Posts Tagged ‘fast fiction’

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…

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…

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 2006, still having fun with the different formats, still enormously enjoying defying the expectations of the challengers.

I invite you to njoy them as much as I enjoyed writing these two.


Title: Computers Do Bite
Word: random
Challenger: [Livejournal]
Length: 200 words exactly

“I’m not a robot, you know.”

My client looked ostensibly human, but there was a sheen to its skin than was off-putting.

“I don’t suppose it makes much difference to him….”, I said, referring to the alleged victim.

“Oh, but it does,” insisted the machine, “I’m an android. That’s why you’re allowed to be my lawyer.”

I nodded slowly, in understanding. Robots were deemed to be objects under the law, and immune to prosecution for criminal acts; but they were also able to be destroyed by their owners with no more consequences than disposing of a calculator. Androids, on the other hand, were in a constantly shifting legal limbo, but crucially protected from what the court described as “needless and random harm”.

There was a faint whine of servos moving followed by the clink of chains. The handcuffs were silver, the wrists they surrounded only slightly less so.

“We weren’t doing wrong,” it insisted. It knew the law against prostitution didn’t apply to machines. And as I thought of the victim who’d been taken to hospital, his hands clasped over his groin, I looked at the machine with silver teeth, still tinged with unwashed red, that gleamed in the light.

© Lee Barnett, 2006


Title: And Then She Left
Word: consistency
Challenger: [Livejournal]
Length: 200 words exactly

They looked so good together, that was the thing.

If I’d had to lose her to someone who I didn’t like, or who I thought would treat her badly, that’d be one thing. I knew that in the dark hours of the night, I would then rail against the curve balls that life throws at you. But not here, not now. Looking at them, I knew he wanted her with a joyous passion I could barely remember having.

There was, I supposed in the final analysis, a certain consistency in the manner of her departure from my life, since I’d taken her from someone who had once loved her equally as passionately as I then did.

I’d already said my farewells, and watching them leave together would be too painful.

I walked into ‘our’ room, the one in which we’d spent so many hours together. It seemed empty, far too big for just me, and it was only then that I knew that I would never replace her in that part of my heart that still, secretly, loved her deeply.

I heard them drive away, then I turned to my wife and said, “I’m really going to miss that car…”

© Lee Barnett, 2006


 
 
More of ‘the same’ tomorrow…

As mentioned elsewhere, I’ve had some serious tech problems, 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 of the odder stories I wrote, very early on in the project, both from late 2005. I was still figuring out how far I could push each genre, and just generally having a blast writing them. I think it shows.


Title: Just Another Symbolist, Detective
Word: portfolio
Challenger: Chris Siddall
Length: 200 words exactly

I looked around the murder room with new eyes, trying to spot what seemed out of place.

When I’d first come into the room, what had hit me immediately was the uniformity of colour. The choices had obviously been deliberately picked, all specific shades of red, the blood of the victim perfectly complementing the various daubs of scarlet, crimson, vermilion and burgundy.

The strange dripping symbols on the wall, smears of dark ruby against the faint cream background of the wallpaper, also told much to the onlooker, as long as he knew what he was looking at.

I opened the portfolio and checked again. Yes, they were all as expected, and matched the symbols found at other recent murders. On the opposite wall, however, those symbols matched not the recent killings but one committed over a decade ago, a murder that had never previously been associated with the three local deaths.

I examined the pentangle, carved into the victim with a knife left at the scene of the crime.

That was what seemed out of place. I knew I’d missed something!

I reached into my pocket and pulled out the knife. I placed it carefully by his side, and left.

© Lee Barnett, 2005


Title: Vary Gates
Word: vaginate
Challenger: [Livejournal]
Length: 200 words exactly

The hero looked at his leather folder. He unfastened it and took out the vaginate paper: The Sheet, an heirloom that contained The Riddle of The Quest. The Sheet had been handed down from father to son over many, many generations, each succeeding scion of The Realm attempting to prove his inherent worth to others by solving the puzzle.

He had fought his way past the Montoom of Mallaby, had conquered the Dranagie of The Depths and had not once questioned the coincidence of alliteration that tended to accompany such quests.

He had slowly and carefully walked down the well trodden path surrounded by large trees and had found himself in an area of beauty marred only by three doors, gates really, each one decorated: the first seemed to be covered in tools, another beautified by every known type of jewellery, and the third had drawn upon it jars of every shape and size.

The hero read from The Sheet: “When is a door not a door?

After a while, when the tears had stopped, like his father before him, and his father before him, he returned home, defeated.

The hero’s family were, it had to be admitted, exceedingly stupid.

© Lee Barnett, 2005


 
 
More of ‘the same’ tomorrow…

Hip deep in serious tech problems today; literally haven’t got time to write anything new.

So, here’s a ‘fiction from the vaults’ to tide you over…. an odd, but fun, fast fiction.

Sorry…


Once upon a time, Craig McGill sent me an email. He’s a nice guy, Craig; a friend. Or so I thought before I got the email.

The email read as follows:

From: Craig McGill
To: Lee Barnett
Subject: fast fiction challenge

Can you get a fast fiction out of the top 10 words of 2009:

[This came from a published list]: ‘Twitter was followed by Obama, H1N1, stimulus, and vampire. The near-ubiquitous suffix, 2.0, was sixth, with deficit, Hadron, healthcare, and transparency also in the top 10.’

See what I mean about liking him previously?

So, did I do it?

Naah.

I wrote one with the top fifteen words:

Title: Logophilia
Words: Twitter, Obama, H1N1, Stimulus, Vampire, 2.0, Deficit, Hadron, Healthcare, Transparency, Outrage, Bonus, Unemployed, Foreclosure, Cartel
Challenger: Craig McGill
Length: 200 words exactly

He swiped his security card, heard a sound much like his twitter client, and watched the code flash up briefly: H1N1, a joke that had long ago ceased to be amusing, a deficit of humour that permeated his life these days.

