Flash Fiction Month 2019, Day 11
Challenge #5: Write a story including a plan that fails because of an unforseen and inherent flaw. It must include a character and setting based on two tarot cards chosen at random from the Major Arcana. Optionally, a phone call must be made at some point.
My two cards were Temperance and Wheel of Fortune.
Far away, in a time not yet remembered, there lived a king who delighted in all precious things. His crown was forged of platinum, and gemstones of cut trinitite adorned his hands.
Twenty-two knights served this king, and twenty-two he sent out on a journey, when news reached his ears of a distant land where dwelt a serpent with horns of gold. The wastes were home to many strange creatures—atom-bred—and he wished to have a horn from this beast as a drinking vessel.
The knights readied their steeds, and a crowd gathered to witness the spectacle. These were strange animals with hides of iron and chrome: they ate no food, and would drink nothing but the pungent water drawn from the deepest well. Each of these creatures stood twice as tall as a man, save for two: the steed of the first knight, for whom the wastes had long been home, and the steed of the twenty-first, who had once been his squire. These two were no larger than cattle, seeming dwarfed even by the meagre provisions that they carried.
The journey began, and those knights at the front of the party spurred their steeds on as fast as they would go. Dust rose from the earth and smoke rose from their mouths. All were eager to claim the serpent’s horn, and with it the king’s favour. Yet some settled for a slower pace, among them the first and the twenty-first. Continue reading
Flash Fiction Month 2018, Day 6
“I ride my Death Lorry through the Plains of Ruin!” bellows Baron Hugendong to a scorched, indifferent sky. “I keep battle in my headlights! I leave carnage in my tracks! I am the harbinger of destruction! I am the terror of the wastes!”
“Well, that’s great,” yells Miffed Mel, pulling up alongside him, “but it’s not very green, is it?”
“What?” bellows Baron Hugendong.
“I’m just saying that—” Mel swerves to avoid a spiky pit trap that’s just opened up in the middle of the highway. “Could you pull over for a second? This is super dangerous and also it’s kind of a pain having to shout over your crazy two-engine warmachine.”
“You get used to it, but I take your point!” Baron Hugendong stops his vehicle.
Miffed Mel pulls up next to him. Continue reading
Flash Fiction Month 2017, Day 19
Once upon a time there was a terrible dragon, which crawled along the ground on endless feet. The dragon was an ancient beast—forged long before Little Red was born—and only Grandmama was old enough to remember it. But Little Red had heard stories, and so when she saw the dragon coming she rolled her bike into a wooden bunker nearby and waited for it to pass.
But the dragon saw her inside with eyes of infra-red, and so it spoke: “Little Red, Little Red, let me come in.”
“Not by the spikes on your tinny-tin-tin!”
“Then I’ll huff, and I’ll puff, and I’ll blow your fort in!”
The dragon breathed out a huge gout of fire that burned the wooden bunker to ash, but Little Red was clever, and so in the commotion she escaped and rode away across the wasteland to a bunker of steel. Continue reading
Flash Fiction Month 2017, Day 11
Challenge #5: Write a post-apocalyptic fairy tale with a non-linear narrative.
Little Red pushed open the door of her grandmother’s cottage, knowing what she’d find long before she saw it. There was blood on the doorstep. The Wolf had left his car hidden in a stand of trees, but the atom-scorched trunks did little to disguise the bright warpaint and burnished chrome.
“Eyes bigger than your stomach, eh?”
She primed her weapon.
The creature on the bed bared its teeth.
“Wouldn’t recommend going that way,” the Wolf said, clearing flesh from his car’s grill with the end of a tyre iron. “Big horde of ghouls. Barely got through it myself.”
“Oh dear!” Little Red stepped off her bike. “But I simply must get these supplies to my grandmama!”
“No fear!” The Wolf gave her a big, toothy grin. “Where does she live? Perhaps I can suggest a safer route…”
“Now remember what I told you,” said Red’s mother, for the fiftieth time.
“Yes, yes, I know. Stick to the path, don’t talk to anyone, and if I run into any ghouls—”
“Don’t cave their heads in.”
Red stepped out of the bunker and onto her bike.
“And make sure that your cattle prod’s got a good charge: you know how grandma gets when she hasn’t been fed!”
If you’ve enjoyed this story, you can find my work from previous Flash Fiction Months collected in these books:
Click any cover to find that book in your choice of format.
You might also be interested in my sci-fi murder mystery novella, Ten Little Astronauts, which is currently crowdfunding at Unbound. Most pledge levels include all the books shown above, and all will include your name in the back of Ten Little Astronauts itself as a patron of my work.
Flash Fiction Month 2016, Day 27
Challenge #12: Write a speculative fiction story exactly 55 words in length. It must not contain dialogue.
Unit 659-43-A faced two dilemmas.
One: there was insufficient Paint #96A400 for the wall, necessitating either a patch job or mural.
Two: the only reference models to survive Armageddon were one granite bust of Emperor Chang and one surprisingly fire-resistant Frilly Kitty doll.
