Tag Archives: speculative fiction

Have You Read A Very Short Story Today? Part 5

In between pontificating on aspects of creativity, living a creative life, and putting edits on my novel or throwing words at my novella, I like to continue playing with the very short form of fiction.

Here is this week’s round up of twitfic. And yes, there are not one, but two, fart jokes (I’m so mature).

I.

“Every time you slam the door a fairy loses its wings,” her mother yelled. She leant against the door and waited for the wings to float down.

II.

Beneath the starry expanse she placed a mirror on the grass; a square of sky on the ground. “On Earth as it is in Heaven,” she intoned.

III.

“Check out this view of Earth!”

They crammed into the small viewing port.

“You called me over ’cause you farted?”

“Yep.”

“Arsehole.”

IV.

Cuddled on the couch the stench wafted up nostrils.

“Romance is dead,” she said, shifting away.

“I tend to think of it as foreplay,” he said.

V.

Putting a pen into the cassette’s cog he respooled the mangled tape. He wanted to hear her voice one more time before it was erased.

VI.

The day her hair began falling out she pruned the roses; denuding it to a thorned stem and waited for the first hint of regrowth.

VII.

He selected his favourite brown paper bag containing photos, Lego pieces, textas and a marble.

“I am the collector of broken things.”

VIII.

He collected the sacred writings from public toilet walls and began to preach, “Today is the bidet of salvation.”

IX.

“We are all competent liars,” she said. “The truth lies in the one you believe in.” She leaned in and sealed her lips to his.

Ashes to Ashes – Behind the Scenes

What do you do when you are asked to take a song from 1989, combine it with an historical event from the same year AND make it speculative fiction? This was the brief given for the latest Literary Mix Tapes’ anthology, “Eighty Nine.”

You can do one of two things. Firstly, you run screaming in falsetto tones like your favourite hair metal band. Imagine your testicles squashed into a pair of leather pants 2 sizes too small.

Secondly, you can dig out your denim jacket, black t-shirt, acid wash jeans and hair gel; grab a roll of gaffer tape, Swiss Army knife, some matches and take it on MacGyver-style.

The authors from “Nothing But Flowers” submitted a song from 1989. By process of random number generation, Jodi Cleghorn (editor) allocated each writer to their song. I received Bon Jovi’s “Lay Your Hands On Me.”

The next step was to research the historical events of the year. I was only in Year 9 in high school at the time, so a refresher history lesson was in order. There were so many events from that year, not only of historical significance, but also of cultural/social significance.

As a writer, one event piqued my interest: the fatwa against Salman Rushdie. What if the fatwa had been successful, creating a group called The Book Burners? This became the launching point for an alternative history. Would it have sparked a cultural or social, or even a theological revolution? Would books have been affected, regardless if they were sacred or secular, theological or pornographic? The Book Burners sought moral integrity, but the indiscriminate nature of their acts calls into question their motivations.

In part, my story has echoes of Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451.” A quote attributed to Bradbury was spoken by Father Jim:

“There are worse crimes than burning books,” Jim said. “One is not reading them.”

In my notebook I had two characters: a priest, Father Jim, and his best friend, Robert Forsyth, a publican. They are old friends who represent two different perspectives and became the focal point of the story. Jim is a priest and scholar and understands the value of books, even having a collection of novels and comics. Rob is his good friend, trying to understand the philosophical reasons for burning books. I had written one line of dialogue in my notebook, which I had to include in the final version of the story: “I’ve had more shags than you’ve had belts of communion wine.”

But, how to include the song into the story? I decided to use the song as a part of a scene.  For Father Jim and Rob, it was a light comic moment; another way of exploring the characters’ relationship and their ideas.

For a few months, there were times when I loathed my story. It read like the scrawling of a madman, written in litres of rancid custard on vellum made from baby seals. I considered ditching the whole thing and starting again, but thanks to the input of Jason Coggins, Icy Sedgwick and Rebecca Dobbie, they rescued me from drowning in the vat of rancid custard.

I was not consciously looking at religious fundamentalism as the focus for the story. At its heart, the story is about ideas. Are ideas, even controversial ones, to be dismissed simply as unorthodox? Is cultural homogeneity to be prized about discourse and dialogue? I may not agree with someone’s ideas or perspectives, but I respect their right to express it. I should also seek to learn from it.

