Everyday Fiction published my flash story: Wherever We End Up
“Get out of the car, Bridget.”
When she didn’t move, he pounded a fist on the roof and pulled open the door. She stumbled to where he pointed with the shovel and stopped short before the pit. The trees behind him obstructed the view from the road. If you could still call it a road out here.
He asked for her jewellery first. She handed it over, thinking surely he would let her go. Then he made her take her shoes off. The ground in the pit was damp beneath her feet.
When Bridget broke his heart, he vowed he’d get revenge. He wouldn’t stop until the pain stopped. He clenched her bracelet so hard, it poked dimples in his hands.
She spun around in the dirt. “Please! You’re making a mistake.”
When it was over, he tucked the gun in his pocket and patted the mound. He ambled to the hood of the car and lit a cigarette. He was no fool. He knew Bridget was gone. But it still hurt. Maybe it would hurt for the rest of his life.
He contemplated the dead woman in the grave, thumbing the inscription on her bracelet: “Joanna”.
This story came to me in a creepy dream. I wanted to try telling it as briefly as possible. Img via pony_up (cco)
A star shot across the sky in front of us and burned out. Ever since I was a kid, I had been fascinated by how quietly they come and go. You see a flash for just a moment. That’s all you get. If you faced the wrong way, if you weren’t paying attention, you’d miss it all and never see it again.
“You mentioned at port that things weren’t good between you,” the captain said.“It must be hard being this far from home.”
Home. That word again.
“I don’t know. I guess it hasn’t sunk in yet. I mean, Mum didn’t even want me to know. My sister didn’t tell her she was calling me. I really hate that they keep stuff from me! It’s been like that my whole life.”
A handful of sand drained through the gaps in my fingers. I don’t remember picking it up.
“It’s just a lot to process,” I sighed. “No one told me Dad left us. Eventually, I figured it out for myself, but all those years, I thought he was stationed somewhere and work kept him too busy to call. When I left home, I thought, what if I left still thinking he was coming home? I hate that my Mum makes a naïve child out of me, and now it feels like I don’t even get to be mad at her because… because…”
Tears were coming. I could feel them. But I didn’t want to break down in front of the captain. I shut my mouth and held my lips tight with my teeth. I clutched sand in both hands now as I thought about the time some kid from school found my journal and read it to the class. I felt so embarrassed and violated. I thought Mum would take my side, but instead she laughed and told me to go off and play. My childhood was peppered with betrayals like that, but I was supposed to feel sorry for her now. Now that she was-
“I understand.” The captain’s voice brought me back. “My father left us when I was fourteen and it turned my family upside-down. I can’t speak for his reasons, or your father’s, but even with good intentions, parents can still do a lot of damage to their children.”
Excerpt from a first draft. My protagonist having a heart-to-heart with my hero, the captain.
The creases of my body were still damp from the tank, muscles still sluggish from hypersleep. Our foreman read from the roster. Ninety of our mob were grouped by occupation; sensible choices for mankind’s sequel. Of the remaining ten, eight were listed alongside their lifetime achievements. They too were sensible choices.
That left Mike and me. Mike had made coffee in a swank café back on Earth. One of the engineers said he could whip up an espresso machine if a botanist could grow the beans. Everyone agreed Mike belonged. As for me, the foreman checked his list again to make sure there wasn’t some mistake. But there I was, at the very bottom with a blank space by my name. No achievements. No special skills.
We divvied up the food. I overheard the accountant remark to the herdsman that I should have gotten a smaller share. The herdsman nodded quietly, but said nothing. Mike put his arm around me. “Don’t mind them,” he said. “Some qualities can’t be measured.”
By the time my first child was born, Earth II had a basic infrastructure and sufficient comforts for an enjoyable life. Two farmers sustained the whole colony, and taught each household how to grow food to supplement their stocks. The craftsman and the designer supplied clothes and furnishings. The writer and the actor produced plays and songs, which they performed live for a crowd or broadcasted over the small communications network constructed by our three engineers. In the clearing of the botanists’ forest, Mike set up shop. I took orders and waited on tables.
One day, as I served his coffee, the accountant patted my hand and looked me in the eye. “Don’t worry, girly, I know how you feel.” He went on to tell me that the more our cashless society flourished, the more he felt like he didn’t belong.
