Archive for the ‘writing’ Category

As I suggested when I restarted the blog, I’m going to continue with the “Oh, it’s Tuesday? Here are a couple of fast fictions from the vaults..”


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 very different early tales; I was still discovering how many different genres I could [try to] write.

I have no idea why the first tale went so dark; I remember seeing the word offered (‘zeitgeist’) and thinking I’d write something lighter. As so often, however, the story didn’t end up that way. It was also the first time I got a response of “your mind scares me at times”… which became one of my favourite observations of these stories; it may be a been the first time I received that response… it certainly wasn’t the last.

The second story on the other hand was one that I pretty knew everything about the story the moment I saw the combination of title and word. One o the easier stores to write, but – I recall – one of the harder to edit; a story that definitely took time to get just right.

I hope you enjoy both of them…


Title: My Only Tendency
Word: zeitgeist
Challenger: Dave Bushe
Length: 200 words exactly

I have a quirk. An eccentricity, an idiosyncrasy.

A quirk.

Sure it’s strange, but who’s to say that my habits are any less peculiar than your own?

Oh, you’re going to say that, are you?

Well… to be fair, you’re probably right.

After all, how many other people do you know who collect zeitgeist writers?

I don’t mean writings about the era in which the writer lived: the summing up of a culture, together with its mores and social, political or even occasional legal forays into self-absorption. Neither do I refer to the writings of someone who is generally regarded as the spirit of the age.

No, I mean that I collect the writers themselves. I kidnap them. I stick a needle in their arms and their marvellously clever brain shuts down long enough for me to ‘help’ them into the van.

It’s not been easy, but the cellar at the back of the house has borne witness to many of them over the years.

Every one of them looked upon as the spirit of their generation. And every last one of them writing as their final words their name, scratched on a concrete wall, with their broken… bloody… fingernails.

© Lee Barnett, 2005


Title: My Dead Skin
Word: osmosis
Challenger: Dan Schaffer
Length: 200 words exactly

You’d think it wouldn’t be that often that you got to see your own body on a mortuary slab.

You’d be surprised.

I just about recognised the thing laying on the perspex; it looked like it had been crushed. No bones left at all; just the surprisingly thick epidermis.

I felt a cold sweat as if I’d absorbed the inherent damp of the morgue by osmosis.

“How many more of me are still out there?” I asked my sweaty hirsute companion, hating the question, knowing its necessity.

He looked pale. “Well, the cloning process is inherently unstable, so…”

“You said that three years ago,” I reminded him, “and that they’d all be dead by now.”

“Well, almost all the original clones are deceased,” he said with a squeak, since my hand was by now around his throat. “And the rate of asexual reproduction is diminishing with each generation. The radioactive tags are still there, so at least we can tell when they’ve died.”

I needed them all dead. All of them.

And then finally I could get on with living my own life.

Then I could stop living on borrowed time.

Then I’d finally know that I was the original.

© Lee Barnett, 2005


Something else tomorrow…

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; maybe next year?

But, the first year I did it, in 2012, some of the stories were not Christmas related. They were just… stories I wanted to tell. Here are two of them.


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 written for friends from the first Twelve Days of Fast Fiction, in 2012; two stories that came to me because of who issued the challenges, not because it was Christmas, and the tales show that, I think.

The story written for Kieron Gillen gave me the opportunity to show some affection for Ernest Hemingway’s writing; as Alistair Cooke once said, Hemingways writing has all the leisure of a ticking bomb. And the tale for Amanda… well, it just seemed appropriate for her.

My thanks once again to them both for the challenges, and the fun I had writing the tales.


Kieron Gillen writes beautiful comics; his scripts are glorious things to read, and I love what he does with dialogue.

Absolutely no point in mentioning any – The Wicked and The Divine – specific titles – Phonogram – because they’re all – DIE

You should definitely be reading books by Kieron Gillen.

I first met Kieron Gillen at a comics drinkup, many years ago. That seems oddly appropriate for this tale.

 

Title: Typos and Typography
Word: Hemingway
Challenger: Kieron Gillen
Length: 200 words exactly

There were the three of them waiting when he walked into the room. The table they sat at was long, wide and wood, as tables were meant to be.

Each of them reminded him of his youth, back in the shadows of his past, where the sun shone brightly, the sky was clear, the waters were blue, and hamburgers tasted like they ought to, slabs of meat, on grease covered lumps of dough.

He threw the papers onto the table, and watched the sheets scatter like the bulls in Spain, together but each scouring their own path. The woman leaned forward, gathering the manuscript, pulling it together.

