Monday, March 29, 2010

The Cobbler and the Barber

A response to Nathaniel Lee's "Cobbler" in Mirror Shards.

On summer nights like these, the cobbler liked to lean back in his chair outside The Black Sheep Bar and watch the pedestrians, accountants in waistcoats hurrying home to their families or couples laughing as they walked hand in hand over the cobblestones.

"You mind if I sit here?" The man pulled back a chair, its legs scraping against the stones as he dropped his stein glass, beer sloshing over the lip to drip down the pebbled side of the glass and stain the wooden table. He lit a cigar and puffed rings of smoke that drifted across the street.

The cobbler lowered his glass of burgundy and twisted his waxed mustache. There was something he didn't like about this man, it wasn't the cigar or the way he took it for granted that the cobbler would enjoy his company, instead it was more like the pharmacist's tale of botflies burrowing underneath human skin.

"I've heard of you," said the man as he tapped ashes on the street. "Shoes repaired, souls resurfaced, a clever placard."

The cobbler itched his arm. "Stop by tomorrow, your soul could use some work."

"Oh no. That would be no good for S.P. Irits." He chuckled under his breath before spitting on the sidewalk. "I'm the new barber in town and you working on my shoes would be a little like my trimming your whiskers." He gulped his beer in a single draft. "Do you like challenges?"

It was a challenge for the cobbler to keep his temper. He swirled the burgundy and took a sip.

"Good. You don't like me." The barber leaned forward, his eyes glowed red in the light reflected off the pink-tinged clouds of sunset. "Well, my challenge is to see whose business will thrive more." He slid a business card across the table before sauntering away.

The cobbler left the business card face down on the table as the breeze blew away the last cigar fumes. After finishing the burgundy, the cobbler flipped the business card over. It read "S.P. Irits' Shorn Hair."

Saturday, March 27, 2010


A response to Nathaniel Lee's "Prompt: Fall of the Berlin Wall" in Mirror Shards.

Once upon a time, two kingdoms lived side-by-side. The kingdoms' princesses and princes married and intermingled their blood. Until one year, that changed. Princess Buttercream had returned home with her husband, Prince Angus, for her brother Prince Avocado's wedding. Some said that it was sibling rivalry, others said that Prince Angus had committed an unpardonable act of sedition. Prince Angus and Princess Buttercream fled back to their kingdom and needled the king until he raised an army.

John was but a kid. He'd been sitting on an upturned barrel in the village peeling peapods and throwing the perfect green spheres onto Main Street when Prince Angus and Princess Buttercream's carriage swept through town. Soon afterwards when the first proclamations for the draft came through, boys lined up to march off to the castle. John joined at the end of the line, but a helmeted soldier, his arms decked out in cold armor and feathers wagging from his helm, placed a gauntleted hand on his shoulder.

"It's not your time, son."

John thought it would've been fun, but instead he was left with doe-eyed girls who moped over their absent boyfriends and mothers that had already begun to grieve for their boys.

One day, John climbed one of the rolling hills behind the village. The cerulean skies brought a smile back to his face. He climbed a tree and looked at the fallow fields that surrounded them. He wasn't usually in the practice of talking to himself, but a strange mood had overtaken him. He looked up almost expecting clouds or haze to have gummed up the sky. It was still sunny, but it no longer felt that way inside.

"Why is everyone so sad?" It was a rhetorical question, John wouldn't have known what that meant, but he didn't expect an answer.

"War wends its way through the village. Boys leave and bloodied bodies will return."

John glanced to his side, he'd thought he was alone in the tree. A tall wizened man, skin brown like the bark of an elm tree, played with the chest-level tufts of his white cloudy beard. His other hand held an intricately carved staff.

"Hi," said John. "Where did you come from?"

"I live here."

"I see." John didn't see, but he thought he ought to say something. He decided to change the subject back to his rhetorical question. "If war is so sad, why do we fight?"

"The answer depends on who you mean by we. I don't fight, I'll watch and maybe burn if the fighting comes here. You, don't fight now but will eventually because war is easy to start and slow to stop. If you mean the Princess, she won't see the bloodied bodies. Unfortunately, she could stop the war."

John swung his legs and the tree branch he sat upon swayed with a creak. Clouds skipped across the sky. "Can I stop the war?"

