Category Archives: My Fiction – Very Short Fiction

The Cave

I’ve been trying my hand at fiction again.  It’s a nice release with taxes, year ends, moving, and well, hospice.  This story is from a flash fiction challenge in a small Facebook group.  I hope you enjoy it.

Michio hugged the warm rock as the cool water washed over his limbs in the rhythm of the tides. The secluded tidal pond filled when the tide was high in the bay. This was a place Micho could be alone; where no one would disturb him. He was long-lived for his species; but then he was not permitted to breed. This was a voluntary commitment made when he became a student of the tribe’s Keeper. After months of intense study, and lessons in the art of his kind, he succeeded his teacher. He was growing old now and his hopes for a suitable successor were fading. Perhaps that was the way it was to be. The world was changing rapidly in ways his people could no longer control.

His folk were exceptional hunters. They were intelligent, agile and masters at camouflage. But, the waters that made up their home were changing and food sources were quickly disappearing. Invaders had come. Four-limbed creatures that moved oddly. They lit up the waters and blew bubbles like a school of hunting dolphins. They threw things into the sea, made loud noises and had attacked the folk without provocation. They should move, but they could not leave the cave.

Michio slid down from his perch and swam the short distance to the cave at the edge of the bay. The cave was a magical place. Many generations of Keepers had created the art found on its walls. Even the invaders seem entranced with something that did not look entirely natural but for which they had no explanation. Michio hoped their work would survive and much of his daily meditations were devoted to seeking a way to protect it.
Carefully, he positioned himself on a clear section next to the work he had completed the day before. He ejected his ink carefully along his extended arm. Working quickly and with a dexterity born from years of practice, Michio recorded the latest legend he had heard. He worked methodically through the night.

In the early morning hours the moon sunk close enough to the horizon to light the entrance to the cave.. In the reflecting light, flickering across the walls with the gentle beat of the surf, Michio noticed a very old entry in a semi-exposed crevice. Finished with his night’s work, he swam to the crevice and climbed up the wall for a better look.

As dawn broke on the bay, Micho saw the answer. He and his folk could protect the cave. They could preserve it for those who knew what it was and where to find it. They were, after all, masters of camouflage. And Keepers of the Sentient Invertebrate Living Kabbala (SILK).
http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/d-brief/2013/09/13/camouflaged-octopus-makes-marine-biologist-scream-bloody-murder/#.VQUQV-HzOxx

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Living History

The sun was beating down on our heads ringing every drop of moisture from our exhausted bodies. Even with all the modern equipment we had, and warnings from our guide to drink often, it was still a major trek. Such exertion may seem eccentric in this day of virtual reality vacations, but the business of providing those vacations was ferociously competitive. The only way to compete was to provide the most accurate experience possible. Living History, our company, prided itself on providing the most accurate scenario on the market. By traveling to the ends of the earth and getting as much footage as we could, our clients were free to create their own stories. No matter what they would be fully immersed in the experience. So, here we were, sweltering under the southwestern sun, to film inside the ancient pueblos and monuments.

Even at this late date in history, the mystery of the Anasazi was still not completely solved. Decades of research and new scanning techniques had made it fairly clear that a massive change in climate had robbed them of their primary crops. Focused on competing interpretations of their ancient religions, the war among the tribes and their outside enemies eventually cannibalized the culture. In fact, although debated for many years, it became inescapable that at least one religious faction within the tribe practiced cannibalism. Such tidbits made the world of the Anasazi a popular vacation destination and we were here to get the best footage we could to create that experience.

The monuments in Chaco Canyon had once been accessible by dirt roads mostly suitable for off road vehicles. Because of modern grave robbers and a public with a penchant for blazing their name across history, the park service had long ago closed the monuments to vehicular traffic. Hiking was the only way in. Expensive permits were required, and a guide was mandatory. All expenses which made the trip out of reach for all but the elite. One more reason it was a perfect setting for one of our virtual trips.

We hiked in 13 miles to the authorized camping site. It was not until early evening that we were able to establish our base camp, sort out our equipment, and prepare ourselves for a quick evening meal and much needed sleep. Filming would start in the pre-dawn hours. Camera crews, programmers and writers would be working together in real time to create the Anasazi Vacation.

