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friday flash

Along the Sea

I’ve lived all my life along the sea, my parents before me, and theirs before them, as far back as anyone can remember. I’ve seen everything that could ever be seen along our stretch of shore. Storms and sun, dry sand and high water, good years and bad for filling our nets, if never so bad as elsewhere. Shipwrecks, certainly. When fishing was bad we’d lure ships onto the reef. That’s where the silk carpet you’re laying on came from. The sailors never lasted long, but their cargos kept us comfortable.

There have only ever been the four families living here, though sometimes a young man drawn to the sea marries in. Other fisherfolk have moved in, hoping to share our bounty, but they don’t last long. Their boats sink, their women ail, they see great worms along the shore and flee.

But you, you’ve come to build a lighthouse to keep ships safe. And you brought your wife. Young love is so sweet. Excuse me while I go check on her. It’s probably time for more broth. Expectant mothers are prone to dehydration. What’s that? I can’t make any words out through the gag, but I know what you’re asking, what they always ask.

You’re not the father.

The worms herd the fish into our nets. We find them women. Sometimes men, that’s almost as good, but there was only the one egg this time so we didn’t need you.

Oh, don’t fuss so much. We take very good care of them, right up until the eggs hatch.



The crash was followed by the tinkling of broken glass on cement. Woody looked up from his midnight snack of pseudo-wine and formerly-cheese-like-substance and groaned. “Again? Really? That’s the third velociraptor this week.” Nobody was there to listen, he just liked to hear himself talk. Buzz wouldn’t be back from the future until next week sometime. Help with the velociraptors would have been nice, but Woody didn’t miss Buzz incessantly complaining about the food. It wasn’t Woody’s fault that shipping stuff through time made it taste funny. The special insulated capsules they used for people were far too expensive to use for food, except on special occasions: the birthday bar of chocolate, the New Year’s champagne and real cheese. Woody had tried shipping in a bar of chocolate by regular container. The smell of the orange slime had instantly convinced him to wait until his birthday in August.

Woody washed down the fluorescent green cheese with a last sip of perfectly clear wine. It still tasted like a merlot, but the alcohol had gone the way of the color. The cheddar? He actually liked the transported cheese better than the original, but only if he didn’t look at it. He was sure he’d seen it wiggle once, even if the boffins said that was impossible. Living things could only travel in the insulated capsules.

He put his empty plate and glass in the sink, then grabbed the spade that was standing by the door. Woody peered through the heavily-reinforced glass set into the heavily-reinforced door. Finishing his snack should have given the automatic systems enough time to take care of the velociraptor. Lately the defense systems had been leaving bits of the carcass behind, thus the spade. Buzz had utterly ruined a broom once; a spade worked a whole lot better, especially if you hosed everything down after.

He couldn’t see anything moving, and it was definitely time to clean the other side of the door. The glass was awfully foggy. Woody wished again that the garage had been as well-reinforced as the main living quarters. He was so tired of chasing critters out of it, or worse, shoveling them. Not that he wanted to chase velociraptors. They were only about fifteen kilos, but they were insanely fast, and those teeth were sharp. One of the first guys out had brought his dog. Woody had seen the video. The company had fought awful hard to keep it off YouTube, but if you knew what to look for you could find it. He thought it should be part of the official training, but the company disagreed.

Yep, there was the carcass, cut into several pieces and with that stupid tail sticking up. Woody unbolted the door and cracked it open. It had sounded like this one took out one of the windows, and something else could have come in. Not much that would fit through the window would follow a velociraptor, but so many things would come to the blood.

No sound, no movement. Looked like none of the little scavengers had snuck in yet, or any of the bigger ones either. Woody needed to get that broken window blocked off. What dimwit at the company though the garage needed windows, rather than reinforced steel? They were just about all covered anyway; maybe soon he’d be free of midnight velociraptors.

He traded the spade for a sheet of plywood. Getting the outside sealed out was more urgent than getting rid of the carcass. Woody got the window covered quickly, plenty of recent practice. He’d add some more screws in the morning, but that should do for now. It wasn’t going to stop anything determined, but should keep out the riff-raff. He’d have to request some steel sheet during the weekly conference call with the company, enough to cover all the windows.

