Flash Fiction: Fluff-Butt (375 words)

At midnight, Elida gave up pretending she was moments away from sleep. She gave up pretending she wasn’t cold, grabbed the blanket in both fists and yanked it tight around her shoulders. Pulling her knees to her chest, she kicked the end of the blanket back over her feet, and tucked her head as deep into the pillow as it would go. Then she took two, long breaths, willing her blood to remember its job.

Her skin still felt as if it were trying to sneak itself into numbness before she could catch it.

Groaning, Elida shut her eyes, slowly talking herself into getting up. There was an extra blanket on the other side of the room. Her coat was hanging uselessly off the back of her chair. There were clean knit socks somewhere.

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Eyes on the Road

When Dad drives his children anywhere, he always says he’s carrying precious cargo. Precious cargo. I’ve known since I was very small, that was just a synonym for people I love.

For the first time, I drove down south to pick my little sister up from school. It was a long drive, made shorter on the return trip by having her in it.

It’s been a long time coming, but I’m beginning to understand precious cargo better. It’s too many letters to just be people I love, too many syllables. It’s slowly unfolding: people I love to hold, people I love to carry…

The Wednesday Serial will return next week, when I don’t spend eight hours in the car bringing someone home.

And have you heard about my book giveaway?

Flash Fiction: Edge of Melting (343 words)

Under starlight, everything turned to ice. Hills and stones and flower petals, none of them sharp enough to hold a shine, gleamed like water on the edge of melting. The air cooled and calmed, only numbing fingers and cheeks after they had stood in it for a while. Small sounds carried, clinks and clatters, all of them too hard in the silence, and ringing smoothly back into the nothingness.

It was too early in the year for the cold to bite deep. Still, Loena could feel the heat of Ami’s hand in hers as if there were an old coal between their palms. The air sliding into her lungs felt like weak peppermint, unable to hold onto the chill all the way down her throat. She sucked it in, grateful for the feeling, for the proof that she was not turning to ice herself.

At the corner, they waited, and finally, Ami squeezed her fingers.

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Flash Fiction: Six Feet Up (366 words)

For the last eight months, Dev had looked at the room from a height of two feet and three inches. He knew, because he had measured it repeatedly by the length of his arm, letting his hand drop over the side of the bed until his palm was flat against the floor. He liked the motion. For half a second, he could trick himself into believing he had caught himself, that he was carrying his own weight on his arm, not that he had laid there so long there was a permanent ditch in the middle of the mattress.

His arm was exactly two feet three inches from wrist to shoulder. Lyda had helped him measure, so she could be sure he could reach every gift of water and broth she left him while he was sleeping. He’d liked that, too: the ridiculousness of her stepping so purposefully into the room with her measure string, and the smile she was trying so hard to hide as she moved him, touched him, made him laugh. Then, for a few more afternoons he measured things that did not need measuring, and laughed then too.

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Gwendoogle Giveaway

GwendoogleThe joy that isn’t shared, dies young. – Anne Sexton

Official Rules:

  1. The twelve books being offered as prizes will be awarded to twelve entrants: six books to the people who submit the six questions that make me laugh the most, and six to the people who submit the six questions that I find the most interesting.
  2. Any comment on this post which contains a question (excluding any questions that obviously pertain to clarifying rules or procedures) is considered a valid entry and will be entered into consideration.
  3. You may submit up to three questions for consideration in the contest. If you submit more than three, only the first three will be considered.
  4. If there is a tie between two questions, preference will be given to the entrant who is following Apprentice Never Master either through their WordPress account or by email.
  5. The contest will be open for entries from the time this post goes live on October 4, 2015 to midnight EST on October 17, 2015.
  6. Winners will be notified by email on October 18th as well as being announced in October 18th’s Gwendoogle post. If the winners do not respond within a week of being contacted, a runner-up will be selected for their prize.
  7. If there are fewer than 25 entrants in total at the end of the contest, no winners will be selected and the contest may be rescheduled at my discretion.
  8. All entries may be saved for later use in Gwendoogle posts at my discretion.
  9. If you are under 18 years old, you must have parental permission to enter.
  10. You may not enter if you live outside the United States of America.
  11. You may not enter if you are directly related to me.

This contest is not sponsored. All prizes are provided by myself.

Here are few examples of Gwendoogle questions (and a few examples of how I answer them):

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Legal Theft Flash Fiction: Balance (943 words)

“Uncuff me.”

Kimbra barely heard the order, and didn’t care. Her shoulder was pressed hard to the broken crate beside her. Her chin was bent tight to her chest, her hands were braced against the deck around one knee, and she rested back against one heel. And she didn’t feel small enough. Carefully, she picked up one hand, clenched her fingers, trying to stop her shaking. Her heart was beating fast enough, she swore just the speed of her blood was knocking her off balance.

There were too many footsteps on deck. Too many to sound right, and too many to sort through.

“Uncuff me,” Aylin said again.

Kimbra ignored her. She tried to remember how many men and women she had seen climbing over the side. She tried to measure the length of the other ship in memory, decide how many it could fit, how many it needed to stay under sail, how many it could send across the water to take the deck. She couldn’t find a number. Her blood rattled and her head spun. Someone else shouted. Dozens of people ran. The ship clacked and cracked and thundered.