Walking along the corridor, his anger grew, an outrage fuelled by unemployed facilities lying idle. Knowing that this should be a working organisation, a stimulus to growth, the transparency of emptiness hurt more than he’d expected. The foreclosure had killed this place; it would soon vanish like a hadron in CERN.

There was nothing more he could do; he knew better than most the sort of vampire it took to suck life from a business.

He stopped at the door to an office on his left, seeing a woman seated in front of a computer, staring at a document: the woman’s termination notice, listing among other things when her healthcare would cease.

Economy 2.0, they called it; a modern nomenclature for destruction. Obama could complain, but this was the American way: success… at someone’s else’s cost.

And he, who had done the deed for the cartel, hated himself just a little more as he looked forward to his bonus.

© Lee Barnett, 2009
 
 
Back to the usual ‘something else tomorrow’, hopefully… tomorrow.

Yes, I’m keeping with the fast fictions on a Tuesdays for a bit, but something a bit different for the next couple (or longer) weeks.

When the estimable Si Spurrier took over Whitechapel (a now sadly long gone message board) from Warren Ellis, he and I came up with what we thought was a neat idea: The Art Of Fast Fiction

As you saw three weeks ago, occasionally, someone – the wonderful Bevis Musson on that occasion – would want to turn the fast fictions into a comics page. Now, most of them – to put it mildly – weren’t written to be turned into comics.

However, I was aware that some of them could be. And I was always happy to give my permission for them to do so, to use something I wrote to do so.

But this was different; I wrote these stories deliberately to provoke artwork.

So, as I said last week “for the next couple of weeks, I’ll put a story up, together with the art that resulted. For the first two, the art will be by the inimitable Ollie Redding, whose creations saw print in the Thought Bubble anthology programme.”

If I can find the artwork for the other stories, I’ll put them up as well; if not, well, you’ll get the story, and you’ll have to imagine the art.

Oh, the idea was that I’d choose the ‘winning’ art, and that person got to issue the challenge for the following week’s story. Which I’d write, and then we’d ask for submissions, and start the whole process over again. We started with the second story in this post, and moved on from there.

The challenge, of course, was the same as usual, with the same rules:

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.

You saw one story, and the art from Ollie that resulted, last week.

Here’s the second,


Title: Rain Falling Like Hammers
Word: waiting
Length: 200 words exactly

It was raining the day he left.

I remember it quite clearly, the certainty of finality. It was done. I didn’t care any more. Nor did he, and we both knew it.

And the Rain fell; I suppose it should have mattered, but it didn’t. Not at that precise moment. Not any more.

He stumbled at the door, and looked back, a world of thoughts in those hazel brown eyes. He didn’t say anything; we’d had too many conversations already where we’d talked a lot and said fuck all.

And there wasn’t much to say anyway, I suppose. My world was ending and I didn’t care enough to stop him leaving.

I turned my head away, waiting a few minutes, and when I looked back, there was only the Rain.

I waited, then looked out at the ruins of the city, half covered with debris, the other half submerged under the waters that had arrived with inevitable force.

I looked up to where the Moon had once been, then down to where car sized fractions of it still hit the city daily.

He left when he knew there was no hope of survival. I stayed because I knew the same.

© Lee Barnett, 2012
 
 

 

Something else tomorrow…

Yes, I’m keeping with the fast fictions on a Tuesdays for a while, but something a bit different for the next couple (or longer) weeks.

When the estimable Si Spurrier took over Whitechapel (a now sadly long gone message board) from Warren Ellis, he and I came up with what we thought was a neat idea: The Art Of Fast Fiction

As you saw a couple of weeks ago, occasionally, someone – the wonderful Bevis Musson on that occasion – would want to turn the fast fictions into a comics page. Now, most of them – to put it mildly – weren’t written to be turned into comics. However, I was aware that some of them could be. And I was always happy to give my permission for them to do so, to use something I wrote to do so.

But this was different; I wrote these stories deliberately to provoke artwork.

So, as I say, for the next couple of weeks, I’ll put a story up, together with the art that resulted. For the first two, the art will be by the inimitable Ollie Redding, whose creations saw print in the Thought Bubble anthology programme.

If I can find the artwork for the other stories, I’ll put them up as well; if not, well, you’ll get the story, and you’ll have to imagine the art.

Oh, the idea was that I’d choose the ‘winning’ art, and that person got to issue the challenge for the following week’s story. Which I’d write, and then we’d ask for submissions, and start the whole process over again.

The challenge, of course, was the same as usual, with the same rules:

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.

To start with, here’s a story, and Ollie’s art that resulted…


Title: The Immortality Drive
Word: tachyon
Length: 200 words exactly

The archivist held himself upright as a matter of pride. Lean by nature, mean by inclination, he was equally feared and detested by the authors who brought their works for inclusion in the vast archives.

The author who now held up her work in supplication was an actual human and the archivist restrained a shudder of contempt that aeons ago, his forebears had come from the same planet. Of course, his ancestors had shown a modicum of taste and left that dirtball as soon as they were able.

The tachyon dissemination drive was a marvel of technology, colours swirling around it; any item placed upon it was transmitted through all time and space, placed in every library through recorded history.

The archivist glanced at the work offered for inclusion. The cover offended him, as did the author , and no doubt the contents.

The archivist barely noticed the author running towards the drive and turned his head just in time to see the author place her hand upon the drive… and disappear.

It never worked, he knew. Another author who would never be read, never even be remembered. It was the work that survived, the archivist knew. Only the work.

© Lee Barnett, 2012
 
 


 
 
Something else tomorrow…

I’m going to keep going with the ‘stories from the vaults on Tuesday’ posts. People seem to like them, and with around 700 of the buggers in the vaults, I doubt I’ll run short for a while.

