June 28, 2010

Also written for Mark’s website:

“This is yours Christopher.”

“But I don’t want it Papa.”

A two-line argument had everyday inside our heads every day for the last six months before I went. Him sitting there, that expectant look on his face; one part pride, one part outrage. I wanted to scream keep you machines old man but of course I didn’t. I had promised Mama. No, I broke his heart slowly. Joined the navy without him knowing. Told him just a day before I was due to ship out.

I didn’t stay to watch how he took it. He never wrote, but that wasn’t surprising. He wasn’t a man for the hand written letters. He was a punched on page type of man, the control of being able to mass-produce something like a book appealing. Unfortunately he had only one son. All my sisters had married well, and he wouldn’t have grandsons that wanted the place.

Mama wrote, of course. She conversed of Papa’s business as gaily as ever, reporting that he was printing medical texts now, and though she never said it, the question was always there, implied by the concern for my health and length of my service: when Christopher, when? The answer was never forthcoming because the answer never existed. Until today. The answer Mama, is now. Why, I couldn’t say.

I’ll walk in there this morning, older than the last time I walked into the factory floor. I’m a smoker now, which I wasn’t before. I’ve killed people, on orders. I’ve lined my gun up at blurred objects, moving in the distance and fired, then pretended that my actions had no real world consequences. But I heard the cries, timed to well with the report of my rifle.

I’ve known women. Some were rays of light that illuminated my miserable existence, others were rays of light that alleviated it, and I’d never know which until I was with them and it was too late.

But rays of light, all of them

The little boy marched out of here into the world. A man limps back, to look upon that expectant – outraged face once more.

What will he say, this time?



June 28, 2010

Written for Mark Welker‘s blog challenge:

A mirror, he thought. Someone has jammed a mirror under that bridge, cut it to size, pushed it in, polished it to an immaculate sheen. The reflected bike too perfectly the reverse of the one at his feet.

He walks forward, past the first bike. The crunching sound of the snow is the only noise in the entire city. Everything has stopped, even his chattering teeth. His steps alone rupture the winter frozen silence with a fizzing crinkle that sounds as though each carefully placed foot is ripping through the very fabric of the planet.

The bridge looms. The man takes his gloves off, the air soaking straight past his shocked skin and cutting into his bones like a welder. The cold is white hot inside him. He feels his fingers harden at the knuckles but regardless he reaches forward to touch the reflective surface.

His fingers, then his hand, and then his forearm dip into the reflection and, as though he were scooping water from a flailing boat, when he attempts to drag it out, he feels resistance, and when it gives something comes away with it, falling viscously at his feet. He looks at the image, it isn’t the same now. The bike is no longer there, but it isn’t a simple case of the bike disappearing from the image; it is like a portion of the image, has disappeared from that reality. There wasn’t a different object, or even no object, lying in the snow. There wasn’t even a black space, because that would be something. This was nothing, as though part of that mirrored world had ceased to exist. Never matching the man’s world again.

At his feet a slurping noise drew his attention. On the ground a jellied mass wobbled and writhed, mewling in the cold.

‘cosmic guitarist’

June 22, 2010

Whoops this one got past me!

Written in response to inspiration provided by Elisa (call for inspiration 2):

The bundle shivers.

The puzzle was nearly complete. She had loved me like a song, her fingers dancing over the borders of the countries of the world like a cosmic guitarist. In Bucharest she had found, lying in a nameless alley, my ethanol breath freezing in the icy night. I had been young then, and almost dead. Helpless.

She released me five years later, in Sydney, where I was born, as though she was saying what your mother did, I have done again. Those five years were like a carefully strummed sheet of music, a lone guitarist sitting on a bench.

She gave me my health back at the bottom of the Himalaya, the life returning to me like streaming marijuana clouds. The piercing cold waging war with the fool Sun, neither giving ground, both gods, warring for my soul.

