Category Archives: Short

Between 1000 and 10,000 words. A complete story.

Where did you go?

The metal frame is cold in my hand as I look down at your face, perfectly centered in the rectangle of glass. As I stare at your image, I remember a different time when you were full of life, and I wonder; where did you go?

 

I remember you as a child, in the sandbox at the local park. You were fearless, and would approach anyone your age and simply begin speaking to them. It was impossible to resist your games, even the sullen boy who kept glancing at the library on the corner and claimed to hate playing soon found himself running and laughing with everyone else, fingers cocked into Star Wars blasters and shooting at each other. “Pew, pew!” everyone cried, and “Ahh!” you would clutch your chest dramatically, stagger a few times, and then fall over. Then it was back on your feet, and now the game was playground Parkour, everyone rushing this way and that, using the equipment as springboards to launch themselves high into the air, or to spin around in a tight circle until, one by one, parents would come to pick up their children. But that was okay, you said, you would see them all again next week.

 

I remember you as a teen, hanging out during lunch with your friends on the semi-circular concrete bench of the quad at school. You smiled so easily back then. Sitting on the back of the bench, with your sketchbook in hand, you would draw funny pictures based on things that were happening around you. You had that talent for finding humor even in the cruel teasing and casual bullying of children. I still have the picture you drew after Mick, the bully, wedgie’d little Ron Goldman. In the picture, Mick looked surprised that Ron was showing no pain as his underwear was yanked up, and just enough of Ron’s shirt was open to reveal the big red Superman “S” on his chest.

 

I remember when you embraced skateboarding. With a beat-up old deck you bought at a garage sale for two dollars, you would go to the park and ride for an hour or two every day after school. You never minded the bumps and scrapes you got, claiming with a laugh that they were your ‘battle scars’ and that ‘chicks dug them.’ You let your hair grow long to fit in better with the other skaters, and started wearing baggy cargo pants. Even when they invited you to go tagging with them, you managed to turn it into something different. The others were spraying their names or obscene slogans on walls, and you made little pictures of alien planets, or recreated Van Gogh’s Sunflowers. And when you got caught and the shop owner made you work every weekend for two months to clean off all the paint, you accepted this as just and right payment for your fun. You even won that shopkeeper over to your side; he gave you your first job, working part time after school.

 

I remember you in college, sitting on the couch in Julie’s dorm room with your guitar on your lap. You had been flirting with learning to play for a few months, and you were so enthusiastic that no one had the heart to tell you how bad you were. But you obviously figured it out on your own, for I remember that one night when you started playing a song about yourself, making fun of your terrible singing voice and your inconsistent strumming. Even now, I remember you laughing as you sang, shaking your head. Then you apologized to everyone for putting them through all of that, and you put the guitar away for the last time. I saw it a week later in the window of the pawn shop just off campus. But oh, how you loved to play in those few short weeks.

 

I remember you getting ready for your first serious job interview. Mom straightened your tie for the third time, and you laughed and pulled her hands away. “I got this,” you told her with a cocky grin. I don’t think she ever realized how nervous you really were, or how excited you were at the opportunity. It was only a paralegal job, sure, but it was in the law industry, and you were going to make a difference. You had a plan, of course. Two years of paralegal work to get to know the industry, then you’d take your LSATS and go to law school. You were going to be a junior partner by 26, and a full partner by 30. The long hours didn’t bother you, you said. You could handle it.

 

I remember you getting ready to go to Spain. With great enthusiasm, you packed your bags. Some conference for work, an excellent chance to network with others. You hadn’t yet gotten around to those LSATS, but that didn’t matter, you said. This was going to be a game-changer. If things went well with your presentation at this conference, you’d have your choice of firms to work for, and could make whatever conditions you wanted. Your timeline may have been set back slightly, but you were still on track, you said.

 

It’s late now. I have to get to work. Time to get going. I give you one last look in the mirror, push back a wayward strand of hair, and set it back down on the table by the door. I try not to think about the lines on my face, or how my hair is turning more salt than pepper. I try not to think about the expectations I once had, before the daily routine ground them out of me. I try not to think about the past, but still, every now and then I wonder; where did you go?