I fell to sleep the moment my head reached the pillow. The coolness of the evening reaching me with something close to a chill, but not quite. My team was assigned the cliffs behind the complex. We were to scale the rocks to the plateau above for a spectacular view of the complex and the valley where it lay. With sufficient detail we could use computer imaging to rebuild it to something resembling what it would have looked like when inhabited. Integration of our work into the overall database would provide a more thoroughly accurate feel for living inside the complex during its heyday. I needed sleep. The night would be short.

Shorter than I expected.

Sometime around midnight I was awakened by chanting. Low, melodic chanting that seemed to be a chorus of several hundred voices. That was not possible. Our whole crew may reach a total of 50 members – but not hundreds. Was someone being funny? Or had someone simply found a good recording of what we thought the Anasazi sounded like?

Unable to sleep I crawled out of my sleeping bag and crept softly to the open tent flap. The full moon looked close enough to touch, big, white and alive with every feature. Across the lighted canyon floor I saw a glow coming from the ancient kiva. Nothing in camp was stirring. I put on a light jacket and my walking boots and stepped out of the tent. I didn’t see anyone, but the chanting continued and the light from the kiva flickered as that of a fire. Shaking my head I retrieved my camera and set out for glowing pit.

Ancient-Puebloan-trade-network-chaco-canyon

Located on “Ancient Puebloan Trade Network” Public Domain

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Forgotten Memorials

A breeze swept through the plaza as the old man sat on the bench and spread his bread before the pigeons. Clustered around him or flapping up to the bench near him, the birds cooed and scratched, looking for each crumb. All too soon the bread was gone. The old man stood, brushing final crumbs to the birds and slowly walked away.

Amy stood by the statute of some forgotten hero sitting on his horse. Both rider and horse were green with time and covered with the evidence of many a bird visit. Amy had watched the old man for days. She had grown up in this tiny village and knew everyone by sight. But not him. How had a stranger, one so obviously bent and forsaken, end up here? In a tiny off-the-path village? She had no idea where he stayed or where he had come from. Too shy to approach him, she watched for any clues. This was going nowhere she would have to come up with a way to approach him.

The next day she hurried to the plaza in hopes of arriving before her target. Buzzing with curiosity and a little bit of fear, she sat on the bench and opened a sack with bread. Hesitantly, she began to feed the birds. Using the bread sparingly to make it last, she waited. Just as she was about to flee to the safety of the green horseman she heard steps approaching.

Swallowing hard she looked up to see just who it was she had come to think of as “the bird man.”

He wasn’t old. At least, well, not any older than her father. But he did look tired. He hesitated only a moment and with a small, momentary smile, took a seat on the same bench. Methodically he took the loaf he had brought with him and began to feed the birds.

Now, what, she thought. She sighed, “Who—who are you?”

He moved a pigeon off his knee and turned to face her on the bench. “Can you tell me why you decided to approach me?”

Amy thought. “I think it’s because you seemed to belong here but I had never seen you. It just seemed odd.” She looked down at the pavement where the birds were pecking and cooing at her feet.

“What do you know about the history of the plaza?” He asked in a gentle tone.

“Not much, really. I guess I never thought about it.”

“Not all that long ago, perhaps when your father was somewhat younger than you, something happened in this plaza that changed the town forever.”

Amy shook her head. She could think of nothing she had heard about that would have changed the town she grew up in.

He shook his head. “Then it was time I returned.”

Startled, Amy looked at him. “I do know you, I just can’t remember from where!”

“You see me every day,” he said so softly she barely heard. Slowly he pointed at the statute in the center of the plaza. “Perhaps you should read the plague.”

Amy slowly stood and walked toward the green horseman. She tried to remember if she had ever read the thing, or if it was just part of the furnishings of life in this tiny, backwater town. For possibly the first time she could actually remember she looked up at the face of the rider. Jaw agape, she spun around to look back at the man on the bench. He had vanished. He was nowhere to be seen. She turned again to look at the face of the not-old, old man sitting atop his steed. Composing herself, she began to read.

