Flash Fiction

This is the first draft of my first attempt to write a fable. It’s largely inspired by a series of books I’m reading, The Fairyland Series.

They’re fantastic. Better than what follows, frankly, though I’m pleased with how this came out, especially for something I haven’t yet revised or refined.

It’s long for my typical flash fiction, but still short enough to qualify. As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts on it. Don’t be shy. The comment box is right there, inviting your feedback.

the restless spirit

Before there were Wi-Fi connections or vacuum cleaners, before there were big cities or sedans, even before there were nations or rulers, there were people. They lived in a single village, and their days were spent hunting and gathering.

They hunted small animals and big animals, but mostly small animals because they didn’t yet have an intricate system of tools or weapons, and the big animals could bite rather hard. They gathered whatever they could find – fruit, vegetables, even sticks and mud and rocks – because there wasn’t much else to gather, and they weren’t particularly picky.

All they cared about was food and shelter. And really, that’s two of the three things you and I care about. The third is connection. We want to love and be loved. But the first people didn’t feel this final need because the first people didn’t yet know how to talk.

They lived in the village, not to bond, but for purely pragmatic reasons. They could gather more. Hunt bigger things. It was safer in the deep dark of the night to huddle with other human beings than to hide away in a cave by yourself.

The first village wasn’t a fun place.

During that time, there were many spirits that roamed the world. Most of them are still here today, but their wandering ways have changed. In that day, they explored freely, doing as they pleased, never bothering to hide.

Who would they hide from? All the people in the world were in one place, and the spirits didn’t really care if they were seen, anyway.

The spirits were of all sorts. There were joyful spirits and angry spirits. Spirits of spite and spirits of compassion. And there was one extremely restless spirit.

The restless spirit sensed change on the horizon. How long would people be content in their mud huts with wild berries and unseasoned rabbit stew? Probably not long.

Something, the restless spirit thought, should be done about the potential rise of these hairless would-be upstarts.

And so the restless spirit, who was quite cunning in its own right, manifested itself in the form of a great, wild bear. Bears are strong and large and more than a little scary, even when they’re not hungry or upset.

The restless spirit attacked the village, rending stick shacks and slashing at the inhabitants. A few of the people were killed, but they scattered and hid like roaches when the lights come on. (Like today’s roaches, that is. The roaches of antiquity were as big as small dogs and they hid from no one. Be glad they moved on to wherever giant insects retire.)

The restless spirit left the village in ruins, not a single building still standing, but there was far too little blood to wipe from its paws. In a matter of days the people rebuilt the village, silently working until every hunt was restored. This frustrated the restless spirit, who determined to strike again.

This time it took on the form of a pack of wolves. Wolves are many and harder to hide from. They run quickly and can corner whole groups of people, their rabid jaws snatching and biting.

They came at night, howling and rushing back and forth along the dirt walkways of the village. They flung themselves against the walls of the new hunts, and the hunts came tumbling down. (The first people weren’t exactly master craftsmen.)

Again, the people scattered. The wolves cornered a few, ripping into flesh and ending the lives of a handful. But the second attempt was much like the first. There were only a few casualties. Not enough to put a true dent in their numbers. The restless spirit grew more restless and decided to consider its next move more carefully.

For its third attack, the restless spirit chose snakes and spiders. Both are frightening to look at, and both are armed with poison. Rather than storming in and making a commotion, the restless spirit slithered and crept in at twilight, making use of shadow and stealth. When the people lied down to sleep, it hissed and scampered and bit, bit, bit.

It bit with the long, sharp fangs of the cobra and the tiny, needle-thin fangs of the black widow. It pierced skin and left sickness and death in its wake. The people were much afraid, and more of their numbers died. But the snakes and spiders did not go unseen, and rather than running, the surviving people gathered together in the middle of the village where they built a large fire. The snakes were afraid, and the spiders too darkly colored to hide from the light of the flames. The people trampled any spider that drew near and waved flaming sticks at the snakes.

The restless spirit was defeated once again. It retreated a third time, taking even longer to devise another scheme. Weeks passed before it conceived of its fourth plan. Rats.