Unit 659-43-A decided to compromise.
The city’s 0 inhabitants raised no objection.
If you’ve enjoyed this story, you can find my work from previous Flash Fiction Months collected in these books:
Click any cover to find that book in your choice of format.
You might also be interested in my sci-fi murder mystery novella, Ten Little Astronauts, which was recently accepted by Unbound.
Flash Fiction Month 2016, Day 15
Challenge #7*: Write a story that takes place in a post-apocalyptic setting. It must include both situational irony and a tone shift, but these things must be kept separate. It must also include fifteen colours that are also things, and elements from at least four different mythologies, only two of which may be well known.
It took fifteen seconds for Gilgamesh to descend into the underworld. Thirty seconds to wrap the paquet congo—ebony, ochre, lavender—in the hopes that it would bring the loa to his aid. It will take him fifteen seconds to draw his sword, but his sword is missing.
It took fifteen seconds for Gilgamesh to descend into the underworld. Thirty seconds to wrap the paquet congo—ebony, ochre, mint—in the hopes that it would bring the loa to his aid. It will take him fifteen seconds to draw his sword, but his sword is missing.
It took fifteen seconds for Gilgamesh to descend into the underworld. Thirty seconds to wrap the paquet congo—ebony, ochre, nutmeg—in the hopes that it would bring the loa to his aid. It will take him fifteen seconds to draw his sword, but his sword is missing.
It took fifteen seconds for Gilgamesh to descend into the underworld. Thirty seconds to wrap the paquet congo—ebony, ochre, orange—in the hopes that it would bring the loa to his aid. It will take him fifteen seconds to draw his sword, but his sword is missing.
It took fifteen seconds for Gilgamesh to descend into the underworld. Thirty seconds to wrap the paquet congo—ebony, ochre, periwinkle—in the hopes that it would bring the loa to his aid. It will take him fifteen seconds to draw his sword, but his sword is missing.
Corn-teeth Hal and Big Myrtle stared at the gaping hollow in the ground, a low beacon of black in the ashen, Fimbulvetr snow. There had been surface structures here at one point, but their walls had been reduced to knee-high shin-stubbers by whatever had formed the crater that the pair had just spent the morning traversing. Only the entryway remained intact.
Hal spotted something emblazoned on the concrete, and used his glove to scrape away the snow: Medusa’s Gaze Tactical Facility. It was not written in paint. It was written in the ivory of paint long gone, the rest of the wall seared to a charcoal hue.
Chapter One: The Watchtower
It was a marvel to see the White Queen paint. Marcia watched as the brush drifted across the surface of the paper, leaving no mark: its bristles held only water.
There was a knock at the door.
Marcia looked to the queen, and was answered by an almost imperceptible nod. Stepping neatly over to the door, she opened it.
“Your Majesty,” said the general, bowing deeply as he stepped inside. “We have repelled an attack at Hobnail Pass, but the lines will not hold.”
The White Queen traced the brush across the paper with extreme care. Marcia closed the door, then once again took up her place by the queen’s side, examining the paper with silent interest. There was no hint of her mistress’ work but a faint glistening of water in the light.
The general took no more notice of the queen than she did of him. Marcia observed him in one of the queen’s three grand mirrors as he strode over to a map laid out on a nearby table, cluttered with painted wooden models representing various companies and legions. The general scowled, removing a few dusty pieces and rearranging several more.
The queen dipped her brush in the little cup of water and dragged it back and forth quickly across the top of the paper, catching the little beads of liquid as they formed. She stared out of the window at the garden below, comparing this scene to the one she had formed. With a quick flick of the brush, she made an adjustment.
“It is my opinion that we must give up Wieseberg.” The general proceeded to shove a line of figures into place with a straight edge, then formed them into a swooping curve with a pudgy hand. “The city is of little strategic value, but eliminating this salient would shorten our lines considerably. The surplus troops here could be…”
“Give up the pass,” said the queen, dabbing carelessly at the paper.
“Give up the pass.” The White Queen folded her hands on her lap and turned to the general. “Our foe is determined to have that ground no matter what the cost. We will not be so foolish.” Continue reading
Ages ago–long before I started aiming for a game-related piece a week–I wrote an article about the Metro series: a first person horror game set in a mutant-filled Russian wasteland. The series goes to great lengths to make itself immersive and realistic, but in doing so highlights some of the more implausible elements that other games slip in unnoticed. In that article, I made the case that, for example, experiencing the game from the perspective of a character who gets dramatically shoved around during cutscenes kind of draws attention to how odd it is that you can stand perfectly still and reload your weapon while a pack of mutants tries to chew your face off. In games where there’s an obvious heads-up display and a chunk of the gameplay involves explicitly managing stats, it can actually be a lot easier to ignore how unrealistically your character behaves.
Recently, I got playing a game that works as a really handy comparison to Metro just because the nuts and bolts of it are so incredibly similar: S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl.
