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Balancing

I am delighted to announce that my second appearance in Fireside, the fantasy short story “Balance Point,” is out today. Magic gone sideways, the price of knowledge, and the difficulty of being young.

Trygvi says you should go read it right now!

#SFWApro

Geordie

Back to the flash-writing project (#7 for 2017). Today’s prompt is a 19th-c coal mining song from Newcastle, Geordie Black. There are a couple of recorded versions, including this one by Ian Campbell Folk Group.


They say young men can’t imagine being old, but I can’t either imagine being young. There was never a time when my bones didn’t ache, when I slept at night, when I could hear a young lady whispering in my ear, when I had a young lady or two who wanted to whisper in my ear.

There was never a time when I went down in the mine.

This town mines, or cooks and cleans for those that do. I can’t cook, so I must have mined. This town can’t imagine anything more. I look around; all the young men have coal dust for skin. I look around; there are no old men. Young men descend, day after day. They come out old, or not at all. They leave themselves in the mine, bit by bit, swapping self for coal.

I do not recall the mine, but it remembers me.

Hit

Sirisha slid on beaded black evening gloves, concealing the tattoos that wrapped her forearms. If Devudu noticed the intricate traceries, he would never allow her close enough to kill him. The slithery scarlet fabric of her dress plunged here and swooped there, concealing as much as it bared. Sirisha twirled, ensuring her knives were among the items concealed. The blades were brightly polished, but insufficiently formal for tonight. A clutch held only her forged invitation to the gala and a lipstick that matched her gown. Everything else she might require was hidden on her body.

The gallery was packed with people enjoying the champagne and pretending to enjoy the exhibits. Devudu was the pivot around which the crowd flowed, each person hoping for a moment of his attention. Sirisha too desired a moment, a timespan as thin as a blade. She eased her way into the eddy, eager to work.


150-word flash #6 for 2017.
Random Wikipedia prompt

The Ponies

“I wanna play the ponies.”

I turned to face the little man following me around the room. “I already told you that you can’t. Whining won’t help.”

“I was on my way to the track. I’m gonna win big, you know. I always do. You’re costing me huge amounts of money.”

I looked at the threadbare knees of his suit, at his scuffed shoes. “Sure you are.”

I slid into the shuttle command seat, ignoring his grab for my arm.

“I was meeting my friends, they’ll be looking for me.”

“No, Arthur Daniel Jameson, you weren’t. You were going to the track alone, where you were going to lose all your money and have a heart attack. Now sit down and shut up.” Jameson sat, ashen. He might have had that heart attack on the spot, if I hadn’t already fixed it. Couldn’t have my pony keeling over just yet.


Back at it, with another random Wikipedia prompt.

God’s Little Acre

You get two stories today. The previous one was from yesterday; this is today’s, from another random article.

God’s Little Acre

Dandelions and crabgrass covered the carefully tended hillslope, a patch of green drawing the eye amid the landscape of rubble and scorchmarks. So far had we fallen that those weeds were the most beautiful things, and I tended carefully each yellow bloom, guarded each clock, planted each seed myself, distributing them around the fallen gravestones. I keep an eye out for sprouts in the burned area. Someday I will find other plants for my garden.

I have some medical supplies left, bandages, some antibiotics past their prime, a few syringes of morphine. I store them in the chapel, alongside my crates of canned goods. I tend anyone who sees the green and came, but mostly I bury them. I can’t carve them stones, but I plant dandelions on the graves.

She would have liked it, you know. It doesn’t snow here any more, not ever. She didn’t like the snow.

Delivery Only

I’m continuing the 150-word stories, this one from this prompt.

Delivery Only

The Mitsuko latched neatly onto my airlock. These automated delivery drones were the best. I could order anything I wanted without talking to another human, and then it arrived.

I got to the airlock fast, to keep the hexapedal delivery tractor from hauling its load beyond the cargo bay. I didn’t want even a robot poking around my habitat. I unloaded my things, signed the delivery stub, and slammed the lock behind the Mitsuko.

I eagerly rooted through the containers, each sealed with the trademarked arrow. The last batch of parts I needed! I’d been holding back a fraction of the ore I mined for years, not enough to make the bosses suspicious. I was reshaping entire asteroids, building death ray platforms. Delivery drones weren’t smart enough to notice, but a human would be suspicious. Thank goodness for Amazon Prime. They’d made it possible to take over the solar system.

Writing numbers roundup

Data! My favorite thing…

My first short story submission was in 2009.