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.

I’ve put some clever stories up in the past, some horror tales, some sweet and loving, and some where I hope you can find some suspense.

Here, however, are two very silly stories, two absurd tales. I thoroughly enjoyed writing both.

I hope you enjoy reading both as well…


Title: What Love Means Today
Word: sangfroid
Challenger: Douglas Townsend
Length: 200 words exactly

The official representative of the state looked at the two of them. He smiled as he saw her nervously giggle at something the man had said, and then with delight saw her start to colour slightly. The young man responded by running a finger around his collar.

The representative always enjoyed it when they were so obviously ready and willing to commit themselves.

The mothers were busily chatting and surreptitiously eyeing each other’s dresses. There was a moment shortly after meeting, he knew, when they each decided who was the better dressed. And what was more, both of them would reach the same decision. Ah yes, there it was.

He saw the young man’s father pacing nervously, and on the other side of the room, the younger woman’s father looking without a care in the world, exhibiting a sense of sangfroid that would do credit to anyone.

He called them all together, and asked each of the younger people whether they were sure of their choices. They looked at each other, then at their parents, then together announced in the affirmative.

And as the parents pulled their sidearms, the representative of the state gave his blessing to the forthcoming feud.

© Lee Barnett, 2008


Title: Gargoyles, Grotesques and Glad-Rags
Word: taboo
Challenger: Bevis Musson
Length: 200 words exactly

He paused for a moment, entirely at a loss as to how to respond when he heard the handle on the heavy oak door twist with the inevitable creaking sound, remembered from childhood.

The door opening saved Arnoth from having to answer the marriage proposal as his father entered, absent-mindedly scratching the suppurating sore on his arm and whistling a popular song, a painful sound.

“Ah,” his father said, seeing Arnoth and the strange individual, only at that moment becoming aware of their being there and also that he’d interrupted them.

There was an awkward silence, broached after a minute or so by the creature coughing, an astonishingly quiet sound given its bulk.

“Father…” began Arnoth, in a vague attempt to explain the presence of the immortal being made from living stone, but his father merely waved his hand in an offhand manner, far more concerned about the obvious social faux pas taking place.

Arnoth looked at his love, dressed in the flowing golden ballgown, and then at his father, identically dressed, a social taboo of great embarrassment.

Arnoth wondered which of them would volunteer to change clothes first, and uttered a silent prayer that it would be his father…

© Lee Barnett, 2007

And here’s an extra special treat. After I wrote the story above, the person for whom I wrote the story, artist Bevis Musson, turned his considerable skill to the story, and created the art below.

(It’s one of my great regrets that he and I never got to work on a planned project we had, an original graphic novel that I keep promising myself I’ll return to sooner or later.)


Something else tomorrow…

I’m going to keep going with the ‘stories from the vaults on Tuesday’ posts. People seem to like them, and with around 700 of the buggers in the vaults, I doubt I’ll run short for a while.

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 asked for, they always fitted the title, but usually in ways the challenger hadn’t anticipated. And they were always exactly 200 words in length.

Whenever I wrote the stories, I had a backstory in my head, what happened before, what happened next, who the characters are. The backstories aren’t necessary to write – if I’ve written the story well – to understand the story, but they’re there, in my head, so I have the characters nailed.

Rarely, only very occasionally, someone would ask what the backstory was. I was always happy to tell them, but those asking sometimes regretted asking.

One of these, I was asked about. You may guess which one; I won’t confirm.

(The second of these tales, by the way, was one of the only stories where someone used the same word as the title and the word to use. An interesting anomaly.)

I hope you enjoy both of them…

(Note: [via Livejournal] as the challenger merely means it was from a no longer current Livejournal user])


Title: Shoulda, Woulda, Coulda
Word: oddity
Challenger: [Livejournal]
Length: 200 words exactly

I could have, you know. On another day, maybe even I would have.

Maybe.

Three years later, and I can’t get him out of my head.

From that first day in the student refectory, queuing up with people I barely knew, soaking in the sounds.

And there he was. Sitting alone, reading a novel; a shocking neon yellow cover with crimson lettering, an oddity among the conservatively coloured and labelled text books others had.

I’d noticed the book before I had looked at the person holding it. I saw eyes narrowed in concentration, the face betraying someone on the edge of adulthood; features still acknowledging their heredity.

He shut the novel and stretched his long arms out, yawning. Then he stood, placed the book in his bag, and aimed himself at the exit.

As he passed, he gave a cursory look in my direction and continued past.

He stopped at the door, then turned and gave me a dazzling smile…

“I could have, you know. Maybe even I would have… Maybe.”

“What’s that, babe?” he asks sleepily, stirring next to me in bed. I stare at him for a long moment, thinking that I could have ignored him that day…

© Lee Barnett, 2005


Title: Cold
Word:
cold
Challenger: Del
Length: 200 words exactly

I’d been searching for her for three years when the telephone call came.

The ringing interrupted my shower and I turned the water off, grabbing for a towel as I stumbled through the room, drying myself as I went towards the telephone. My hand stabbed out and I pulled the receiver to my ear.

“Charlie?” came a voice I knew so well, moments before I could greet the caller.

“It’s me,” she said, unnecessarily. As if I could forget the gentleness of her dulcet tones. The voice continued, “I’m safe.”

Three years of not knowing, three years of wondering. Three years of hunger for her.

“I… I…” I stumbled over the words in surprise. All my plans, all my carefully worked out speeches. Gone, like they’d never existed, never been planned through the empty nights.

“Don’t try to find me,” she said. “I’m safe… at last. Safe from you.”

“Lisa, don’t go!” I cried, “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry. I’ll never do it again.”

“Once was enough,” she said, sadness suffusing her words.

The phone went dead. It was cold in my hands.

Cold.

Like a children’s game of hide and seek, I felt further away from her than ever.