 

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Rebirth

It had been a concern for as long as anyone could remember. It was an issue that would, inevitably, spell the end of everything if a solution could not be found. After a time, it became all anyone talked about.

Entropy.

The gradual breaking down of systems, the slow movement of all matter and energy away from all other energy and matter.

It had first been hypothesized billions and billions of years ago. Someone pointed out that the Universe was either moving too slowly and would eventually collapse back in on itself under its own weight, or it was moving too fast and the various components would eventually scatter until the entire universe was nothing more than random molecules floating in empty space, so spread out and diffuse that they could not gather to form stars or planets or even comets. The universe was doomed either way, it was believed, but it would not happen for uncountable billions of years.

Uncountable billions of years passed, and the thought was still with people. It lingered in the back of scientific textbooks during the rapid, glorious expansion of the Hegemony. It was briefly popular as the cause célèbre during the height of the Spinward Empire. It rested, briefly forgotten, on inert data crystals during the Long Dark that followed the civil war that ended the reign of the Galactic Oligarchy. It was rediscovered during the Trader Prince era when worlds, long isolated, were connected again by a web of trade routes by independent ship captains, but it was relegated to the status of interesting but not pressing.

As the years crept swiftly by, the thought began to take on greater significance, first among the academic communities, then the scientific, and finally it reached the popular channels. People had adapted to live in conditions their ape-ancestor genes had never considered: the bottoms of worlds mostly made of water, in stations or hollowed out asteroids, in the dim crimson light of red giant stars. They lived on hot worlds, and cold worlds, and worlds where the air was full of trace compounds that made it poisonous to people at first, until they adapted. Worlds with higher-than-normal gravity, worlds with lower-than-normal gravity, worlds with no gravity at all. But the one thing all these worlds had in common was the need -for- worlds. People never did adapt to living in hard vacuum at temperatures so close to 0 Kelvins that the difference was purely academic.

And so the collective might of the universe was brought to bear on the issue. Science and industry turned away from the study of quantum teleportation and wormhole study, and focused on matters of gravity manipulation. It was theorized that if people could create artificial gravity, they could selectively ‘pull back’ the drifting, diffusing molecules and re-start stars, re-form planets.

Entropy would have its laugh however. They found ways to do this, but they cost so much in terms of energy use that it was actually a losing proposition for star rebuilding. Still, the people had fun walking on walls and ceilings for a few decades before that got boring and they relegated the use of gravity technology to vehicle transport.

The answer came, as is often the case, not from the major think tanks or the government agencies tasked with finding a solution. The answer, when it came, came from people on the so-called ‘fringes’ of the scientific community. Those who had continued to study the older sciences, who had not made the transition over to gravity study. People who studied things like ‘quantum entanglement’ and ‘string physics’ and ‘membrane theory.’ In particular, it was the last that was the salvation of all.

“We cannot stop Entropy,” the spokesperson said, “for Entropy affects even attempts to stop Entropy. Our universe is going to die. What we can do, however, and what we need to do, is to harness the energy we have left and use it to escape this universe. We shall open a breach, a portal if you will, to another membrane, another universe. A younger universe. We will then step across into this new universe, where we can use all the other sciences and technologies we have invented in the last billion years to make it our new home.”

And so the largest exodus the universe had ever seen began. Billions of worlds, each containing billions of people, threw every resource into opening portals. The new universe that the scientists had discovered groaned under the weight of all these new refugees. It did not take long before the scientists of one world, moving forward from the research that the others had laid down, found a way to go to another young universe. Why, they reasoned, should we share our universe with all those other people when we can have an entire one all our own? Other worlds saw what they had done and did likewise. And rather than one universe with the inhabitants of billions of worlds, there were billions of new universes, each with only one world’s worth of inhabitants.

And the people looked at their new universes, full of new stars and new worlds and energy to last trillions upon trillions of years, and they saw that it was good.

———————————–

Yeah, it’s more than 500 words. My blog, I can do that if I want. So nyah.

This story was inspired by the great Isaac Asimov’s story The Last Question, one of the master’s favorite amongst his own stories.