Since then I have submitted 18 stories a total of 66 times, and sold 9 of them, 4 for SFWA professional rates. I’ve never finished more than 3 stories in a calendar year, made more than 15 submissions, or sold more than 2 stories. I sold 4 stories on their first submission, but my most popular story took 8 tries, though it has now been both podcast and translated.

In 2016, I finished 2 stories, made 7 submissions, had 2 stories sold in previous years appear in print, and sold 1 story.

My intent for 2017 is to finish 4 stories, completely revise 2 others, and to make at least 20 submissions, although I’d also like to work on a novel, and have several nonfiction projects in the works.

Here are the titles and first lines of four of those stories:

Crossing the Water: A sparrow landed on the road, deceived by its placid surface.

The Dirt of Denela: Loredana Ney’s troubles ended here, up against a red-tinged crater wall, with the dirt of Denela under her fingernails and poison coating her throat.

Spindle, Apple, Thorn: The air smelled of dust and ozone.

Learning to be Terrestrial: I clutched my full mug of coffee, the memory of warmth enough to keep my hands wrapped around a cooling cup.

#SFWApro

Negotiation

Liza pushed her way to the door as the train rolled through the airlock into San Vital, even though it wouldn’t unlock until the pressure washer finished. Dust got into everything regardless, but rinsing the train at least meant there was less of it. She looked back. No sign of the guy who’d been tailing her, a known runner for the anti-alien Progressives. Liza knew better than to touch her pocket. Either the packet was there or it wasn’t; nothing she could do right now except attract attention.

She slipped out the door the instant it slid open, muttering apologies to the people she shoved past. Her steady walk toward the Pratt Avenue exit barely faltered when the man fell into step alongside. She glanced around for a cop. “Officer, I’m smuggling alien artifacts and this guy is following me.” Yeah, no.

Liza looked up at him. “Let’s talk.”

What a prompt: the 1969 Manitoba election.
You will see some inspiration from that article, maybe, but only in the vaguest sense

Notes from the field

There were no roads into these hills, barely any paths. Donkeys didn’t need much, nor did people used to the climbs. Used to nothing else, living in this landscape. I didn’t have a donkey, just a notebook, a set of sample jars, and a sturdy staff. Somewhere down this dusty path was a village, mentioned in the last census. Nobody had recorded how big it was, or exactly where it was located. I doubted the census taker even managed to find it.

These hills were the epicenter of wild caraway diversity: more wild kinds than than the single weak species grown commercially. More flavor, different volatiles; more power to repel demons. We were desperate. I’d evaded patrols to get this far, hidden by the resistance. I scanned the vegetation as I walked, saving seeds in labeled jars, heading toward an unknown village, hoping someone could point me to a cure.

Tentacles!

I was rummaging thru my files this afternoon, and found a short story I’d written a few years ago. It was ostensibly for a theme anthology, but really I wrote it to entertain myself, and crammed in as many steampunk tropes as I could think of. Except goggles. There are no goggles.

Hold on…

Okay, fixed that.

It still amuses me, and it would make a fun Halloween treat. Unless you don’t like it, in which case it’s a trick and I will be by to TP your house shortly.

If you like it, you might consider picking up the Genius Loci anthology, or checking out my other fiction, much of which is available online.

Happy Halloween!


The Hydraulliope of Dr. Cummerbund

The professor had the mind of a tinkerer, the body of a music hall comedian and the unfortunate name of Cummerbund. He was short, pudgy and entirely obsessed with building a great musical instrument, a pipe organ that would summon the Elder Gods from the abyssal depths where they slept. Some days Dr. Cummerbund wished them to give him the body he deserved, while on others he wanted them to take revenge on the masses of humanity who had laughed at him, believing that nobody named Cummerbund could possibly be a genius of his true stature. Perhaps, he ruminated, the Elder Gods could do both. Yes, that was certainly the correct solution.

The organ pipes were installed along the brick walls of his laboratory, formerly a riverfront warehouse. Some were straight, while others were bent into curves through which no pipe should go. Each pipe had been meticulously engraved with mystical signs. The professor looked at the pipes as little as possible. The eldritch sigils twined around the network of pipes, combining to seem as though the pipes themselves were writhing, though he knew that was entirely impossible. His assistant had fallen into the bass pipe earlier that week and been lost. The boy had been on a ladder adjusting the fittings and slipped headfirst down the pipe, vanishing somewhere before the bottom. Dr. Cummerbund had been unable to secure a replacement, much though he disliked fetching his own tea.