© Lee Barnett, 2005


 
 
Something else tomorrow…

I’m going to keep going with the ‘stories from the vaults on Tuesday’ posts. People seem to like them, and with around 700 of the buggers in the vaults, I doubt I’ll run short for a while.

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.

In keeping with the recent posts on this blog, here are two very different stories about time.

I hope you enjoy both of them…

(Note: [via Livejournal] as the challenger merely means it was from a no longer current Livejournal user])


Title: The Space Time Continuum
Word: cheesy
Challenger: Mary Picken
Length: 200 words exactly

As we consumed the cheesy nibbles, I grinned at the others.

Abraham was the oldest of the group. He was the earliest time traveller known, although it’s possible that there were others that we’d not yet met, not at this stage in our lifelines.

Tenses could get confused when dealing with time travel, let alone adding in the factor of alien races.

Take Zs3q⁴. Passing for human, just about, this was the second and sixth time we’d met: the sixth time I’d met her, but only the second time she’d met me. I knew that the next time she saw me, she’d have a new hairstyle, bright pink, and I’d be surprised at it. And she’d be astonished that I was surprised since it was, apparently, my idea. I was wondering at what point in this meeting I’d say something that acted as a catalyst.

We were sat in late twentieth Century New York, listening to music that to me was ancient, at least fifty years old. But Charley, used to the crooners of the 1950s, well, he kept complaining that you couldn’t hear the words.

I couldn’t wait to introduce him to the really quaint stuff, like punk rock.

© Lee Barnett, 2006


Title: See The Future
Word:
precisely
Challenger: [Livejournal]
Length: 200 words exactly

Two seconds old: the cry breaks the silence in the delivery room; I stare down at my son, this brand new person who has changed everything. The world is a different place.

Two days old: I look in the crib at him as he sleeps, and fill with pride as I see his chest swell, and then deflate, over and over.

Two weeks old: he’s bigger, but otherwise the same. I feel puzzled somehow, as if something more should be happening. He lifts his head briefly as if in reply.

Two months old: He smiles at me with precisely the same toothless grin as yesterday. Every other child, it might be gas, but he recognizes me. Of course he does.

Two years old: When the hell did he learn to run so fast? And who’s been giving him climbing lessons? I swear, if I have to get him down from the living room table one more time…

Two decades old: And he’s telling me I don’t understand – I’ve forgotten what it’s like to be young.
 


 
Two hours old: I stare at my grandchild in disbelief, this brand new person who has changed everything. The world is a different place.

© Lee Barnett, 2010


 
 
Something else tomorrow…

I’m going to keep going with the ‘stories from the vaults on Tuesday’ posts. People seem to like them, and with around 700 of the buggers in the vaults, I doubt I’ll run short for a while.

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 tales, about two very different subjects.

I remember writing the first with great glee, but a certain amount of trepidation. Writing stories for friends is never easy; writing a story for a writer friend is even harder. Was delighted that both of us were so pleased with the resulting tale.

The second tale went through loads of drafts where I was never quite satisfied with it, until I realised I needed a final ambiguity. And then, somehow, the story worked exactly as I’d intended. And I took huge pleasure in people realising that final unspoken ambiguity was there.

I hope you enjoy both of them…


Title: Doctor Silence’s Last Romance
Word: rectal
Challenger: Warren Ellis
Length: 200 words exactly

The surgeon looked at what was left of the patient and winced. There wasn’t much, but he was jealous of the dead man’s enormous tongue, having lost his in circumstances beyond discussion in polite company.

The collision between the man’s car and the ambulance had destroyed both vehicles, and left not much more of their drivers than various sized lumps of meat that appeared to be only loosely connected.

He started forward then paused, lifting his hands to his face. He gestured and the nurse stripped the blood and gore spattered latex gloves from his hands, replacing them with new ones, and stored those she’d removed for the doctor’s later personal use.

With a raised eyebrow and a glint in his eye, the surgeon leaned forward and plucked from the crevices of what was left of the man’s heart a long thin object. He held it up, gaining a sigh of relief from the watching hospital administrator, who then ticked a form. The rectal thermometers were expensive and could not just be written off merely because of delicacy.

The surgeon smiled at her. And she smiled back, that knowing smile between two people both suffering the same sexually transmitted disease.

© Lee Barnett, 2005


Title: Cheating on Your Wife
Word:
weasels
Challenger: Livejournal
Length: 200 words exactly

It was those damned weasels. You answered the quiz question about their mating habits and looked so delighted; I looked at you and shivered. And then at the bar, three days later; me on my own, you with Julia, our eyes locked briefly, and I somehow knew that you were feeling the same as me.

Neither of us would call it a date, but when we met the following week for coffee before work, that’s what it was. I knew so much about you but was ravenously hungry to learn more. And then lunch…

And from there, I suppose it was inevitable: the daily telephone calls, the sharing of confidences, the slightly risqué emails and text messages.

The hotel was expensive, but all that mattered was that the bed was firm, the telephones were switched off and the outside world could go to hell for a few hours.

It was almost amusing, in retrospect, how determined you were that she not know, the precautions you took, the same ones I was taking for precisely the same reason.

I don’t think Julia would have been amused that person she was having an affair with was sleeping with her husband, after all…

© Lee Barnett, 2006


Something else tomorrow…

I’m going to keep going with the ‘stories from the vaults on Tuesday’ posts. People seem to like them, and with around 700 of the buggers in the vaults, I doubt I’ll run short for a while.

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 tales.

The first was one I started half a dozen different drafts before it felt right; each one I got 100 words though before realising why each was wrong. And then the the final lines hit me, and the actual story I’d been trying to tell all along came into focus. And it just fell out of me.

The second story, however, I knew instatly what the story was, what the ‘twist’ was going to be, everything. One of the easiest tales I’ve ever thought of, and a genuine pleasure to write. And who it was written for just added to the enjoyment.