Woody pitched the last spadeful of velociraptor out the door and sealed it. He’d hose down the floor and walls in the morning, along with the spade. He leaned it up against the wall by the slop sink, and only then noticed that his rosebush was missing. Not the pot, the improvised container and all its soil sat tucked behind the sink where it always had, out of the way so nobody would notice it, but near enough to the door that he could slide it outside for a sunbath when nobody was around. But all the greenery was missing, stems and all.

Woody bent slowly to retrieve a petal fragment from the floor. That bud never even had time to bloom. It would have been the first ever rose, the first flowering plant for that matter. He had smuggled a slip inside his pants, the thorns digging into his inner thigh for the whole interminable trip. Buzz knew, had gently touched the puncture wounds one evening before Woody switched off the light, but he’d never mentioned the plant itself. He did distract the company inspector once, though, drawing his attention to something on the other side of the garage when the inspector was looking too closely at everything.

The velociraptor must have eaten it. Right? Those sharp little teeth could chomp off a rose stem. Right? Surely nothing else came in tonight, nothing following the velociraptor, or leading it, nothing that would eat a rosebush, or drag it off outside, or introduce alien plants into a world they’d never evolved in?


Those were just stories, right?

It’s been a long time since I did a speed flash story. The game: I solicit ideas on twitter, then have an hour to write a short story that incorporates all of them. Sometimes it works remarkably well, sometimes (as today), it falls rather short. But it’s always fun.

Today’s prompts:

@evilrooster – a missing rose
@thc1972 – Woody and Buzz slash
@mishellbaker – a bump in the night
@marjorie73 – cheese, and a spade

I like the setting, but the story really needs to be longer than I had time for.


Another hotel room, industrial beige with a patterned bedspread to hide the stains: apples, grapes and bananas on this one; mixed with paisleys. Instead of the usual mail-order, this one had travel posters from places nobody within a hundred miles of here had ever been: Neuschwanstein castle, panda cubs, even a lovely image of a glacier calving. It looked like Greenland to me, though it had been a while since I was last there.

I turned on the tv to cover up the kinds of noises you got in every cheap hotel in the world, especially when it was only one for miles around. Some bad science fiction movie was the first thing to come on: huge implausible robots chasing hatted and spurred cowboys armed with six-shooters. My money was on the cowboys. I turned it up until I couldn’t hear the vacuum cleaner down the hall, or the mid-afternoon quickie happening in the next room.

More importantly, nobody else could hear the quiet voices that would soon be coming from my room. I pulled out my suitcase, the kind of battered leather case used by traveling salesmen since the dawn of time. I pictured someone opening such a bag in front of the Egyptian pyramids as they went up. “Fancy some new spindle whorls? Or how about these lovely needles? I have some dice, they’re the latest thing. So much more fun than knucklebones.”

I lifted the display of dinosaur figurines out of the way. Museum-quality, and molded and painted using the best theories of modern paleontologists. Schools liked to buy them, and sometimes even parents. But that’s not what I was after. Under the tray of brightly-colored plastic dinosaurs was another tray of dinosaurs. Beneath that were a couple of not-too-raunchy men’s magazines, to convince anyone snooping that they’d found all there was to hide.

Under that, a palm-leaf manuscript, brown and frail. It looked like Sanskrit, but it wasn’t. I pushed aside the remains of my lunch, a few stray jalapenos and the last smear guacamole, and laid the manuscript down gently. The glyphs, or letters, or syllables, or whatever they were, seemed to wiggle if I looked at them too long. I ran my fingers lightly over the surface, feeling the electric tingle that proximity to the manuscript brought. I would have liked books a lot more as a kid if they made me feel all fizzy. If they’d all had ghosts attached, I never would have left the library.

I didn’t know how to make the ghost appear on command, and I couldn’t understand him when he talked to me. Maybe I’d see him tonight, maybe I wouldn’t. He looked a bit like a hologram from Star Wars, only in sepia instead of blue: a glowing tiny figure, gesturing sadly at me as if that would help me understand.

I’d never seen him smile, laugh, do anything other than scowl in frustration. I’d thought about taking him to a university language department, but he was mine. I didn’t want to share him with anyone else, even if they might understand the language he spoke. It was probably extinct anyway, some long-gone product of India or Africa. I couldn’t tell for sure where he was from, only that his skin was dark. His head was shaven. Did ghosts have to keep shaving, or did death stop growth for spirit and body both?

My husband had shaved his head since before I knew him, but by the end he didn’t need to. He joked that chemo had saved him so much time since he didn’t need to shave every day, even when he was too weak to play his beloved slide guitar.

