Friday 24 February 2012

Paying the Price

“Passage is not free. Payment is required.”

“B-But... we were t-t-told to bring only what m-matters to us.”

“And I would accept nothing less.”

The boatman, a shade of a thousand tattered grey rags, his hood full of a hundred changing faces, holds out his hand. I wonder if he is Charon, though I see more moorings, more boats, more boatmen. Maybe Charon is a breed of thing.

The stuttering, complaining man ahead of me thrusts his hands into his suit pockets. It might be an expensive suit, but what do I know? Maybe it was the suit he was buried in, or the one he lived in, or both.

“Well... W-what if I refuse? Isn’t it your j-job? Don’t you... have to t-take us across?”

The boatman looks back over his shoulder at the churning waters. They are roaring rapids, or would be, if all sound here wasn’t built of muted echo.

“It is my job, yes, just as it is my job to take payment. You are entitled to refuse. They did.”

He gestures with one fluttering, gusting arm. Further from the river, behind us, we see a ramshackle shantytown. We must have passed it but I don’t recall seeing it, memory and time are broken things here. I have been waiting behind the haggling, awkward spirit forever, perhaps, or it might be that I just arrived.

In the shantytown I see people, listless and flighty. Every so often they glance towards us, towards the river and the boatmen. Here there is nothing but eternity, across the other side is the unknown, the boatman will not say. Is it worth giving up something precious for? Is it any different to this side?

The man in front of me relents. He takes a raggedy doll from his pocket, one of the eyes is missing and steamy puffs of stuffing escape from loose stitching.

The boatman takes it in one gnarled hand; he regards it for a moment then tucks it into the multiverse of his changing robes. He nods gravely and lets the man pass. This is the first lesson in death: the time for accumulating memories, experiences, relationships, is over; in the afterlife those things are all that have value. Money is meaningless.

He holds out his hand to me.

“Passage is not free. Payment is required.”

I think about what I have in my own pockets. A photo booth image of my school friends, five of us crammed in. Both wedding rings. The creased birth certificate of my daughter. A ring of keys, one from each job, each home I ever had. I cannot bear to part with any of them.

I give him the memories of all my kisses, from first to last.

Friday 17 February 2012

Small Change... and other news

Small Change, huh? What good is small change?

Small change can make a big difference. Collect enough small change and you’ll be surprised what it can add up to, over the months.

Enough of the metaphor. We already know that’s what Missing Pieces is, right? A metaphor for the small parts that imply the big picture. OK, we get that.

So season three, Spare Parts, is over. I’ve spent the last 6 months publishing a number of serials, for the experience, for the change of pace. It’s been fun, it’s been interesting; I’ve learnt a lot of things. But it’s time for a change.

Small change. Back to flash. Fiction finished in under a thousand words. That quick hit.

Season 4, Small Change, features science fiction, fantasy and plenty of other odd stuff... a talking giraffe, a rogue succubus, planets in cupboards, post-apocalyptic London, the afterlife and more.

(I say ‘season’, there is no grand scheme, it’s just a neat way for me to break things up and keep track of what I’m doing and where I am.)

In other news... I’m published!

100 Horrors is an anthology featuring one hundred hundred-word stories from one hundred authors. Given that I regularly write 100 word stories (Xeroverse: 101) I jumped at the chance to submit and am really chuffed to be a part of it. Some of the other authors I already know, but most I don’t, so I’m really looking forward to sitting down with a cuppa and exploring all these tiny treats. =)

It’s available right now on Kindle. (Amazon UK) (Amazon US)
With more formats to come soon. =)


In other news (part 2)... a Liebster award! ^_^

Jack is a writer willing to give just about anything a go and, most importantly, have fun with it. He saw my 101 word stories and thought, I could do that, and he has done, very well. He’s one of the good guys. Go give him a read.

Thanks, Jack.

I’ve done this before, so I won’t nominate another five, but I will heartily second both Pete Newman and Tony Noland from Jack’s nominations.

Pete has a wonderful way with words. His ongoing serial, the Vagrant, is a compelling story set in a world that grows richer and more vibrant with each episode. He’s also a thoroughly nice chap. =)

(and not only that, Pete also has a story in 100 Horrors.)

Tony is a talented guy. He has an eye for detail, a deft touch with emotion, an evident sense of humour and a gift for blending all of these into very accomplished flash fictions.

The other two in Jack’s list I don’t know, so I’m going to go have a look-see. =)

Friday 10 February 2012

The Dorothy Delusion - part 11

Previously on the Dorothy Delusion: .1. .2. .3. .4. .5. .6. .7. .8. .9. .10.

The year is 2032. This is the City, centre of world politics.

Smith and Jones cradled his head in his hands. He had been Smith alone once, or maybe Jones. Never really alone, never in his whole life, there had always been his brother, his echo. But now his brother was dead.

Some detached part of his mind was aware of Munchkin, Fingers and Eyeballs in the other room, nursing their wounds. Fingers had patched them all up, and shot Smith and Jones full of some kind of painkiller. He had complained, because he was mostly only hurting on the inside.

Fingers was a qualified doctor, human anatomy is like a map of pain, he was fond of saying. He’d had to patch them up before, but never like this. That scrappy fighter had been like a machine, he’d taken them apart and broken them down.