In the modern technological age, the rhetoric of those who shout the loudest becomes the static that fills our ears. We need to listen more carefully before we open our mouths.

The pen is mightier than the sword.

Back to 1989

The newest anthology from eMergent Publishing’s Literary Mix Tapes drops on October 25.

In it you will find 26 stories weaving the music, culture and history of that tumultuous year blended with a twist of speculative fiction. Think fluorescent clothing, spandex, poodle hair perms, leather and lace. And that’s just for the guys.

My story, “Ashes to Ashes” has the privilege of being the opening story. Next week I will post the background to the story in the lead up to the release, giving an insight into the ideas, events and music behind it.

You can preorder a copy now through Literary Mix Tapes.

Eighty Nine - edited by Jodi Cleghorn

To whet your appetite for each unique story, here are brief one line reviews and the song behind the story.

Ashes to Ashes – Adam Byatt (Bon Jovi – Lay Your Hands On Me)

A priest, a publican and a secret horde of books. We could all be wearing sackcloth and ashes.

Shrödinger’s Cat – Dale Challener Roe (Eurythmics – Don’t Ask Me Why)

Are you really dead or really alive in a world similar to the Matrix?

Diavol – Devin Watson (Alice Cooper – Poison)

Some really weird alien activity in the midst of revolution.

Nowhere Land – Maria Kelly (Tin Machine – Tin Machine)

A great tale of conformity and distopia with hints of Dante’s “Inferno.” Pick your circle carefully.

Angelgate – Tanya Bell (Red Hot Chili Peppers – Higher Ground)

Tanya takes urban fantasy to the edge of a precipice and hurls us off. How are you at flying?

Chronicle Child – Lily Mulholland (Cindi Lauper – I Drove All Night)

This story has the grace and beauty of the Japanese culture with a prophetic vision of the future.

All I Wanted – Rob Diaz (Tone-Loc – Funky Cold Medina)

An immersive, interactive world of technology with a dark and sinister edge. You might wish the dream was real.

Drilling Oil – Kaolin Imago Fire (Michael Damian – Rock On)

An ecological apocalypse where the thing you covet most may be the thing that destroys you.

30 Years in the Bathroom – Icy Sedgwick (The Wonderstuff – 30 Years in the Bathroom )

Greek mythology with a Faustian twist is at the heart of story so pertinent in today’s media obsessed society.

Amir – Benjamin Solah (Tears for Fears – Sowing The Seeds of Love)

Music is a weapon and violent acts call for violent music, yet there is still the need to find the seeds of hope.

Over the Wall in a Bubble – Susan May James (The Jesus And Mary Chain – Head On)

Susan’s story has a deft, light touch as the Berlin Wall stands but one young person can see a vision of a better future.

Disintegration – Stacey Larner (The Cure – Fascination Street)

Come on a trip into the darkness but beware lest it strangle you.

Choices – Laura Eno (The Proclaimers – Cap In Hand)

There is such a sense of sadness and loss in this story. What if you were the cause of sadness and loss?

Divided – Emma Newman (Richard Marx – Right Here Waiting For You)

Follow this one through to the end, reading it very carefully. A good, twisty ending.

Blueprints in the Dark – Rebecca Dobbie (Deacon Blue – Real Gone Kid)

A crushing sense of claustrophobia dominates this story and you wish you could do something to help out the little boy.

Eighteen for Life – Jo Hart (Skid Row – 18 And Life)

Vampires and the 80s. There is no better combination.

New Year, Old Love – Jim Bronyaur (The Cure – Lovesong)

A love story with a very heated kiss.

Solider Out of Time – Laura Meyer (Martika – Toy Soldiers)

Time travel and boy’s hormones combine with spectacular results. And there’s a cool fart joke.

The Story Bridge – Josh Donellan (Debbie Gibson – Electric Youth)

At the very point of utter despair, salvation comes along in the guise of a little kid who you would just like to up-side the head for sticking his nose in where it don’t belong. But you’re glad he did.

If I Could Turn Back Time – Alison Wells (Cher – If I Could Turn Back Time)

What do you do for someone who’s stuck in 1989 when the rest of the world is accelerating away from you?

An Exquisite Addition – Paul Anderson (King’s X – Summerland)

Two delightfully creepy characters with a penchant for wax and some fabulous dialogue.