That was before. Before I traveled all the time, when I still had a home. When I didn’t know anything about dinosaurs that I hadn’t learned in kindergarten. When I had friends, family, not just a frustrated ghost for company.

Maybe he was trying to warn me of the end of the world. Maybe there was something I could do to hasten it.

This is twitter flash: 687 words in an hour and a half, with the following prompts:

@sandykidd slide
@marjorie73 a sad ghost, bananas
@ticia42 panda
@j00licious dinosaur figurines
@quasigeo jalapenos, Neuschwanstein castle, glacier calving, Sanskrit
@notmoro cowboys vs robots
@qitou vacuum cleaners and guacamole

Thanks, everyone!


“That’s silly.”

“How would you know?” I wanted to scream at him, but managed to choke it back to a more moderate volume. After all those years in children’s programming, I had trouble expressing myself even when anger would be entirely justified. He’d probably cry. I hated that.

And cursing? Forget about it. Though the Sanskrit chants I’d learned for an episode that was never filmed? Those were even better than foul language in English, if said with the right inflection. I didn’t know what they meant anymore, just how the syllables felt rolling off my tongue.

I tried a few, just to see if they felt as good as I remembered. Bird’s feathers tightened around his body. I almost thought they paled from their usual brightness, but that had to have been a trick of the light. Sanskrit chants: even more effective than I’d thought. And since I learned them for an ep, they couldn’t really be anything not G-rated.

I stopped after the first stanza, but he took half a step back anyway. Partners for so all those years, and he still didn’t know me as well as he thought. Assuming we were still partners, something I wasn’t at all certain of.

The newspaper rolled in my trunk, no obstacle to Sanskrit or English, or even Spanish, led with “He’s REAL,” above the fold even. Must have been a slow news day. I waved it in his face.

Bird wiped off a bit of spittle from his head-feathers. Excited snuffling wasn’t the neatest activity, but I didn’t really care. “You didn’t read it. How do I know? Because you’re illiterate, that’s why.” And that would be a bombshell bigger than my reality or lack thereof, now wouldn’t it.

“But everyone has known you were real since 1985. So why does it matter what they said?”

“Bird. Remember the difference between television and reality?”
“Um, yes?” Bird looked at me with wide eyes.

“No you don’t.” I sighed. I explained this at least three times a week, and had for decades. “When the cameras are on, that’s television. It isn’t real. The television people thought I was imaginary, then they thought I was real.”

Bird nodded, his gaze fixed on me.

“The other people, the ones who watch the television? They’ve always thought I was imaginary, that there was a giant fur suit with people in it.” Bird opened his beak to say something, but I kept going. “They think you’re made-up too, that there’s a person inside you who moves your head and hands.”

“There is?” He looked down at himself, eyes even wider. It was a good thing they were permanently attached.

“No, there isn’t.” Talking to Bird was like, well, talking to a bird. “You’re real all the way through, just like me. But people think that you’re a muppet.”

“What’s a muppet?”

“Don’t worry about it. Here, have some candy.” I handed him a bag of wine gums, a reliable distraction. Really, why would Bird care what the world thought of him? He had a safe, secure life and made people happy.

I did too, but I was bored. I knew better than to go out for a walk; that’s how the tabloid got those photos. Last time they claimed to have evidence of Bigfoot. I got into a fair bit of trouble for leaving the compound. That’s when they added human security guards. It still wasn’t impossible to get out, even at my size, but I saved it for occasions when I might start smashing people if I didn’t get away for a while. Use the escape route too many times, and it was bound to be noticed.

The guards hadn’t caught on, but the paparazzi had. I was going to be stuck inside for years. Once in a great while I got a vacation: the producers put me in a semi and hauled me off into the wilderness for a week or two. Which wouldn’t be so bad, if a whole entourage didn’t have to come with me. Hello? Mammoth? I can handle a few days in the woods.

Maybe they’re just afraid I won’t come back. Nobody else is as good as I am at getting Bird to do things.

Anyway, no unauthorized expeditions. The fuss would die down, even assuming it spread past the second-rate newspaper that ran the photos. I’d keep doing my thing, and I’d keep Bird doing his, and everyone would be happy, except me.

At least there was still twitter.

This was twitter flash from a few weeks ago.