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Sarah and the Goblin-King

A snippet (the first couple sections) of a longish short story I’m working on. Just thought I’d toss it out there and see what people think. In particular, do you like the sort of archaic ‘voice’ of the narrative?

 

 

There was once a young woman whose father was a mighty knight in the service to his king. They lived in the king’s palace, a beautiful castle with thick walls for protection and cheerful stained-glass windows for light and large fireplaces with deep chimneys for warmth. The young woman, whose name was Sarah, grew up there. Unlike the other ladies of the castle, Sarah spent most of her time watching her father train the soldiers in the courtyard, or riding his horse, or jousting with the other knights.

 

Sarah was a sweet girl, well-liked by most of the men-folk of the castle. The women tended to get frustrated with her, because she refused to spend time in ‘womanly pursuits,’ such as weaving and embroidering and cooking. She did play the harp, however, and such was her skill with that instrument that on those few occasions when she deigned to grace the castle with a song or two, it was inevitable that those present would stand still, as if spell-bound, until her fingers left the strings.

 

“It is amazing she can play at all,” Lady Beatrice, the king’s spinster sister, was heard to remark on more than one occasion. “Surely all the time she spends out of doors, playing with the boys, have left her hands far too rough and calloused for such gentle work.” And indeed, it was true that Sarah did spend most of her time in the yards, playing chase with the dogs, or riding the half-lame gelding her father gifted her with for her sixteenth birthday. She spent time with her father’s squire, watching as he polished and repaired her father’s armor and weapons, and it must be said that more than once Sarah did these chores herself while the squire, a sturdy boy two years younger than her, sneaked into the kitchen to steal hot, sticky buns or pinch a joint of fowl which he would share with Sarah for their afternoon snack.

 

So avid was the girl’s attentions to the duties of knighthood that Sir William, her father, was heard, more than once, to joke that all she needed was a firm cloth to strap across her chest and a mummer’s beard, and she could sit a horse in the summer games. At these times, the men would laugh and the women, particularly Lady Beatrice, would scowl. Sarah herself had no reaction to this joke, for her father was ever careful to make sure she was not present lest he give her ideas he might later come to regret.

 

Her father needn’t have bothered himself over the matter, however, as these were thoughts Sarah herself had come up with on her own long ago. “It is not fair,” she would complain to Gerard, her favorite dog. Sitting in the lee of the kennel, with her legs drawn up to her chest and Gerard’s head resting on her knees while she gently rubbed a silky ear or scratched his broad forehead, she would oft tell him of her trials and tribulations (as she saw them) while he, with the wisdom of his kind, listened in silence and accepted the head rubs that were his due. “I know as much about fighting as any of the new squires. More, even!” she would complain, and Gerard would lick her nose. It is a well-known fact that it is nearly impossible for a young woman to stay angry when there is a dog licking her nose.

 

This, then, was Sarah’s life. It was a good life, if a little dull. It was a happy life, if a little quiet. It was a peaceful life, which was really the problem with it as far as Sarah was concerned.

 

It wouldn’t last.

 

#

 

Winter was normally a quiet time in that part of the world. The ground was too hard to till. The air was too cold to grow crops. The roads were too icy to invade one’s neighbors. There was little to do except the day-to-day business of keeping up the castle. Even the training of the men-at-arms in the yard was, for the most part, curtailed except for a few hours a week to keep the men in what the king liked to call ‘fighting trim.’

 

As the days grew shorter and the stores of lamp oil grew lower, people took to their beds earlier and earlier. Thus it was that one night, scarce past the seventh bell, most of the castle folk were preparing to adjourn to their rooms or cells or mats in the kitchen, when there came at the thick wooden door to the great hall a raucous clatter. Curious looks were exchanged, and Sarah’s father went, with two other men, to see what was the matter.

 

One of the king’s men was there, shivering in the icy night air. One of the king’s guards he was, one of two who had the misfortune to draw the gate-watching duty for that night. “There is a man,” he said between teeth-chattering shudders, “outside the gate. He seems grave wounded and more than half-frozen.”

