Category Archives: fiction

ten books

One of the current things spidering its way over the social networks is what I assume is meant to be a quick challenge to name your 10 favorite books or similar. I read entries by a few friends but avoided commenting on any of them because I knew I’d lose a few hours if someone asked me for my list.

It’s no secret that I like books. My wife and I own entirely too many of them – probably 1/3 of the weight involved in our last move was made up of books or book-like-objects (this is down from over 1/2 back before we had children or much furniture). We’re actually on a slow campaign in my family to reduce the physical mass of books in the house. So now we only have a half dozen bookshelves and a really long list of digital books 😛

After my sister got tapped for the challenge and only passed it on to my wife and one of my brothers, I thought I had avoided this round of the asynchronous party game that is Facebook. Little did I notice that she also tapped my mother – who promptly turned around and grabbed the rest of us. Pretty sneaky, Sis.

You see, when I was a kid, I didn’t earn a traditional allowance. There was no regularly scheduled pocket money, and chores were simply mandatory. At a very young age, my parents decided to pay me for reading books. At first, it was 1 cent per page of completed book.
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cloud fishing

This is a story I wrote a while ago, but I’m not sure entirely when. I actually thought I had posted it but that does not appear to be the case. The original concept was banged out one evening in December of ’10. The best date I have for this version is May 13, 2011. I have notes for extending this to a full short story, but don’t imagine that that will ever happen 😉

Julian and Anders pulled the fourth and final net in halfheartedly, knowing that there was little point remaining in the exercise. They had been trawling this particular gas cloud all day with identical results. This time was no different, the net was empty. Julian tapped the helm and piloted the skiff to the next spot in their pattern and they cast their nets again and waited.

“Hey, Jules, I gotta ask you something,” Anders started to say as they finished deploying their array of nets. “Err. Ac’shully… nevermind.” And with that, he scurried belowdecks to busy himself for the few minutes it would take for the nets to do their work.

The old man looked at his partner’s back as he fled, and said nothing. Anders’ mother had been a good friend of Julian’s, but he wasn’t sure any more. The sickness had taken her wits, and it was only a question of time. Weeks probably. Julian would continue to support her as long as she lasted. They had managed this long, he could hold out and see this thing through. He had to, and not only for the boy. He owed it to her – no matter how little of “her” there was left inside that wasted shell. He could manage. He had to.

She had brought her son, Anders, to be apprenticed to Julian eight years ago. Eight years. The boy had grown since then. He had completed his apprenticeship more than a year ago. Anders could navigate these clouds blindfolded. He could tell pike from eels by the different ways they pulled on a net, and he would inherit everything Julian had.

The timer chimed and Anders hurried back above to help Julian with the nets. They worked in silence. Only two more stops charted tonight, and neither had much hope that either stop would be better than the eighty that went before.

Despite having completed his training period with distinction and having proven himself time and again, Anders had not yet taken his tests for certification. His mother had taken sick before arrangements could be made, and the boy had not been the same since.

The options for medical care were limited in the outer rings and local doctors had been unable to do anything to cure the sickness. They could only slow its advancement and offer their condolences. This sort of disease was becoming more and more common. Perfectly healthy folk would wake one morning and find themselves rotting away from the inside out. It was not pleasant. Thankfully, the mind was one of the first things to go, so the afflicted did not appear to suffer for long. Even with treatment, they rarely lasted more than a month. Anders’ mother had survived for six.

She seemed remarkably resistant to the sickness, and the doctors were particularly interested in her case as a potential lead in their desperate search for a cure. After the first month, they had taken her planetside for observation. Anders was not allowed visitation during this period, and even if he was, he couldn’t afford to take the time away from work.

Treatment was expensive, and the only way they could afford it was by agreeing to give her body for continued research after the disease had finally run to its inevitable conclusion. They were lucky to have even be considered for treatment at all. Resources were remarkably thin by this point.

After the third month, the doctors stopped making progress with her case and they shipped her home to Anders. They still wanted her body, but had apparently lost interest in her at present. A local doctor would check in at the first of every week to take some readings and swap out her medication canisters.

Julian and Anders finished pulling in the empty nets and flew to their second-to-last stop of the night, where they cast their nets and waited.

