Contagion leaps out,
On every breath.
Of serpents whisper,
Contagion leaps out,
On every breath.
Of serpents whisper,
She smelled like two am
She was making
What she wanted
So, I’ve stumbled across a few interesting short story and/or flash fiction anthologies recently, and thought maybe I should share the love…
Here you go!
Deadlines, July 31
The Lane of Unusual Traders (Flash Component) – Tiny Owl Workshop
The Lane of Unusual Traders is a world building project. The aim is to write or otherwise bring the Lane, the City of Lind and the world of Midlfell into existence through stories, illustrations, comics and, well, through whatever other creative means present themselves as the story grows.
Monsters and Maps - Cricket Magazine
Cicada’s out to fill an upcoming issue with krakens, ogres, and other beasties, literal and figurative. We’re interested in the monstrous as dangerous and strong; in monsters that lurk without and within. Monsters may show up on maps (especially weatherbeaten old sea charts), though largely as shorthand for the uncharted and unnamed. We’re interested in the way maps help navigate the wilderness, inspire exploration, and track relationships, spatial and otherwise.
Subversive Fairy Tales - The Book Smugglers
What We’re Looking For:
- DIVERSITY. We want to read and publish short stories that reflect the diverse world we live in, about and from traditionally underrepresented perspectives.
- Middle Grade, Young Adult, and Adult audience submissions are welcome. Good speculative fiction is ageless!
- Creativity & Subversion. We love subversive stories. We want you to challenge the status quo with your characters, story telling technique, and themes.
The Journal of Unlikely Entomology - Unlikely Story
Beautifully-written fiction, characters that grab us by the throats and refuse to let go, worlds that draw us in and demand to be explored. Genre isn’t particularly important to us—speculative, mainstream, slipstream, and the unclassifiable tales in between—we’ll read anything; all we ask is that the stories meet the requirement of the theme of the issue. For The Journal of Unlikely Entomology, this means bugs.
‘Blue‘ – 101 Fiction
Anything and everything blue. Literal or figurative. The sky, the sea, a pair of eyes, the pattern on an oriental plate. A desultory mood, a filter, a way of seeing the world. It can be an impression, or a synaesthetic scent. It doesn’t have to be the focus of the story, and you definitely don’t have to use the word ‘blue,’ so long as it is identifiable and recognisable. It could be a topaz necklace like tiny icebergs strung together, or the flash of turquoise from a kingfisher’s wings.
We do loosely hold to four genres – science fiction, fantasy, horror and surreal – but we’re generous in our interpretation of those. If the story grabs us, shakes us, scares us, excites us, sings to us in some way, that’s the important thing.
There you go. Good luck, and maybe I’ll see you in one of those anthologies, our stories rubbing shoulders!
flicks her hair at a boy
ten thousand miles away.
“I miss you,” she whispered.
They are in love.
I walk behind her,
and neither of them notice.
Hey gang! Look, here’s the skinny. I should be writing more long short stories. And I should be trying to sell all of them. Double and: I should be writing my novel.
So I’m not going to be posting as much on here as I have been. I’ll still be posting original fiction once or maybe twice a fortnight, and the occasional book review.
I’ve taken a stack of time off work (I’m now semi-retired, at 29) to get this damned novel written, and so that’s what I should be doing.
Don’t go anywhere, because as I said I’ll still be posting here, just not as often.
And you can always chat to me on Twitter (@chriswhitewrite).
As always, comments and criticism are always welcome!
It was everywhere. The sky, the trees, the broken outlines of the shadows that he saw flicking through the magenta leaves. The scabs on his arms – he scratched them through – pink, pink, pink again. He sucked at the wounds, tasted the festering, stained his teeth pink; but he could not see it, it didn’t matter. It didn’t matter. It didn’t matter.
He knew that it did, no matter how often he told himself it didn’t.
His damn teeth were pink now too, inside the cave of his mouth.