The old man sniffed his staff. John hadn't known anyone to act quite like this old man. This was his tree, he'd climbed it, and didn't see any reason why he should go somewhere else. The man put the staff down and leaned on its tip, his back stooped. He rummaged in a pocket and brought out a small button-like bit. "Perhaps. There is one way to end the war."

"What is that?"

"Take this seed." John cupped his hands and the old man dropped the bit in his hand. "You must plant the seed on the border on a night when the moon shines full."

"Seed?" The man raved, it was fine for children to climb and swing from trees, but a grown man? He also made little sense. Yet, John needed something to do and this sounded like one of the quests from the tales that the storyteller told.

"A seed for a wall." Walls grew from seeds? They must have done it the wrong way in the village all these years. "Not any wall, but a wall that will be indestructible and tall, unclimbable. A wall that will separate the two kingdoms."

No one knew where the wall came from. Mere days prior to both armies marching, there were reports of a wall. The tallest thing that many of them had ever seen before, taller than the turrets on the castle. There never was war, and the doe-eyed girls rejoiced by grabbing their boy on summer moonlit nights with wild flowers in their hair and they sat underneath the limbs of a gnarled old tree on the hill.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Feral Accountants

A response to Tom Cheney's comic in the March 29th issue of the New Yorker: An exterminator looks up at a woman in a bathrobe on her porch while underneath the porch cower men with briefcases and ties. The exterminator says, "You have a nest of feral accountants under your porch."

Mike found Kathy in the basement where she balanced on top of a box of books and held one of those plastic bins filled with shredded papers over the air exchanger's intake manifold. "Whatcha doing?"

"Working on our taxes."

Taxes? Mike worried that an IRS audit would soon be in their future. It might make him forget the debacle with the clothes-eating Wong industries washer/dryer combo. That wasn't necessarily a good thing. He decided he didn't want to know more about what she was doing. "That's nice dear. I'm heading to bed."


Mike awoke to a chittering noise, at least he'd slept through the shrieks as Kathy drove to work in her Sidhe car. He lifted a slat in the blinds. The sun shone on their green lawn, he was going to have to mow it soon, but he couldn't see what made the noise.

He grabbed a robe and walked out on the porch. The noise was louder outside, like a crowd all speaking over each other. It seemed to come from right under his feet, spooked he walked into the yard. Underneath the porch hunkered men wearing suits and ties as they traded little bits of shredded paper. They mumbled with white flecks of paper caught in their wiry hair. He hoped they had their shots. The last thing he needed was a severe case of accountantism.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Bag Bait

A response to B. Nagel's "Wednesday" prompt in Flashy Fiction.

Holden heard sirens from the Park District when he got off at 51st Street. He searched for the sirens and that was when he saw the black purse tucked into the weeds growing behind the bus shelter. He would have ignored it, except out of the corner of his eye he saw green. Even then, he might've passed the purse if his rent hadn't been two days overdue. He told himself he was looking to see whose purse this was. He'd just take a small finder's fee.

Handfuls of cash. Handfuls and handfuls of cash. Sweat beaded on Holden's skin and he wasn't sure whether he shivered from the breeze or the two men who sauntered down the street towards him. There wasn't any ID in the purse and those men weren't purse carriers. Holden held the purse hidden on the side away from the men and hurried towards the alley. In the alley, Holden clutched the bag to his chest as he glanced over his shoulder at the bus stop. A hand fell on his shoulder, fingers crusted in dirt. "What have you brought me today?"

Holden turned to look at the man, the man was pale as puke except for a black bruise on his cheek and arms polka-dotted with scabs. Evidently, he was a little shaky when shooting up. "I didn't bring you anything," said Holden. He could take this creep.

"I wasn't talking to you." Holden choked on the stench of the man's breath. "She brought a nice young man. I hope you have brains. I could use brains."

The man's arm lurched upwards and struck Holden on the shoulder. The blow threw him against a brick wall. His shoulder stung where the man's hand had held him and he felt blood. He stood as his foot slipped on something wet on the pavement. The man lumbered towards him. Holden still had the purse. He backed away before sprinting for the man who blocked the way to his apartment. He passed him, but felt something trip his legs as he fell and scrambled against the ground. The man had Holden's jeans in his grasp. Holden cursed the man when he heard his jeans rip.

Holden thought the man muttered, "Keep her tight. She'll bring me to you." He shook his head, his imagination must be getting to him. He had to get home, this would pay off the rent. When he looked over his shoulder, the man limped in the alleyway and couldn't keep up.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Brotherly Love

A response to Stefan Jansson's picture posted in Photos From Haninge.

