Busy Monsters, Long-Form: Flash Fiction

scribescavepictureprompt-pic-number29

One of the two images offered up by The Scribe’s Cave this week. If this doesn’t get your spec-fic juices a’effervescin’, I don’t know what will. Image from Scribe’s Cave via boredpanda.com

Hello, everyone. I’d like to depart from what is possibly standard blog-operating procedure and post a long-form version (530-something words compared with 298) of my earlier flash, “Busy Monsters,” which was posted in response to the Scribe’s Cave Picture Prompt #28. (By the way, A.R. has a new prompt, a two-fer, up now. A sampling springs to life, up above in the image.)

I don’t know what you all think, but I have grown less fond of this version over the last few days. I can’t remember where I read this now, although it was recent, but it’s the idea that backstory can kind of unnecessarily bog down the “present” plot. In any case, your thoughts are always appreciated.


Busy Monsters (Long-Form)

Clouds that had earlier skulked now stalked the sky like drifting plastic bags pregnant with latrine water. Avie quickened her cadence down the path she’d been taught no drone could access, where her shadow’d been smothered an hour before. She was the group’s swiftest trail runner by leaps, even with the pokers* she wore.

abandonedplaygroundpic

Image creator: Wim Van den Eynde. Source: abandonedplaygrounds.com. Picture prompt provided by The Scribe’s Cave (prompt #28)

She nearly spiraled to her knees cresting a clot of invasive roots about 5½ kilometers from home. Instead, her palms took the force, bore brute furrows of scrapes. In one lupine motion, she wiped her hands on trouser legs and sprang up from the crouch. In that tunnel of oak and hemlock before she reached the wooden ascent—the home straight—felt like—and was—danger incarnate. Fears arose, and not only of the hyperevolved, pesticide-resistant feasters that used to be deemed mere mosquitoes. About every kilometer so far, Avie had been strafed by one of the fist-sized flyers.

Sage would be waiting in the sanctuary of the park. Nicking his ragged nails in the relative safety of the unlit “House of Horrors” of old, clogged as it was with boxy televisions topped by rabbit ears, radios, carriages and cars, and even books made of paper.

Keep the hammer down! Not much farther!

Mantras quick-stepped through her head as she prodded her stride to open despite constricted lungs and leaden legs. What she carried was that important, for Fire Season was approaching at what she sorely remembered had been dubbed “the quicksilver pace of progress” by the Dex.

Every so often, she’d come across a discarded Dex tablet, called “talkies” by her friends and family, that alternately leered and proselytized grandly at anyone within earshot. The Dex had sworn that such glitches would never, ever arise in their perfect world. They’d even sunk their hooks into a phrase whose former meaning was lost in the bowels of their dusty memories, changing it to “Profit macht frei.” Progress was profit and profit was progress to the beings who called themselves the Deus ex machina. Namely, the Dex represented a transmogrification of flesh into metal or other nonflesh, a silicon synthesis as polymer procreated with protein chain and cells cavorted with chips nested in nodes. They were one with their technology in the same way that Avie’s people had turned from its corroded facade in most facets of their daily lives. Her people were first named the Luddites or Luds, then the Neo-Luds or the Sentients, and were now pejoratively tagged by the Dex as Anti-Progressives or “Apes.” When they had to pigeonhole themselves, they usually went by the tag of Sents.

When Avie’s foot struck resounding, comfortable wood, her body should have flooded with relief. And it almost did. But for one thing.

Her shaded eyes fell to one pertinent symbol on the wall of the hill entering the group’s eastern enclave. “The Ape” mingled among graffiti, but in drone-sensitive ink. In effect, their haven had been DM’d, or drone-marked.

The Fire Season data obtained by spies in the northwestern camp would have to be put off a little longer.

Sage would be waiting, and she’d need to alert everyone. The Sents were easy prey and the Dex had the hate machine cranked up to complete annihilation.

THE END

*Pokers: Slang for shoes so rotted that toes, heels, or other foot anatomy poked through.


As a “reward” for slogging through these stories (thank you!), I’d like to share a few (mostly WordPress) sites I’ve seen that have challenges or contests running currently. Of course I would like to list them all, but space. And all that.