 

Weapons were swiftly collected by the men before venturing out into the cold. More than one war had begun and ended on the same night when an act of mercy was rewarded by a swift van of soldiers taking and holding the open gate until the main force of the invaders could arrive. Charity is a gift to the Gods, it was said, but stupidity profits only the Black Lady.

 

The precautions were unnecessary this time, however. The man collapsed outside the gate was alone and unarmed. The king called for the fires, previously banked for the night, to be built up again. The castle chirurgeon came down the stairs quickly, still tying off his night-robe around his frail old body. Curious on-lookers were made to stand back so that the chirurgeon had enough light to ply his craft as he looked over the nearly frozen man. From her place at the balcony over-looking the great hall, Sarah also looked the man over although it is unlikely that she and the chirurgeon saw the same things.

 

What the physicer saw was a man in his mid twenties, suffering from malnutrition, frostbite, and a particularly nasty gash along his left thigh. What Sarah saw was a man in his mid twenties, fair of skin and dark of hair, with a pleasingly handsome look to him and the well-worn clothes of one who has seen much and done more in his time. In short, she saw her One True Love, or so she imagined at the time.

 

“Oh, let him be well,” she whispered softly to herself. Many of the other young women in the castle expressed similar sentiments, and the older women smiled knowingly. If the young man lived, the collective fathers of the castle were in for a rough winter.


 

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The Sanctuary

This is a snippet of an idea I’ve been kicking around for some time, about a bar that is a sanctuary for people who need it. It may appear in one of my books someday. Today’s exercise is just to get some ideas and a little story down on e-paper.

Sandra staggered into the bar shortly after 11:30 on a Friday night. Blood oozed around the hand she had pressed to the long, nasty cut on her left side just above the hipbone. People glanced up at her as she stumbled against one of the tables. I waved her towards the backroom and tossed my towel to Tom, the assistant bartender. Coming around the front of the large mahogany bar, I put my arm around her and helped her to the back room.

She could have picked a better time to get knifed. There were too many eyes in the bar tonight, too many people saw her come in. In addition to the regulars, there were eight tourists; a group of four college kids from the Valley, and two couples from elsewhere come to see the ‘real’ Hollywood. Definitely not good.

I helped her into one of the cots in the back room we keep for those too drunk to drive home, or those who, for other reasons, need a place to crash for the night. Thanks to her injury, Sandra fell into the later category. As I eased her back, the door opened again and Tina slipped in.

Tina was one of our waitresses. Small and slender, with an unruly mop of blonde hair and huge green eyes, she wasn’t as popular as the more voluptuous Desire, but she had a vibrant liveliness to her that more than made up for her lack of rack. Also, she was about three weeks away from receiving her RN credentials. I stepped aside and let Tina get to work, hovering around only so I could talk to Sandra.

“Sandra, who did this?”

She hissed in pain as Tina pulled her shirt away from the wound, tugging and reopening a clot. She hissed louder when Tina splashed some antiseptic on the nasty looking cut. “Raymond,” she finally replied.

I nodded. I had suspected as much, but it was good to have confirmation.

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Starlight on the Water

The lake was first discovered by scientists using the Hubble II telescope way back in ’39. At the time, it was merely a small curiosity in a galaxy filled with them, none of which we could do much more than speculate on and occasionally say, “ooh, neat,” about. That all changed in ’82 when Krueztner and Fields applied for the patent on their logically, if un-originally named Krueztner Field Device.

But even after the first prototype EFTL-drive manned vessel rolled out of the factory, the lake was somewhere in the bottom half of the things scientists most wanted to explore. It ranked above, “funny oval-shaped asteroid in elliptical orbit around the third gas giant in Rigel Kentarus,” but below, “that nebula in Andromeda that sort of looks like a candy-cane.” So it was many years, and thousands of missions, before anyone got around to visiting the lake. In the meantime, we had discovered life on other planets (none of it sapient, of course), built the first true artificial intelligence, and cured the common cold.

When we finally did travel to the lake, it was a small mission comprised of three scientists in a hundred year old EFTL vessel meant for a full team of ten. The trip took six weeks, even with Effectively-Faster-Than-Light travel methods. The trip was, by all accounts, boring and quiet. The vessel felt, according to Dr. King, the mission leader, “practically empty.” The mission on site was expected to take no more than a handful of days. Go out, get some samples, take some readings, and head home. That was the mission. The Agency even booked the vessel they took for another mission four days after their expected return.