He heard their chirruping – they had yet to close in. Yet they were coming closer.
He dragged his knife along standing-stones and tree trunks, through beds of flowers and dug it deep into weird, twisting lichens. They all bled pink. He wiped the blade – pink – on his pants. Damn this place, damn this pink jungle.
He stumbled again across his scratch marks on the stones.
The gibbering came closer.
He dropped the knife.
Fell to his knees.
The bird-like voices came closer again.
He gave himself to them.
His purple-pink innards spilled onto the forest floor.
“Now, now, deary…it’s not that bad, now, is it?”
He sniffled, wiping his arm on his sleeve. The witch didn’t loom, as such. She looked too much like his grandmother for that, with her hair in rollers and a babushka handkerchief pulled tight against the cold. He could sense the glamour rising off her though, in shimmering waves.
“So, you’ve a touch of the gift yourself, lad?” Her voice wavered and cracked as she stared, her eyes watering and milky with floating cataracts behind the spectacles that rode on her crooked nose. “I don’t need to see to see, if you follow me, boy-o. Although maybe I shouldnae have said that, now, should I?”
He refused to meet her eye, he didn’t want her to bewitch him. He stood, trying to regain control of the conversation, trying to impose himself on the room. She clucked her tongue, and turned her back to him, tottering off toward the kitchen. “You’ll not be intimidating me, young fellow-me-lad,” she was muttering to herself as she clanked and clanged through the kitchen, accompanied by the shrill whistle of the kettle. “Now, hows about that cuppa tea, before we do what must be done, eh?”
Inside his pocket were the tools of his trade, the book, the pin, and the fire. She came out of the kitchen, wards lowered and charms up, holding the tea-cup in hand, her familiar dunking the teabag, overly familiar.
He glowered at her – the effect was only a little ruined by the snot still running from his nose and the low ceiling of the witch’s cottage. “I shall bring you into the Kingdom of God, madam,” his voice boomed out, echoing in the rafters.
She shrugged, and waved her fingers, writing invisible pictograms on the air.
Her little familiar shrieked, and dove forward snatching the grasshopper from the pile of stinking leather and cotton.
She’d get some grief from the law, for this one, but they hated the Inquisition almost as much as she. And she’d given the Shire-reeve a son last year, or so he imagined.
Elizabeth Bear’s Shoggoths in Bloom is a fascinating collection of science fiction and fantasy short stories, from the opening and Nebula nominated sci-fi story, TIDELINE, which was deep and beautifully moving, even though it’s about a crippled war-machine, to the novellette-length title-story, SHOGGOTHS IN BLOOM (obviously from the Cthulhu mythos), including magic realism/urban fantasy stories like ORM THE BEAUTIFUL and THE HORRID GLORY OF ITS WINGS, or the detective/noir of stories like IN THE HOUSE OF ARYAMAN, A LONELY SIGNAL BURNS and CONFESSOR. I could just name all of the stories in this collection as being fantastic – it is seriously that good.
All those links above take you to those stories that are freely available, click some, you’ll thank me afterward.
I’m not going to waste to much time talking about these stories and how I felt reading them, or how I interpreted them, because I want to keep them for myself, honestly.
“What’s the fucking time-stamp on that picture? Does anyone know?”
The image staggered and jumped – overlaid with a static-fuzz, the jump-suited soldiers were barely visible, flicking in and out of phase with the shadows of the jungle. Had they realised that the mech was dead? He certainly hoped not.
“Janice! Janice! Get down in the turret now! And somebody go and bloody warn the others!” Was it too late? Shit, he hoped not.
The image looped, in his peripheral vision, over and over and over again. There were kids inside the factory – sure, they’d done their best to make it seem decrepit, had pumped a slurry of sewerage and grey water and algae into the roof to dampen their heat signatures, to hide from the drifting satellites, hangovers from before the war was won. From before the world was lost. There were kids inside the factory. That was why it was soldiers, this time, not drones or tanks. Infantry. Quislings, they’d already adjusted to the new regime, they’d already betrayed their own species.