The Banging on the Door – Jonathan Crossfield (The B-52s – Love Shack)

This is one creeped out ghost story. Do not read this at night. Alone. With the lights off.

Maggie’s Rat – Cath Barton (Bob Dylan – What Good Am I?)

This story has a great use of allegory in the vein of “Animal Farm.”

Now Voyager II – Monica Marier (Billy Joel – We Didn’t Start The Fire)

An alien news reporter who sees life in a very different way to us. There is a wonderful light touch to this story.

Cocaine, My Sweetheart – Jodi Cleghorn (REM – Stand)

Swapping time streams and some really dark, weird stuff.

Paragon – Jason Coggins (Aerosmith – Love In An Elevator)

We create our own gods in this modern world, and one of them needs to stand witness to the atrocities of our age.

Pre-order your copy of “89” through Literary Mix Tapes. You will not be disappointed in this anthology.

Teaser Trailer for 89 Book Launch

Check out the teaser trailer for the 89 book launch. My story, Ashes to Ashes, is included in this speculative fiction anthology from Literary Mix Tapes.

This book has some outstanding stories focused on events and music from the year 1989.

Launching in October

The trailer was produced by Devin Watson. You can find him here on twitter @dklon

I’ll write about my story closer to release date and give you some background on what inspired my story.

The Green Green Grass of Home

Concrete stalagmites rose hundreds of feet into the air. Their human occupants moved in and out like ants. On the outskirts of the city the Outer Wastes boiled in dust storms of parched earth. From the viewing platform, Adam watched the storm forming on the horizon. The old man next to him muttered more to himself than Adam, “When my grandfather was a lad he would have said that it was bringing rain. Now we bunker down and wait for the dust to pass. Don’t think we’ll ever see rain again, mind you.” He looked towards the clear blue of the sky.

“Another sky that looks so pretty but will kill us all.”

Adam shuffled the drink container from hand to hand, wanting the old man to leave him alone. Wandering away to break the chance of conversation Adam moved outside the platform to the gantry where the red earth whipped against the metal framework like an approaching tide. Looking back he saw the old man leave. Crouching down Adam removed the lid from the drink container and scooped the earth until it reached the brim. Sealing the container Adam looked around for surveillance patrols but saw none and headed towards the interior of the city and home.

On the journey home the full drink container reminded Adam of his plan. He imagined passers-by spying his cup full of earth, knocking it out of his hands and spilling soil like blood on the footpath.

At the entrance to his building complex he headed straight for the biosphere. The sign above the gate proclaimed The Botanical and Zoological Ecosystem of this Building is Maintained for Your Existence. The biosphere tweeted to the sound of birds while insects scurried under leaf and twig. Adam walked the perimeter, following the pathways through the landscape.

The biosphere was on the lower level of Adam’s apartment complex, the living heart of the building’s ecosystem. It resembled sculpted parkland with a lush core of rainforest. Every building had one, compensation to the pillaged landscape outside the perimeter of the city’s walls. Animals, plants and humans regulated in synchronistic harmony. Sensors measured carbon dioxide output by the human and animal population and the release of oxygen from the plants. Sewerage and waste water fed into the biosphere where it was treated and returned fit for human consumption. The world outside the city limits no longer supported life. It was a savage beast formed by man, turning on its creator. Humanity controlled what it could and hoped for the day it could repair the damage.

It was Adam’s sanctum where he savoured the wet smell of composting leaf matter, the humidity of the rainforest walk and the smattering of flowers exploding with colour.

An officious voice sounded out. “All residents, please be informed that the biosphere will be closing shortly. You are requested to vacate the area.”

At the edge of the rainforest, manicured lawns carpeted the vista, a relic of agrarian pride. A chain-link fence six-foot high bordered the pathway, periodically chiding “Keep Off the Grass.” He wanted to feel the texture of the grass on his bare feet, to lie down and breathe in the musty warmth of soil, let the grass tickle his nose. Adam bent down and pretended to tie his shoelace at the verge. Looking around him quickly, Adam plucked seeds from the heads of grass from the nearest blades and deposited them into his trouser pocket. In a guilty sweat he scratched the back of his neck. What he was doing wasn’t technically illegal; the theft of a few grass seeds may be considered vandalism. Destruction of the ecosystem was punishable by exile.