What they found when they arrived was not what anyone expected. Not that anyone knew that right away, of course.

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The Eyes of the Cat

In response to Ken Broad’s “Octo’boo’er” challenge: Sarahann’s Shoppe of Earthbound Souls.

I first saw the Cat on the back of a shelf, in the back of a little curio shop whose name I have forgotten, in the back of a little strip-mall in back of the dim sum place where I used to like to eat. I almost passed it by, but a glint of something green caught my eye and I turned to see where it came from. There was the Cat, half hidden behind a box of incense holders and a little jade elephant. I was instantly drawn to it.

It was, like many of it’s kind, one of those little statues depicting a cat sitting upright, with one paw raised. Sort of a Buddha like pose, again typical of the sort. Most of the Lucky Cats I had seen before had been white with some black markings, but this one was was different. This one was entirely black, entirely black except for the eyes which looked like emerald. I assumed, at the time, that they were actually green glass. I know better now. I assumed, at the time, that since it was in a Chinatown curio shop, that it was made by the Chinese. I know better now. I assumed, at the time, that my wife would think it was really cute. I…

… was right about that one.

She squeed when I showed her the Cat. On the chance you’re unaware of Internet culture, to ‘squee’ is to squeal in delight, preferably while making tiny little clapping motions with your hands in the ‘prayer’ position. I have to explain this sort of thing for obvious reasons.

I wanted to put the Cat in the living room where it could be admired by visitors and relatives. She wanted it in the bedroom where it would give us Luck in our endeavors there. No, I won’t explain what I mean by that other than to say we had recently begun to wonder if we had wasted all the money we spent redecorating the spare room as a nursery, and leave it at that.

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In Tears and in Silence

Normally when I write fragments, they are the ‘beginnings’ of longer untold tales. This is an experiment in writing the ‘ending’ instead.

The building was confusing. Each room, it seemed, held four doors that looked like they had quartered glass panes but they did not, in fact, look into the next room. On the soft, white walls above each door were a list of names and numbers.

A Sanderson 1

C Hex 3

S Wheatley 4

K Rexford 6

Each door had a different list, although some names were repeated. They seldom had the same numbers next to them with each repetition.

Karen was the first one to figure it out. She stepped through the door mentioned above, and then poked her head back in. “It’s a code,” she said. “We’re looking for Sam, right? This door says Sam Wheatley, 4. I step through and the door on the left in THAT room says S Wheatley 2. 4 is the left door, if you start counting from straight ahead as you enter the room.”

Jill followed Karen’s trail into the other room, calling out to us, “Then if that is right, the next room behind the left door will have Sam’s name above the right hand door.” There was a pause during which time we could hear the door opening, and then Jill yelled, “And it is! Karen is right, it’s like a treasure hunt! Come on!”

We hurried to follow her, looking at the names above the door indicated in the previous room. It seemed to be working until the fourth room, when Sam’s name had a 7 next to it.

“There aren’t 7 walls,” Amanda said. She frowned as she looked at Jill and Karen for an explanation. I was the one who figured it out however.

“No, there aren’t,” I said. “But count to seven from ahead anyways: one – ahead. Two – right. Three – the door we just came in. Four – left. Five – ahead again. Six – right. Seven… the door right in front of us.” I stepped through and then turned and looked above the door behind me and sure enough, there was Sam’s name again. This time it had a 2 after it. “It’s a 2. Turn around, and look to the right.”

Armed with this, we began to notice that sometimes the same name would appear over two or more doors in the same room. We quickly determined to follow the breadcrumbs, however. We didn’t want to risk making an assumption about which door was the ‘real’ one and end up lost. Time was of the essence.

We began rushing through the rooms. Once the code was solved, it was easy. At last we came to a door that had no room beyond it. Rather, it lead outside. A walled enclosure on two sides, the building on the third and the bayou on the fourth.

“No!” cried Amanda. We were too late. There, on a dune right before the water began, were Sam and Jolene.

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