I’d solicited ideas then bailed on writing the story until tonight. Thanks to @random_michelle (A.S.’s thoughts about being outed as a real creature (rather than imaginary), @qitou (Sanskrit chants), and @J00licious )bags of wine gums, and people watching on the Tube).

Dinosaurs Don’t Eat Flowers

Today is International Pixel-stained Technopeasant Wretch Day. In honor of the holiday, please accept my pixel-stained flash piece, and all the other flash fiction stories I’ve posted over the past year.

“Maybe dinosaurs ate them.”

Alice looked at her little sister in disgust. “Dinosaurs didn’t eat flowers, dummy. Flowers hadn’t been invented yet.”

Meg looked up at her. “You’re not smarter than me just because you’re older.” Anyone watching would have recognized a long-standing sibling disagreement, if there had been anyone left to watch. “Dinosaurs did so eat flowers, so maybe we can too.”

“I’ve never heard of anyone eating flowers. I don’t know if people can do that.” Alice screwed up her face, trying so hard to remember whether people could eat flowers. She was kind of hungry, but somehow flowers just didn’t seem right. Meg ripped a handful of blossoms from the shrub and stuffed them in her mouth. She spit them out again before Alice could do more than take a breath to yell at her. “Ick. Dinosaurs definitely didn’t eat flowers.”

“Dinosaurs ate other dinosaurs,” Alice replied with all the certainty of an older sister who’s nearly eleven, almost. “So that doesn’t help, because there aren’t any more dinosaurs.”

“There aren’t any more airplanes either,” Meg retorted. Alice wasn’t sure why that mattered, since nothing ate airplanes. Or maybe something did, and that’s why there weren’t any more. Their mama was supposed to be on an airplane coming home, only the airplanes all stopped. The internet stopped too, and that’s what they noticed first because the iPad went dark in the middle of a cartoon. Their babysitter said some words Meg wasn’t supposed to know. Alice wasn’t sure where she went after that. She told them to stay in the house, but after a couple hours in the dark they got bored and went outside.

Meg stomped around like a T. Rex for a few minutes, while Alice tried to listen to the grownups. She was the big sister, after all, and she needed to know what was going on. That’s where she heard about the airplanes. They all fell out of the sky, Mr. Neely from down the street said. He was out in his yard talking to Mrs. Singh who lived on the other side of him. All the houses were dark, so people were standing around in the street. Alice wondered what they’d do when it got dark.

Then Alice wondered what she and Meg would do when it got dark. “Meg. Enough dinosaurs.” She grabbed her sister’s arm and tugged her back toward the house.

Meg started to object, then looked at Alice’s face and stopped mid-complaint. “What do we do? Where’s our babysitter? Where’s Mama?”

Alice decided they should stay in the house until Mama got home. Mama always told her to be responsible, and that would be the responsible thing to do. Something outside made a horrible noise, like when she dropped a plate only much, much worse. Alice peeked out the window. Somebody she didn’t know has smashed the Gonzalez’s door in across the street. Maybe they couldn’t stay here after all.

Alice dumped the schoolwork out of Meg’s backpack, the green one with the allosaurus on it. She put in two bottles of water, some Oreos, and a whole bag of Goldfish crackers, plus Meg’s favorite stuffed animal. In her own she put the biggest knives from the kitchen, the things from her mother’s jewelry box wrapped up in a clean towel, and clean t-shirts and underwear for both of them. She left their cell phones because they wouldn’t turn on.

The forest started right behind their house. She and Meg could go out the back without anybody seeing them. She knew how to get into the old mine shaft; she spent lots of time running around in the woods. Hardly anybody knew it was there, so she and Meg could hide from the monsters that ate airplanes. They had food and water and clothes, and they could take care of themselves until Mama came back.

That’s what dinosaurs do.

This one differs slightly from the usual twitter flash. Same time limit (an hour), but different source for ideas, and it wasn’t written on a Friday.
From me – spring flowers, dinosaurs
From Nick – Forest, airplane, abandoned tunnel


Yeast bread and spices. That’s what the house smelled like. How could the current inhabitants do something as comforting as bake hot cross bun? Satai stood on the porch. The railing was painted bright blue, and the floor a deep piney green. The vivid red door looked cheerful and welcoming. The fading daffodils and the budding tulips only added to the general good nature of the house. It was the kind of house where your beloved grandmother lived, or your best friend.

