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Archive for the ‘Short Stories’ Category

In the style of “Welcome to Night Vale“…

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And now, a word from our sponsor.

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DAY 837

“Well, it’s eight o’clock again,” I said.
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“Grandfather! Grandfather! You’ll never guess what just happened!”

The old man fixed his grandson with a world-weary gaze and cleared his throat once or twice. If he had had the strength to shift himself in his elaborate iron wheelchair, he would have.

“You were visited,” he said eventually, “by a spiritual being with a strong Scottish accent which took the form of a fairy-winged stoat. In exchange for a tribute of one hundred green copper pennies, it offered to grant you your heart’s keenest desire.”

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Another commission piece from the “Skin Horse” Volume 4 Kickstarter campaign.  Hope you enjoy, and, happy holidays!

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It was a bright and cheery morning in the 14-Lower Ultraviolet Radiation Corridor in the subbasements of Annex One, the sort of day that would have been described as “sunny” if any of the myriad inhabitants of the basement ecosystems were familiar with, or had indeed ever seen, the wrathful day-star that ruled the terrible surface realms above.  Tina the Basement Cobra slithered through her immaculate vinyl-encased kitchen, smiling a bit to herself as the unnerving violet glow of the radiation corridor warmed her face through the east-facing windows of her tiny cobra house.  What a pleasant day, she thought, to herself, as she busily prepared food for her family.

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Sometime after Six P.M. on a Thursday and the bastards have scheduled a Friday test on the Declaration of Independence or some other important pre-Constitution political document. I am hazy on the details; I have not studied and in fact have not even gone so far as to visit the University’s bookstore to purchase the textbook. You stand there in your gallery filled with works I can’t remember, works made up of pieces of other works that occasionally come alive and speak. The gallery is nearly empty, and you seem to have taken a special interest that I’ve come out in the snow to see you. You talk at length about your oeuvre, but based on my insufficient memories it’s clearly you I’m interested in.

Time passes in a blur, and your exhibition continues. People begin to shuffle in. You understandably take the time to talk with them, to tell them the same sorts of things you would tell me, and knowing that I can’t monopolize you, I head to the door. You call back to me that there’s a concert tonight, and it’s going to be grand. Would I meet up with you in a friend’s room in a couple hours? Sure. Of course. Why do you even need to ask. You stupid, wonderful girl.

Meantime, I have new student bullshit to attend to. Upperclassmen, acting with forced joviality on an ancient stage in a colored auditorium, put on skits for us advising us not to get (a) pregnant or (b) AIDS. To hammer home the point, an instructional video is added. One of the case studies is of a young man—probably quite like us—who got drunk and went to an unlicensed tattoo parlor and his current incurable blood disease stems from that very night. It’s grim and in poor taste and I leave early after they break out the pictures of the foot lesions. I wander in the cold. It’s not time for us to meet yet.

And then it is your friend’s room, and you look more like I remember you looking than you did in the gallery, less hawk-nosed, more the pleasant young Bohemian I’ve come to love over these many years. Mount Washington would be visible through the left-hand wall. It is hypothetically a beautiful view but the only thing there now is a poster of the Cure, and I am left with the keen and certain knowledge that I cannot name a single song the Cure ever did, and in fact I am not even sure whether the “The” should be capitalized as being part of their name or not.  The words “integrated article” run through my mind, but I am not even certain if they apply here.  So much for Advanced Placement English.

We chat again. Bullshit, but loaded bullshit, filled with uncomfortable pauses where the words “I love you, I love you, I have always always loved you” should be. We talk about the concert. Silently I worry about the stupid Declaration of Independence, but I comfort myself with the fact that I can picture the spot in the bookstore where the book I am supposed to be studying would be were I to at some point go to buy it, so there’s a link there, and right now that has to do.

