Five very short stories, based off a writing prompt my friend Jonathon Penny posted yesterday. (Things got a little out of control. Apparently I like writing about aliens.)
When the aliens finally came, just a week before the rogue planet—the one we didn’t see coming till two weeks before that, when it was too late to do much of anything except arrange the deck chairs and say a few prayers—when they came, we thought maybe they could save us. Just maybe. But we were wrong. They came, not to save us, but to be saved. And the thing slithering through space after them—well, let’s just say we were grateful the planet got us before it did.
When the aliens finally came, our xenolinguists were stumped. The aliens didn’t talk, at least on any frequency that we could see. They didn’t chitter. They didn’t make signs with their heads or the appendages we arbitrarily called hands. They didn’t seem to grok the equations the mathematicians showed them. They didn’t reverse the magnetic fields around themselves like the swimmers do down in the outer core. (Most people still think of the swimmers as aliens, by the way, and I suppose they are in one sense, but you could make a strong argument that they’re more native to the planet than we are.) Then we figured it out. It took us longer, you see, because they lived on the outside of their ship, and our suits didn’t pick up smells from the vacuum, and long story short, Milner—the one from New Canada—somehow noticed the constantly shifting scents, and one thing led to another. Heaven knows what the aliens thought we’d been saying to them all that time. Anyway, it wasn’t long before they were hugging the astronauts like long-lost relatives, and next thing we knew they’d taken a chunk of Brooklyn—a big one, too—right up into their ship. Haven’t seen them since.
When the aliens finally came, they arrived not in large ships, but in a hail of small cocoons that fell scattershot across the East Coast. At sunrise the next morning they wriggled out, small like a grain of rice, and burrowed down, gnawing at the dirt and rock, growing bigger and bigger. We didn’t notice any of this, mind you, until buildings and subways started collapsing and sinkholes began showing up everywhere. Terrorists, we thought. By the time we realized what had happened, it was too late.
When the aliens finally came, sir, no, I wasn’t at my post. I was…hiding. Yes, sir, I understand. No, not at all, sir. They appeared to be shapeshifters, sir. Knots of tentacles, shiny, all over the place. Real tall one second, short and stumpy the next. Sometimes they were in two or three or ten places at the same time. Weirdest thing I ever saw, sir. No, she’s doing fine, sir, thank you for asking. They say what I saw was, uh, fluctuating cross-sections of higher-dimensional beings. No, sir, I don’t think I understand it, and if I may say so, I don’t think I want to. Thank you, sir.
When the aliens finally came, ribbons of light all a-dancing in the sky, they put the northern lights to shame. Some fools on the news said something so beautiful couldn’t be evil. Me and my folks, we bundled up quick and got out of the city, went down south into the jungles, to get as far away from other people as we could get. Apparently we weren’t the only ones with that idea. We’ve been holed up here for a month now, listening to the explosions up north. Lost my oldest to a snake bite. Lost my second oldest to a spider bite. My wife’s been down with the trembles for five days. I don’t know what those aliens can do, but it’s looking like it can’t be much worse than this jungle.
I’ve finished revising “Tyrk,” a short story, and it’s now available to read online. Here’s the beginning:
Tuesday was Laura’s first time at the circus. She’d read about circuses all her life, but her mother insisted they were dangerous. Laura suspected that the truth lay more in her mother’s fear of clowns than in any real danger, and that was why her mother didn’t know she was here.
Laura walked from tent to tent in awe at the feel of magic that drenched the fairgrounds. Anything could happen here. Trapeze, bearded lady, even the not-so-scary clowns — all of it intoxicated her. The hours flew by and before long it was almost dinnertime. She was tired and her legs felt a little stiff, but she still hadn’t been to the last tent, the one out past the Ferris wheel. It wouldn’t take long.
I ended up only writing twenty stories instead of thirty, but I’m okay with that — it’s twenty stories more than I would have written otherwise.
#15: “Blueprints” — (science fiction)
#16: “Watchtower” — (thriller)
#17: “Alastair’s Songbox” — (fantasy)
#18: “Doors” — (fantasy)
#19: “The Rose Garden” — (contemporary)
#20: “The Goose and the Golden Egg” — (fable-ish)
Having written these stories, I feel like I’ve gotten a better grasp on how to put a story together, how to write a short story (as opposed to a novel), and how my fiction-writing process works. (If I spent an hour a morning writing, I could have written 50–60 stories instead of just twenty.)