A dilapidated steam engine sat in the corner surrounded by flakes of rust from its decrepit boiler. The doctor had never gotten around to connecting it to the organ, nor even to buying in coal. After contemplating the matter extensively, he had given up on steam power and instead harnessed the river itself to power his pipe organ. He’d christened his new invention the “hydraulliope”. All the best inventions require novel nomenclature.

Dr. Cummerbund surveyed his handiwork, wrench clutched in one hand. He ran the fingers of his other hand through his untidy hair, leaving a foul smear of grease and more odious substances on his already-unclean temple, cutting across the slightly paler streak where his goggle strap had been. In his early experiments Dr. Cummerbund had only managed to summon up a coven of overly-large rats which had probably consumed his cat. At any rate he hadn’t seen the orange tom lately, and the rats had taken to lounging on his workbench and making off with his biscuits. But now, now the hydraulliope was connected to the river, and through the transmissive medium of the water to the ocean beyond. The engraving was completed, the pipes were adjusted into their proper configurations and the organ was ready for its final test. A properly auspicious celestial configuration for calling the Elder Gods would not occur until three days hence (or would that be ominous configuration?), but a thorough assessment of the organ’s performance could still be conducted.

Dr. Cummerbund threw the lever diverting the river’s flow to power the bellows of the hydraulliope. He pulled out a single stop and tentatively pressed a key in the middle of the first rank with one finger. Nothing happened. He pressed another more firmly and a faint wail drifted through the basement. The professor pressed a third key as hard as he could. An unearthly howl echoed from the brick walls, tickling the recesses of the professor’s mind with images of the monsters that wait in the shadows. Dr. Cummerbund shivered and released the key.

He pulled out another set of stops and pounded on the keyboards, one hand on each rank. He’d never learned to play the piano properly, but it hardly mattered. He mashed the keys, one after another and then all together, as many as his hands could span. The individual tones of the pipes blended into something more like the cries of pelagic leviathans than any terrestrial music. The sigils engraved on the pipes began to glow softly as harmonies not intended for human ears filled the basement and washed out into the night. Even the rats retreated from the sound.

A hint of movement might have caught the professor’s eye if only he had raised his eyes from the keys arrayed before him in black and white. A tentacle rose slowly from a pipe, its pallid sucker-laden tip swaying slightly in time to the music. A second pale appendage slipped out from a neighboring pipe, and a third, and then too many to count, all swaying with the erratic rhythm emanating from the hydraulliope.

The professor grew bolder with his playing, running through arpeggios and glissandos that spanned the keys and jumped from one keyboard to another. He paused once to adjust the stops, and the tentacles froze. Dr. Cummerbund returned his hands to the keyboard and began anew, never once lifting his eyes to the pipes lining the walls. The tentacles oozed further from the pipes, feeling their way blindly downward. The music covered the moist burping sounds of the suckers attaching and releasing as they slithered ever closer.

Dr. Cummerbund was unused to vigorous exercise, so his short arms soon began to tremble from the strain. Even the satisfaction of experimenting with different combinations of stops was not enough to entice him to continue. A final crash on the keyboard, and he raised his arms triumphantly, proud of his hydraulliope and its din, proud of his first and only hydraulliope solo. However short the composition, it had already been far too long. The back of his right hand brushed a moist, rubbery surface in what should be empty space. He started, looking up to see an inverted forest of tentacles protruding from the pipes, arching gracefully down into the laboratory. The doctor had taken only a single staggering step back when a tentacle wrapped itself firmly around his ankles and swung him into the air. As he dangled inverted, a second tentacle stroked his back almost sensually then twined around his chest, pinning his arms. The professor cried out when a sucker fastened wetly on his cheek, until the tip of a tentacle shoved into his mouth, silencing him. Tentacles converged on his suspended form until he was entirely hidden from view, a fly dangling neatly wrapped in a spider’s web.

Dr. Cummerbund struggled, but the tentacles were like steel cables encased in malodorous rubber and he achieved no lessening in their insistent squeezing. His whimpers and cries were stifled by the tentacle in his mouth, tasting of mineral-laden salt from the ocean’s depths. Eventually his moans ceased altogether, and the tentacles gently unrolled the professor onto the floor. His new form was as long and as lean as any of the men that he had once admired, and his hated name was no longer his – nor did it belong to any living man, genius or not.

All was silent in the basement laboratory for a long moment, until the questing tentacles found the keyboards of the hydraulliope. They hovered for a moment then struck the keyboards with a crash, the abyssal gods playing themselves into existence.