Aylin shoved her hard, just one cold hand at the back of her neck, and the other on her shoulder, driving her straight down into the decking. Kimbra’s elbows buckled. An instant later, she shoved back, just to keep her head from going past the far end of the crate. All it did was push tight against Aylin’s arm, and bring Aylin’s mouth closer to her ear.

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The Martian by Andy WeirThe Martian
by Andy Weir

Mark Watney is not dead. His is on Mars, alone, with enough supplies to eat and breathe for one month. Everyone, including NASA and the rest of his crew,  just think that he’s dead.

Now, he has to find a way to tell NASA that he’s still kicking, and keep kicking for four years until the next Mars mission arrives. All he has are the leftover supplies from the failed mission, and degrees in botany and mechanical engineering. And a pretty good sense of humor about the whole only human being on a planet of death thing.

It had been a long time since I read a real “Man vs. Environment” story, and I had forgotten how different the narrative can feel. Other plots unfold their obstacles slowly, leading to a naturally mounting tension near the end of the story. “Man vs. Environment” maintains almost exactly the same problem from the first page to the last page, and has a thousand half-solutions that keep the protagonist breathing before finally finding a solution. Tension doesn’t build so much as collect, and it becomes important to balance the story so that constant danger doesn’t become monotony. Weir pulls it off and delivers a novel with real momentum.

When I was describing this book to my little sister, however, I quoted an old favorite movie (2001’s A Knight’s Tale) and said that it was like watching Sir Ulrich VonLiechtenstein write a novel: “His style is rudimentary, but he’s fearless!” The text is often simple, but boldly includes every scientific term and theory that it can get its hands on, giving the story its raw science fiction feeling. The characterizations are a little thin – most of Mark’s crew and NASA’s decision makers are boiled down to one or two characteristics – but each of them contribute firmly to the eventual conclusion. Descriptions of the environment, whether inside NASA’s computer rooms or outside on dusty, red Mars, are so short as to be forgettable, but the tension remains palpable.

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My Future Book Tag

The My Future Book Tag was originally created by BookGeekMovieFreak over on YouTube. No one tagged me. I’m just doing it because cootie-catchers went out of style in 1999. :)

Before starting this tag, I wrote the titles of eight different books down on slips of paper and threw them into a “hat.” It was, in fact, a little yellow bucket with a frog drawn on the side, but by tradition, hats are the best things to drop objects into when you want them to come out in a random order. (I wonder how that happened.) I chose eight of my current favorite books, hoping that would give me a bright future, but the tag didn’t specify any criteria.

Then I started drawing names out of the “hat” one at at time to follow the tag’s instructions:

The Name of the Wind by Patrick RothfussBook 1: The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

Open your first book to a random page. If the first word on the page is less than five letters, you’re going to college (celebrate!). If the first word is more than five words, you’re not.
The first word on the page is, “chapter.”

[looks sideways at the Bachelor of Arts diploma already safely tucked away in her closet]

Apparently, I am not continuing my higher education?

Open your first book to a random page. The profession of the character whose name you see first will be your profession. (Note: if the character is still in school, you will be a teacher and if that character’s profession is not mentioned in the book, you will be unemployed.)
And I see… Ambrose Jakis.

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Wednesday Serial: Farther Part XC

Tiernan fire_handTIERNAN

Tiernan eyed the man’s half-smile without deciding whether to trust it or not. Eoin had taught him a long time ago how steady a mask a smile could be. Tiernan ran a critical eye over him instead.

He looked familiar, brown-haired and tanned, covered in lean muscle that he almost managed to hide beneath the smooth lines of his uniform. His boots had been cleaned recently, and his hair was cut short. His face was angular, but the lines were straight and healthy. His hands were rosy pink in the chill. The winter hadn’t done him any harm.

“How many did you bring with you?” the man asked.

Tiernan waved a light hand across at Ava. “Just one. You weren’t blind the last time I saw you.”

The man cracked a real smile in response, and shook his head at Tiernan.

“Aled,” Tiernan said, testing his memory of the man’s name.

He nodded, and looked further pleased. “Lord Tiernan,” he said. His horse shifted under him and he straightened a little to calm it, gathering the reins back into his hands. Absently, he drifted toward Tiernan. “You left the rest in the mountains, didn’t you?”

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Five, Six, Seven, Twenty-Nine

I wish I’d counted
how many times I have yawned
in the last hour.

It seems important –
quantifying tiredness
– now I’ve lost my mind.

I saw an old professor this weekend. She reminded me of a history I had heard before – of a Japanese writer who would compose his poems while riding his horse, and when he was finished, he would toss the paper over his shoulder.

I’ve gotten so used to writing on the inspiration of deadlines, I think I understand the appeal of flinging the work away as soon as it’s finished, dramatically dismissing it, forgetting it.

He had a servant riding behind him, collecting it from wherever it landed. I have a blog, which does such a nice job of catching the flotsam that I pretend to forget.

I just wish I pushing the publish button made as satisfying a sound and the crack and rustle of flying paper.