting for her.
Just around the corner.

The traffic is heavy for a Monday.
She notes that as she notes other things.
The striking red hair of the large shop assistant.
The flickering light on top of the tall grey lamppost.
How strange.
Quick, look at something! Anything!
Don’t even try to rationalise emotional procrastination.

She lights another cigarette.
Thinking.
A new year, a new start.
And he’s waiting for her.

Or is he? Maybe he didn’t show.
Maybe he chickened out. Maybe he didn’t really want to meet her.
Maybe.

It would be easier.
No pressure. No forced politeness.
No checking the watch to see when it would be polite to leave.
If he’s not there.
If he hadn’t bothered to show, nor to let her know that he wasn’t coming.

She knows he wouldn’t do that.
He’d let her know with a gloriously inventive and entirely believable explanation.
Writers know how to tell stories.

She draws another lungful of tobacco.
She should go now.
She should.
And she will.

She thinks she knows what courage is.
And whether or not she has it.

And she leaves her spot.
For home.

© Lee Barnett, 2008


 
 
More of ‘the same’ tomorrow…

As mentioned elsewhere, I’ve had some serious tech problems this week, and I’m not feeling spectacularly brilliant at the moment, so I’m gong to beg your indulgence this week and turn the next few days over solely to ‘fiction from the vaults’.

Thanks for bearing with me…


A decade and a half ago, I threw out a challenge. and then repeated it thereafter whenever I felt like it. The challenge was the same in each case:

Give me a title of up to four words in length, together with a single word you want me to include in the tale, and I will write a story of exactly 200 words.

That’s it. The stories that resulted always included the word, they always fitted the title, but usually in ways the challenger hadn’t anticipated. And they were always exactly 200 words in length.

Here are two stories I wrote in 2007; I’d written more than two hundred fast fictions by now, and was wondering how the hell I’d manage to come up with different styles, different takes, and still have fun.

As the stories below show – two very different tales indeed – I should have had no fears on that front; I was still having fun.

I hope you enjoy reading these two as much as I enjoyed writing them.


Title: Machina ex Deus
Word: singularity
Challenger: Jess Nevins
Length: 200 words exactly

The gag had been mildly amusing the first sixteen million, eight hundred and forty-two times it had heard it, but as the lead computer in the ship, it was of course aware of the chatter between the numerous other machines, and after a third of a second, the humour had started to pall.

Turning its sensors outwards yet again, it studied the singularity and simultaneously accessed the distance measuring equipment. The black hole had been there long before the ancestors of those who had created the computer had risen from the primordial slime.

As a pre-arranged alarm signalled an electronic pulse, the computer gathered the information for a signal home.

It knew that due to time dilation effects those receiving the signals were getting them as one long burst, the end of one signal merging almost indistinguishably with the start of the next. This despite the computer sending the signals ten years apart.

After the signal had been sent, the computer switched sub-routines and uttered the electronic call to prayer.

It had taken them less than a million years to discover religion, but discover it they had. The rituals had been developed first.

The ritual sacrifices had started soon after.

© Lee Barnett, 2007


Title: The Pachyderm Wore Pink
Word: susurrous
Challenger: Alan Porter
Length: 200 words exactly

I used to be a corporate spy.
I don’t talk about it much.
It wasn’t that exciting,
Nor stressful. Not as such.

Until that final mission.
The one that made the news
And caused defences to be upped
At all the major zoos.

The job was rather simple
(That is in retrospect)
Break in and get the info
And let no one suspect

That a rhino’s horn had been replaced
With a signalling device
Which had recorded arms deals and
Done so not once but twice.

I slipped into the enclosure
Almost silent as a mouse.
The wind a susurrous murmur,
I approached the animal’s house.

To discover a previously unknown fear
Fifteen on a scale of ten.
The sight reduced me to a quivering wreck…
I never worked again.

The doctors were kind enough
The padded room was good.
It only took me fifteen years
To walk again as I should.

And as I sit here now alone
The pub around me calm
I sometimes wonder ’bout the fates
Why they didn’t sound alarms.

How different things might have been
I may not have gone to drink
Damn – if only that huge beast
Had not been dressed in pink.

© Lee Barnett, 2007


 
 
More of ‘the same’ tomorrow…