I hope you also enjoy them.


 
Title: A Reason For Living
Word: askance
Challenger: Sarah Houlton
Length: 200 words exactly

Those of a more urban bent kept the streets safe that night. They’d all been told to do so, but had not been told why. They’d looked askance at the appeal, and had then realised it had not been a request.

The hero considered his long years on the planet. And wept.

He thought of his adopted parents, now long dead. They’d taught him so much, made him effectively human, though he knew he’d never truly be one of them.

He thought of his first wife, buried centuries ago. And the others, so many of them.

He thought of them all. And wept.

He thought of those who wished him harm, and of what he’d done merely to survive, let alone prosper.

And then he heard again the cry of his child. His first child, born less than an hour ago.

And he wept.

© Lee Barnett, 2006


 
Title: The Lord Of Darkness
Word: tombstone
Challenger: Phil Barnett
Length: 200 words exactly

He’d been searching for such a long time, but finally he’d located them all.

The first had been surprisingly easy to find. It was almost too easy, and when he’d lined up the shot, he’d been concerned that he’d savour it too much.

But no, he kept telling himself, this wasn’t personal, even though it was. This was his job, and he was good at it. That she was eighty-three years old shouldn’t have mattered. But it did.

He shot her at three in the afternoon, when the light was good, when the sun was still high in the sky but casting longer shadows than earlier.

The next three were harder, but time spent on the internet, cross-referencing in libraries and directories paid dividends. He traced them, found them and shot them.

The last was, as expected, the hardest: several name changes, emigration, and the loss of records in a too convenient fire were, finally, overcome.

He sighed, and watched the photograph slowly develop in the liquid: his grandfather’s mother’s father’s tombstone.

Then he gathered together the photos he’d taken for the family tree, his present to his grandmother on her one hundredth birthday, and laid them out.

And smiled.

© Lee Barnett, 2010


 
Something else tomorrow…

I’m going to keep going with the ‘stories from the vaults on Tuesday’ posts. People seem to like them, and with around 700 of the buggers in the vaults, I doubt I’ll run short for a while.

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 tales about about the same emotion. The first I remember as taking ages to get just right; the words kept not doing what I wanted. And then, suddenly, they did and I could tell the story I wanted to.

However, sometimes, very rarely, I get an idea from a title and the story just flows. The second tale below was one of them; it wasn’t the first I wrote in verse, but it’s probably one of the most suitable to have written in that format.

Enjoy…


Title: Dizzy With Wonder
Word: Lenient
Challenger: Anna Parat
Length: 200 words exactly

I’m not sure when the exact moment occurred.

But at one point or another, general chatting had turned to mild flirting, and by the time I realised it had happened, we were already sending messages to each other with our eyes.

We were both attending the same conference, she as a speaker, me as a delegate, and when I’d disproved during the Q&A the old line about there being no such thing as a stupid question, she’d been lenient with me, answering the question in a way that didn’t make me feel a complete idiot.

A partial idiot, for sure, but even that was better than I deserved.

To make amends, I’d invited her for dinner, fully expecting to be turned down. Attending numerous conferences over the years had led me to a convenient pattern: dinner alone, meeting up with others for drinks, and then crawling off to bed, alone, in the smaller hours of the morning.

However, she’d accepted and somewhere between being handed the menus at the start of the dinner, and sitting on the sofas ordering brandies a few hours later… magic had taken place.

I was in love, and I never knew when it happened.

© Lee Barnett, 2005


Title: She Loved Mr Valentine
Word: pedagogy
Challenger: Lisa Philpott
Length: 200 words exactly

It wasn’t only lust she felt,
’Twas nothing less than love.
Her thoughts of fondness for the man
Had to come from heav’n above.

The credit was her teacher’s,
The books he’d shown the class.
Pedagogy worked too well –
She’d found her love at last.

And like so many girls before,
She fell for love’s temptation.
Obsession showed her such appeal,
Both fetish and fixation.

Emotions that were new to her,
She revelled in the feeling.
Drowning in desire’s grasp,
Her senses always reeling.

Never thinking that her love for him
Should need to be defended,
Never wond’ring whether innocence
Once broken could be mended.

She knew it was impossible;
She knew they’d never touch
That logic told her to forsake
Her thoughts and dreams and such.

He’d been long dead these hundred years;
His legacy his verse.
Words of love he’d left for her
Her aching heart to nurse.

Constantly reading lines of love,
Her tears making poetry blur
Aching she’d never hear his voice
Reading them lovingly just for her.

And yet in depths of fantasy
Her phone would ring, and he would call.
And then she’d smile.
And cry again.
And stroke the poster on the wall.

© Lee Barnett, 2008


Something else tomorrow…

Housekeeping notes: (1) No blog entry yesterday. Some medical issues/consequences from Wednesday laid me low, and away from the keyboard. (2) I’d originally half-planned to keep the ’55 plus’ in the titles only for the first 10 entries after my birthday but I’m pondering keeping it going for… well, for 55 days. Yes, I know I’ve missed one already and I may miss others. But I kind of like the idea of running from ’55 minus 55′ to ’55 plus 55′. I dunno. I’ll see.
 


I’m going to keep going with the ‘stories from the vaults on Tuesday’ posts. People seem to like them, and with around 700 of the buggers in the vaults, I doubt I’ll run short for a while.

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 tales; the first in answer from a challenge from my then 12 year old son. I always enjoyed writing stories for Phil, and tried never to write ‘down’ to him, but to write a story that he and others would enjoy. The second is one of those ‘playing with the format’ responses. I occasionally wrote them in verse, and even more rarely tried to write one in free prose.

Enjoy…


Title: The Unusual Place
Word: chair
Challenger: Phil Barnett
Length: 200 words exactly

A marked drop of temperature accompanied him as he moved inside the cave, away from where his family were picnicking in the crisp air of the Norwegian countryside.