Contrary to what you may think you know about rats, they are not aggressive animals. In fact, they get along swimmingly with people and even make wonderful pets. Rats aren’t especially dirty animals, either. However, they tend to carry diseases that can easily be passed along to humans, and this was the core of the restless spirit’s plan.

It found a few sick rats and spread that sickness to many more, and then sent the rats into the village to live among the people, who eventually got sick, too.

This time even more died, wasting away before the people knew what was happening. But they caught on. They removed the bodies of the dead from the village and burned the hunts of those who died. In doing so, they rid themselves of both the germs (which, of course, they knew nothing about) and the rats, who had taken up residence in the empty homes.

The restless spirit cursed, calling out to the earth and sky. What would it take to undo humanity? How could it defeat the people and ensure they never seize upon the full extent of their potential? What sort of attack would that take?

It pondered this, not for days or weeks, but for months leading into years. And then one day while wandering along the shore of the only sea, talking to itself in search of an answer, it came up with its fifth and final plan.

The restless spirit took on the shape of a person and made its way to the village. The other people were skeptical of the new-comer, but ultimately accepting. After a time, the restless spirit began to grunt to get their attention, or hum as it gathered, or cry out as it hunted. One day it pointed to a rock and said, slowly, “Rock.”

And the people listened.

It took an agonizingly long time, but over the course of years the restless spirit taught the first village to talk. And two things happened.

The people of the first village discovered friendship and love. They could put words to their thoughts. They hunted better, gathered more, built more impressive homes, and grew to care about each other.

Except when they didn’t. For sometimes one person wouldn’t like another. And that’s when the second thing happened.

Gossip. Lies. Horribly mean verbal attacks that torn apart friendships and cut at the first people’s hearts.

And smiling to itself, the restless spirit left the village.

It knew the people would continue to build bigger, greater things. That they would one day dominate the planet and all her other residents. But they would never be as great as they could be, and that’s really all the restless spirit wanted.

For the tongue can sooth and comfort. It can heal and create. It can make wrong things right, and restore even the most broken relationships.

But it can hurt and destroy and kill, too.

Words are stronger than a wild bear, more cunning and quick than a pack of wolves, more threatening and poisonous than snakes or spiders, and more insidious and crippling than diseased rats.

Words, the restless spirit realized, can divide. And divided, humanity will never achieve what it could united.

Flash Fiction

I get on these kicks sometimes. I’ll find a fictional device and I want to play with it, exploring it from different angles. If you read last week’s story, you’ll get it. This one uses a similar structure.

Some of this stuff is straight from my actual nightmares. As such, I find this particular story haunting. Eh, it might not scare you. Horror is extremely personal that way.

Regardless, I’d love to know your thoughts. If you like it or hate it, speak up. Tell me what you think in the comments.

devil’s kiss

I woke with a start. Immediately I noticed the room didn’t feel right.

It’s hard to explain. My nightstand was there. The lamp. The alarm clock, those sideways eyes staring me down, blinking, relentlessly declaring the passing of time. A silent scream I can only ignore when I sleep.

But everything was all wrong, too.

The windows weren’t quite square, the tops tapered just enough to leave me uneasy. The blinds rattled in the breeze, and I struggled to remember why I’d left them open. I could hear rain, and the rational part of my brain, the part not really awake yet, tried to tell the rest of me I needed to close them to keep the sills from getting wet.

There was more.

Little things out of place on the dresser. The sense that my bed was shorter than it should have been. No glow from the streetlamp outside. Darkness enveloped me, like a thick blanket on a warm night, and I couldn’t seem to kick my feet free.

It felt like a caricature of my room. An artist’s rendition. It was close, but not accurate.

The darkness hung in the corners like the shadows had mass. They ran under the bed when lightning struck. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw her.

She was short. Maybe five feet tall. Her hair was a tangled mess of black curls and leaves. She smelled like autumn and tasted, I thought, of dirt, though how I would know such a thing I had no idea.

She swayed beside the bed, not four feet away.