George watched raindrops splat on his windowsill their backsplash sprayed the windowpane. His classmates would have blamed it on Murphy's Law and Spring break, but George bet that Becky had ensorcelled this storm to coop him up inside. He looked around him, he'd played the games dozens of times and by himself they were boring anyways. Why couldn't he go outside?

George traipsed downstairs, perhaps his mom would tire of him underfoot and finally let him go outside. Perfect, she was rolling out pasta noodles on the kitchen table. George climbed a stool and leaned so that his hand blocked the pasta press dispenser.

"Do you want to help make pasta?"

If by help she meant make it as miserable as possible, sure. "No."

"Why don't you go do something?"

"It's raining."

"Sounds like the perfect time to go swimming."

Becky was swimming and he grimaced thinking about the octopus episode. "Don't feel like it."

"Your dad brought home some origami paper. You like that. It's on the table in this study."

George jumped off the stool and ran upstairs. His dad wasn't in the office, but a half dozen red and black square papers rested on a table. George grabbed the papers and ran towards his bedroom. He arrayed the papers around him. One side of the papers colored black like night and the other side red like a lady bug. Or a firebug. George had an idea.

He folded the paper until he got a small folded oval body with black and red patterns and eight black legs folded over each other to create the prickly legs. He folded the other five and threw them into a brown paper bag. He raced down the hallway to look in the window to the pool. Becky swam backstroke and he ducked and crawled below the window.

George ran for Becky's room and opened the paper bag and poured the bugs under her bed. The bugs would feed on stray sorcery that leaked from Becky's dreams tonight and they'd come alive. She'd regret cooping him up today.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Chan's Clone Forest

A response to Deb Markanton's "Saturday Challenge" in Flashy Fiction.

I slipped into the CollabNet suit and its teeth sank into my carotid artery releasing the psycho-electrical drugs that would catalyze my VR connection. The colors of my corner office on the 80th floor of Shanghai's CollabNet building swam together in a slurry mix of gold, silver, and maroon; they faded and my viewpoint resolved within the three-dimensional confines of my clone forest. I reveled in it, no one had more lives. No one had done more. Each one of the green branches of life, twenty-seven of them currently active, stretched and twisted around me including seventeen artists.

I manipulated the display and panned through my active lives checking on them. I looked at the paused branches; where life had been snuffed out. Business was brutal. About to get more brutal. I needed more lives. And there was only one way to accomplish that, more money.

Xinjiang Inc. was weak, ripe for takeover. I switched the display to looking at Xinjiang's employees. They had fewer total lives than Meifeng and myself. I wondered if they were worth it. Xinjiang waited on CollabNet's RFP. I could easily squash their chances with a short call. To kill, or not to kill. That is the question. I would give myself ten minutes to decide.

I switched back to viewing my clone forest and found one of my pleasure clones. I merged my consciousness with him as he/I lay back in a Zongshan hot spring. Water from the pool above him/me washed over our shoulders. The bartender, blood red bikini damp from the humidity, brought a drink. He/I closed our eyes as the jasmine plants growing among the black rocks released their perfume.

Yes, it was worth it. Xinjiang Inc.'s days were numbered.

Friday, March 19, 2010


A response to Nathaniel Lee's "Entropy" in Mirror Shards.

"I just don't get it," said Malcolm as he watched the fluffy white clouds skip across the sky. They lined up in identical small clouds shaped like a trapezoid with rounded corners and puffy edges.

"You're doing it again," said Lizzie. She was just uphill from Malcolm her hair splayed in a semi circle that laid flat on the ground each strand stretched taut.


"The clouds, it's a little spooky."

"Sorry." The wind sheared the clouds so that they changed shapes to no longer look identical. "I'll be the first homecoming king that shows up to the dance without a date." It certainly wasn't for lack of trying.

"Malcolm, you're the most popular kid in school. Isn't that enough?"

Malcolm watched the clouds and they began morphing back into their symmetrical dance as his attention wandered. It was all perfect, but it wasn't right. All his friends -- the whole school for that matter -- had a perfect date. Everyone, except for him. "No."

"Malcolm, you're still doing it. That's the spooky thing. The thing that keeps you from being a perfect match. Everything around you, everything you touch, everything you know, it's perfect. But we want more."

"More than perfect?"

"Yeah, look at Philip and me. Are we perfect?"