He’d noticed the place for the first time the previous evening, walking back with his parents and sister from dinner, a patch of blackness on the side of the hills, darker even than the dusk shadowed surroundings.

He gasped as he saw the object, a simple cane, lying on the floor. Nearby, he could see a sharp edged silhouette that resolved itself as he moved, light sliding past him to illuminate the chair.

Of course! he thought, Odin’s chair, and Thor’s cane!

With a rush, he grabbed for the stick, and slammed it to the ground.

The shock of power knocked him back into the chair and instantly he was aware of everything!

He was All-Powerful – how could he not have known his true identity previously?

He was… hearing his mother calling for him. And suddenly Asgard, home of the gods, was just a cave again. And Thor’s hammer was just a gnarled stick.

He left the cave and went out to join the mortals.

But he took the stick with him.

© Lee Barnett, 2007


Title: To All My Heroes
Word: rationalise
Challenger: [Livejournal account that no longer exists]
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


Something else tomorrow…

People seemed to like the weekly ‘couple of stories from the vaults’, so I’ll continue them for a bit.

Some more fiction today. These weren’t easy to write and both took some time for the ideas to come into proper focus, but I was pleased with each when I was done. I hope you enjoy 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 very different tales.

Enjoy…


Title: Results May Vary
Word: animated
Challenger: Cath Tomlinson
Length: 200 words exactly

Everything else could be explained away, but there was no simple justification for his use of hair dye. He hid it behind a loose brick in the stone fireplace, one of the objects in the large house of which he’d once been most proud. It was to this concealed hollow that he’d returned the dye moments earlier, now that it had done its job.

Before he set out, he followed the traditions he’d developed in the long ago: firstly, open the small notebook and count which trip this was, making a notation to denote another journey; next take a quick look around, as if to imprint the image upon his brain, just in case he’d never see the place again. Finally, a single word: “please.”

He triggered the device, (no longer fair to call it experimental), and a whirling shimmering maelstrom appeared in front of him, a myriad of animated effects swirling around the outer edges. He stepped into it, travelling back to the same day, as he had 941 times before, to ask her to marry him, hoping that this time she’d say yes.

He had been 27.

She was still 25.

By now, of course, he was 62.

© Lee Barnett, 2005


Title: Assignment Rights, Certificate Seven
Word: vituperative
Challenger: Larry Young
Length: 200 words exactly

The youngster looked up at the tall, grey haired man as the latter loomed over him. After six similar exercises, it had come to this.

Hands shaking, he gave his work to the gaunt unsmiling figure, who accepted it with a grunt and gestured to the young man that he should sit.

Seeing nothing upon which to plant his behind, he stood uneasily, until a long thin hand angrily indicated the dirty, dusty floor, in which he sat, eagerly.

He was rewarded with a scowl. A short time later, he saw a raising of eyebrows and could detect upset and, dare he suspect, anger?

The sheets of work were thrown at him with great force as the other man rose up. And up. And up, seemingly huge and deliberately self-important.

There was a brief silent pause, before The Scathing began. Merely vituperative and vicious at first, it rapidly got worse.

And then, suddenly, it was over.

He was ushered from the great man’s presence and left to contemplate for a while, as tradition demanded.

A short time later, he was taken to receive his qualification and certificate to become A Writer, having been through The Ordeal Of The Bad Review.

© Lee Barnett, 2005


Something else tomorrow…

Some more fiction today, a couple of particularly fun tales, and for once, I actually remember the ease with which the ideas for these two came to me.

The first seems obvious in retrospect: the alliteraton of the title and the challanged word. The second took some time to get just right, but again the title gave me a mental image around which I formed a tale.

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.

(Note: [via Livejournal] as the challenger merely means it was from a no longer current Livejournal user])

Here are two very different tales.

Mark Twain is reputed to have said that. for a writer, the difference between the right word and the wrong word is the difference between the lightning and the lightning bug. (‘firefly’, for non-Americans.)

Rarely was that more true for me than with the first story. You’ll see why.

Enjoy…


Title: Barbecued Babies
Word: bulbous
Challenger: Sarah Houlton
Length: 200 words exactly

The rain ran rivulets down the wet washed windows, leaving long smears and streaks. She never noticed it, as she anxiously approached the bluff brick building.

“Morning, Mister Monkton”, she suggestively slowly said as she woefully walked unwillingly into the huge hallowed halls of the Association for the Advancement of Alliteration.

“Hello Helen,” he quickly came back with, taking her torn ticket and then scribbling his scrappy signature.

With a superbly stunning smile, she actively aimed herself at the enormously elegant elevator, and saw his sad sallow facial features definitively disappear from view.

When she reached the fifty-fourth floor, and the delicately decorated doors slid silently apart, she heard the howl of hysteria, loud and lurid laughter that presaged problems.

Speedily sloping soundlessly along the long crowded corridor, her opulent office awaited. And once inside, she was stunned senseless by the view of the violet vision therein. It vexed her.

A bulbous mass – botanical, Browallia. Presented in purple, the florid flower festered.

Standing still, she swore, then sighed and slowly sat. Sitting, she searched for her incredibly inconvenient in-box, overflowing with obnoxious officialdom.

The abysmal advertising had to suddenly cease, she decided, desperately.

After all, inflammable infants caused complaints.

© Lee Barnett, 2005


Title: Raindrops on Leaves
Word: darkness
Challenger: [via Livejournal]
Length: 200 words exactly

The foyer of the holo-recreation area looks pretty swish. But then it would, wouldn’t it?

I wonder, as I’ve done before, what’s real, but I chicken out of touching anything to check. I’m pretty sure they rely on that: everyone being too self-conscious in front of the other patrons.