  •  Fantasy author Ksenia Anske’s “Mad Tutu Writing Competition,” due 11 July. May the magic be with you!
  • Week 20 of Haiku Horizons. It’s party time! Due Sunday, 13 July.
  • Former Trifectans are stoking the fires of the “Light and Shade” weekly challenge. Cruise over to the 7 July prompt, which features an image or a quote to spark the imagination. Keep it short, at 500 words or fewer.
  • Yeah Write hosts an array of weekly challenge grids, from poetry to personal essay to fiction. Get started here.

Busy Monsters: Flash Fiction

abandonedplaygroundpic

Creator: Wim Van den Eynde. Source: abandonedplaygrounds.com. Picture prompt provided by The Scribe’s Cave. Check it out!

Clouds stalked the bright sky like drifting plastic bags pregnant with latrine water. Avie quickened her cadence down the path she’d been taught no drone could access, where her shadow’d been smothered an hour before. She was the group’s swiftest trail runner, even with the pokers* she wore.

She nearly spiraled to her knees cresting a clot of invasive roots about 5½ kilometers from home. Instead, her palms took the force, bore brute furrows of scrapes. In one lupine motion, she wiped her hands on trouser legs and sprang up from the crouch. In that tunnel of oak and hemlock before she reached the wooden ascent—the home straight—felt like—and was—danger incarnate.

Sage would be waiting in the sanctuary of the park. Nicking his ragged nails in the relative safety of the unlit “House of Horrors” of old.

Not much farther!

Mantras quick-stepped through her head as she prodded her stride to open despite constricted lungs and leaden legs. What she carried was important, for Fire Season was approaching at what she sorely remembered had been dubbed “the quicksilver pace of progress” by the Dex.

Progress was profit and profit was progress to the beings who called themselves the Deus ex machina. The Dex were one with their technology in the same way that Avie’s people had turned from its corroded facade in most facets of their daily lives.

When Avie’s foot struck resounding wood, her body should have flooded with relief. And it almost did. But for one thing.

Her shaded eyes fell to one pertinent symbol on the wall of the hill entering the group’s eastern enclave. “The Ape” mingled among graffiti, in drone-sensitive ink. In effect, their haven had been DM’d, or drone-marked, and the Dex would soon be coming for them.

####

*Pokers: Slang for shoes so rotted that toes, heels, or other foot anatomy pokes through.

THE END


This short fiction piece, or flash fiction, if you will, was written especially for the Scribe’s Cave Picture Prompt #28. I encourage you to seek out these WordPress challenges, such as this one, and to have fun and learn all you can from your fellow writers and passionate readers. If you guys and gals would like it, I can post the “long-form” version of this story, about 532 words, that I whittled down to this 298-word flash fiction. Fire away your feedback cannons, folks — and thank you!

I’m Losing it, or How I Learned to Keep Worrying and Just Join a Damned Book Club Already

Margaret Atwood and I share a tragedy. Mine is that up until recently I have never read anything from Ms. Atwood’s ouevre, though I certainly have known about her. She is one of the aspirational zeniths of a modern writer, especially a speculative fiction-arcing one, female or not.

I’m nearing a third of the way into her Oryx and Crake Oryx & Crake bookcover(hereafter O & C), and mostly loving it, although it has spored off a couple disturbing dreams. The bright spot is that I think I’ll write them down today, then tuck them away for a horror story and a science-fiction story, or perhaps a macabre mind-meld of the two.

I came to O & C by somewhat unusual meansfor me, at least. Courtesy of Oprah’s Dystopian Dilettantes, or ODD for short. I josh, of course. A friend who is a former co-worker asked me to join her new book club, and so, I did. Eschewing my usual rule of not joining any group foolish or crazy enough to welcome my participation.

A SWEET DYSTOPE

For those who haven’t delved into the dystopian delight that is O & C, I will try to not give too much away. Besides, the cover art from Doubleday press uncovers a lot of the transmogrified flesh of this story, a creation myth of sorts, save with a decidedly different kind of Adam and Eve in the forms of the titular characters Crake and Oryx, respectively. (Does one wonder why Oryx’s female character was placed first in the title, in that people typically say “Adam and Eve”? Yes, one wonders!)