"No, we're not. We're both flawed, even with you around who makes our imperfections fade when we're near you, that's why everyone likes you."

"But what does that have to do with more than perfect?"

"You've organized us so that our imperfections match each other."

"So, what does that have to do with my being dateless?"

"No one's perfect other than you, and only perfection will complement you. It's your quest for perfection and order that ultimately causes the defeat."

The identical clouds skipped across the sky in perfect symmetry again. Underneath them, a flock of geese flew in a perfect ninety degree formation.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Kaleidoscope Eyes

Response to Naomi Iizuka's "Concerning Strange Devices from the Distant West" performed at Berkeley Rep.

"Dad, I'm fine," said Yulia. She didn't need to worry her dad about her headache or the way the world flickered as if she was looking through a kaleidoscope at times before it would condense into a single version.

"The police report they found you in Ikebukuro station unable to stand. And it's been what a week since you entered the hospital? Don't you think you should come home?"

"No, I should finish my studies. I've been listening to podcasts while I've been in the hospital. This whole semester will be for naught if I don't finish the exams. Besides, it was the train that injured me," she smiled at the nurse, she saw three of them with identical haircuts; but she knew there was only one there even though one of them appeared male and the other two female. "The nurse is here, I've got to go."

"Be careful --"

"Don't worry, Mori promised to pick me up from the hospital. I'll be home in two months."

"Your mom and I love you."

Mori, wearing a white flower-printed dress, texted from the seat where she slouched. Yulia ran forward when Mori looked up and the rooms split into five mirrored images that she saw all the same time, three of them skewed variants of her running up right towards Mori, another one from behind Mori looking down at herself running towards Mori and the last view was of a plate of meatloaf and mashed potatoes.

They hugged and Mori swiped at an errant strand of hair. "Is everything fine?"

"Fine enough, I can't wait to get out of this place."

They walked to the garage where Mori's father had rented a ZipCar for Mori to borrow. Yulia didn't say anything as she walked even though she caught occasional concerned glances from one or more of the Moris. She had to concentrate to walk while her viewpoints shifted around her. Dr. Kowamurka couldn't explain what she saw. No one could. Yulia took a deep breath, at least Mori was here and she was going home.

She saw him then, a man with a tattoo that began on his upper arms and his white short-sleeved shirt mostly hid the tattoo. He hid behind one of the cars with a gun in his hand. She looked through the sight of a gun and watched as Mori moved towards the crosshairs. She saw the mans finger twitch and she pushed Mori from behind so that she fell forward. A metal dart struck the cement wall and bits of paint and dust ricocheted.

"C'mon Mori, we've got to get out of here."

Mori took Yulia's proffered hand. "Are you sure you're okay?" Mori must not have seen the dart or the man still. Yulia saw him load another dart into the gun. She pulled Mori after her and ran down the garage. There was a ZipCar around the corner; Mori screamed as she looked back at the man who now stood behind them in the garage and fired another dart. He missed missed and he begin to run towards them. Yulia no longer had to pull Mori behind her.

They slammed the doors shut and punched the locked button. They heard the man slap a hand against the back of the car. Mori started the car and threw it in reverse as the man stepped back as they drove a way.

One of the variants of the man had a glowing ball of starlight in his mouth. She thought she saw a brief flicker of a red fox before they left the garage into the sunlight. There didn't seem to be any pursuit.

"What was that?" asked Yulia.

"Yakuza. Did you see the tattoo?" The mob? What would they want with two schoolgirls?

Monday, March 15, 2010

Shaping the Election

A response to RJ Clarken's "Messy Monday" in Flashy Fiction.

Malia waited at the back of the line underneath the dome's greenish tint through which the sun illuminated the red Martian rock. People clumped together in the line outside the precinct's squat building.

"What's taking them so long?" asked a man wearing coveralls, a rebreather engineer. People muttered, some of them cutting to join someone they knew. Chatting. Malia was alone.

People emerged from the precinct, always alone, with blue dye dripping from their arms. Workers in their coveralls, grandmotherly figures with their white hair turning bluish, and children. Everyone got their chance to vote. Well, almost everyone.

Her right arm itched from standing in the ultraviolet radiation. Only two more people, a boy and his mother, before her. She took a deep breath and eyed the people with thick viscous gel running down their arms. She was next. They waved her in.

