Writing Sprint Flash Fiction: Shards

Writing Sprint Flash Fiction: Shards

Sticking stringently to the deadline of Sunday, but then leave it until the following Thursday, so you can post it on the Monday afterwards, here is the latest effort from the writing sprint prompts provided by Mel Cusick-Jones.

The image below, the five words (all of which I managed to include) and the quote provided inspiration from what turned out to be some sci-fi fun.

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It’s the first sci-fi I’ve written since Scrambled Eggs Never Make Sense on Tuesday which was entered into a competition, faired well with feedback in forums and is one I intend to develop when I release the inevitable vanity short-story collection.

This week’s story pays homage, and a few cheeky digs, to a much-loved galactic adventure. But I feel there’s a story of its own waiting to be found…

As ever, feel free to join by writing on you blog or and linking to the comments, either here or over on Mel’s site.

Find us on Twitter, too.

 

Shards

Ma says there never used to be dust on the plains.

The valley between opposing boulders would brim with life. With people. She says the only dust kicked up would be when the starships launched. That still happens some nights. Ma says they do it now to keep us from getting a full sleep. Everyone says they don’t pack anything to trade – we have nothing to offer.

And it appears they have nothing to bring. Trade must be a two-way street. Since they stripped these lands of the natural resource, our technology became outdated. The need to keep us happy ceased. It could be said it went up in dust but that’d mean it’s hanging on; the dust lingers for hours. Before bed, I can spend a long time with Ma’s flannel rubbing sediments away. Pa says they’ll need to invent a seventeenth hour in the day just to accommodate my cleaning regime.

I remind him our species’ native planet already has more than seventeen hours, that I’m only running on my natural time. The joke in the galaxy is we’re lazy here. Instead of sticking to our natural body clocks, we’d rather snooze all day and night. Truth is: it’s made us restless. Somethings become impossible to change.

Physiology. Greed. Poverty.

I think they’re all kinda wrapped up in the same thing.

When I was a kid, I remember saying to Pa I wanted to be a starship pilot. These dusty canyons must affect imagination because I distinctly remember explaining at length why I’d prefer to be a transfer ship pilot. The reasoning was sound. It’d be easier to transition into commercial work after the conscripted Navy service. I never told him this part: I fancied the idea of being a space pirate on the side. Transferring dangerous cargo, bounty hunters, people on adventures.

That was the limit of the fantasy. The bare reality was a steady income.

I stopped looking to the sky when the ships came less and less. The packed ravines, full of pop-up stalls, dwindled. Sat on the rocks today, I can hear two buzzhawks cawing and the wind gusting between pillars of stone. Periodically Old Ewan pushes his cart. No one knows why he does this. Pa once said he has an unhealthy obsession with me – I defended Old Ewan, explaining he’s just keeping himself busy – but I have to admit, the last few days he’s been going past several times an hour.

Back when I was a child – and Old Ewan was N’Ewan, because he’d just pitched up and the locals thought it was a clever play on his name – there’s no way I’d be able to hear buzzhawks. Carriages would zoom by, horses would be filling with fuel before spluttering into the distance, and starships would cut into the pale orange sky before heading off to better lands.

The sound of a starship as it launches in the atmosphere cannot be understated. No matter how many times you hear it, it makes you twitch. It’s like the sky has been fractured. Once you hear such a loud noise, your ears are always on alert, craving another big bang.

When the bangs became infrequent, I dreamed less of shifting cargo. It’s a shame to say, but even as a kid I was pragmatic. I saw what realistic options were left. Mining for gas hydrates with Da, the only thing that’d keep us ticking over in the dust bowl. And then there was my side interest: revving a resource The Confederacy stripped away.

The Hepla Tribe has guarded tall shards for centuries. The Hepla are native to this planet but resemble us. Their skin is said to be darker but I’ve seen their hands beneath the robes they wear, they’re not much darker than Ma’s after a summer in the open plains. Their shards turn blue when charged. Charged with what, no one knows. The Hepla don’t have a word for the energy or a way to store it. They believe it attaches itself to worthy people for them to use.

Of course, The Confederacy believe it was best to vacuum contain the energy it offset and distribute it as they saw fit. The Hepla said the shards becoming blue was a sign the gods felt there was an imbalance, so they were releasing good into existence. From what I’ve heard, The Confederacy has turned those vacuum-packed silos into planet-destroying missiles. I hope no one has told the Hepla.

There’s a natural crossover in tech here. To keep gas hydrates usable, they need to be stored fast or the energy is lost. If I could find out how the shards charge, I can bag the special energy before The Confederacy pitch up again.