I strained to make out her silhouette in the dark, but she might as well have been a ghost. There was a flash and, like a cat, she was somehow closer by a foot. Her head was down, her face hidden in shadow and hair.

Another bolt, and she was closer. I could hear her nails scratching on the caked surface of her nightgown. Was this a neighbor, sleep walking in the middle of a thunderstorm? How had she gotten in? Was it safe to wake her?

Flash. She was beside the bed, near enough to touch. But I didn’t want to touch her. The pale hue of her flesh glowed in the aftermath of the lightning, and I became certain her skin would be cold to the touch. Not cool from the rain. Cold and . . . dead?

I felt panic rise in me, and I tried to move. Only I couldn’t. I couldn’t stand, or sit up, or even roll away. I opened my mouth to scream, but nothing came out. I strained, pushing myself to vocalize something, anything, but my lungs pushed out empty air and frustration.

Light filled my vision, and she was straddling me. I hadn’t even felt her climb on top. Her head hung down and I still couldn’t see that face – that horrible face, for I was certain she was a demon. A specter. A tormentor, and I, her prey.

I felt her weight settle on me, her crouch pressed against mine like we were making love with our clothes on, me and the mysterious dead girl. But I felt nothing. No inclination to caress or thrust. I wanted to vomit, but all I could produce was another neutered cry for help.

Flash.

She was leaning forward. I saw her lips, dry and cracked, blood oozing and glistening in the blue-white light of the storm. She was moving to kiss me, and something inside me knew, simply knew, that if she did it would kill me.

I began to thrash, moving what little I could, trying to break the paralysis. I strained my throat to produce even the smallest sound, and somewhere deep within my chest I felt it coming – the scream I wanted so badly to produce.

Just as her hair tickled my face, as I smelled her sour-sweet breath, as her ashen hand caressed my cheek, it happened. My voice broke through and I bellowed with enough force to break the spell, jolting myself from the nightmare.

I woke with a start. Immediately I noticed the room didn’t feel right . . .

Flash Fiction
This story is simple.

There’s no deeper meaning. No commentary on society or human nature. No treatise on how people should behave, or the consequences of careless action, or even an ode to beauty or love.

It’s just a 400-word gimmick. But an entertaining one.

The entire point of it is the first and the last line. That’s it. All the stuff in the middle was just getting from one to the other, which will make sense when you read it.

Go on, then. Read it.

basically the same

“They’re basically the same thing.”

Jenny gawked. “The same thing?”

Val nodded. She wasn’t even looking at her friend.

“Yeah,” she said. “The same thing.”

Jenny stopped walking. As if on cue, a dog barked somewhere in the distance.

“How is being bitten by a vampire the same as sex?”

Val circled back to her friend. They had the sidewalk to themselves. Hell, they had the street to themselves. But it was well-lit and in a mostly-nice part of town, so neither was particularly worried. Plus, they had cell phones, and Jenny never when anywhere without mace on her keyring.

“Well,” Val began, “both involve penetration, for one.”

Jenny scrunched her nose. Val rolled her eyes.

“Like you haven’t thought about it.”

“It’s that word,” Jenny said. “Penetration. I don’t like how it sounds. It’s so, I don’t know, forceful, I guess.”

“It’s what happens. And in both cases, it’s something hard sliding into something soft.”

“Okay, stop.”

Val only grinned.

“If it’s the first time, sex even involves blood.”

“I said stop.”

Val laughed quietly to herself. “Okay, princess. But you asked.”

“I didn’t ask for details. Not like those.”

“And anyway, you gotta get over being so fucking innocent.”

Jenny’s eyes went wide.

“What?” Val asked.

“You said the f-word.”

Val grinned conspiratorially. “It’s just a fucking word.”

“Stop it. Why are you being so gross tonight?”

Val thought about that for a moment.

“I’m not sure. I mean, we just saw a horror film. Could be that. Or maybe I just like torturing you. It’s what friends do.”

“Well, think about puppies or something.”

“Vampire puppies?”