The boy and his mother stood beside an industrial-sized metal barrel with a blue -- unnatural -- liquid in it. The precinct administrator dunked the boy's arm into the vat.

"But, why mom?"

"It's the shape snakes dear. They're allergic to the blue marker and this will ensure the election is fair. We can't let them vote." Malia shuddered at the mother's comment, allergic meant it would leave them convulsing on the ground until they died within minutes.

The boy giggled, "It tickles."

"That's nice dear."

Malia voted and then stood before the precinct administrator and glared at his eyes, blue eyes, rare here on Mars, and she dunked her arm into the vat.

"Do you want an 'I voted' sticker?"

"No thanks, I've got the marker."

She left the election precinct following the wind, watching the drips from her arm and holding it out at an awkward angle so that none of the liquid would drip on her. Once out of sight of the line of voters, she ducked into an alley and peeled the skin from her elbow and below off. She closed her eyes and morphed her skin growing the nose out, adding some curl to her hair, and decreasing her height. She looked like any other citizen. She donned another elbow-length glove and matched her skin tone to it. "Won't let us vote, we'll see how that goes."

Saturday, March 13, 2010


A response to Suzanne Young's "Friday Funkday" in Flashy Fiction.

"Oh, come on," she says, smiling wickedly. "What's the worst thing you've ever done?"

But I can't meet her eyes. If I tell her, she'll never be here with me again. "Doesn't matter."

"Of course it does, let's do this. You'll tell me in three... two... one--"

I meet her green eyes, they've always bewitched me the way that lines of color explode out from her pupil in shades of brown and green and remind me of a forest, and I try to avoid thinking about the polygraph connected to my arm. "I loosened the bolts on the front wheel of Kevin's bike and bent the end of the forks where the bolt connected so that the wheel would stay on initially, but when Kevin rode over a bump the bolts would pop off freeing the wheel and the forks would hit the ground and buck Kevin off the bike." She smiles and leans forward and my eyes drop from hers to look at the cleavage that peeks out of her leather blouse.

"Mmmm... it looks like you tell the truth. Did it work?"

I remind myself to look her in the eyes. "Yes. I didn't see the crash, but he had some nasty scrapes and bandages on at school."

"Why'd you do it?"

"He was a bully and I was young and hadn't discovered that escalation wasn't the best response." I pray that she'll let it pass. The game had seemed fun at the start, almost innocent. Sweat drips down my forehead and my arms cramp as the rope around my wrists pulls my back straight.

"So that's it, the most wicked thing you've ever done?"

"Yes." I look at her eyes and think of green meadows beneath a cool spring sky with the grass shoots soft like silk against my bare feet.

"No, the polygraph seems to disagree. Let's try this again, what's the most wicked thing you've ever done, three... two... one..."

I am quiet, and hope she tires of this game.

She reaches behind me and as she brings her hand slowly back past my eyes I see a razor blade. I squirm and try to pull my hands out of the rope but it's tighter than I thought it was. "I have ways of making you talk."

I tell her about the pipe bomb in the school toilet. I tell her about the lies I used to get my first girlfriend to sleep with me. I tell her about the time I cost my best friend his job. And still she asks for more.

I hope she tires. I feel like Scheherazade. I spin wicked acts to avoid telling her the one thing I cannot tell her. My wickedness that led me to travel back in time so that her first husband would never be born, my rival.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Goldbug Baques Demons

A response to P. C. Vey's comic in the March 15th issue of the New Yorker.

Two businessmen in suits are waiting for the elevator. A frog-like demon with a pointy tail perches on the shoulder of one of the businessmen who says: "It came with the job."

My scene, "Goldbug Baques Demons":

William Poindexter IV walked past the banker's heart, a black sculpture as hideous as you would expect, and into the lobby of the former Bank of America building. The first week that William had worked at Goldbug, the CEO had remarked he wanted to buy the building's name so he could rechristen it the Goldbug Baques building. That was before the backlash over bonuses.

William ducked as he entered the express elevator so he wouldn't bump its head and pushed the button for the 45th floor. Another man in an Armani suit raced for the elevator and slid in just before the doors shut. He stared at William and backed towards the door.

"Don't worry, he's harmless," said William. He hated the trips out to the San Francisco office. Everyone had these demons back in New York, but they didn't understand out here. "It came with the job." The demon kneaded William's shoulders and he felt one of the claws draw blood. Just what he needed, another suit ruined.