I think whatever power comes from those shards could make plants. Imagine a world full of crops and livestock. The only animals we keep here are to act as guard. We have a trisk. I’d sooner pepper what I leave in the toilet bowl than try one. They are ugly scrawny things with ears like flappy saddles and eyes that bulge as if they’re being squeezed. The protection they provide is an insane howl. When a trisk cries, no man alive can continue walking in its direction. We sleep with ear protection in case a trisk lets off its warning cry.

I call our trisk Liza. She’s the only female I chat to other than Ma. Girls my age are sparse in these parts. Most families moved further afield when the starships reduced their visits. There’s Jacqui, who lives a thirty-minute walk away. Until Da allows me to use the horse again (I broke it fiddling with its sequence chargers), there’s no chance of seeing her. Sometimes her voice is more annoying than Liza’s howl, but she smells nice and looks better. On reflection, a lot of what she says is true, but it’s the way she says it. Someone needs to tell The Confederacy their leader is trapped in the body of a nineteen-year-old girl who grows edible fungi in the Ouste region.

I’m also pretty certain she fancies me.

That’s another reason to fix my right arm. For days it’s been itching. I’ve checked Liza for fleas and signs of broken skin, she’s all clear. The forearm in particular is becoming red raw. Beneath the setting sun, the flakes of skin almost glow as I rub them away. Cosmic dandruff.

My nail gets stuck on the middle of the arm. Something like glass is protruding from it. I dig it out, like it’s a splinter of metal. My arm aches as if it’s been stabbed. An involuntary scream escapes as I touch the tiny pinprick opening it has left.

Liza whines and runs to my side.

‘What’s the matter?’ Ma shouts from the kitchen.

I’m temporarily blind with pain.

‘Check on him, Clark,’ Ma says to my father below.

‘You okay, Mik?’

He appears at the head of the ladder that takes you up from our kitchen to the top of the boulder.

‘My arm,’ I say through gritted teeth.

He walks over, shooing Liza away. She whines, this time out of annoyance.

Pa grips my arm, squeezing the pinprick as if taunting blood to come out. My blood is as scared of Pa as I am, it understandably stays inside the comforting walls of my arm.

‘Nothing but a scratch,’ he says. ‘You’re becoming quite the soft lad. Having no peers is weakening you.’

‘I can always beat you in a joust.’

‘Only because you cheat with your taser settings,’ he replies and smacks my arm.

I nearly faint with the fresh pain.

He cups my falling head and says, ‘Perhaps you’re just tired.’

Pa carries me to my quarters. I appreciate the effort required getting me down the ladder. He is a big man. He strolls around like some ancient bear from the tales of before. To him, I’m no bigger than Liza is to me.

He closes the door, leaving Liza to watch over me.

‘Come here, girl,’ I say.

She refuses with a scared whine.

‘What? It’s just me,’ I say.

She taps a front paw two times then does a smooth forward motion with it, like she’s sliding a letter across an imaginary table.

I dip my head below my bed. Liza covers her eyes.

Tiny blue prickles are sprouting from the floor. They hum more with colour the closer I get to them. It replaces the pain in my arm with warmth. There’s a sensation in my belly that’s warmer still. I’m overcome with contentedness.

The door to my quarters slides open.

Old Ewan stands there, his robe open, and even in my glow the idea he does have inappropriate intentions enters my mind.

Liza looks at him, she’s disinterested.

‘Mika, it’s time,’ Old Ewan says.

‘For what?’ I should feel more nervous but the glow removes all fear.

‘We need to leave Ouste before The Confederacy realise what you’ve done.’

‘I’ve done nothing.’

‘You have,’ he says. ‘And you’re worth more than all the shards in Hepla Qantaricia.’

‘What about Ma and Pa?’

‘They’ve left already.’

Charming. One night where I skip chores and the household ups and leaves. Liza has stepped to Old Ewan’s right ankle, a sign she’s waiting to be led. Even the trisk is willing to leave me. Remarkably, I’m taking this all rather well. Too well. The warm glow inside makes it feel okay. Nothing to worry about.

Before I make a final decision, I need to perform a little investigation and have a few more minutes with my arm near these blue prickles.

‘We need to go now,’ Old Ewan says. ‘Don’t worry, those blue thorns will follow.’

With that, their light disappears and I find myself getting out of bed.

I’ve never felt so good.

Old Ewan looks focused, nothing like the persona that pushed a cart around the ravine. Maybe I was never meant to be a space pirate, but I think I’ve just teamed up with one.

Writing Sprint Flash Fiction: American Jesus

Writing Sprint Flash Fiction: American Jesus

This week’s prompts can be found in this link or by flowing the Twitter thread.

I have also been doing the StoryADay May Challenge so there’s been no shortage of squeezing the creativity sponge recently. This week’s unexpected response to the props could be a sign of going to the well one time too many.

There is a high chance of alienating and/or angering a high percentage of readers. That was never my intention. But I don’t really have much say in what finds its way to the page during creative sessions.

For better or worse, fiction writes itself.