“Don’t let anyone tell you that Apartheid has nothing to do with South Africa now. Those roots run deep and tangled and we’ll be tripping over them for many generations to come.”
Moxyland, by Lauren Beukes, is a brilliantly written dystopian science fiction novel, set a mere fifteen minutes into the future, as the saying goes.
Split between four entwining narratives, Moxyland follows the lives of four South Africans: Kendra, an art-school dropout and ‘sponsor baby’ who’s been injected with nanobots and branded, as part of a viral marketing scheme by a gen-mod company; Lerato, a tech-company worker infected with AIDS at birth, who is looking for a way out of her mid-level corporate job; Tendeka, a revolutionary, fighting against the corporate-elite and the police in a bid to reveal the true toxicity of the world; and Toby, a narcissistic blogger who streams his life in his ‘Diary of a Cunt’. Their worlds’ collide, again and again, throughout the novel, as the dystopian world they live in, a world where the South African Police Corps administer electric shocks through the populace’s SIM cards and issue 24-hour disconnects from the internet, and thus almost everything in Moxyland, from buses and the underground to apartment buildings and hospitals. Alongside their genetically modified Aitos (police dogs), the police are a less-than benevolent presence, and menace the people.
It is brilliant, and terrifyingly predictive, summoning a future where terrorism, fear and a false sense of security have forced the people to accept these impositions into their daily lives. The spirit of the Great Firewall of China, of the draconian police measures inflicted on citizens in the Western world, and peoples’ fears of genetic modification and of the terrifying disconnect are combined and born into the world in Moxyland, and stand as a warning as to where our world is heading.
A great read.
So my friend, and brilliant artist, Terry Whidborne (of the Unfettered Portfolio fame), has been releasing sketches onto the Twitterverse for almost a year, to serve as inspiration for writers. And, he has collected said sketches into a PDF, which is available, for free, right here.
If (I should say when, not if) you use these sketches, just be sure to let him know on Twitter (@Tezzbold) He’ll be delighted, I’m sure. If you don’t have Twitter, just let me know, send me a link, and I’ll be sure to tell him for you. Also, if that’s the case, get Twitter.
The sky cleared, and it breached the surface of the cloud-sea, sending cirrus and cumulonimbus waves down its flanks, torn and whisked into wisps, trailing behind.
“What in the name of Hell are we supposed to do with that?”
“You cannae be serious, Captain?”
The rigging snapped in the teeth of the breeze, and the semaphore flags flitted up and down the mast, passing secret messages between the Captain and the other ships in the fleet as we prepared to set out to the hunt. The wood of the bow creaked as we tracked across the wind, staying well out of sight. You have to use primitive tech when it comes to the Pistrix saxum in general, let alone a beast of this size. You have to rely on wood and wind and bravado – you have to duck beneath their ampullae of Lorenzini, their famous detectors of electrical activity that riddle the snouts of all types of shark. The early settlers of this world soon learnt that lesson. Entire communes consumed, sending out signals to the passing monsters, eat me, eat me, eat me. The sharks obliged.
“Lift the anchors, and away!”
His gravelled voice was almost a whisper. The ship’s cat stretched and padded away, its whiskers bristling as it ignored him, along with the rest of the crew. They looked at me for confirmation. You can no more be a retired Captain than a retired Pope.
I nodded at the bristling Captain. “Carry on, son.” He turned to the crew, and they sprung into action, hauling up the anchors, whipping the galley-slaves, prepping the harpoons. What the boy didn’t know would, in this case, come back to hurt him. But not just yet.
We slipped onto the cloud-sea, using the scudding clouds as cover, dancing between rock pillars and the shoals of smaller rock-fish. Approaching the great beast from behind, riding its slipstream. The crew muddled about their tasks, keeping close to the Captain, ready to spring into action – awaiting my command.