She’d been hunting them for what felt like forever, from the court of Catherine the Great to Timbuktu. That sounded like a metaphor for a long time and a long distance, but it was nothing but the truth. It wouldn’t have taken nearly so long, but she lost them during the chaos of the Crimean War.

Here and now Satai could hardly believe she’d found them. Her informant had been certain, and she’d left him in no condition to warn anyone of her presence. She stared at the forsythia golden along the steps. A house like this, it should have encysted them, pushed them out whole before they had time to infect it. When she’d circled the place earlier, counting the possible exits, she’d even seen a beehive in the back, in a small orchard.

The tiny video camera she was wearing would pick up the colors, the sounds of birds singing in the trees overhead, but not the smell of cinnamon and cloves. Satai hoped it wouldn’t betray her trembling, though she could probably edit that out when she made the DVD.

Standing here for too long was suspicious. This time of day, people would probably take her for a visiting friend, but the last thing she needed was a garrulous neighbor coming over to say hello. The inhabitants of the house would be sound asleep by now, not to wake until the sun was firmly set.

The lock was old. Satai slipped it easily, then closed the red door behind herself. The buns were on the counter on a cooling rack. She touched one, but they were cold. And crosses? Why would they have put the crosses on the tops?

A white porcelain bowl was heaped with dyed eggs, mostly red like the Easter eggs of her childhood, but some drawn with the intricate designs that the court had come to favor. She didn’t think anyone remembered how to make those eggs. She hadn’t seen any for so long, and the red ones in even longer. There was no skill to those, just boiling the eggs with onion skins, but nobody bothered.

She touched one, ran her finger over the smooth ovoid. They should be in a basket, in a kitchen that smelled of smoke, in a farm waiting eagerly for spring. April was a hard month back then, with winter stores nearly exhausted and summer’s bounty a long way off. Here and now, it was flowers and trips to the grocery store, an easier life but one that slipped by, leaving no mark.

Satai wondered if those she pursued missed their homes as much as she did, just then. They were the only ones who might remember, who had been shaped by the same spring, and the only ones who might help her forget.

She picked up an egg, turning it over and over in her hands, then took it out onto the porch to watch the bees rumble through the forsythia and wait for the dusk.

Twitter flash, with contributors:
Timbuktu, DVD production, Crimean War espionage – @quasigeo
Beekeeping and Easter eggs – @qitou


My workload roughly doubled in the past week, from its already-high state to something approaching insane. Deadlines moved, cancelled activities resurfaced, new projects fell from the sky. It’s all good, but blogging will be rare to nonexistent until mid-April, as will fiction writing, and pretty much anything that isn’t work.

Except Sunday evenings – that’s writers group time, and I intend to keep that up. After a day spent editing grant proposals and book chapters, I didn’t have much brainpower left for anything major, so I solicited ideas on twitter. The usual suspects contributed, and here’s the result.

The stone pillar loomed over the town square. Today only a trio of pigeons occupied its flat top, their inevitable leavings sinking down through cracks in the stone. The pigeons had no use for the stairs spiraling up its sides, carved from the same block of granite as the pillar they encircled, their centers eroded by centuries of footsteps. Grooves around the edges of the steps, worn and faded, showed which parts the apprentice wielded the laser cutter on. The overslip lessened as the stairs ascended, until at the top the work of master and student stonecutter were indistinguishable.

Clouds scudded across the azure sky, trailing blotches of shadow across the square. Nothing moved except the sliding light and darkness. Even the feral cat that haunted the square dozed on a window ledge, having given up on pigeons for the time being.
The windows surrounding the square opened into house and guildhall and kirk, but all were blank. No faces looked out, no blurred motion appeared through the glass. One of the windows at the corner of the square had shattered, shards littering the ground beneath it, the jagged bits covered in dust and pollen.

Whatever force had broken the window came from the inside.

Once the square had been full of noise and movement and music far into the night. The three men and one woman who stood on the plinth watched over the barely-controlled chaos. Traveling vacuum cleaner salesmen–their products guaranteed to suck–vied with peddlers of cut-rate powders and potions for everything from healing broken bones to loosening stiff muscles, and the bars fronting the square did brisk business in gin martinis, or whatever drinks were currently fashionable. Glowing chartreuse cocktails had been a brilliant if short-lived sensation.