Smith and Jones wasn’t himself anymore. He and his brother had always taken great pains, sometimes literally, to share a life, a body, an existence. What one suffered, so did the other. It was what their mother had always wanted for them. No favourites.

He looked at the table and Fingers’ surgical kit. He had watched his brother clutching at his torn throat, blood frothing through his weakening fingers. And they shared everything. He looked at the knives. No favourites.

Smith and Jones clenched his fists. No. That was not what their mother would have wanted. He was Smith and Jones now, sharing his life with his brother, sharing his head. Tomorrow they would visit their mother’s grave, it had been too long.

Through the viewing wall Dorothy watched the Siberian, Tiger, Simon. He was pacing back and forth in his cell with restless energy. She couldn’t get things straight in her head. She had seen him die, and yet here he was.

She felt as if she had betrayed him. She knew he had betrayed her.

The General stared angrily at his cell wall. He scowled his infuriated, frustrated scowl. Tomorrow, his trial would begin.

The images in Leon’s vision winked out and he looked up, startled to see he had visitors.

“That doesn’t look like rest to me, Lion.”

“Tin Man,” Leon smiled at him. “I’m too old to spend time resting. Scarecrow, finally out of bed?”

Scarecrow patted his wheelchair.

“Hey, boss. You know me, too much energy to sit still.”

He would make a full recovery. The doctors thought two weeks, knowing Scarecrow, he’d be out and sparring with Dorothy in one. And that would be good for both of them.

The Tin Man’s face turned serious. “You’re too old to be playing hero, Lion. But you saved us all, you know. I was right to bring you in.”

Leon managed not to laugh out loud; it would have hurt too much. Classic Tin Man, handing out a compliment with one hand, taking credit with the other.

“I’d be dead without you, Ian. Thank you.”

The Tin Man’s facade cracked for the briefest of moments.

“Get some rest, Leon. And stop hacking the hospital firewalls.”


Spare Parts (serial experiments) - some thoughts and comments on my experience with writing short serials over the past few months.

Recommended reading:
Touching, human, and just a little bit sci fi.

A note on memory implants. They're real. Almost.
One of the core concepts of this story came about when a good friend of mine reacted to this news with a feared, "but what if they put memories of having committed genocide into your head?"
So thanks, Alix, this one's for you. ;)

Friday 3 February 2012

The Dorothy Delusion - part 10

Previously on the Dorothy Delusion: .1. .2. .3. .4. .5. .6. .7. .8. .9.

The year is 2032. This is the City, centre of world politics.

Leon moved through the shadows. He tried to ignore his body’s complaints about the crouching and sneaking but it wasn't easy. His back ached and splinters of pain stabbed through his knees.

He didn’t imagine he felt even half as bad as Scarecrow, slumped outside, but in a business full of tough guys, Scarecrow was the toughest. He would need medical attention, sure, but he would be fine; Leon hoped.

There were no guards inside, maybe they didn’t trust them to know the General was at the top of the ladder. In the centre of the warehouse was a operating theatre. Leon recognised the makeshift sterile environment. Plastic sheeting and bright lights. Dark silhouettes through semi-opaque white. He enhanced the outlines as best his image software could manage, two beds, one occupied, and three other figures.

So, three men: the General, his agent and the surgeon. The figure in the bed had to be Dorothy. He edged closer and drew his sidearm, they all had their backs to him.

He pushed into their bright cocoon.

“Back up, hands where I can see them, no sudden- ”

Leon froze as the men turned towards him and he saw the impossible ghost.

“Hello, father.”

“Simon... I- How?”

The Siberian smiled his cold, cold smile; in one swift motion he drew his own pistol and levelled it at Leon. Leon could have dropped him before he got the weapon level, but his finger wouldn’t budge. He felt so much older, wearier.

“The General saved me. When Dorothy left me to die, when no one else came for me, he did.”

“I saw you die, Tiger.” From the bed, Dorothy’s voice was strained. “No one could have survived that.”

“And yet, here I am.”

The General looked warily at Leon’s gun, still aimed at his head.

“Siberian, we should be going. Since the Lion seems to have overcome his cowardice I would hate for anyone else to have a change of heart.”

“Too late, General.”

The Tin Man stepped through the plastic sheeting. The cane in his left hand clicked where it hit the concrete floor, yet his approach had been silent. In his right hand was his small pistol, pointed at the Siberian.

“Well, Tiger.”

“You knew?” Leon growled.

“I suspected.”

The General went for his pistol. Leon fired, hitting the General in the shoulder and spinning him so that he crashed into the second bed, tumbling in a mess of blood and bed sheets.

Two more shots cracked in quick succession. The Siberian dropped behind Dorothy’s bed in a spray of red. Leon couldn’t tell how good the Tin Man’s shot was, the Siberian’s own bullet punched into his chest. The world roared and suddenly fell silent.

Everything was coming back to Dorothy. Her body felt fatigued but her mind grew sharper by the second. Being bound at the wrists gave her limited options but she was dextrous, and lucky. As Tiger fell she snatched for the knife on his belt. It was just in reach and she plucked it from its sheath as it rushed by. A quick flick reversed it and she sliced through her bindings.

Tiger struggled into a crouch by her bed, taking cover from the Tin Man, and Dorothy slipped the knife against his throat.

“It’s over, Simon.”

> goto 11