The shark ignored our approach – we were no threat, not to a monster that vast, but that wasn’t the plan. As he gave the order for the crew to man the harpoons they turned on him, leaping. He whimpered, collapsed into himself. The semaphore flags fluttered, spreading the mutiny from ship to ship.
Quick hands moved the supplies, from the ships to the creature’s back.
Our wandering days are done, and my incompetent fool of a boy was bricked into the foundation stones, to protect the village, although the beast should do that work well enough.
It had to be done. After all, like father, like son.
And there’s no such thing as a former Captain, just another man, biding his time.
Countless days, endless nights.
The slow click of the Geiger counter.
Awkward, stretching silences.
The flicker of electric lights, the hum of the generators.
The stink of diesel, of unwashed bodies.
We opened the door onto snow – snow, in Brisbane! – and had to fight the urge to run out, into those wide-open spaces. Who knew what waited for us, out there in the snow. The little ones had never seen the sky. They sat, terrified, huddled inside the fallout shelter.
Their fear was infectious.
The second day: Hoarfrost lay in the doorway, the Geiger’s voice shrill, chirruping. Deformed trees cast stunted shadows, skeletal fingers reaching out to snatch away our shelter, our security. The corpses of cars and collapsed houses, long ago picked clean by drifting looters.
We had heard their cries for help as they bang bang banged against the heavy steel doors.
We raised our voices, to drown out theirs.
To drown out the past, and sing in our future.
My latest Atlas Obscura article,
is up. Travelling to Tokyo? Interested in Tokyo?
Let me know what you think!
First things first: I was much amused that my copy of Wolf Hall had a sticker on the front reading “From the author of Bring Up the Bodies!” The first book in the series, recommended to readers of the second.
“Some of these things are true and some of them lies. But they are all good stories.”
Wolf Hall is the story of Thomas Cromwell, great-great-great uncle to the more-famous Oliver Cromwell. Thomas rose from obscurity and the peasantry to become, firstly, the Cardinal Wolsey’s problem solver, and, after the Cardinal’s downfall, King Henry VIII’s Chief Minister, Lord of the Privy Seals, Chancellor of the Exchequer and too many other titles to go into.
Wolf Hall documents the downfall of the Cardinal, and the rise of Cromwell. of Henry VIII, and I love the fact that these novels present him in a sympathetic (ish) light – for so long we’ve looked down on Henricus Tudor as being some kind of monster (as he turned out to be), rather than as a complicated, three-dimensional human.
It is a brilliant character study, exquisitely formed and researched, and it finally gives this man, of whom so little good is written, a place in the sun, which he gained, despite his birth to an abusive blacksmith. I cried, which is something I’ve not done too often while reading. Mantel shows her power as an author throughout this novel.
“The trouble with England, he thinks, is that it’s so poor in gesture. We shall have to develop a hand signal for ‘Back off, our prince is fucking this man’s daughter.’ He is surprised that the Italians have not done it. Though perhaps they have, and he just never caught on.”
Now that Queen Katherine is deposed, and her marriage to Henry VIII annulled, Henry has married Anne Boleyn. Bring Up the Bodies tells of her downfall, at the hands of Thomas Cromwell, in a I created you, I can destroy you fashion, after Anne fails to give Henry a male heir. Again the writing is brilliant, deeply researched and superbly written, even though history has told us how things end for the scheming Queen.
“He needs guilty men. So he has found men who are guilty. Though perhaps not guilty as charged.”
Absolutely brilliant, are these novels, and I highly recommend them, they are fantastic.
They have certainly set the bar for historical fiction very, very high.
Last things last: I’m pissed that this series isn’t finished – now I have to wait for the third book in the series, The Mirror and the Light. This is why I haven’t read any of the Game of Thrones novels – I have no patience, when it comes to waiting for books.
I WANT TO BINGE ON HILARY MANTEL’S WORDS!