“Anything else?” he asked, expecting nothing in reply. One of them slid a glass full of brandy across the table.

He accepted the invitation to sit while they read, and he drank. Then another. And another. They were pleased, with the drinking and taciturnity if not the writing. They were correcting the work in front of him, the bastards. He took another swallow.

Later, when he sobered up, vomited and vomited again, he hated that he couldn’t hold his drink.

It was hard to be an Enid Blyton when they all wanted Hemingway.

© Lee Barnett, 2012


It’s hard to describe Amanda Palmer without listing all her achievements. But whether you discovered her through her music, her life, her writings, her blog, her kickstarter campaign or just as a friend, she’s worth knowing, following and having around. Her music will make you laugh, cry, get angry and break your heart, sometimes all of those in the same song.

I first met her when I stayed with her and her husband in Edinburgh in 2011. It’s fitting that my first sight of her was while she was playing the piano.

 

Title: Frederick The Unopened Package
Word: realignment
Challenger: Amanda Palmer
Length: 200 words exactly

The chair was hard, its back rigid, as she stared across the small distance.

The baby lay on the bed, making small soft sounds. Was he asleep? She stood, slowly, and looked closely at the child.

The baby’s eyes were closed, and his body still but then he moved his small pink lips, only slightly but it was enough.

She turned away and then stopped as she saw herself in the mirror – the scars had healed, those on the outside, anyway; the surgeons had done their jobs well, the realignment of her jaw and facial features almost perfect.

She looked at the baby’s reflection and wondered who he’d be when he grew up; what he’d see, touch, taste… who he’d love, and who would in turn love him.

Her nostrils flared, and she smelled the acrid tobacco on his clothes and hair before he entered the room. He didn’t need to say anything; his hands had done too much to her already.

She tried not to wince as she picked up her bag, but she couldn’t prevent a gasp of heartfelt pain, a gutteral moan for a life wasted.

Her doctor held her as, together, they left the empty room.

© Lee Barnett, 2012

Something else, tomorrow…

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; maybe next year?

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.

For the final selection from Twelve Days of Fast Fiction, two stories written for children. Oh, the challenge came from their parents, but each had small children and the stories were written for them.

I don’t often write for children, especially since if I’m going to try, I want the adults reading the stories to their children to enjoy the experience as well.

So, to Henry Leo and Dylan, these were and are for you.

My thanks once again to Matt and Bevis for the challenges, and the enormous fun I had writing the tales.
 


 

Matt Fraction is another friend who I’ve not yet met in person; the curse of only ‘meeting’ people online. I’d love to do so, in part to thank him for the many, many clever, insightful and just plain superb stories of his I’ve enjoyed over the years. Also, of course, to congratulate him on his two wonderful children, for whom this story was really written.

Every person should have several Matt Fraction books on their shelves. Judge your friends harshly if they don’t.

Title: The Wrong Christmas Cookies
Word: apocalypse
Challenger: Matt Fraction
Length: 200 words exactly

Sir Percival Prignose, Baker Supreme
Believed every recipe should contain cream.
He considered his judgement much better than others’.
(So no-one really liked him, not even his brothers.)

In his kitchen itself, he was the leader!
(Do you know how bad he was, dearest reader?)
He’d yell at his colleagues, he’d never stop shouting!
An apocalypse of anger, followed by pouting!

And despite protestations from those far and near,
Who’d brandish complaints at him, he’d merely sneer
And continue his baking as he liked to do;
His cakes always yellow, his tarts always blue

One day Sir Percy was laying about,
Recovering from a very long and loud shout.
When he thought of a new thing that he could now bake –
Something he never had thought he should make.

He wondered and pondered: should he really risk it?
He was thinking of baking… a new Christmas biscuit!
He pondered and wondered, and pondered some more,
He’d never done anything like this before.

However, the insistence of the baker Supreme,
Meant that the cookies contained far too much cream…
So if you ever meet Sir Percy, never mention what happened
(Oh go on then, mention them, and hope you’re not flattened!)

© Lee Barnett, 2012
 


 

Bevis Musson is a comic book artist and writer whose work just gets better and better. His Dead Queen Detectives is laugh out loud funny, and for once, it’s a reflection of the creator, as his mind conjures ludicrous scenarios for DQD that make perfect sense once you read them. He’s also one of the kindest, gentlest people I know. He and his husband Chris have two delightful boys, Callum and Dylan. (Dylan suggested the title, so this is really written for him. Shhh, don’t tell Bevis.)