After the fifth month, the doctor stopped visiting. Anders had to make a weekly pilgrimage to the hospital to collect his mother’s meds. He read somewhere that a paper had been published showing that outer ring natives were as much as nine times more likely to survive the sickness into their third month than were planetsiders. The difference was attributed to a combination of atmospheric differences and diet.

The inhabitants of the outer rings ate mostly fish from the numerous gas clouds just beyond their asteroidal orbits. The fish had never been very popular planetside or on the inner rings, but that was before people thought that the fish might somehow ward off the sickness…

It was two days after the paper was published before the first inner ring ships arrived and began ruining everything. They vacuum fished clouds whole in retrofitted mining ships, leaving great blue and green streaks of lifeless exhaust in their wakes. The locals were quickly reduced to subsistence levels of production – with only the clouds nearest their asteroids being left relatively untouched.

The whole disaster lasted for a week. By then, the mining companies of the inner rings had destroyed every known gas cloud that their large ships could navigate – the smaller clouds nearer the rings themselves were deemed insufficiently profitable to warrant the risk of piloting a vacuum ship so close to the rocks. At least, not the models of vacuum ship they had on hand – one of the larger deep space ships could chew a 100m silicate body into powder without realizing it and could probably process the rock Julian and Anders lived on in an afternoon.

As the vacuum ships left, the locals were still waiting for a response to their petition to the consul’s office.

The clock chimed. Julian and Anders mechanically retrieved their nets. The first two were empty, but the third net contained a number of haddock. It was not enough to sell, but it could keep them fed for another week.

Julian began to sing to himself as he tossed his fish into the icebox. After a while, he noticed that Anders had left his half of the catch unattended. Confused, he looked for the boy and found him staring at the contents of the fourth net.

It wasn’t often that they caught artifacts. This was Julian’s third.

once upon a shuffle: 0: elise

Last May, a friend of mine accidentally gave me this idea while kicking off a project of his own. I sat down that evening with grand intentions but a combination of wordpress problems and work promptly beat things back down. I’ve decided now to resume the project. I am going to start writing faerie tales of a sort, and I am going to write as many of them as I can. Hopefully one a week, maybe two. We’ll see. These stories will be seeded by a shuffling of prompt cards from Atlas Games’ Once Upon a Time. My rules for the exercise are as follows:

  1. I draw between 5 and 12 regular cards and one ending
  2. I have to use all of the prompts in a coherent manner
  3. I must finish the story within 72 real hours of starting it – minimal time “wasted” in editing or rewriting
  4. Cards that I have used are not eligible for reuse until I have consumed the entire deck
  5. Bonus points for referencing previous stories in the set

The goal here is to spend time writing every couple of days and publish something every week. Call my deadline Wednesday evening. Just to keep my brain from shriveling up and blowing away.

The first story used 7 cards, and was written over two evenings in May of 2011.

once upon a shuffle: 0: elise

Once upon a time in a forgotten corner of a forgotten kingdom, a small village was tucked away in the shadow of a great mountain. The village saw neither peddler nor tax collector, so far away from the rest of the kingdom were they situated, and over time, the mapmakers and historians forgot it even existed. The village didn’t have a name, people just called it “The Village”. Because, honestly, what other village was there? They had similarly creative names for the mountain and the forest. The people lived a simple but happy life, away from news from the outside world. They raised goats and grew a remarkable variety of potato – and cared for little else.

It was here that Jens was born to a pair of happy parents. He grew to adulthood never questioning their way of life, happy with his dinners of goat cheese and potato soup. He had many friends among the other village youths – though there were only a handful. His best friend was the lovely Elise, a girl with rich chestnut hair to her waist and eyes the color of a frozen pond. Almost from birth, the two were inseparable and got into every sort of mischief together. It was assumed by the entire village, and the kids themselves, that they would eventually be married.

One autumn day, Jens and Elise climbed the mountain behind the village a ways to a secret spot where they had been building a cottage together, very slowly. The place had three walls, no door, 3/4 of of a roof, and an empty window frame overlooking the valley below. After their climb, they didn’t feel much like building. It was often this way, which is why the place was taking so long to put together. They would escape to their cottage two or three times a week and might put in an hour’s work one of those trips. Mostly, they just enjoyed the view and the quiet away from the bustle of the village below.
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