As mentioned in my last NaShoStoMo post, I’m a bit behind. It’s day 20 and I’ve only written 14 stories. But I feel fairly confident that I can hit 30 stories by the end of the month, especially now that I’ve learned to write shorter stories (my last three have been 400 words each, instead of my usual 700–1200 words).
#7: “If You Could Hie to Kolob” (LDS science fiction)
#8: “Crumbs” (retelling of Matthew 15:21–28)
#9: “Tyrk” (fantasy, about the circus)
#10: “Babushka” (disturbing)
#11: “The O-Bomb” (middle-grade, kind of)
#12: “The Red Minivan” (fantasy of a sort)
#13: “To Have and to Hold” (science fictionish)
#14: “Look Up” (thrillerish)
And of course I have plenty of ideas for the remaining sixteen stories.
I ended up finishing that third story last night and writing another, and then I wrote another two tonight. This is awesome — I went from writing no fiction at all for months and months to writing around thirty pages so far in the first week of April.
I’m not going to post the stories online, because they’re embarrassing, but here’s what I’ve got so far:
“Wallwalker” — about a high school kid who can walk through walls (fantasy/science fiction)
“The Baby and the Box” — about a newborn who can see the creature on the ceiling (fantasy)
“Gravedigger” — about a golem and a little girl (fantasy)
“Back in a Bit” — about a husband who takes out the trash and doesn’t return for ten years (science fiction)
“Clerk’s Office” — about an elders quorum presidency who finds a door that leads under the church (horror)
“Fire to Fire” — about a boy who can start fires with his hands (fantasy)
I do plan to write a realistic story at some point, honest. But the other twenty-nine this month will almost certainly be fantasy or science fiction, because apparently that’s what I do. (And I’m very okay with that.)
A side effect of all this story writing that I didn’t foresee (I must be blind, because it’s kind of obvious in retrospect) is more confidence in my writing, enough that I’m now raring to go back and write Tanglewood, that young adult fantasy novel I started two years ago but lamely gave up on. (It changed a lot after that draft, by the way.) Some of my stories this month will come from that world, I think.
Almost one week into NaShoStoMo so far. I’ve written two and a half stories and I’m hoping to finish the third story tonight, so I’ve got to write three more to catch up. I have a feeling I’ll be playing a lot of catch-up this month.
I have to say, by the second day of the month I was this close to giving up. I figured that NaShoStoMo was an unnecessary extra stress in my life and besides, fiction isn’t even useful, and there were so many other more worthwhile ways to fill my time and blah blah blah yadda yadda. Luckily I realized that that was Resistance talking (see Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art). I managed to muscle through it, and I’m really glad I did. Story ideas are flying at me from all over the place. It feels so good to be writing fiction again.
But man, writing middles is hard. And endings are even harder for me. I can handle beginnings just fine, but as soon as I get to the middle, it’s like every bone in my story goes limp, and it’s kind of hard to end properly when you’re flopping about with your invertebrate middle.
And that’s why I’m doing NaShoStoMo: to learn how to write middles and endings. Thirty stories is going to be really good practice for that.
Also, keeping my stories short is proving to be difficult. Writing a story short enough that I can finish it in a day (preferably a single sitting) would seem to be easy, but as soon as I get going, it’s like I go into novel-writing mode and I’m spinning out the first chapter of what’s going to be a much longer story. So my other goal is to learn how to clamp down and tell each story with more economy.
And yes, all three stories are kind of pathetic, but you can’t expect much more from that from rough drafts. I do plan to revise some of these lumps into something nice and shiny someday.
Last night I came across NaShoStoMo (National Short Story Month) via my friend’s blog. Basically, you write thirty short stories in April, one a day, 200 words minimum.
I’m doing it.
I haven’t written much fiction in the last nine months, but I miss it, and this’ll be a great prod to get me going again. Most of the stories will be quite short and most will be horrifically bad (figure I may as well get that out there), and there’s a good chance that no one other than me will ever see any of them, but you can’t become a good writer if you don’t write. A lot. Time to get back into the habit of spinning stories.