“No! Regular, cute little puppies. Geez, what is wrong with you?”

Val laughed, and then they walked in silence for several blocks. They parted ways at Jenny’s house. Val lived just three blocks east. They hugged, and Val said she’d call when she got home.

Only she never called.

Cutting through the alley by her house, she’d run into a stranger. A man she didn’t recognize, but about whom she did not have a good feeling. When he saw her, he leered and said, “Wanna fuck?”

“Uh, no, creep.”

A grin split his face, revealing not teeth, but fangs.

“Then maybe a snack,” the stranger replied. “You know, they’re basically the same thing.”

Earlier today, a Facebook friend posted a simple request. “Tell me something good,” she said. I’ve been watching responses come in. It’s a fascinating informal sociological study.

Some of the responses have been genuinely inspiring. Some have been silly, which is its own kind of inspiration. And some, more than I would have expected, have been focused entirely on the responder.

It’s good that so-and-so is older than me, for example. Or it’s good that I’m doing something nice for someone.

Those things aren’t bad, but I feel like there’s something better about finding good outside of yourself. In many ways, that’s the goal of art. To find goodness in the world – in other people, in nature, in the ebb and flow of things – and bring it to light.

Can you imagine an artist who only seeks to highlight what she thinks is awesome about herself? An artist whose sole goal is to convince the world that he’s kick-ass?

(Basically, can you imagine more artists like Kanye West? And . . . I just threw up a little in my mouth.)

Isn’t it better to focus on the goodness outside ourselves? To turn our attention to that which is lovely about the world beyond who we are? To allow that goodness to inspire us and lead us to be better people, rather than just patting ourselves on the back?

I think so.

If you’re up for it, tell me something good in the comments below. Something good that isn’t about you.

Flash FictionThe last several weeks have been pure chaos, though I admit that shouldn’t stop me from writing. I’ll try to be better. I promise.

Thank you for waiting so politely in my absence. You didn’t complain or pitch a fit or anything, and I appreciate that ever so much. Especially given how much you must have missed me. It was agony, I’m sure, but you managed it quite nicely.

This week, I’m venturing back to The Prediction for our prompt:

100 words maximum, excluding the title, of flash fiction or poetry using all of the three words above (‘necessary’, ‘pucker’, and ‘willow’) in the genres of horror, fantasy or science fiction.

I hope you enjoy it.

the price is the price

“Necessary?” he asked. “Is anything really necessary? That willow by the lake, for example. Seems a bit much to me, but there it is.”

I sighed. Fairies are exhausting.

“That’s not what I mean,” I explained. “Is there another way to cover the cost?”

His eyes widened with understanding. “Oh. I see. Too expensive for you?”

“In a manner of speaking,” I said.

“Sorry, lass. The price is the price. Pay it or chew cabbage.”

What could I do? No substitute would work for the spell.

I closed my eyes and puckered. His lips were cool like the autumn breeze.

the 9A friend reminded me of this little bit of wisdom today.

Safe feels good. It feels secure. And it’s a lie.

But you don’t really see that until the risks are HIGH. Then it’s like you’re at the edge of the platform, looking down at a tightrope, and struggling to take the first step.

If you don’t, you know your heart will never soar. And if you do…you might fall. So what do you truly want – to touch the sky or kiss the ground?

Yup. Two weeks in a row. I’m just exhausted.

I’m not done writing fiction. I’ll be back. But I’m not doing.

the 9I didn’t post fiction last week. It’s rare that I take a week off, but it was a crazy-busy week. I could have pushed myself to go ahead and write something, anything, but that’s not why or how I write fiction.

I write fiction because it’s fulfilling. Because it’s fun. Because I want to.

I think all art should come from that place.

That doesn’t mean you never have to push yourself for the sake of art. Sometimes you do. Sometimes art requires great devotion. In the learning of a new skill. In the commitment of time. In slow, methodical execution. Or even in resolve to explore emotion, meaning and purpose on a deeply personal level.

But even then, even when it feels like it’s draining you dry, it should also fill you up. If it doesn’t, why the hell are you doing it at all?