The man's eyes didn't blink once as the elevator shot upwards and when the door chimed he backed out onto the 45th floor. William ducked to leave the elevator and the man shrank back flattening himself against the wall by the elevators. William shook his head. The banker had nothing to worry about unless he was sitting on the other side of William at the negotiation table.

He approached Elizabeth, the receptionist, at the front desk. She typed a command at her keyboard and one of the doors opened. "Good morning William, you have the Mount Everest conference room. Mr. Chang is waiting for you." Elizabeth nodded her head towards two gentlemen who sat in the waiting room. She whispered, "The other party is here early. A negotiator from Lemmon is representing him."

"Thanks." He looked at the Lemmon negotiator, his suit was built to look timeless so it wouldn't go out of style but it just looked bland and cheap to William. This was going to be easy. "I'll just need fifteen minutes with Mr. Chang and then I'll ring you to show them in."

When William entered to the Mount Everest room, Mr. Chang stood up from his seat and bowed. William returned the bow and opened his briefcase to spread out the information they knew about the deal and confirm the limits that Mr. Chang had over the negotiation. It didn't take long to ensure that everything was set for the negotiation.

"Elizabeth, it's William. We're ready now you can show them in."

The two men entered and sat at their seats across from William. He let the demon climb off his neck and it scurried forward to peer at the two gentlemen.

"We are prepared to make a deal. However, there are a few terms that we'd like to change," said William. The demons horned head peered at the two of them who watched the demon rather than making eye contact with William. At least this was going to be quick, thought William.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Bringing up Cabbage

A response to Nathaniel Lee's "Cabbage Patch" in Mirror Shards.

You're wondering why I'm telling the tale about her life. You've heard about her on the newscasts and on Facebook. And you've never heard of me. But, that doesn't mean you know everything. Yes, I'm sure you know how Mr. Draughtsman found her squalling in the center of a red cabbage. I didn't know that when I first met her, and you probably didn't either; it wasn't until her celebrity that Mr. Draughtsman came forward with his tale. Y'all think he should write about her life. But if the story had been up to him, there wouldn't be a book. Just another murder.

I worked for Mr.Draughtsman as a farmhand back then. She wasn't alone, but you mustn't believe Mr.Draughtsman's version, he found a whole patch of kids. He didn't know what to do and he left them in the field. They cried and that's what brought me out while he fetched a tractor so he could till the field. You know how it is with a baby, sometimes one look creates a bond you can't break. It happened that way as I peered at her red skin and those white veins. All the babies cried, but when she saw me her lips curled into a smile and I couldn't leave those blue eyes in the field. I hid her under a jacket and I passed him on his tractor as he drove out to the field.

Even if it hadn't been for her cabbage patch birth, I knew she was different. Not superficially, of course you've all seen that, but she became my companion. I was less a mother, she never needed one of those, and more a friend.

I remember the day, several months after I found her, that Mr. Draughtsman confronted me in the broccoli field as I pushed a wheelbarrow full of broccoli heads. His face was livid, it looked just like hers. I didn't even know he was there till he knocked me over. I sprawled in the mud looking up at him.

"What did you think you were doing?" His spittle sparkled with sunlight as he spewed his hate.

I'm not dumb, but how was I to know he'd heard the rumors about the red-skinned girl. I hadn't even heard the rumors about immaculate birth back then. "What?"

"You rescued one of those obscenities." Yeah, he said that. Go ahead don't believe me, but you must see that he's trying to whitewash this whole past now that she's famous.

It took me a moment before I realized he must have found out about the baby. "So I did. They're human, or at least human enough, she doesn't deserve to die."

"How do you know that? You don't know what she's going to grow into or what chemical pesticides that might lose out of her red inhuman skin."

"It's my life. I'm not scared." I was scared, but every night as she cried I looked at her and knew that I couldn't get rid of her.

"Bring her to me. She should be with her brethren."

"Bring her so you can kill her? That's murder."

"It's only murder if she was human. Where is she?"

I was still in the mud and cold water had soaked my jeans and sweatshirt. "No."

"Turn her over or you're out of a job."


He kicked mud at me. I left the wheelbarrow of broccoli where it had tipped over onto the field and I never looked back. It took years before I found another job as I fought against his hate. You ask anyone in the county and they'll tell you my stories the right one.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Civilization XIII

A response to Amanda Morgan's "Sunday Funday" in Flashy Fiction.

Joseph peered at her over steepled fingers.