At the exit to the biosphere Adam stepped through the decontamination vestibule where a fine mist washed his shoes and a forced gust of air removed loose organic matter. In the solitude of his apartment Adam emptied his pocket onto the kitchen bench. Removing his pants he picked the remaining seeds from his pocket and with his forefinger pushed them into a pile.

Opening the drink container, Adam pushed his finger into the dirt creating small holes. From a cup of water he poured rain onto the dry dirt watching it being soaked up. Between his thumb and forefinger he pinched the seeds and planted them in the soil. Like a womb he covered the seeds with the mud, pouring another cup of rain over the moist soil. Under the kitchen bench he had rigged up a single bulb as an artificial sun. Over the coming days he watched as the grass broke the surface of the soil, reaching for the sun and its warmth. Carefully he added water, not too little to starve his plants, not too much to drown them.

Every few days Adam visited another viewing platform taking another drink container with him, harvesting the red earth. Some days there were too many people and Adam deposited the drink container in recycling receptacle. He gathered more grass seeds and planted them in containers under the bench.

Foraging in the recycling bins Adam found a plastic tub about three feet square and only a few inches deep. A split ran through the centre but more foraging yielded some black plastic and thick tape. After repairs he began to fill the tub with soil. He wanted to carry two drink containers each trip to make it faster but he dared not arouse suspicion. When he had a layer of soil in the base of the tub, Adam began transplanting the grass from under the sink. Kneeling beside the tub Adam dug holes and carefully placed the grass in each hole. Meticulously he spread the spare soil around the tub.

Day by day he observed the grass spreading to fill the tub, sprouting new runners. He ran his hand over the tips of the blades, caressing it. With a pair of scissors he trimmed the blades, turning the cuttings into compost.

Weeks passed before he dared fulfil a dream. Adam sat on the dining room chair surveying the patch of grass he had grown. With deliberate purpose he untied his laces and removed his shoes. Socks were peeled off and tucked into the mouths of the shoes. He wriggled his toes, anticipating the texture. Standing to his feet he looked down on the square of green occupying the linoleum. Holding his breath he raised his right foot and lowered it onto the grass.

Marion

Fiction Friday

Friday 12th March

The keys opened every door in the house, except the small wooden door at the end of the hall…
The keys opened every door in the house, except the small wooden door at the end of the hall.  It was a special door, opened on the rarest of occasions.  Peter moved to the door, balancing a tray in his hand.  The candle flickered in the draught as he entered and set it down.  Methodically he arranged the various tools and canisters.

He looked towards the end of the bench to a carved wooden face, life-like in the shadows.  The fine lines of a woman’s face were in sharp relief, but the eyes were closed.  She sat on an elevated chair, dressed in simple clothing.  The fine craftsmanship showed signs of decrepitude in the wood.  Cracks had appeared like veins as the wood dried with no lacquer to replenish its moisture.

Peter brought the candle closer and began to undo the muslin blouse.  Pulling a miniature skeleton key from his breast pocket he unlocked the chest cavity.  With measured routine Peter began the process of reanimation.  Drawing water from the basin he filled the small boiler.  Dry tinder and kindling were nestled into the fireplace and ignited by the candle.  While the steam built pressure in the boiler, Peter oiled, dropping precious blood onto seized joints and cogs.  He shovelled coal with a hand trowel and monitored the valves.  As the pressure increased he slowly opened valves and waited for the life to spark.

Wooden eyelids creaked open, revealing dark orbs like coal.

“Hello Marion,” said Peter.

“Hello great-grandfather,” said Marion.

“I suppose I really should call you my great-grandmother.”

“It is easier for you not to.  When I do not age as you do, it does not really matter.”

“I remember watching you being made.  I was but a boy, huddled behind the forge and the workbench as I watched wood transformed.  The smell of the shaven oak and the young saplings of maple are always there when I wake you up.”

Peter monitored the valves and pressure, careful not to reanimate fully.  He had achieved consciousness, but did not want to have Marion access her memories.

“Why was I made?” said Marion.

“You are the memory of my great-grandfather’s wife who died in the winter famine of 2126.”

“The winter has indeed set in.  It has been far too many years that winter has closed its grip and appears to not to want to let go.  You have awoken me for a purpose?”
Peter’s busyness with the tools prompted speculation.

“I am aware of my decay and that my legs have been removed for some reason that has not been explained.  This is to be my decommissioning, is it not?”

Peter could not look her in the eyes.  “Yes.