American Jesus

The day science died, faith also passed away.

Both were extinguished by an act that defied physics and created millions of preachers. We are the pariahs. We dare not try to understand what it all means. When Moses parted the Red Sea, it was accepted in Biblical text as a holy act. No one seemed too perturbed. Scientists from the Information Age tied it to seasonal droughts. That seemed to keep the story alive, feasible. Early man mistook science for a miracle.

But like I said, science is dead now. That happened when the seas became the sky and the sky became something only accessible when swimming to the depths of the stratosphere. The world is turned upside down, inside out.

With it, came freedom. I was in a compound with just a few thousand refugees. When the sky became an ocean, the guards downed weapons. The good men among them unlocked our cages. The presumed End of Days has a way of making people develop a conscience. 

I held Juana’s hand. She’s only eleven-years-old. And she’s small for that age. Years of eating on the run have left her underdeveloped. She could pass for a genderless eight-year-old. We followed the herd of survivors around the dim passageway that we’d walked months before. Instead of a cloudless night sky, there was water pouring over us, like a waterfall with no basin. Water suspended, like magic.

My heart was beating hard. It was a new type of fear. I didn’t know then this was a global phenomenon; I thought it was some localised trick that could collapse any moment. I wondered if the water in the passageway was a new style of death chamber. My instinct was to run but the movement was slow and packed. Everyone was in awe.

Coming to the end of the passageway didn’t place us in the open courtyard, there was more water above, even lower than where we’d come from. The new sky picks its height with random abandon.

It was in that courtyard I heard a woman cry: “It’s a miracle.”

That was a precursor for what was to follow. For every droplet of suspended water above our heads, someone has declared it a miracle. Divine intervention.

An act of God.

The abolition of science and society went hand in hand. When leaders have no experts to act as support, and no adequate answers, people turn to whoever offers them a plausible narrative.

Except, the paradox of this “miracle” was it killed religion too.

Faith is believing without evidence. That was the entire reward scheme the Christian church set up. Asking for evidence was a lack of faith. But to survive through the centuries, they’d alter teachings. If Jesus was a chance for religion to have a soft reboot over two thousand years ago, the last decade saw a reimagining. American Jesus was born. 

Before capitalism collapsed, bringing in a new Draconian world order, there had been a female American comic who did a stand-up show called Jesus is Magic. It was a funny gig. Her name was Sarah Silverman. She walked that fine line and sometimes dipped a toe over it. Like the best comics, she amplified a part of society ripe for being poked at.

American Jesus was made for the water sky. Super magic stuff no one can explain. Jesus is magic. The one you can talk to directly, make demands on, the one who literally intervenes when Hillary from Ohio needs help with an exam or when Chad from Pittsburgh wins a tennis match. He makes the sky become the sea so imprisoned migrants can walk the land again.

A real God doesn’t dive down and meddle every day. Perhaps He can provide little nudges, but it’s all on you. If He’s literally on hand every day, it destroys the premise of faith.

It took that first tangible Act of God in living memory to make me doubt the divine. God providing a distraction is the oldest trick in politics. It’s impossible to blame governments when God alters the world. The new artillery on the planet was revised fear they tried to package as faith. As ever, it came with a message made by man, presumed to have God’s seal of approval.

Jesus was said to have walked on water. I wanted to know if man could still swim in water. If I reached above, would the current pull me into the ocean? I also wanted to make sure it was real water. It looked real enough; sometimes droplets would escape and splash us. But that could have just been rain falling through a hologram. That’d be a neat trick: a global illusion. In a way, that’s nothing new, it’d just be a better delivery method.

Weeks after leaving the compound, Juana and I started to live in a nomad community. We shared a tent in an open field. The sea-sky was always a nice distance above us, high enough not to be oppressive. The sun’s ray still made it through the new ceiling but it dimmed them. It made me think the water couldn’t be too deep. After all, the rays never used to hit the bottom of the oceans. People said the continued light was a further miracle.

I let them have that one. I mean, why not? We have magic water skies. Why argue about the density of ocean versus refraction of light?

Before nightfall, we took a walk to the closest point between land and sea-sky. I collected several weighty rocks.

“What are they for, Mani?” Juana asked.

“An experiment,” I replied.

I threw one as hard as I could into the sea-sky. “Stand back,” I said.

I half-expected it to fall back down, but it disappeared.

“You know everyone will have tried that already,” she said, unimpressed.

“I need to see if for myself,” I said. “Prove that it’s real or not.”

“Is seeing it not proof enough?” she asked.

“Our senses can be tricked,” I said.

That was only a half-answer. I needed to understand it. This is how science and the old religions had always clashed. Science needed unequivocal evidence, religion expected you to believe in what you couldn’t see or comprehend. Or was it the opposite way around? Now they were bedmates, bound by the same inexplicable mystery.