Mike and I had four children together. He had another seven with other women, and I had another eight with other men. Our mandate was to fill the next generation with as much diversity as we could. Every child in the colony was skilled at something by the time they were nine. They started their own families as soon as their bodies were ready. Girls as young as ten were bringing children of their own to term. It would have been horrifying by old Earth standards, but in this new world, we did what was needed to survive.
Half of our tribe were sent away to start a settlement in the east. Mike died of old age just after our youngest left, and from then on, my life became very quiet. I spent my days making coffee the way he had taught me. I could go for weeks without speaking a word.
Then it happened. When he was thirty, my son by the accountant watched his father succumb to the virus that took Earth. So it had followed us here after all. My granddaughter sat on my lap as I combed her hair; we listened to their final moments from another room. In the years that followed, more from the first fleet fell ill and passed away. Children from our first generation were taken. Then children from the second. Then from the third. The biologists who remained, young and old, raced to find a vaccine, but many of them succumbed too. Our population dwindled.
We received a message from the eastern settlement. The virus had ravaged their populations. Their mission was a failure. They were coming home.
The survivors of their camp reached us as the sun set low over the horizon. We huddled in the chilly evening air and exchanged greetings with warmth and open arms. My heart hung heavy with our losses, but in that fog of sorrow, I couldn’t help but feel a spark of joy at embracing loved ones I thought I’d never see again. My children. Their children.
As I looked through the crowd, I saw in it hints of faces I remembered from our ship all those years ago; the engineers, the botanists, the accountant, my beloved Mike. And so many more. We were one family by proximity and by blood, all carrying the genetic immunity my father planted in me before securing me a place among the fleet. He alone guessed it was only a matter of time before the virus struck again. For my own safety, we told no one. He knew what man was capable of. Yet still, he wanted to give us a chance against the disease. A chance to start over.
So, I was a sensible choice too.
She poked her head round the door. “You wanted to see me?”
“Close the door behind you.” McBride barely looked away from his monitor. “Sit down, give me a minute.”
The office was small and stuffy, lined by shelves bursting with thick binders. Micah wondered if her boss even knew what was in those binders. There was no way he filled all of them himself. But he was the stuff of legends around this place, part of the furniture now. The varnish on his desk was wearing away at the edges. The permanent coffee ring beside his stuffed rolodex was just too perfect.
Micah’s shifted uncomfortably in her chair. It creaked. Her hand brushed against where the paint had come away on the frame, leaving bare patches of metal that slowly rusted. She had adopted one particular patch as her own. Whenever a lecture kicked off, she’d trace its outline to keep her fingers busy so her mind wouldn’t wander.
McBride didn’t look happy when he finally got to her. He looked as weary as his desk and her chair. He looked like he could have filled those binders after all.
“Here we are again.” He spoke slowly, deliberately. “Look, Micah, I’ll level with you. With stats like these, there won’t be much I can do once they start letting people go.”
The outline was different today. A little bigger with a change in shape. Someone else had picked at it since she last sat here. A new thread was loose in the upholstery fabric. It tickled her wrist as she searched for a new rust patch to occupy herself.
“Hey, cheer up, you’re not getting fired today.” McBride leaned forward. “Listen, your survey scores are pretty good. If you can stay orange for a few weeks, I might be able to work something out, all right?”
It was all well and good for the boss to offer, but she had been busting her ass for weeks to get her call stats up. It followed her home. More recently, she started waking up with a sore jaw from grinding her teeth in her sleep. She couldn’t help it if the customers were hard of hearing, or called up on a bad line, or needed every little thing explained. No way could she get to orange, let alone stay there.
But there wasn’t anywhere else she could do. Not with Shelby’s buying up all the support agencies in town. She needed this. She hated it but needed it. Even if she ran out of teeth.
Excerpt from my Nanowrimo 2017 WIP, Sleeper. Img via ronaldo (CC0).
Outside, it stormed. Rain fell hard on the house and the iron sheet roof of the shed next door. Micah was awake when she heard the voice again.
Run, it said, as a bolt from the clouds lit the horizon. Thunder followed. The clock in the hall struck one in the morning.