The concert approaches. You need time to get a little readied up, but we can meet again. I ask if you’re still in the same dorm you were over the summer, but you’ve apparently been saving and snagged a spot in the University apartments, that sort of weird hybrid between dormitory and real life that the school maintains as a sort of freeway on-ramp to the world beyond. You give me complicated directions I cannot understand, two separate attempts using landmarks I can’t even locate and I leave the interaction with nothing but a foreign street name and hope in my pockets. I don’t know why I’m so confident I’ll find you, but I am.

Back in the cold, I wander. There’s a test I need to be studying for tomorrow and I’m not even sure what time it’s at, but it’s not happening tonight. I’m going to a concert with you in about an hour, if I can even find your place. I doubt that I can. But that doesn’t matter so much. Ever since I saw Mount Washington through the walls of your friend’s room, I have known that I would fail for you, tomorrow and tonight, and that is how much I care. I’m setting myself up for a breakdown, a test I shan’t pass because I haven’t even bought the book yet, all for the promise of a concert that I won’t attend because I’ll never find your room and I’ll roam all night in the snow because I could never turn down the idea of going out with you in a million years because I love you so much.

I’d fail for you, kid. That is how much I love you.

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“Three Problems”

Let’s do October a little early, shall we?  Today we have another piece that was commissioned as part of the Skin Horse Volume 4 Kickstarter drive.  It’s a Nick Zerhakker story, and he’s narrating internally without his profanity filter, so this one comes with a stronger-than-usual language-use warning.

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I’ve got three problems, and a bitch is one

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Bit of a longer piece for September. I realize that it can be a bit of a dirty word at times in the larger science fiction / fantasy world, but the fact remains that I cut my teeth as an author writing for the the anthropomorphic animal (or “furry”) subculture; this type of character has always (and I suspect will always) hold me fascinated. While at attending a recent convention, I met up with my old-school homegirl Electric Keet, the primary author of a flash-and-dash science-fiction sports serial called “Thirteen Ribbons” which had funny animals and plenty of glowy neon lights, and thus was a 1:1 interest match for me. During our con together, Keet reminded me of a quick character study I did for her writing universe; I took another look at it in the wake of our conversation, and I think that (a) it stands alone without familiarity with the larger writing project and (b) it’s aged pretty well, better than some of my older writings at least. So, since I’ve got a few different readers now, I thought I’d share it. Hope you like!

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She is white tonight.

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For August, the first of a series of custom-commissioned short stories offered as incentives for contributors to the “Skin Horse” volume four Kickstarter drive.

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The fat man on the other side of the white Ikea desk gave Remy Sage-Marron a little leer.

“So,” said the fat man.  “What exactly is the state of the funeral industry nowadays, Mister Maroon?”

“‘Marron,’ actually,” said Remy.  “‘Sage-Marron,’ to be exact.”  He waved a hand.  “Don’t get too hung up.  I know I’m me, and so I’ll go by anything.”

“All righty, then.  So, how is business, then?”

“Business is dead,” said Remy, sitting back in his white Ikea chair, smiling a little in the hope that the fat man might think he was trying to be clever.

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An experiment in fiction, presented without further comment (else it wouldn’t be much of an experiment, would it?)

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She had a name for herself. Her name was “Faithful Student.”

This wasn’t how the Sun Princess referred to her, of course; the two did not speak in quite the same language, after all. The Sun Princess’s actual name for her Faithful Student was a quick series of low liquid yowls which were honestly a little difficult to hear at a distance. Sometimes Faithful Student preferred it when the Sun Princess addressed her merely by whistling sharply. The high frequencies carried a little better over the hills.

Why had she picked the name “Faithful Student”? Well, it was at least a little obvious, wasn’t it? Faithful Student was exceptionally, painfully faithful to her Princess. And, why be faithful to the Sun Princess particularly? Did Faithful Student need any reason beyond the fact that the Sun Princess was huge and strong and potent and wise beyond all measure? Beyond the fact that the Sun Princess deserved every scrap of her faithfulness?