The entertainers had been the main attraction: jugglers of iridescent fire, dancers in antigrav bubbles, courtesans of all genders garbed in modes from eighteenth century high court to the finest nanofabrics. After sunset the square glowed with gemlike light limning the forms of the participants, trailing from the walls, puddling on the ground, flowing in luminescent rivulets and runnels around the plinth, but never touching its black silhouette.
As the sun moved toward the west, the shadow of the plinth extended across the square, touching the base and then the top of the building on the far side before merging with the shadows of dusk. No light glimmered anywhere. The cat had vanished with the sun. The pigeons had flown to their roost long before sunset.

Even the people had fled from the shadow of the plinth, but not before blood soaked into the stone where the light had refused to flow.


@fadeaccompli plinths

@ChiaLynn Pieces of glass

@qitou vacuum cleaners, gin martinis, muscle relaxants.

@marjorie73 18th century harlot

Under the Moons

Machines have always been easy to fool.

People too, but if enough people look hard enough, eventually someone will notice. Usually they’re declared insane and locked up, though. The Mars base was nearly eight years old before anyone noticed the forest, and nine by the time anyone else believed her.

After that it was obvious.

The canals, the forests and plains and seas: all around us, enclosed in the tiny ring of red dirt that we’d been circling endlessly, and our rovers before us, convinced we were seeing a whole world.

It was only a matter of time before someone spotted a thoat.

It was rather nice not to have to wear space suits all the time. Mars was a lot warmer than we’d thought, and the atmosphere was a whole lot more accommodating. I hear they’re going to send a crew to Venus to see what it really looks like. Jungles, I’m betting, but I’m not planning on leaving Mars any time soon.

We got a tiny mass ration for personal goods. Most people brought special foods, or some little luxuries. I brought a sword. Single edged, lightly curved, sharp enough to cut between raindrops. Oh yes, we had rain too, enough to keep the canals flowing. A couple of guys were building kayaks in their spare time. The sword belonged to my umpty-great grandfather, according to family legend, part of the Mongol armies of the twelfth century. It was really meant for use on horseback, but I practiced forms with it every day, kept it sharp and clean and oiled. I swung it. The blade whistled through a precise arc, stopped dead at an exact point.

I’d never used it on a living being. Once I practiced on straw-filled dummies, but there was no straw on Mars. Or actually, there probably was, we just hadn’t found it yet. I twisted the blade, admired the way the reflections of the double moons slid across the steel, catching on each slight ridge. Once I’d daydreamed of riding across the endless plains on my smart and faithful mare, falcon on her perch, sword sheathed at my side and bow slung along the saddle. Then I daydreamed of visiting Mars. Studying science, engineering, calculus, earning a doctoral degree and undertaking NASA training, waiting and more waiting: that’s the daydream I worked toward, though every day the sword and I exercised together.

Now I dreamed of riding thoat-back across the plains of Mars, with the Barsoomian equivalent of a falcon circling overhead. Deja Thoris might be too much to ask, but it was my daydream so I could have whoever I wanted.

I toweled my sweat away. It had been a warm day for Terra, let alone Mars, and hadn’t yet cooled off, though the sun was below the horizon. I’d be chilled if I stayed out much longer, damp and no longer working hard.

Akiko met me inside the airlock, a vital necessity on an airless planet. We no longer bothered to seal it, but it was still the main accessway. “Susan,” she said, falling in next to me when I didn’t stop, “I was getting worried. You were out so late.”

When I married her, Akiko and I had both just finished grad school, were both entirely focused on getting into NASA, still a boy’s club, and onto the Mars team. As much as anything, we’d fallen together because nobody else understood our obsession. Everyone else I’d dated had drifted away before too long, uninterested in a partner who worked most of the time, and talked about Mars incessantly for the rest.

Shared obsession might not have been the strongest foundation for a marriage ever, but it worked for them. Until the illusions were broken, anyway. Akiko was entirely unable to cope with Mars-as-it-was. She wouldn’t go outside, and fretted incessantly when I spent time outside the walls, something I did more and more often.

I loved the smell of the breeze, the volatiles that reminded me of creosotebush after a rain, the flowers opening in the long Martian spring. I was a geophysicist, but only because that was the specialty most likely to get me onto the team. If things were different, I would have been a botanist. But who knew we’d need botanists on Mars? My childhood of tramping around in the fields and forests, then looking up my finds, had catapulted me into the leading botanical expert on the whole planet, even though I’d discarded plants entirely once the Mars bug bit me.