I turn around slowly, looking at the other customers. It has never actually occurred to me before, but how many of them are real? And how many of them are wondering the same thing about me?

I hear my name called and saunter over to the reception desk, sliding my hand over the reader, paying for my entrance.

There’s a brief hum.

I arrive in the darkness of a suburban garden; it’s raining, soft gentle rain.

And there’s a tree.

At least they all think it’s a tree – it’s apparently the best the technicians could design, based upon old images from lots of family videos archaeologists had recovered.

Brown wood with a green covering, now soaking wet from the rain. Can you imagine what this must have been like back in the day?

A representation of real wood: never fails to impress me.

Apparently, it’s from the type called gardinus shed.

© Lee Barnett, 2010


Something else tomorrow…

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-fifth birthday on 17th August 2019. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

Unexpectedly on a Thursday, and especially only two days after I already did a couple of stories from the vaults, due to various reasons, here are another two.

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.

But as you’ll have noticed from the title of this entry, what follows are two stories with the same word to be used.

Not only that, you’ll notice they have the same title.

Two stories, with the same title, the same word. Something’s going on, shurely?

Well, what’s going on are two stories, answering the same challenge.

It only ever happened twice… where I had to write a brand new story answering a challenge I’d already answered.

The second occasion was for an entirely different reason. This one, however… this was in retrospect a weird one, but at the time, was… well, it was also weird but another type of weird.

My wife and I had just split up, a few weeks earlier.

I’ve no idea whether or not that was on my mind when I wrote the first of the stories below. But once I’d written it, I knew I couldn’t publish this first story as the response to the challenge.

Because, as you’ll see, the inevitable and perfectly reasonable conclusion would be… that it was autobiographical.

It’s not; it’s really not. My now ex-wife and I are on great terms; saw her this afternoon for a coffee, as it happens. She’s still one of my favourite people on the planet.

The protagonist of the first version of the story, however…


Title: She Killed Me Twice
Word: enigmatic
Challenger: Tony Lee
Length: 200 words exactly

The first time she killed me, it was with cruelty.

The cold blooded severing of our lives, as she announced she was moving out. She looked around our apartment, summing up six years of togetherness with an apathetic gesture signifying that it had no meaning to her. The look of contempt in her eyes was chilling, made worse because of the utter yet enigmatic lack of expression on the rest of her features.

She took out her keys and one by one, removed any of them that had the slightest link to us. The sound they made as each one hit the table will remain with me for life.

One final look around the place, her eyes sweeping the room and passing over me as if I was of no greater import than a television or a curiously designed lamp.

And then she was gone, leaving me with the detritus of a life, wondering how to recover, how to go on.

Then the telephone calls started, so concerned about how I would ‘survive’, the patronising tone rubbing salt into the still open wounds of my heart.

The second time she killed me was with kindness.

Cruelty was easier to bear.

© Lee Barnett, 2005
 


 
See what I mean? Yeah, that version of the story went into a drawer and only saw print much, much later.

Anyway, the challenge remained publicly unanswered… So I wrote the following: the same title, the same word, an entirely differnt story.

I like both stories. I hope you do as well.

Here’s the second story.

 

Title: She Killed Me Twice
Word: enigmatic
Challenger: Tony Lee
Length: 200 words exactly

She was so excited when the box arrived that it was as if she was a child again, rather than a grown woman.

“It is, it is!” I heard her shriek at the front door, from where I sat, in the living room.

She brought the box in through the hall way and placed it in front of me with pride, the usual expression on her face, a conflation of enigmatic shyness and utter pleasure. Ever since she had opened the first one five years ago and had cut into the complimentary copies, she was wary about opening it herself.

Since then, prudence and superstition (and writers tend to be more superstitious than the average person) had mandated that I open up the parcel for her. I did so, removed the top edition and retreated to the couch to read while she examined the rest of the copies of her latest whodunit novel.

I didn’t do too badly this time around, I decided three hours later; looking at the victims, their names, foibles and eccentricities, I’d only been put to death twice. That was the lowest since the second book. I must have been on her good side that month.

© Lee Barnett, 2005


Something else tomorrow…

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-fifth birthday on 17th August 2019. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

More old fiction today, a couple of favourite tales, and for once, I actually remember writing them; I even remember getting the challenges, coming up with the stores, playing with them to get them just right, and the enormous fun I had writing these two.

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.

Enjoy them…


Title: Official Workplace Sanctity Manual
Word: chrysalis
Challenger:Jen van Meter
Length: 200 words exactly

The firing squad was scheduled for seven in the morning, an hour after dawn.

The flood of legislation since the revolution was staggering: in its first hundred days, the government had rewritten thirty thousand pages of law, reversing eighty years of employee protection in three short months. And like a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis, the country was suddenly different from before. This butterfly had claws, however: it was now illegal, among other things, to take a holiday, to ask for a pay rise, to even work less than six days a week.

The new office procedures manual had only been in operation for eight months, but already thirteen staff had been sent to solitary confinement. This was only the fifth execution though. She glanced at the charges, projected on her wall: “Overt fraternisation.”

She’d smiled at her colleague. And that was all it had taken to be reported. And not much more to be convicted.

She leaned back in her chair and closed her eyes, tired beyond belief. She wondered how long it would be before they came for her. She hoped it wouldn’t be too long: it was illegal to cry for more than six minutes a day.

© Lee Barnett, 2006


Title: Dancing to Silence
Word: articulated
Challenger: Regie Rigby
Length: 200 words exactly

It was three o’clock in the morning and the moon cast its light over the almost deserted area that was formerly a drive-in movie theatre.

The stands which for so many years had broadcast the soundtrack of the motion picture playing were long gone, as was the screen upon which the visual images had appeared.

A pair of lights stabbed the darkness and the silence was disturbed by the arrival of a thirty tonne lorry.