“You can have a silence full of words. A lute retains, in its bowl, the notes it has played. The viol, in its strings, holds a concord. A shriveled petal can hold its scent, a prayer can rattle with curses; an empty house, when the owners have gone out, can still be loud with ghosts.”
I’d built myself a refuge in this town – a stranger, but not the strangest one. The bronze star blazed, errant, shrouded in the falling dust beneath the wooden promenade that ran down main street. I didn’t know why I’d taken the job – I’d been so long retired from the Pinkerton Detective Agency that I’d forgotten what it was like. Forgotten that the glamour was only temporary, that the truth meant sighting through a rifle scope at three in the morning, watching the last, whispering embers of a fire burn low, choosing your moment and hoping you’d chosen the right man. Meant scanning bounty posters, trying to decide which price was worth the effort of snatching away another man’s life. I forgot that you forget how much a man is really worth, to his children, to his wife – forget it until after the flash and bark out the muzzle of your gun and the spray of black-red blood fireworks into the sky, how the new widow collapses to the ground, weeping, as if only to remind you. I’d travelled to escape my previous life, fleeing from the towns, each covered in blood I’d shed, from New York to California. To Australia, to the red-dirt and spinifex forests. I still saw spilled blood.
Black storm clouds threatened rain. I stooped, grabbed at that icon of law and order forgotten, felt it cold in my hand. Almost before I realised what I’d done. In the eyes of the townsfolk, just claiming the badge made me the law.
I looked into the whore’s twisting, chameleon eyes, and I told her I could help.
That was my first mistake.
Trevor’s Rest squats, like a thirsty toad, between the watering tower of the railway and the endless, windswept desert. Wood and horseshit and dirt, the lowing of cattle and the ignored ranting of apocalyptic churchmen – that’s the truth of Trevor’s Rest. It’s on the graziers run, from the monsoon swept north where the cattle winter to Melbourne, and then on to the shipping lanes back through the Empire. There was gold here, once. The people who found it are long gone, back to what passes for civilisation, either further West, through that long desert to the far coast, or back East, passed the Great Dividing Range. Beyond the Black Stump. Nowhere.
A few grizzled prospectors, a handful of roaming, hard-drinking ranchhands, the occasional corroboree of Aboriginals. There’s the Bank, and the long-abandoned Constable’s Office. Three pubs, one of which served as whorehouse.
The girls were always busy.
The Aboriginals came to the area to follow their songlines, their Dreamings. The dronings of didgeridoos and the sharp beating of clapsticks came out of the desert. So did the shrieking.
Not long after the gold diggers left, the ground opened up, a bottomless ditch, a chasm down to the centre of the earth. The new townsfolk came up, their bedraggled feathers and bloodstained armour-plates marked them as outsiders, but so were we all. Most shrugged it off, eager to welcome the incursion of new gold and fresh whores. The click-clack of talons joined the stamp of leather boots, and keeping the peace became a harder prospect.
I’d only just pushed open the door of the Constable’s Office, had only just pocketed the badge and picked up a broom when she came bustling through the door, her eyes wild and ragged, bird-of-paradise feathers stuffed beneath her cloak, as though she were trying to hide herself. As though it wasn’t obvious what she was. As though anyone cared.
She was looking for someone. They always were. The shadows chased her into the room, swirling, threatening. They danced, with the dust motes.
“I’m really not interested,” I said, as she walked in from the street, “just looking for somewhere warm, somewhere empty, to hang my hat.”
“I’m not in the detective business, not anymore.”
She convinced me otherwise.
So there I was, against my better judgement, on the one day of the year that it rains in Trevor’s Rest, staring at the bowels of the abandoned gold mine. Listening to the thwack of bullets into the drowning mud, feeling the heavy gaze of a frill-necked lizard, drunk on the early morning sunlight. I’d already seen enough, enough to know I was too late to save him, the whore’s – Gillian’s – little boy. Cultists, here in a place where Heaven met Hell and decided on an uneasy armistice. Hadn’t they noticed nobody cared about their little rituals? That the pit was already open, and those that spilled out just wanted the same things that we did? You didn’t need a sacrifice to bring back up the demons.