Her boozey veil was lifting, but the headache kept her pinned to the bed. She squinted against it and tried to keep reading, but in no time, her eyes forced themselves shut.
They opened again in time to stop the book from falling on her face. It was late. She was delirious.
Run, it repeated. She turned off the lamp and curled under her blanket, only just aware of the new resolve burning in her belly. Solid and foreign, unfamiliar.
In the morning, she snuck out before sunrise and ran. Past the house with the broken fence. Over the still highway and down five blocks into the empty school The air was crisp and damp, filled with the sound of her shoes hitting the pavement and then soft lawn.
The grass was a treasure on her feet. They were already aching, confined within her slab-soled Chuck Taylors, the closest thing to running shoes she owned.
She ran across the football field, out the other side and back onto the sidewalk, passing street after street before turning down a long alley with two tracks worn in the grass.
The birds were silent. A wind picked up. The pounding in her chest drowned out her footsteps as she passed panel after panel of corrugated fence; the wall between her and the world.
Up ahead, a hobo mattress lay propped up against a pile of old boxes. Anyone could be hiding there. Her heartbeat tightened into fear; the hood of her jacket became hands on her back. She remembered grandma’s warnings about bad men taking children away if they ran off by themselves. She remembered the story in the paper last week about a girl’s body found in a secluded alley. What was she doing here, alone, in this neighbourhood?
“She asked for it,” they would say, as they pull her, pale and broken, from beneath a sheet of cardboard.
But the voice spoke again: Run.
Excerpt from my Nanowrimo 2017 WIP, “Sleeper”.
“When we upgraded, we recycled some of the old structures for an observation post. It fits six, but we only send a couple of folk out there at a time. We have to be careful not to disturb the wildlife.” She led us to a small rover. “I can have you there and back in a couple of hours if you can spare it. With plenty of time for your scientist to take samples.”
She nodded to me and my heart jumped. Me. A scientist. Someone’s scientist. I said nothing, but smiled and nodded back.
We rode past succulent broadleaves, woody and towering arums, echeveria shapes in unexpected colours, each so uncanny and larger than life. I recognised many plant parts, yet not their configurations or detail. This place was only alien-ish, not entirely unfamiliar. Bird sounds grew louder the deeper we went into the forest. We slowed down to watch a small pack of what looked like medium-sized reptiles bound past. Gigantus lizards, the doctor told us.
The captain rubbed the back of his neck. He drew a breath, then reached out the window and let his fingers idly brush the bushy ferns along the worn road.
Onward we rambled. My mouth hung open the whole time. I breathed in a fly and choked it back out, barely hearing my own hacking over the rover engine and trills from the canopy. The fly landed in my hand, pronotum open, opalescent wings beating. It whistled as it took off.
I have been writing a lot but not posting here. This is a snippet from something I’ve been working on. It’s a big something, the main project that’s been eating my head. Enjoy.
Emily was unfazed by the waft of bile from my washcloth. Maybe I just imagined she could smell it. I certainly could, but the residual taste and debris in my mouth might have been responsible for that. Lunch only tasted good going one way. I had now tested this enough times to know. The waste bin sealed shut and rolled away. Emily handed me a fresh towel and motioned for my arm.
She smiled. But I knew that smile already. She wasn’t happy.
Meant to have something new written last week, but fell so behind. Here’s a snippet from something I worked on over the weekend instead.
For a while, I remained awake.
It felt like I had only just left home, but the readout told me Earth was now long gone. While I slept, wars had been fought and won. People were born. People died. More, like me, were sent out into space, naked in single-passenger pods hurtling towards calculated destinations. But they were calculated so long ago now. There was no guarantee our destinations would still exist by the time we arrived. While I slept, my pod kept logs of everything until it found nothing left to record. Earth’s end was a sudden interruption to my data feed.
So much time had passed, relative to what I remembered of time. My inertia never faltered. I would reach my destination on schedule. As I returned to sleep, I sighed. The fluid in and around me barely stirred in the bellows of my lungs. Still, I recalled the motions of breathing. They felt good.
The next time I opened my eyes, I saw the nebula and all its rings. A shimmering, bulging mass of blue and peach and purple. Like an oyster encased in layers of concentric shells. From this distance, it appeared still, suspended in the void like my body in this amniotic plasma. But my readout tracked vast fluctuations; pulses within pulses within pulses.