Akiko didn’t understand that either. She’d never done anything in her life that wasn’t focused on her one goal, even marrying me. My sword practice had always perplexed her, but she understood the necessity for exercise so she left it alone. This, though: studying plants that shouldn’t even exist. She couldn’t handle it. She’d been drinking more and more. I could smell beer on her breath even now.

I pulled away as she clutched at my arm. Tomorrow I’d try again. I’d go out with my sword and drill in the field under the light of two tiny moons, a few essentials tucked in my pockets just in case.

Tomorrow my thoat would appear, or the tomorrow after that.

This is a Friday flash, only on Sunday. As always, I asked for ideas on twitter, wrote the story in one fell swoop, then posted it here completely unedited.

Tonight’s contributors:
@fadeaccompli – the romance of the second moon
@soundym – beer, marriage, awkward conversation
@quasigeo – falconry, calculus, a 12th c. Mongol sword

The general consensus was that it should be science fantasy in space.


She said she was going to Irkutsk.

He didn’t believe her.

She said she wanted to travel, to find something new, to understand the world a little better.

After 27 years of marriage, he knew when she was lying.

She went anyway.

The suit he wore to the wedding was still in the closet, shoved way to the back. He hadn’t had it out for years, even though he used to wear it for other formal occasions. But his friends were having funerals instead of weddings, and the two of them hadn’t been invited to a formal party in… he couldn’t remember how long. It wasn’t that nice of a suit anyway.

He pulled it out, stripped off his sweatshirt and jeans and left them in a pile on the floor. She hated when he did that, but her opinion didn’t matter any more. The silk shirt fit nicely–it was considerably newer than the suit. He knotted a cashmere tie over it, standing in the middle of the room in shirt and socks and boxers, eyes closed as his fingers manipulated the soft dark wool. When they got married, they didn’t have much money. The shirt and tie he wore then were polyester or something else cheap. They didn’t care then. The two of them were so in love that they would have gotten married in burlap sacks, just for the ecstasy of saying “husband and wife.”


The jacket hung off his shoulders like a worn tablecloth. He’d lost weight since those days, turning into a scrawny old man. Not that he was all that old, of course, but today he felt ancient. He spun before the mirror, watching the fabric sag and ripple. Something interfered with the drape of the front pocket. He pulled out an old gift card, the coffee chain named on it long defunct. Nobody drank coffee anymore.

He skipped the shoes, padding down the carpeted hall and into the living room in his stockinged feet. Her favorite painting, “A Mysterious Stranger,” hung in the hall. It would be childish to turn it to face the wall. After so long, he barely saw it, never looked at it. A shadowy figure stood by a table, the oil lamp sitting on it providing the only illumination. The figure held something aloft. He’d always thought it might be an astrolabe, but he didn’t know what one of those was exactly. She’d tried to explain the symbolism to him once, but he still didn’t understand what the painting meant, or why she was so fascinated by the vaguely menacing form.

Her orchid still sat on the table, flowers wilting but not gone. He lined a row of shot glasses up before it, their edges precisely aligned with the bright woven runner. One shot from each bottle in the liquor cabinet: whiskey, gin, absinthe, vodka, catching the light in multicolored array.

He picked up a glass, turned it between his fingers admiring the play of light through the liquid and the glass. Contemplating what would happen if he tossed it back, tossed them all back one after the other. He set the glass down slowly, gently, back into its careful alignment with its neighbors.

He imagined sweeping them all off the table, scattering shards everywhere, the murky swirl of the mixing liquors. He imagined calling his travel agent and booking a ticket to Siberia to find her. He envisioned himself throwing the mysterious stranger and his astrolabe off the balcony, watching it sail down the stories and crash in the street, where it would be pulverized by a passing truck. He pictured the rest of his life without her, so unlike anything he’d ever imagined, even for a moment.


Friday flash… on Saturday!

Tonight’s twitter suggestions:

@qitou Cashmere and silk
@Calvin_cat “He could still get into the suit he was wore at his wedding 27 years ago, but you wouldn’t say it still fit him”.
@Marjorie73 a Mysterious Stranger. And some gin
@randomSpammer A Starbucks gift card
@fadeaccompli a dose of absinthe.
@notanyani astrolabe, orchids
@quasigeo Irkutsk

(I collect suggestions, then spend no more than an hour writing a story that incorporates all of them: no time for planning, no time for editing. This one took me right up to the wire.)