Title: Father Christmas Got Stuck
Word: contemplation
Challenger: Bevis Musson
Length: 200 words exactly

The elves were all ready and waiting;
So far, they’d all had good luck.
But none of that mattered, when they started to laugh
The night Father Christmas got stuck.

He’d been practising going down chimneys,
Getting dirty from soot and from muck.
He called out for help, but help came there none…
The night Father Christmas got stuck.

The reindeers were there in their manger,
When suddenly they were all struck
By the noise and the row and shouting for “Help!”
The night Father Christmas got stuck.

The panic! You wouldn’t believe it.
Everyone running amuck.
Plans were created, then honed and refined
The night Father Christmas got stuck.

His beard was the problem, suggested one elf
If only the hair could be plucked
But that was a rubbish idea, all agreed
The night Father Christmas got stuck.

A heavy weight dropped would just do the trick;
A big elf was ready to chuck!
But Santa would be hurt and it might not work
The night Father Christmas got stuck.

Thinking and contemplation solved the day
They pulled him out using a truck.
But the elves kept on laughing and laughing some more
The night Father Christmas got stuck.

© Lee Barnett, 2014


Next Tuesday is New Year’s Eve, so not sure whetehr you’ll get fiction or something else.

Meanwhile, tomorrow is Christmas… no idea whether I’ll post something or not.

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; maybe next year?

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.

Here are two stories written for friends from the third Twelve Days of Fast Fiction, in 2014.

Two of my very favourite Christmas stories I wrote. Both very deliberately written for the people who challenged me. Had someone else issued the same challenge, there’s no way I would have written the same story.

The story written for Nick Doody did, I hope, appeal to his wondrous sense of the darkly absurd. And the tale for Antony Johnston… well, he has the glorious and pleasing imagination I gave the curator.

My thanks once again to Nick and Antony for the challenges, and the fun I had writing the tales.
 


 
Nick Doody is one of my favourite writers and stand-up comedians. He’s also – no coincidence – one of the smartest comedians on the circuit. His very intelligent, very funny material makes you think long after you’ve left his shows and he never plays to the lowest common denominator. Nick seems to suggest ‘you’re not as stupid as the politicians try to pretend, so let’s not pretend it either, eh?’.

His Edinburgh shows are always hour long pieces of wonder, and his writing on Dave Gorman’s Modern Life Is Goodish is part of what made that show so utterly splendid. If you get the opportunity, go see him perform; you won’t be disappointed.

Few people know that Nick Doody hunts the Snark on alternate Fridays, but the Boojum only once a quarter.
 
 
Title: Weaving With Angels’ Hair
Word: frenulum
Challenger: Nick Doody
Length: 200 words exactly

Once, the sight of the three heavenly beings would have caused tears of joy. Were anyone human to see what was left of them, however, weeping of a different sort would commence from hearts broken in sorrow and condolence. The remains of the angels were not pretty to look at, their once proud wings shredded and torn away, heads that had once been covered in glister now ravaged and torn, with dried puddles of ichor in place of coruscation.

Lucifer looked upon the works of his lesser demons and winced; there was no care taken here, no professionalism, just savage butchery.

“Have you anything to say in your wretched defence?” he asked in a deceptively silken tone.

The demons shuffled upon immortal coils, and one held forth a soggy mess of what had once been golden locks, the hair now dull and lifeless. Its fellow incubi and succubi looked on as it presented Lucifer with what appeared to to be a woven basket of some sort, angel feathers protruding at obscene angles, and a dripping frenulum or six.

“Happy Christmas…?” it managed.

Lucifer sighed loudly and with great care; it was going to be a long holiday season this year…

© Lee Barnett, 2014
 


 
Antony Johnston is an intelligent writer, by which I mean that you become more intelligent by reading his books. His works always make you think, and re-readings of his superb opus Wasteland and his sf comic The Fuse make you think even more. His book with Sam Hart – The Coldest City – was adapted into Atomic Blonde for the cinema.

And his graphic novel take on Julius Caesar – Julius – is flat out the best adaptation of the tale I’ve ever read, bar none.

I’ve known Antony for close to two decades now and I don’t think I’ve ever not been impressed by the way his mind works, and how that mind executes the ideas he has.

Antony has seven plans to escape the forthcoming apocalypse, but he only ever talks about three of them.
 