My mind was a trickier beast and she dragged me across the globe to heal it. The folds of my brain street marked, coordinate plotted, traced by GPS. She knew what she was looking for, and I cared little, until she found it. It was in New York where she returned me to myself, that castle both Eastern and Western, both European and Asian, the two faced Janus.

The daylight of history: the curved stone, the wood balustrades, worn by generations of hands. Antique footprints imprinted in concrete footpaths.

Then the neon nighttime that heralded the bringing of futureshock: flickering stabs of light, hard edges, police in balaclavas. Slivers of doors leading to darkened bars.

Somewhere in between the two I found my present.

She picked me up then, one last time. Whole and complete she birthed me into the world, back in Sydney and I walk this street now, the warm air coddling me.

The bundle before me shivers again. I crouch down and raise its head. Put a flask of water to its mouth.

Spec Fic Comp: Special Mention!

June 14, 2010

I’ve got one more entry to post. This entry actually placed in the competition, but owing to the unfortunate fact that the writer is married to yours truly, she was ruled ineligible. But I’m posting it because it’s everything I like about good writing: strong imagery and simple, effective structure.

This is Elisa Simpson’s entry:

Some would say that a snake could slither ever so silently along the branches of a tree but to him, it was as loud as thunder. As he watched her from underneath the old apple tree, he felt no fear from the loudness of the approaching snake but rather wandered whether her long, ebony hair blowing softly in the breeze was real or an illusion. He sensed there was a fantasy element to her; an Adam & Eve feel to the moment. He started walking towards her but she seemed to get farther away with each step. He started running. Who was she? Where was he? Although his movements were slow and difficult, each step had certain grandness – what he had always imagined it would be like to walk on a cloud, or the moon. He looked down at his feet to reason with them to move properly, to see what was wrong but there wasn’t anything to see, just a dark, deep hole – What was happening?

Confused but still emotionless, the image of the woman with the long hair began to disappear and float further away from him, he kept reaching out trying to control his movements but to no avail, he could hear her soft whisper “Follow me” then the sound of the slithering snake in the tree which he could not get away from.

The woman figure then stopped slipping away; he could still see her in the distance but could no longer hear her calling. The sun suddenly rose above the horizon with a blinding brightness but a surprising coolness. As she turned to see him the intense wave of brightness embraced him and he was blinded. He could not feel anything. He could not hear anything. Everything was quiet and still. He had stopped, he had finally stopped running.

Spec Fic Comp: Highly Commended 2

June 13, 2010

Amber Hunter’s story of a trusting unicorn earned her the second ‘highly commended’ spot, and a copy of Roadkill / Siren Beat by Robert Shearman and Tansy Rayner Roberts. Find out more about Robert here, and Tansy here.

Here’s Amber’s story:

The Maiden and The Unicorn

Enola’s bronze skin glimmered with the sweat of exertion. She sank to her knees at the stream before her and began gulping water in between gasps for breath. She had been tracking the strange cloven-hoofed creature for hours and seemed no closer to him than when she started.

“I’ll only rest a moment,” she thought to herself as she removed her beaded moccasins and slipped her feet into the crisp stream.

Enola closed her eyes, squished the moss between her toes and drank in the sounds of the forest. Leaves rustled in the faint breeze and bees hummed a busy tune while they went about collecting their honey. Male birds crooned sweet nothings of nests and chicks to their female counterparts. Squirrels quarreled over the first green nuts to be gathered from the forest floor.

A faint nickering, unlike any sound Enola had heard before, startled her to attention. Instinct brought her to her feet, arrow nocked and bow drawn taught against her cheek. She gazed into faintly glowing amber eyes. Faintly glowing amber eyes gazed back.

* * *

The Unicorn, unable to withstand the allure of the Maiden’s scent any longer, approached Enola to offer her his horn. Too late, he realized that this particular Maiden was hungry.

* * *

Enola sucked her breath between clenched teeth. She’d heard the tales from the Elder’s of forest creatures offering themselves willingly, but in her short 15 years had never experienced such a thing herself. “What an honor I have been given”, she thought.