Both games are set in a cartoonishly Russian (or Ukranian) disaster zone, both see you battling scavengers and mutants from a first person perspective, and both aim for a degree of realism. However, where Metro funnels you through totally linear series of missions, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. makes a big deal about letting you wander around freely completing various quests (or not). The vast majority of these quests aren’t even assigned by anyone in particular: random bandits carry notes about weapons they’ve stashed away or valuables they had to abandon while fleeing the military. “S.T.A.L.K.E.R.,” by the way, stands for “Scavengers, Trespassers, Adventurers, Loners, Killers, Explorers, Robbers:” an acronym so feeble that from this point on I’m not even going to dignify it with full stops.
STALKER‘s gameplay in general feels considerably less “real” than that Metro, and not just because of the decade-old graphics. Far more effort has gone into giving you multiple paths to choose from than it has making any one of those paths feel particularly plausible. However, in some ways this is an advantage: because the game focuses more on the tactical decisions you make as a player (choosing one gun over another based on the situation at hand) rather than what situation you’re in as a character (calmly switching weapons while monsters swarm all over you) it doesn’t draw quite so much attention to the occasions when what’s happening on screen would make no sense in reality.
Someone (and I really wish I could remember who) once made the case that although Grand Theft Auto feels unrealistic because so many buildings have doors that don’t open, Mario doesn’t suffer from the same problem. That’s kind of the case here: Metro, which strives for on-screen realism, often draws attention to the sort of unrealistic elements that STALKER simply glosses over.
STALKER sees you playing as the nameless “Marked One,” who–presumably to accommodate the wider range of story options available to the player–isn’t anywhere near as solid a character as Artyom from Metro. As the Marked One, you’re totally free to ignore the main storyline and focus on finding bandits’ lost backpacks. As Artyom, that kind of thing would seriously clash with the character’s motives and backstory. The Marked One is a handy device to let you do whatever, but has about as much depth as a jacuzzi and none of the bubbles. Near the start of the game, there’s a wounded man begging for a medpack. If you don’t have one (or just don’t want to hand it over), your only dialogue option is “See you!”
I know this is probably just a generic “end conversation” option, but in this context it’s so out of place that it’s hard not to laugh at it. I can’t imagine this conversation actually happening any more than I can imagine a conversation in which one person says “Help me, I’m dying,” and the other person says “BYEZIES!”
When Metro feels unreal, it’s because the game fails to present a plausible sequence of events on screen. When STALKER feels unreal, it’s because the game fails to present a reasonable range of options. The dialogue box you see above is already a step away from reality: the spoken words are presented as text and there’s a limited range of responses. It’s easy enough to accept that this totally unrealistic screen represents a more realistic exchange of words. The problem is that the words themselves don’t even belong here.
I’ve noticed a similar problem with some of the quests. STALKER takes the brave step of putting a time limit on some missions, requiring you to find items or beat baddies within a certain number of in-game hours or days. This helps give the impression that you’re a guy doing a job (the client needs the item before Tuesday) rather than a player accumulating quests (I’ll get around to this after I beat the next boss). However, though this opens up the realistic possibility that you’ll fail a mission simply because you didn’t encounter the appropriate item/enemy in that time, it also opens up the possibility that you’ll trigger a timed quest long before you can possibly complete it.
The worst example of this I found sees you killing a bandit leader on behalf of one particular faction, then being unable to claim the reward because “you don’t have business with this faction” (read: you haven’t yet started the relevant quest). If it weren’t possible to actually fail that quest because of the time limit, you’d chalk this up as one to come back to after the next boss. However, since that’s not an option, it just draws attention to the fact that there’s a “right” or “intended” way to play through the game, and that straying away from it is liable to make certain missions impossible to finish. In the same way that Metro sometimes ends up feeling fake because it’s otherwise trying to be realistic, STALKER sometimes ends up feeling closed off because it’s otherwise trying to be so open.
Flash Fiction Month 2015, Day 12
In long-forgotten days the Titans dwelled. About this race nothing more is known, for theirs was a time of strife, and in their battles every scroll was burnt. For one hundred days the fires raged, their smoke throwing a shade across the world, so that from the ash of war a thousand years of winter bloomed, and from the winter Man’s first city grew.
Beyond the walls of that first city no crops thrived, for the earth was tainted by the dust of that great war. Barbarian hordes gathered in the corrupted lands, envious of the city’s wealth of grain, and so for centuries it remained under constant siege, neither side able to gain any ground. The stalemate looked set to continue for eternity, until one day a plume of smoke appeared on the horizon.
The Prince of the city saw the smoke and knew that the barbarians had unearthed a beast of war from the age of the Titans: a fire-breathing Chimera like those that had once seared the sky in service of forgotten kingdoms. Its hide was steel, its breath was wrath, and in its blackened footsteps a thousand warriors marched.
The Prince knew that no hero could stand against such a force, and so with great reverence he took his ancestral key and opened wide the gates of the Underworld, upon which the city had been founded. Four hundred fathoms the Prince descended, down steps carved by ancient hands, until his torch illuminated that which should never have come to light. Continue reading