 
Title: This Lion Of Winter
Word: astrolabe
Challenger: Antony Johnston
Length: 200 words exactly

The scotch had barely been poured when the telephone rang, and the curator of the museum smiled and walked briskly to his desk, the heavy glass in his hand. He thumbed the appropriate button and softly asked “Yes?”

“It’s gone, sir. Again!” The distorted, exasperated but anxious voice of his security chief filled the room, and again, the curator smiled. He didn’t need to ask what had gone; indeed, had this particular theft not occurred, it was he who would have felt anxiety.

“OK, George,” he replied. “Same report as usual.”

Minutes later, scotch warming the curator’s chest, the head of security strode in, a large buff file in his outstretched hand.

The astrolabe was old, at least a thousand years old, and every year, every December, it vanished, returning the following day, polished and gleaming. Who would need an astrolabe for twelve hours, everyone asked. Who would even know how to use it properly? No-one admitted what they suspected, or at least hoped.

The curator picked up the photograph and shook his head in admiration. Navigating via astrolabe; that took style.

He raised his glass to the window. “Be safe tonight; happy travels.”

Then he drank, and smiled.

© Lee Barnett, 2014


Some more Christmas fiction next week…

Meanwhile, something else, tomorrow…

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.

Here are two stories written for friends from the second Twelve Days of Fast Fiction.

Two very different stories await you; two very different stories for two very different writers. One of the stories below is quite absurd, one quite sad. I leave it to you to decide which is which. My thanks once again to Sarah and Simon for the challenges and the fun I had writing the tales.


The past few years have been fun for the many fans of Sarah Pinborough’s writing, including me. Glorious prose that grabs you and doesn’t let go until you’ve found out… what happens next. And her tales stay with you long after you’ve finished reading them, percolating in your mind until they pop up, delightfully unexpectedly.

I like her (and her writing) a lot.

It is not well known that Sarah once solved 16 Soduko puzzles simultaneously while blindfolded.

Title: It Lived Under Monday
Word: butterfly
Challenger: Sarah Pinborough
Length: 200 words exactly

It lived under Monday, whatever It was;
It’d been there a very long time.
Eating away at the start of the week,
Dissolving the minutes with lime.

It arrived on Sunday, but quickly decided
The first day It didn’t like much,
And with butterfly whim, It fast looked around
For sustenance, comfort and such.

Saturday was not to Its taste,
Nor Friday; not at all to Its liking;
And Thursday was ‘manufactured’, It felt
Full of metal and plastic and piping.

It then spent a fortnight in Wednesday;
It thought that It might have found home.
But boredom with the middle day of the week
Occasioned It once more to roam.

Tuesday It liked, It actually liked.
It burrowed and set up Its den.
Then sighed at the inelegance of the name of the day
And eventually moved once again.

So It lived under Monday for many a year.
Millennia had gone past by now.
Since It created Its residence under the Day
And fed on each minute and hour.

There It stays all year, except for one day.
It journeys not far, never fear.
Just to whatever day Christmas is on.
Don’t you think it goes faster each year?

© Lee Barnett, 2013


Si Spurrier is a writer of extraordinary talent with a viciously funny talent for plotting stories and then executing those plots. I use ‘executing’ advisedly, as his writing identifies any sacred cows you might have, then takes them out back and uses a bolt gun on them. And smiles while doing so.

I’ve known the man for more than a decade and I never cease to be grateful for it.

It’s a little known fact, by the way, that Si is short for Sin Wave.

Title: Every Word Is Wrong
Word: except
Challenger: Si Spurrier
Length: 200 words exactly

Once a year, Santa rises from a months’ long sleep, and walks to an desk that was ancient when he first commenced his duties. He sits at the desk, then dips a plain quill pen formed from the feather of a long extinct species of hen into a bottle of pure raven ink.

And then Santa writes a letter. And into that letter, the legendary jolly good-natured fellow pours out venom and bile, anger and bitterness, begging to be released from his responsibilities, analysing in forensic detail why he should not be obliged to continue his rounds across the planet known as Earth.

When he has finished, he places the letter face down and leaves the room, returning immediately. And always, always, there remains only a white card, upon which is the single word CONTINUE.

Santa Clause never swears. Never. Ever. Except when he reads the card.

Then Santa launches his sleigh over a world covered in white, a uniformity blanketing continents, what were once countries, and the blistered remains of cities.

Santa spends the day in his craft, his tears freezing against his thick beard, listening to the sound of radiation laden winds, desperate once again for sleep.

© Lee Barnett, 2013


Some more Christmas fast fictions next week.

Meanwhile, something else, tomorrow…

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…