All the Tea in China

A tiny crescent moon, just past new, hovered in the west. Rick hadn’t seen so many stars in years. Ruined castles were a good place to escape light pollution, he supposed. And with no roof on this section, there was nothing to interfere with moongazing. Not that he had any interest in that himself. Of course, if he’d been the one to relocate an entire thirteenth-century ruined castle from Normandy to Newfoundland, he would have at least put the roof back on.

“How the fuck can you do that,” he asked? The object of his inquiry was sprawled on a folding lounge chair, a sidecar in one hand and a bowl of smarties at his side. Even as Rick watched, he popped a few more smarties into his mouth, and washed them down with his cocktail.

“Do what, my dear?” Arthur asked, not taking his gaze from the sky.

“Smarties and cocktails. Yuck.”

“Smarties improve brain function, thus the name. But only the blue ones.” Arthur looked down at his drink before returning his gaze to the sky. “And sidecars make me happy. Smart and content: I generate my best ideas that way.”

Rick hoped Arthur would choke on his smarties.

“And what the fuck are we doing way out here anyway?”

“I came for the peace and quiet,” Arthur replied. “And you came because I pay you. And you are interfering with the peace. And the quiet. Kindly cease.”

Rick scowled, but only because it was too dark for Arthur to see his expression.

Arthur leaned back, setting his drink down so he could point at the moon. “See that?” he asked, but Rick didn’t think his boss was really talking to him. “That’s the same crescent moon that shone over Sarajevo on the 28th of June, the night that this whole chain of events were set in motion.” He lifted his drink again, slugged it, then threw the glass into the darkness. It crashed against a crumbling wall that was faintly silhouetted against the stars and disturbing the geese who were roosting there. They were probably Canada geese, Rick supposed, or at least Canadian. “A war began that day, a global catastrophe that resulted in the love of my life never having been born.”

Rick knew better than to ask how Arthur could possibly know that some unborn woman would have been the love of his life. Or man, maybe. Rick had never seen Arthur in a relationship of any sort. Whatever.

All Rick knew is that he didn’t want to listen to this. He retreated quietly into one of the more intact rooms, where he could at least have a battery lantern. Some kind of hippie group had been living here, or reenactors, or some shit like that, and they’d left a bunch of crap. The lantern was resting on what he thought was probably a broken loom, or maybe a torture device, and there was a longbow hanging on the wall. That he recognized for sure. Fucking hippies. He fished a beer out of the cooler. The sandwiches were starting to look good, but he’d wait until Arthur came in to eat. He still didn’t know why there was five pounds of fresh ginger in the cooler. Maybe Arthur was expecting a serious stomach upset from all the Smarties. The ginger was better than the biohazard-marked package labeled monkey serum, though. Rick really didn’t want to know what that was.

“Rick,” called Arthur from the outer darkness. “I have an idea.”

Rick rolled his eyes, but set his bottle on the loom-thing next to the lamp and went back out.

Arthur was up from his chair, pacing back and forth. “The Hubble Space Telescope can see back in time, billions of years back. Right?”

Rick nodded. Arthur couldn’t see him do it, but kept going anyway. “So how far away do you have to get to see back in time a hundred years. I could see my lost love’s ancestors, if I could just get a telescope in the right place and pointed this way.”

Rick didn’t think that was how it worked, but what did he know?

“What about Cassini? No, that’s not far enough, quite. There must be something.” Arthur stopped abruptly. “I must go talk to my contacts at NASA. What are you waiting for, Rick? We must leave immediately. And be careful with the bioluminescent camouflage suit. It’s very fragile.”

Arthur stared up, his face limned faintly in silver. Rick went back in to pack. His boss might be a lunatic, but he paid very well.

This, as with all the Friday Flash stories, was based on prompts suggested on twitter. I ask for ideas, and then use all of them. I give myself an hour, no more. There’s no planning, little plotting, and absolutely no editing whatsoever. There might however be drinking.

The whole thing is rather fun.

Tonight’s prompts came from:

@thc1972 bioluminescent camouflage
@quasigeo Sarajevo 1914, a broken loom, five pounds of raw ginger.
@notmoro monkey serum
@quasigeo ruins of a 13th c Normandy castle, Cassini/Huygens probe, flock of canada geese
@carolelaine a space telescope
@ravenbait a tube of smarties, all blue
@marjorie73 unrequited love and a longbow
@qitou sidecar (the drink)