"Marianne," he said, "Would you mind telling me why you set your Town Hall on fire?"

"Huh," said Marianne as she dropped a minion who shook his head when he landed on the game board before standing up and continuing to collect wood from the forests.

"Over there." Joseph levitated on his VR cloud over Marianne's cloud so he towered over her. He pointed at a pillar of black smoke rising from Marianne's town tile.

"Oh that, I need to raze the Town Hall so I can expand my basilica." Marianne smiled up at Joseph, she knew he wouldn't understand.

"Marianne, Marianne," he shook his head as he looked down at her, "You can't win without your Town Hall. This is going to be a cake stomp." Marianne looked down to stifle her laughter at his attempt to use a 20th century colloquialism. The kids these days thought they were into veracity. If Joseph had truly paid attention to history, he'd have known that the religious fanatics had lots of babies and always fought the hardest. Marian picked up another minion and dropped him on the basilica.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Alone in Yosemite

A response to Nathaniel Lee's "Recharge" in Mirror Shards.

Hyun Ki Park walked along the Merced River underneath the shadow of El Capitan and his iWrist squirted him data logs on Warren Harding, Tom Bauman, John Long, Jim Birdwell, and other climbers. It looked like a fun challenge but the iWrist warned him that he needed the proper gear to climb the slope, and although he was strong enough to hike in from the drop point, it would take an entirely different level of physical fitness to climb the cliff solo.

These iWrists had no sense of adventure. You'd think as CEO of AppleSK, they'd afford him some respect.

"Don't get maudlin on me," said the iWrist.

"It's not maudlin." He leaned against a tree and watched the green brown water flow past him. He didn't have to explain in words. The iWrist could read his neuron signatures for itself, but Hyun Ki was old-fashioned and liked talking to the iWrist. "Creativity is a part and parcel of adversity. If you protect me too much, I won't provide any value for you."

"You won't provide any value if your dead."

"You're bio-electrical ancestry leaves you too logical. You plug the datastream into your complex simulations to find the optimal solution. These take no risk and find only local optimals. To really win you must take the risk that others aren't willing to follow."

"Take the risks but not with your body. I'm backed up and they can re-create me and graft me with another symbiont. We can't back you up and no other symbiont will measure up to you."

"Well, is hiking to the top of Half Dome risk averse enough for you?"


"Find me a way to get the other side of this river. Thousands of people used to climb to the top of Half Dome before the nuclear fallout." The view must have been spectacular to get so many visitors thought Hyun Ki.

"The satellite shows that all the bridges are out."

"Then find me a suitable ford or I'll have to swim across, and I know you won't like that."

Friday, March 5, 2010

Charity for Zombies

A response to Nathaniel Lee's "Their Stock Is down, but They Simply Refuse to Lay down and Die" in Mirror Shards.

Meifeng walked down the street and avoided looking at the zombies that stuck out their hands for money. It had been a long time since she had gone out and she remembered why she didn't like walking the city streets. She could get everything she needed from her apartment or online and didn't need to deal with this detritus. A tall zombie towered over Meifeng and from his build she guessed that he might've been a failed basketball star. The zombie curled his hands into a fist, but Meifeng just walked around him before he finished closing the middle finger. She'd traveled another block before she heard a crash behind her and looked back to see the zombie with cracks emanating from the cement where his fist had hit. He must've been a new zombie to not yet realize how slow the limits on his processing power made his motor skills.

A young girl stood at the corner and unlike the zombies that stood around her with windblown ratty hair, hers was long and silky and recently combed. As Meifeng neared, the girl ran to stand in front of Meifeng who had to stop to avoid hitting her.

"Lady Meifeng," said the girl. Just what Meifeng needed, the girl had net access and probably already knew her net worth. "Can't you spare some pity for these less fortunate souls?"

Meifeng stepped to the side to go around the girl, but she shifted so that she still stood in front of Meifeng. "No."

"But, you have so many branches I get lost trying to count them. All I'm asking for is less processing than one of your smaller branches. Your charity would be appreciated."

Meifeng spewed her hot breath over the girl, but she still stood there with her hands on her hips. "You're wasting my time and if you're not careful you'll become one of them. Take some advice, do something with your life before it's too late."

The girl spat on the sidewalk but she slipped back to stand against the wall. Meifeng walked and swore silently at the government's subpoena that required her to show up at the courthouse in person.