By the time a star produces a nebula, it is already reaching the end of its life. This nebula had already been around for a long time. I hoped I would not be too late to catch the white dwarf. It was a risk I knew I was taking when I departed. At best, we could only estimate how old this star would be, but we had no choice but to act.
I checked my vitals: elevated. That would do no good. I ordered the pod’s mood cortex to shift down, the visual cortex to reset my spectrum. I didn’t need to see the colours of this nebula. I needed to sleep.
I was awakened sometime later by a ping. Had one of my comrades veered off course? Did I even have comrades left? I answered the call.
“Oh thank goodness,” came a voice. “I was starting to think your life support had failed.”
“Who is this?”
“Lt. Astrid Black, sir. I was sent from the colonies to rendezvous with your pod.”
But there were no colonies. Earth was destroyed.
“So much changed after you left. Let me send you a data packet. It’s everything we thought you might be missing.”
My chest heaved at the timestamps on Astrid’s data. To her, I was the benign force of a history imagined; the odd feeling you get when you set foot in a museum. Great grandparents hadn’t been born when I stepped into this pod. Yet still, here we were, she and I, holding a conversation.
Or was I asleep, dreaming a wishful dream that my homeworld was still alive?
Her records picked up where my feed stopped. Earth didn’t die when I thought it did, but what they now called the ‘Final War’, ended the broadcast to my pod. It broke out over what resources were yet unscathed by the changed, and still changing, climate. And once it was over, there was little left to save.
The lab that launched the pods completed a colony ship before the war was over. They settled in the mountains of Venus. Between them and Earth’s few survivors, mankind established three more colonies around Sol. One on Europa, one on Mars, and finally when technology had come far enough, Astrid’s home colony on Luna. Even under such duress, humans still carried on. I felt a pang of sadness, thinking of how much more we could have achieved had we not distracted ourselves with warfare and greed. In my eyes and face, the muscles twitched. But my ducts and sinuses were occupied by plasma. I had no room for tears.
She waited while I parsed each file. I found news clippings about every breakthrough in pod technology. Among them was a dossier on Astrid’s mission. Seven new pods were sent out to meet up with the seven launched in my generation. Finally, I reached a document stamped by the Star Council, the Earth Colonies’ new unified government. It was addressed to me by name.
“It’s your new mission, sir,” said Astrid. “We didn’t forget you. There’s been a change of plan.”
May 2016. Img via NASA.
And then there was Maud. She waited tables at Ming’s Food Court. Some nights for the Chinese, some nights for Thai, some nights for the new Korean place that outdid the rest in the noodle stakes. She was a regular gun for hire in the town’s budget hospitality circuit. Competition was fierce in that place and she knew it. She could pretty much guarantee the biggest takings for the eatery she rostered with that evening. Best service in the district; brightest smile. Hell, I saw a few of the rich folk deign to visit because they heard she was working their favourite cuisine. Old Pierre from Chez Royale down the road tried to hire her one. But he let his eyes slip a little too low and she told him where to go. That’s my Maud.
“If she’s so clever, why’s she working here?” someone asked me once. His name was Billy. He’d visit every now and then to collect stories. ‘Human interest’ stories, he called them. The paper would cite him on the byline, but they were all my stories. I was the story broker in town. I could get anywhere and see anything without anybody knowing or caring. I told him about Sam Wood’s fishing adventure down by the lake. Billy went to interview him, but when I got my hands on the paper, it read word for word like the version I told him. I didn’t mind.
Maud grew up in the house at the bottom of the hill. I remember her birth like it was yesterday. It was messy like Daryl Booker’s birthday the week before, but her momma didn’t suffer as much as poor little Amy Ray’s the month after. Maud was a genius from the moment she opened her eyes. She was no older than three when she tugged on my sleeve and reminded me not to put a bad apple in with the other ones. “They’ll all turn,” she said, and skipped off.
Exercise from Developing Characters by Irving Weinman: In about 300 words, introduce a potentially flat character, using third-person narration, as observed by another character. Make the reader understand something significant about the relation between the observer and the observed.