June 4, 1939

On this date, John Winthrope of Winthrope Estates, road his horse into the plaza. He stopped at the bench where a woman who had fled the St. Louis on a life boat tightly held her child. The crowd filling the plaza was demanding that the sheriff turn her over to authorities. Mr. Winthrope stepped down from his horse and lifted her into the saddle. He led the horse back through the plaza, remounted with the woman and returned to his estate. Two weeks later she died of tuberculosis. Mr. Winthrope had her diary published in the local paper. It was with great remorse that the town accepted responsibility for her burial. In September Mr. Winthrope left for Canada to join the war against Germany. He left the child with a local couple against his return, but he never came back. The child became one of us. One to remind us of the unknown consequences of our harsh decisions to keep others away.

Amy began to shake as tears rolled down her eyes. She looked again at the man on the horse and knew he had once more visited the bench in the park. She may not have known the history of the town, but she did know that her father was adopted. And now she knew why he maintained the little church as a nondenominational community center. No, she would not be leaving this tiny little town. There was much to do to welcome a new generation of people in need, people “not like us.”

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When the forecasts talk back.

Few professions seem to be more devoid of all imagination than accounting. The general assumption is that the day to day grind of processing numbers, finding “bottom lines” and figuring out what someone thought they were doing is, well, beyond boring. Accounting, to some folks, ranks somewhere in the neighborhood of watching paint dry. By extension such folks assume that the people whdragono perform these tasks are unimaginative creatures, condemned to watching spreadsheets grow and morph. Well, it isn’t quite that way. At least not for all of us. You see, I’m an accountant and I should know.

Actually, I’m a special kind of accountant, one that spends at least part of her time looking into the fogs of the future and making “educated guesses” on what might happen. This is really pretty important. People spend money on what they think will happen, not on what happened yesterday. Don’t believe me? Give someone a few thousand dollars. Are they going to remember they were broke yesterday and couldn’t find enough to eat? Not very often! So, “looking into the future” becomes a discipline, a way of saying, what might happen. And that is where the possibilities begin.

I will admit that most forecasts, budgets and predictions are just another set of numbers manipulated based on historical information and pushed forward with (ahem) reasonable expectations. But every now and then the practiced forecaster can catch a bit of something special. Something just over the horizon if only. One night, I had a helper.

It was a typical night. Well, a typical nearing midnight, eyes sagging, falling asleep kind of night when I first glimpsed my own tiny dragon. The project I was working on was creative, did require some knowledge of the arts, and also required some background on what makes people want to contribute to a project for the pure pleasure of it; not because it has some promised return. That is not particularly easy.

After writing pages and pages of answers to questions on a tax form, my eyes became quite droopy. The words were blurring and I was positive I had said the same things already, probably had knowing tax forms as I do. Did I miss a question? How can I make this sound like, well, it has meaning and should be supported? “You need a little spark there.” What?

“Yes, just there. It sounds like you’re selling shoes, not music.” I’m talking to myself now? “No, you silly woman, you are not talking to yourself, I’m trying to help you here!” I’m only drinking tea, who is talking to me? “Right here, right on your monitor stand, your own special dragon. I can see what is on the screen and you sound more boring than a tax auditor. You have to pep this up.” I am tired, I had better shut this whole mess down.

Suddenly, a tiny spark flew into the air and there was a faint odor of wood smoke. And I saw him. A tiny blue and green dragon posing near my monitor and pointing with his front paw at a particularly long and dense passage. Well, he was right. It was horrible. Even if no one ever read it, it was horrible. I sighed.

“So what would you suggest, Mr. Oh-so-smart?”

“Go back to the reason you took this thing on to begin with.” (Delivered with tiny puffs of smoke.) “Tell these people, if anyone ever reads this, that this is the most important idea in the whole county. That bringing the passion of Baroque and Classical music to a rural resort in the middle of nowhere is a spark of inspiration, an opportunity that few if any of these people would ever enjoy without this particular program. Tell these people that in a world full of ugly news and terrifying tragedies, that you can still celebrate the beauty that humanity can create. And you can do it in a secluded, mountain valley during a weekend retreat with world class artists and terrific food.”

Well, even if no one ever reads this stuff, I think I’d like to go.

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30 Cubed – The Climatologist

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Earth’s first star ship had left the planet in the early 2030s. At that point in time the ship was structured to last a hundred years. The engineers knew that the target system would not be reached until the third generation reach maturity. The ship’s libraries were loaded with every digital record available. The planners also knew that they could only structure strong suggestions on shipboard culture and governance and schooling. Once contact with earth was lost, the tiny, inconsequential seed pod of humanity would be on its own traversing some small piece of a vast universe.