No, but the regular feeding didn’t hurt, either.

So, that was the “faithful” part, right there. But what about “student”? That one was pretty easy, too. After all, there were all sorts of lessons to be learned about the silly old universe that the two of them shared. “Don’t mark the corner of the laundry room.” Good lesson. She had learned that one early. “Don’t eat an entire half-rotted squirrel and then regurgitate it all over the living room rug.” Another fine lesson. “Don’t bother the smelly little waddling black things with the stripes on their backs.” Strictly speaking, the smelly little waddling black things had taught Faithful Student this message more-or-less directly, but the Sun Princess’s obvious disappointment over the resulting situation (as well as the aggressive series of baths that had followed) really hammered the lesson home.

The derivation of the Sun Princess’s name was obvious. She was high and warm and provided good things from above. Plus, to Faithful Student’s eyes, the long hair that spilled out from under her sensible brown hat was the same color as the luminous ball overhead. She believed that this could not possibly be a coincidence.

Faithful Student had many responsibilities as the Sun Princess’s, ah, faithful student. When the Sun Princess was feeling happy, it was Faithful Student’s content duty to participate in the stick-throwing game that the Sun Princess seemed to favor. When Sun Princess was feeling down, it was Faithful Student’s solemn charge to lie by her side, nuzzling in under her elbow and placing her chin against the Princess’s side until she felt better. And best of all, when the Sun Princess was feeling industrious, which was almost every day, it was Faithful Student’s joy and pleasure to help the Sun Princess move the Stupid Wooly Things from place to place, because the Stupid Wooly Things were extremely stupid and would wander all over if you didn’t threaten them a little and put the fear of the Princess into ’em from time to time.

One mustn’t actually bite them, of course. There was a fine line of deception that Faithful Student was forced to walk. She accepted it all with boundless joy. This was her duty; and to her duty, perhaps above all, Faithful Student was faithful.

Therefore, it came as the greatest of all blows when the Faithful Student found that she could not execute her duty.

She had seen the warning signs for several months. Joints that didn’t spring back to working trim quite as quickly as they used to. Eyes that had, truth to tell, become a little foggy of late. Ears that didn’t pick up on little details the way that they should. Faithful Student was, in her own way, dimly aware that this was the natural order of things. Students grow old and gray, while Princesses remain young and strong for—as best as Faithful Student could tell—forever. She knew that there was no sense in despairing about it, but Faithful Student despaired nonetheless. Not for her own sake, no. Faithful Student merely feared that there would come a day when the Sun Princess would whistle for her and she would not be able to respond.

One day, quite out of the blue, Faithful Student’s gut decided that it didn’t want to pack food away as nicely as it always had. Sun Princess had responded with characteristic kindness by giving her food that was extra, extra tasty, and while this worked for a while (and set Faithful Student’s tail to wagging in the process) it didn’t work forever; and eventually the day came when she had to heave it all up again. Faithful Student expected to be scolded at having violated her carefully-learned lessons about making messes in the house, but instead, all she could perceive from the Sun Princess was a sort of deep sadness.

Slowly, Faithful Student’s gut began to feel absolutely wretched. This wasn’t the sort of sickness she remembered from her youth. This was something much different. The Sun Princess eventually took her to see the ambiguous female in the white coat who lived in the clean, harsh-smelling place. Faithful Student was never certain what to make of this one; she alternately petted Faithful Student and gave her painful pokes and pinches. Faithful Student found this to be untrustworthy behavior (but she did enjoy the petting.)

Faithful Student looked on from the table as the white-coated female and the Sun Princess had a long, long talk. Eventually, the Sun Princess got angry and started barking very loud. Then she began to make choking and howling sounds, and Faithful Student’s uncompromised nose picked up the distinct smell of despair. More than anything, Faithful Student wanted to get off the shiny table and comfort the Sun Princess, but she really wasn’t feeling up to the jump, or even the walk, for that matter.