They were already here, and were whoring and gambling and drinking, just like the rest of us.
I worked up some magic of my own.
Gunsmoke is an incense of its own, an offering.
The voice of their guns was muted, a whisper rather than a shout.
My own gun spat venom, and flames.
I was too late to save the little boy.
We buried him, in the hard, red earth.
I saw a girl
A shop window
For her mirror.
What does she see
Other than herself?
This month’s issue of Lightspeed Magazine (an awesome science fiction magazine) is called Women Destroy Science Fiction. It’s only $3.99 as an ebook, and at around $12 as a paperback from Amazon. The issue, that the issue deals with, is that all too persistent insistence (and reason why I’ve dedicated 2014 to reading mostly women) that women don’t write science fiction. That to “Put a little more rudely, this rumbling says: “Those damn women are ruining science fiction.” They are doing it by writing stuff that isn’t “real” science fiction; they are writing “soft” science fiction and fantasy.” —Pat Murphy, Wiscon 15,March 2, 1991. (quote stolen from Lightspeed Mag)
I’m going to be reading it as soon as I finish Wolf Hall - and they’ve put a whole heap of the stories up for free on their website, stories by brilliant science fiction writers like Seanan Mcguire, James Tiptree Jr, Charlie Jane Anders and Sarah Pinkser, amongst many, many others.
Here’s the link to the free flash: http://www.lightspeedmagazine.com/fiction/women-destroy-flash-fiction/
And here are the free short stories: http://www.lightspeedmagazine.com/fiction/
He wakes, to darkness.
The carrion-stench of battle. The pillars of black smoke, spilling into the sky. The screams of the women, as they were put into fetters. The children whimpering beneath the obsidian blade.
These are the things he remembers, these are the things that he sees.
He sees himself: a priest, in his butcher’s apron. He sees the path, from his crypt to the altar entombed alongside him in the ossuary. He steps above his memories, of channels for blood carved into the stone. He remembers the rust-black stains and the guttering torch-light.
He mutters, and catches himself, hears what was once his voice. It is now a dry whisper.
He is King of the Underground and of the Oversky, the Blind Abbot. He has been, for a long, long time. He reaches up, to touch his face, and feels beneath his fingers the cold bone where warm flesh should be.
He draws his obsidian knife, and staggers forward, into the darkness.
He can feel the heat of her. He can taste her.
The taste of her fills him with yearning.
He strips her life, takes it as his own, dons it like a cloak of rainbow feathers. He consumes her. This is his blessing, his curse.
The darkness swallows him whole, and she steps out into the world, seeing it anew.
She peered out, from behind the latticework web of her fingers. The stone engravings seem to come to life, to leap from the walls, to sing and whistle and dance in the softly guttering candlelight. She stares, through her fingers, as the carvings come to life, cavorting. The flames of the candles bow with the draught, as though accepting the invitation to dance. The girl cowers in the church’s nave, as the noise of the past washes over her – the solemn, chanting processions of priests, the flames of passion and desire burning in the eyes of the peasants, the blood spilt in defiance of the laws of sanctuary.
She has taken sanctuary here, but the men will not honour it.
She knows that much.
This church is old, worn-down, long-since defiled. The walls are tumbled, fallen, the stained glass shattered, the gold-plate lifted and the saints defaced. The wind pushes its fingers through the leaning doorway, and the statues’ blind white eye flick toward her.
She whimpers. A man has walked through the doors. The gargoyles and angels seem to whisper, telling him where she hides, promising him her flesh, her provisions and her life, in chains.
She draws her rifle, beneath their holy faces.
The gunshot echoes beneath the vaulted roof. He falls, blood erupting from his chest as the marble demons look on.
She makes the sign of the cross, and feels the monsters close in.