That of course, was then. Barely two decades later the unrelenting commercial and social pressures had driven the physicists and engineers to create the dreamed of warp drive. The keys to the universe finally dropped into humanity’s lap. And there were those ready to go. If the Centennial Ship had stayed on course and reached its destination, the new fleet would find them in a mere 5 years. We knew we could go faster, but this was the maiden voyage. After much haggling this time period was considered a sedate route and one that would permit a substantial amount of science on the way. The day arrived when the new ships were ready to launch from near earth orbit. I had dreamed of this moment for 20 years. My name is Andrew. I am a climatologist with a second degree in planetary sciences and I have a berth on Argosy; one of three ships in the fleet.

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In many ways it doesn’t seem possible that we have been in space for five years. I have to admit there are days when it seems forever. We have spent the last six months adding scans and surveys to our working load to see if we can pick up any sign of carbon based, oxygen breathing life in the system before us. This is where we had sent of Century Ship; it was time to see if the pioneers had made it.

Braking into the system we scanned the local moons to find likely candidates. The gas giants were useless, except for mining, and the rocky worlds were too big. The change in our mass would have made it difficult if not impossible to move around the planet. Especially after five years of reduced gravity. Moons is where we had sent them, moons is where we would look. There were 11 good possibilities. The landing crew was already discussing possible first attempts when my systems told me exactly where to look.

Settled in an orbit around one of the gas giants was a rocky moon with a great deal of water. It seemed strange that they would pick something this far from the host star, but there seemed to be enough free oxygen in the air that the high probability of terraforming was evident. There also seemed to be quite a bit of debris in the planet’s near orbit. I will grant you it was a beautiful planet. Seeming to glow with a fire all its own, it was an easy rival to our own Jupiter. No other body in the system seemed to have the requisite chemical composition. Then I found the ship. No detail this far out, but the mass seemed off. Well, we’d be there in a week and see what was happening. I wonder if they’ve seen us.

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We’re here. Though I’m not sure yet how welcome we are. Replies to our calls have been short and non-committal. Evidently, at least that’s what they are saying, there are some transitional things we must go through before we can actually land. I wish they would hurry. It’s spooky out here watching the huge Century Ship orbit the moon. It’s a hulk now. The colonists had gutted it for anything of use on the surface and appeared to be reclaiming the metals at this point. They say they have changed in some ways and need to know if we will do well in their environment. Possibly. But why do I feel like salvage?

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30 Cubed – The Players

It is a legend born out of the distant frozen north. Ancient as the ice sheets which remained in the summer-long day, yet renewed each season as the great sea swelled with new life and nutrients. It was the heartbeat of the north, announcing the coming and going of the winter-long night. The tribes that inhabited the land could not say where the story began, they only knew it had been passed down, seemingly forever. The story went something like this.

The masters of the great ice ocean were and always have been the great Polar Bears. Full grown males weigh in at 770 to 1,540 pounds. Their ladies only half that size. These great beasts do not sleep the winter away, unless the individual is a pregnant sow. No, the great white hunters are active all winter long, wandering the ice-encrusted world under a sunless sky. A bit lonely, one would think. Possibly even boring. So what does a bear with a full stomach and no parental duties do in the dark?

That’s where the legend comes from. You see, once Polar Bears have full stomachs they can be a rather jovial bunch. Males are not adverse to, well, playing together. It was something that started in a small group, just two or three bears, in friendly competition. Who could pounce the deepest hole in the ice to catch a seal? Who could break up the ice to hunt down a good swimming spot to find a good floe? In all the exercise someone noticed that large chunks of ice traveled well on the sea ice and it was interesting to see who could hit it furthest. The competition grew.

So it became an annual affair. After the sun has slipped below the horizon for its winter absence, out would come the champions of the prior year to defend their title and find new ways to compete on the open sea ice. Some years could be a bit lean and if so, well, tempers were not quite as jovial.

Not so far to the south of bear country was another roaming animal, a great beast of nearly the same weight. This one, however, sported great antlers build in wide paddles with massive force when applied in rutting battles. Of course these huge racks would drop before the winter chills descended on the tundra. Somewhat, well, denuded, solitary males wandered the winter tundra for something to do to keep in shape while on a reduced winter diet. The ruckus raised by bears apparently doing battle drew the attention of some of these solitary souls.