Enola placed her hand upon the Unicorn’s neck, feeling the life ebbing from his body as the light faded from his eyes. She whispered a prayer. “Thank you, Brother, for this sacrifice of your physical body which will provide sustenance for my tribe. Tonight we will sing and feast in your honor.”

Spec Fic Comp: Highly Commended 1

June 13, 2010

Ghylene Palmer’s steampunkish tract of a larger story wins her a copy of Angel Rising, by Dirk Flinthart. Find out more about Mr. Flinthart at his blog here.

Ghylene’s piece:

Here I am sitting on the deck of my beloved hunk of steel once again;  Captain of the DarkSigh back for another swing at sea.  As I step back into my sombre cabin, I embrace its familiar surroundings.  Hanging off the open closet door is my uniform calling for me like a needy mistress: “Put me on Jacob! You know you want to.  Stuck together day and night, week after week for six whole weeks.” I quickly look away, thinking it will help me forget this bitter sweet moment I am experiencing and all I see is my bunk which will be my saving grace during my time here.  I put my laptop down on the desk which is only a step away from the bunk and I throw myself down on the hard mattress hoping for some respite before my next shift.

I love the sea, I love being in charge and being the Captain but I also love my family and I miss them dearly whenever I arrive in Port.  I feel excited about the peace and tranquility of being alone without constant interruptions from the children or the nagging wife but I also feel nostalgic about leaving them behind for such a lengthy period of time and there is always that possibility of not making it back alive.  Matthew would most likely be walking by the time I fly back and Liliana will look even more like her beautiful, graceful mother.

Out here everyone depends on you as Captain to make the right decisions as anything can go wrong at anytime and cost us lives and let’s not forget the company’s millions of dollars.  My crew of ninety men and one woman whine about almost everything; too much training, not enough equipment in the gym, or slow internet connections but little do they know just how much responsibility falls on my shoulders should there be the tiniest of incidents on board of my DarkSigh.

I awaken from my slumber to find that it’s pitch black and we’re on the move. My second in command obviously did not need me for this task.  The uniform fits like a glove, a quick rinse of the face and I’m ready for duty.  As I step out onto the deck, I quickly notice how quiet it is – where is everyone?  I head towards the deck computers and there on the floor lies my friend and second in command disemboweled.  It quickly dawns on me that something horrific has taken place.  As I look up from his corpse, my reflexes are too slow when I notice a dark shadow and hear the sound of a blade slicing the air before…

Spec Fic Comp: 2nd Place

June 13, 2010

Phill English’s piece wins him second place, and a copy of Twelfth Planet Press’ anthology of the near future – 2012

Here it is:

The sun rises steadily as gears sink teeth into each other and propel the nameless biped along its predetermined path. As it walks, it finds little resistance in the tree branches whose fibres have gradually unraveled, sending leaves to the ground like flecks of sickly spit. They join the remnants of grass that has dried to a rubbery mask in the heat of the day. Sensors scan the surroundings constantly and beam the landscape of decay to a satellite paused, expectant, far above.

Servos whine in a poor approximation of birdsong as the biped’s path takes it up the slope of a hill. Along the way, it slows down to carefully step over what might be dismissed as a mound of dirt, if not for the glint of a precious stone embedded in its mass. When it gains the top of the hill, the biped halts and spins in a slow circle. The video it records shows no evidence of warfare, no craters or patches of land stripped bare by the seductive touch of fire. The mounds dot the landscape, becoming more concentrated in the streets of the township that stoops in the shadow of the hill.

Its mission complete, the biped allows tension to dissipate from its motors and falls sideways to the ground; its components rattle like a pebble inside an aluminium can. In a day or a week it will reactivate, compelled towards a new path by the intelligence that speaks through the satellite. But for now it rests, while around it the world is exhaling; ridding itself of the air that had once nourished, but which would now suffocate. It would be some time before the breath of life could be drawn, but time is something the biped—something all the mechanical constructs that roam the land—possess in abundance.