At this point, Faithful Student had pretty much come to the conclusion that the mere fact of leaving the harsh-smelling place wouldn’t make her feel any better this time, but she found herself hoping that the beautiful Sun Princess at least would start to perk up. Something in the harsh-smelling place had clearly upset her.

It was not Faithful Student’s lucky day. The Sun Princess remained as broken and black-smelling as ever, even as the Princess took her to the happiest place that Faithful Student could even think of, the sunny field where the Sun Princess had first taught her the stick-throwing game. The field was warm, the Princess-like sun was high overhead, and the field was full of good smells and chaseable birds. Faithful Student idly found herself wishing that she were in better condition to appreciate these things, but no, even if she had been in perfect health, the Sun Princess was despairing for some reason, and it was Faithful Student’s job to stay by her side.

The Princess set Faithful Student down in the sweet-smelling clovery grass of the field, lay her head across Faithful Student’s back, and howled. Moisture dripped down from her big gray eyes and the deep scent of her sorrow washed over Faithful Student as the Princess spent her sadness onto the grass and onto Faithful Student’s shaggy sides.

Faithful Student wagged her tail, despite the fact that even this small of a gesture made her hurt a little. Don’t worry, Sun Princess, she said. I’m here. Whatever it is, I will make it all better. She wasn’t sure that this was true, but it was a nonetheless necessary thing to say. There was a fine line of deception that Faithful Student was forced to walk.

Time passed. The tears stopped, eventually. The Sun Princess held her Faithful Student close, as though she never wanted to let go. The warmth of the Princess’s body felt good to Faithful Student’s aching belly, and gradually, she found herself drifting off into sleep, clutched there in her Princess’s embrace. Sleep was good. Sleep made the pain go away.

And then, suddenly, a thought struck Faithful Student. For the first time in her short little life, she began to wonder what it would be like to go to sleep and not wake up again. An impossible concept, at first. Faithful Student still had many jobs to do for the Sun Princess, which she would most certainly get right back to doing as soon as she was back on her game.

But… what if? What if such a thing were to happen?

Something close to dread began clawing at Faithful Student’s mind. From a very early age, she had thrown herself, heart and soul, into being the absolute best student she could be. She had taken all the Princess’s lessons to heart, and even when she had occasionally slipped up, like that one mishap with the bag of potatoes, she had always striven to better herself in the eyes of her perfect, beautiful, ageless teacher. She knew that she was nowhere near perfect yet. If one could really go to sleep and never wake up again…

…if she would, eventually and effectively, stop being her Princess’s Faithful Student…

…what had been the point of it all? What was the point of all her lessons, all the happy times that she and the Princess had shared? What was the point, if it was all going to end like this?

The doubt was short-lived. What was the point, she asked? The Princess was the point, as she always was. The Princess would remember all the lessons she had learned. The Princess would remember the good times. The Princess would remember her.

The thought gave Faithful Student a small measure of comfort against the grim aching of her belly, and she gave herself over to sleep, there in her Princess’s embrace.

At least there would always be someone to remember her.

At least something in this silly old universe would last forever.

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The “Skin Horse” Volume 4 Kickstarter drive is now complete, and I can honestly say that it went better than I possibly could have imagined. I am grateful and a little humbled by the interest you’ve taken in the work Shaenon and I are doing.  June’s blog entry is a little teaser of sorts, the opening of “You Are Jonah Yu,” the pick-your-path story that’s part of the incentive package for some of the sponsor tiers. Once again, thank you all…

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It’s a lazy Saturday morning in the publication offices of Grillo Parlante, which is to say, your bedroom. Which is to say, the bedroom your parents picked out for you when your family moved here while you were in second grade because your father accepted a promotion. Which is to say, a “lateral transfer,” because he was asked by the company he works for to do the exact same job he used to do in Galveston out on the east coast, for less pay, because they were phasing out his department in the Galveston branch. Which is to say, technically, a “demotion.”

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