What had first sounded like a fierce battle now appeared as something quite different. There were pouncing bears, rolling bears, bears digging holes in the snow, and bears throwing or scooting ice. As the dehorned beasts watched, a large chunk of ice landed at their feet. The bears stopped and looked intently at the newcomers.

Now, you need to understand that under certain circumstance, bears have no problem helping themselves to a dinner of moose. So, for such an event as our legend to take place, everybody had to have very full tummies and no concerns about continued resources. But this is how the story goes.

The moose kicked the ice chunk back.

And so the great and hallowed spirit game of Hockey was born.

Now you know why even when the great northern country brought the ancient legend to the ice rink of 20th century human settlements, it wasn’t a game until their southern neighbors were invited to join.

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A bit of a jab at my dear friends north of the border. After five years in Canada I can tell you that Hockey is far more than a sport in the great white north. Even more than “football” in American, it is a cultural icon.

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30 Cubed – The Chemist

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A dog lay on the porch just out of the hot, afternoon sun. The casual observer would think that he was sound asleep. Odd, on a sunny afternoon like today. Must be an old dog, too tired to investigate the summer meadow that surrounded the old cabin. The dog, however, was not asleep. On close inspection the ears were cocked; on occasion rotating like radio telescopes, listening, while the dog barely breathed. Without warning he sprung up, fully alert, watching the path to the creek bed.

Jake came sauntering up the pathway, wet to his thighs. Even in the warm sun he was shivering from the chill water. He carried a satchel, one he had carried for many years as he made his daily trek to the creek bed. It wasn’t fish he was after. No. Neither dog nor man could eat the fish in that stream. Long ago the runoff from farms and mines further upstream had tainted his catch. Now he relied on other sources of food. He and his dog.

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Adele sat in front of her screen and tried to make sense of the readings forming on the charts in front of her. She had monitored output from this particular site for over two years and she had never seen this particular combination of chemicals and byproducts. In some ways she hated her job. She was supposed to be a safety inspector. Someone who reported when levels of waste were toxic and should not be released into the river banks below. But those reports never seemed to get to the right desk.

The filtering plant they had constructed a year ago did not follow the design drafted by the engineers. She wasn’t sure if it was time or money or both, but it sure didn’t do the job is was supposed to. She had seen the original plans, it should have worked, but it didn’t. In fact, things seemed to be getting worse. What she could not understand was the change that was occurring. Why were these things combining this way? They should be breaking down in to less hazardous byproducts, not building something new.

The hunt for how life sparks had been going on for decades. Some labs had found ways to combine inorganic chemicals to create amino acids. Even some of the building blocks of RNA had been created in laboratory circumstances. Research had also been conducted on the possible formation of the first cells membranes; something absolutely required in the creation of a living thing. A wall that says, me and not me. Science had failed, however, to find that spark, the leap from inorganic chemistry to organic life. Some, of course, felt the question could not be answered by science alone. Adele was uncommitted.

Throughout her career, Adele had kept an open mind on the origin of life. She knew there were holes in evolutionary theory, but for all intents and purposes, it was a good working model. If only biologists could learn the same sanguine method of addressing questions as physicists had. Most physicists just followed the numbers and didn’t worry too much about the argument. Ask a biologist something that sounded like you were a true believer and more times than not, well, Adele just didn’t have the patience. It was probably the reason she chose inorganic chemistry. It seemed safer. Until today.

Something was happening in the slush pond above the drainage field and Adele was pretty certain she wasn’t going to figure it out sitting behind a computer screen. A field trip was in order. Knowing that people were touchy about samples being taken from the ponds she planned her trip at a time she might not be disturbed. She could work up some preliminary tests in her home lab. If there was something interesting she would figure out what to do next.

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Jake and his dog entered the old cabin and Jake put the hare he had snared on the kitchen counter. He had dressed it in the field to make sure that it was healthy and unharmed. Since his rabbits were kept in a separate pen far from the creek and given filtered water, he really hoped they would be fine. At least for a bit longer. He and dog would be moving soon. Really, couldn’t stay much longer. Nope. Not after what he found in the creek, under the trees, on this sunny afternoon.

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