I was immediately struck by the protagonist, a character formerly called Jimmy but now going by the nickname Snowman, who wakes in a tree and is wrapped in only a grubby bedsheet. Before beginning this book, I had the preconceived bias toward liking it. I mean, The Handmaid’s Tale, The Blind Assassin, (the companion book to O & C) The Year of the Flood, Lady Oracle. Need I say more?

That this bestiary of a book seems to me to share symbolism and parallels of diction with these only thrills me more: Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, epigraphs from Swift and Woolf, Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange (in the portmanteaus and other wordplay in terms such as wolvogs, pleeblands, rakunks, and pigoons), Orwell’s Animal Farm, and perhaps even Fitzgerald’s Gatsby.

THE AT-THEON

And yet, Atwood’s is a pantheon populated by her own mighty creations of insect, plant, and Other lifeforms, which is no surprise given that she is the daughter of an entomologist. She is, as the Gulliverian epigraph opines, relating “plain matter of fact in the simplest manner and style”no irony there!in pursuit of informing, not entertaining, her reader. Sibyl of Cumae-like, Atwood does in fact end up astonishing us with a strange tale that somehow coalesces into a searing indictment of our society in 2014, despite being published in 2003, if it is left to its own devices. I don’t see, thus far, the book as being as much a carte blanche indictment of rampant consumerism-disguised-as-science (though that certainly sluices through the narrative), but rather of science and medicine, particularly genetics, without ethics.

Oh, how quaint. A being from the future, a la Oryx and Crake!

Oh, how quaint. A being from the future, a la Oryx and Crake! (quote verified as authentic here)

What the book does make clear is that we are the architects of our own wasteland, as much as Jimmy’s genetic-tampering and violence-desensitized society is. For instance, there is the “raping” of our planet that is currently ongoing in 2014 and will continue beyond. Here’s a quick-and-dirty on that matter. So-called third-world (and second-world and . . .) nations will experience the first disastrous waves of climate change in the form of cyclones, typhoons, killing heat waves, and the like, but North America, particularly the United States, is not inoculated against climate change’s repercussions. Flooding, ravaging droughts, and raging wildfires pock-mark our future, too. Perhaps we head toward our own Paradice Project?

BEING AND NOTHINGNESS

My only quibble thus far with the novel lies in its pervasive bleakness. Jimmy/Snowman is a sad and pathetic character whom one feels at least somewhat empathetic toward if only for his difficult upbringing, both family-wise and society-wise. Contrary to my worldview and bearing in high school and university days, however, I am not as primed for tragedy now that I am older. Perhaps it is because as we age, tragedy becomes our unwanted bedfellow, not unlike bedbugs or toe fungi. In that sense, O & C is becoming a smidge tedious and depression-inducingalthough still lovely and masterfulto stomach. As they say, you can’t step in the same spot in the stream twice.

But let me leave you with some opening lines from O & C. If those don’t convince you to read this, possibly nothing will:

“Snowman wakes before dawn. He lies unmoving, listening to the tide coming in, wave after wave sloshing over the various barricades, wish-wash, wish-wash, the rhythm of heartbeat. He would so like to believe he is still sleeping.
On the eastern horizon there’s a greyish haze, lit now with a rosy, deadly glow. Strange how that colour still seems tender. The offshore towers stand out in dark silhouette against it, rising improbably out of the pink and pale blue of the lagoon. The shrieks of the birds that nest out there and the distant ocean grinding against the ersatz reefs of rusted car parts and jumbled bricks and assorted rubble sound almost like holiday traffic.
Out of habit he looks at his watch . . . still shiny although it no longer works. He wears it now as his only talisman. A blank face is what it shows him: zero hour. It causes a jolt of terror to run through him, this absence of official time. Nobody nowhere knows what time it is.  . . . “

And now, I also know why Vonnegut advised to start your story as near as possible to the end.


Atwood’s tragedy? That her writing is so damn spare, dark, stark, and expert and, yet, some dummies like me haven’t read her! Here’s a handy-dandy quiz if you’re wanting to explore Atwood’s work and haven’t yet.