The driver parked and, leaving his lights on but switching the engine off, he jumped from the cab. Brushing himself down, he lit a cigarette and waited. A few minutes later, another lorry, this one carrying twenty tonnes, arrived.

Over the next thirty minutes, fourteen more arrived, their drivers nodding in recognition at each other.

The oldest of them was fifty, the youngest just nineteen.

As the last of them arrived, the rest assumed their positions. The one who had arrived last set up the short wave transmitter and they all put on their bulky headphones.

And, in a darkness lit only by the glare of sixteen articulated lorries, and in what appeared to be perfect silence, the New Mexico Drivers’ Ballroom Dancing team practiced.

© Lee Barnett, 2005


Something else tomorrow…

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-fifth birthday on 17th August 2019. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

Some more old fiction today, a couple of stories that not many people will have read, and almost certainly, no one who’s started following me in the past decade or so.

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.

Occasionally, I’d play with the format… as you’ll see in the second of the two tales below.

One of the delights of pulling these from the vaults has been the fun of rediscovering just how much I enjoy playing with words.


Title: A Wild Ima-djinn-ation
Word: discontent
Challenger: Lisa Jonte
Length: 200 words exactly

It had been dozens of decades since I’d last been summoned, but then, a few months back, she’d found it: the glass bottle with the stopper.

And of course, since it had been filthy, she’d rubbed it with her sleeve.

Damnation!

And once again, as so often before, I had to assuage my new mistress’s discontent.

But this one was clever, oh so clever. She didn’t make a wish at first, but asked me lots of questions as to likely consequences. She even asked what wishes other people had made, and whether they’d been happy with the results. Two thousand years, and no one’d realised that they could ask that.

I’d say Damn her, but that’s already been taken care of.

After I’d answered all her questions, her first wish was simple:

“I wish for everything that will make me happily content.”

And, of course, I had to grant the wish, in the most efficient and speedy manner possible.

Four months later, she’s had no need to use her other wishes, indeed she can’t.

The human doctors call it a “persistent vegetative state”.

Such parochial beings, these humans.

But she’s happy, deep in her mind.

Well, she’s content, at least.

© Lee Barnett, 2007


Title: And For A Sequel
Word: ranunculus
Challenger: Livejournal Elfie
Length: 200 words exactly

And once again, the stranger came;
He came most ev’ry year.
To make a sound, and look around
But mostly to drink beer.

    He’d sully forth, first East then North
    And end up in our place.
    He’d get right drunk, with beer he’d sunk
    Through the hole at the end of his face.

But as he fell, he’d curse and yell,
For times of long ago.
And with each glass, (he’d swear, his last)
My, how the tales did flow.

    He’d tell of things, forgotten things
    Of centuries gone by.
    And challenge those, with woeful prose,
    Who’d call each one a lie.

To folk in town, he was a clown
And no more need be said.
They’d heard before, these tales of yore
And to their homes they sped.

    Then came that day, the first of May
    When spring was in the air.
    The stranger’s heart, it gave a start
    And muscles deep did tear.

He hit the ground, without a sound
The stranger bit the dust.
The doc was called, the body hauled
With very little fuss.

    Permission granted, the man they planted.
    The priest said “dust to dust”.
    Upon his grave, the priest did lay
    Some sweet ranunculus.

© Lee Barnett, 2005


Something else tomorrow…

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-fifth birthday on 17th August 2019. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

Some more old fiction today, a couple of stories that not many people will have read, and almost certainly, no one who’s started following me in the past decade or so.

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.

A genuine delight rediscovering these two from the vaults of history.


Title: Cake And Funnel Clouds
Word: bobolink
Challenger: Livejournal elfie_elfie
Length: 200 words exactly

Propped up on one elbow, I looked down at her, lying on my bare chest, one arm casually draped across my upper body. She stirred slightly, before sinking back into a sleep that she’d later deny. “Resting my eyes”, she’d say. And I’d smile indulgently, both of us knowing that a symphony orchestra could have been tuning up and she’d not have noticed.

Her long russet hair obscured her face, and I gently lifted it away. Eyelids fluttered, and my heart soared.

We were in the shade of a large oak tree, the detritus of our picnic all around us, the fruitcake demolished.

A bird flew across the sky and my eyes followed it, mildly curious as to what it was. Some kind of songbird? A bobolink possibly. I didn’t know; didn’t care, to be honest, other than she would have known.

I loved her deeply, far more deeply than I knew was good for either of us.

The clouds darkened and heavy raindrops started falling; I awoke, suddenly.

Beneath the tree.

Alone.

I hated her being dead… time didn’t cure all wounds, it just made the scars marginally easier to deal with.

But, every so often, the scars itched.

© Lee Barnett, 2007


Title: God’s Got No Nose
Word: transubstantiation
Challenger: Challenger: Ian Sharman
Length: 200 words exactly

The red liquid looked so harmless. Such things always did, and therein lay the jeopardy.

The process had taken twenty-two years to perfect and a further eight to pass every health and safety law to which the state could subject it.

And even after all of those tests, examinations, investigations and assessments, it had required even more time for the methodology to pass peer review. And additional months still for the formal trials.

But now it was complete.

And the scientists, despite every death threat directed at them, were as determined now as they and their predecessors had been those decades earlier when the whole thing had started.

One wag had made the comment that they had a fervour that was religious.

He no longer worked for the project.

But now, it was commercially available: wine made from blood. His blood. Recovered from a rusty nail discovered centuries earlier, and cloned, replicated: duplicated. They didn’t call it transubstantiation; no-one called it that. Not in public anyway.

And then the wine experts had their say: “Tasteless!” “Flat!” “No bouquet.”

And yet somehow no-one could resist the chance to try it; temptation always was the most dangerous thing where He was concerned.”

© Lee Barnett, 2008


Something else tomorrow…

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-fifth birthday on 17th August 2019. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.