The Treetops

The Treetops

This week’s two-hour writing sprint prompts came bundled together in this image:

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This week’s rules were the same: two-hour limit, use the words, image and quote as inspiration. Extra kudos for using all five words in your piece. Post your efforts or a link to them in the comments here, Aside From Writing or on the Twitter thread.

Two clearly formed ideas emerged after a day. One was a science fiction thriller that would have needed too much backstory for it to work under the time restraint.

The second option is what appears below. It also would have benefitted from a little more time but time isn’t always what we think it is…

The Treetops

The sense of himself is confirmed in the same way it is when water presses down on the body. He can feel his essence. The water is existence itself. He bobs to the surface in his chair. His legs are motioning the device back and forth. A rocking chair. The seat for an old man. Surely not his seat. It was only last week he was hiking in redwood country.

That was with his son…

Who died five years ago in a motorcycle accident.

He frowns. It is a regular action nowadays. A default position. Before he resided in this chair, his wrinkles were laughter lines. Now his face is moulded from worry and confusion.

His mind wanders back to those trees, the house by the lake. It had been a wonderful end to summer. Perhaps it wasn’t last week, more like a year . . . or something. He frowns again. What eases the frown is remembering the forest below those tall trees. The ground was an unnatural red. As if someone has been overzealous with spray paint. The small pools of water that had collected contained a darker tinge than one would expect.

His son dared him to climb a tree. It was a silly, offhand remark. They both had been marvelling at their immense height. It wasn’t possible to see the tops. The point at which they broke into an open skyline remained a mystery. There was more chance of seeing the peak of the Empire State Building from its foyer.

His son – Jake, or John his brother? – did his usual trick of egging him on then looking aghast when he took the bait. The intention wasn’t really there when he stepped into the first nook which acted as a ledge. This type of tree didn’t lend itself to human ascent. The rock climbing he’d done as a boy kicked in, he sprang a few feet from the base. It became second nature, using upward momentum to find the perfect spot. By going again without a pause, another ledge was found. And so on.

A greedy branch snagged a shirt sleeve. He remembers now the annoyance of tearing new clothes for such a silly dare. It was a good, solid chequered shirt. The sort he’d planned to wear on evenings after this trip. Now it was ruined.

It had been ruined.

He’d looked to the sky to find only a red ceiling. The tip always out of sight. The answer to the sway of their questions denied. Jake or John saw how bothered he was with the tear. He went red-faced and silent for ten minutes.

He rocks the chair harder. He doesn’t remember seeing Jake in quite some time.

Since the bike accident.

There is a cold cup of tea on the side-table. He knows it is cold without taking a sip. They are always cold. Little fragments, reminders of how things should be and how they are. He will sip it, he sees this clearly now. He will sip it either a few minutes from now or perhaps an hour. But he will sip it. And when he sips from the small dainty cup, he will blast himself for forgetting to drink it sooner.

He sees that this future memory will lack the present clarity in which it appears.

Like stepping from that dense red forest onto a placid lake, he sees how his memories are too close, too all at once. Immediacy which creates only chaos.

His eyes focus on the room in front, to some knowledge of now. The desire to avoid the drop back into that forest. Its aimless trees walked with strangers, become fraught with desperation. His wife had been the religious one, he now wonders what sin he committed for this type of punishment. He tries to picture the last time he saw her face.

It was on the ski slopes the second day of their honeymoon. They always joked that’s where they made Jake . . . and it was all downhill after that. Downhill . . .  on them slopes .   . . downhill . . . parenthood. It was an old one but they never tired of it.

He looks at the cup of tea. He is frowning again. That couldn’t have been the last time he saw her. He thinks of the red trees. The tops he never saw. Trying to reorder his memories is like trying to see the top of those trees.

No matter how high he climbs in his mind’s eye, they are always out of reach. The sky eludes him, until he forgets why he is on a tree in the first place.

His hand picks up the cup and saucer. They chatter together like teeth on a cold morning. He’ll need to buy a hat for when the winter sets in, baby Jake will need one too. He’ll be in school soon. Not really a baby anymore.

Not really a baby.

He takes a gulp from the cup to slake a forgotten thirst.

It is unexpectedly cold.

It reminds him of the sake he drank in Japan; he didn’t like that either. It was their first holiday after Jake had joined university. They spent as much time getting to know one another in the bedroom as they had on their honeymoon. It feels like only last week they’d been snapping photos of Osaka Castle. Snapping away like Japanese tourists, Julie had said. He caught himself wondering if his wife was being mildly racist. How that sort of consideration was her usual remit.

It is important to set a good example when raising a child.

He puts the cup and saucer down. His slippered feet push through the rug. The red cotton falling away like leaves in that forest, the one he walked in with . . . John. He looks up to the treetops, seeing them grow ever taller.

The sky forever out of reach.