She entered the courtroom as ordered and was surprised to find the room empty except for one man. He wore a black gown and walked forward when she entered to shake her hand.

"I'm sorry, Miss Lui. The court has ruled to strip your processing power from you."


"This body you inhabit here will be the only body you can continue to maintain and we are dropping your processing power to the bare minimum necessary to survive."

"Why?" Meifeng's thoughts raced. Who'd doublecrossed her?

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Dreamer's Puck

A response to Kristine Kathryn Rusch's post on the difference between dreams and goals in "Freelancers Survival Guide".

Beetle laid back with his feet splayed over the ends of the hammock strung between the edges of the goal posts. There really wasn't enough room for Beetle to fit on the hammock and his head lolled off the edge as his neck bent ninety degrees. His feet hung barefoot above the ice and his eyes were covered by his cap.

Moran, Navy's right wing, had the puck and slapped a ricochet off the ice wall as he sped past the defender and hit a pass to Navy's center who smacked a clear shot at the goal. Baaa. A sheep shimmered in the air before the goal standing on green sod that floated in midair. The puck bounced off of the sheep and towards Moran. Beetle made another save. Army cheered.

Slivers of ice exploded when Moran pushed forward and got a jump on Army's defenseman. He whistled around the edge of the goal and the left wing provided a pick for him that not only took out the defenseman chasing him but also rocked Beetle's perch. The crowd hissed at the referee but he couldn't penalize Navy for rocking the dreamer when it had been Army's defenseman that had hit the goal. Moran pirouetted before the goal so that he could wind up and slap a point blank shot at the goal. Another sheep half submerged in the ice blocked the puck. The other Army defenseman swept in and picked up the deflected puck and batted it forward until he passed to their center. Only seconds remained in the third period and this was only the second time Army's offense had the puck.

Army's center skated through clear ice until at the last moment he veered left as he pitched the puck towards the upper-left-hand corner of the goal. Nothing materialized and the puck slid into the goal. The fans screamed.

The buzzer for the end of the game rang. Army had won by a score of one to zero even though they had been outscored on shots on goal by fifty-seven to one. They were right, Beetle was a natural hockey dreamer.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Cow on the Ice

A response to RJ Clarken's "Monday Maelstrom" in Flashy Fiction. The idea of using airplane pilots came from Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers.

They were flying their approach to Arlanda airport whose glideslope transmitter wasn't working. The countryside was covered with snow and even the evergreens were a single mass of white.

Sven, the first officer, pointed at a brown smudge in the center of a flat plain. "Look at the cow on the ice."

"Don't get distracted," said Captain Lebron, "I don't like the look of the clouds on the radar."

"Air America 377, you may begin you descent to 4000 feet," crackled the air traffic controller.

"Hey boss, we got five maybe ten minutes of fuel left. How about we get this thing down on the ground," said the flight engineer.

"Damn," said Lebron. "Sven, get that air traffic controller on the horn and tell them it's an emergency we better land fast." Sweat dripped from Lebron's eyebrows and the salt stung his eyes.

When the 747 flew into a low cloud, everything in front of them became a single splash of gray. The captain and the flight officer concentrated on the controls and digital displays. The plane bucked as they flew into wind shear.

"Tony, get on the intercom and talk to the crew and passengers," said Lebron.

"What do you want me to say?"

"Anything. Make sure they stay calm." The plane jerked again.

A lightning bolt flashed through the sky and the tendrils like thin twigs on a tree flickered across the aircraft's nose. He felt the thunderclap as the cloudy mist glowed white for seconds after the bolt flickered away.

"Lightning in winter?"

"You know it's one of those friendly Scandinavian greetings where bad is never good until worse happens," said Sven.

"Lovely," said Lebron as he swiped beads of sweat away. "Who told you that?"

"It's one of my dad's sayings. There, see the runway lights."

Captain Lebron flicked the switch to drop the landing gear. A light blinked on the dash but they didn't hear the familiar hum of the landing gear extending.

"Sven, get back in the passenger section and flip the manual override control to drop the landing gear."

Sven raced out of his seat and strode through first and business classes until he got to the panel between the seats in economy. He pulled up the floor panel and lowered himself down below the floor until just his waist and legs stuck up out of the floor and he could reach the override. He flicked it, but nothing happened for a second. He waited and then felt the hum of the landing gear.

He ran back to the front and Lebron pulled the nose up as Sven belted himself into his chair and the wheels hit the tarmac.