Storytime October 2017

A robot looks into a mirror

The Cloud

A computer glitch, she thought.

A file that came with the machine, a crystal-clear something to show off the display, or a piece of bloat-ware fluff that never got erased, and wound up being sucked up into the cloud with the video of her family and the pictures of their vacation.

She changed her password.

And assured herself that the video was a fluke.

Afterward, she sat and stared at the list of files in her cloud drive, and tried to remember what she’d been looking for in the first place. She made herself a cup of coffee, and told herself she was more shaken than she had any right to be. A file she didn’t remember. She’d been using the computer for nearly five years.

She watched the video again.

There was something familiar about the old house, about the cast-iron fence that surrounded it. She watched the camera move slowly down the sidewalk outside the house, sliding past each bar of the fence in slow-motion. So steady the camera might have been moving on wheels. The photographer got to the corner, and turned, without moving the camera off the fence. In the background, the front of the house came into view.

An old house.

Just an old house.

Maybe, it was stock footage from one of the games her kids played.

She paused the film, and looked again. She should know the house from somewhere. From an old movie or a painting.

A trace of recognition.

She knew the house from a family vacation a few years before.

The video wasn’t hers, but she had been to the house. She’d parked where the video began. She’d stopped just inside the fence, and snuck a few seeds off one of the plants in the garden. At the time, she’d had every intention of planting them, but they’d disappeared along the way. How long had it been? Years. Five, six at least.

In the video, the plant’s flowers were fading, and the leaves from the trees around it fluttered free around the sidewalk.

Whoever had taken the video had been there at the same time of year. Maybe on the same day. Whoever they were, they’d followed the fence into the garden, and paused to take note of the dying flower she had stolen.

She fought off a chill, and reminded herself it was coincidence. Two cameras, maybe on the same network, taking video in the same time and the same place. Maybe the video just got uploaded to the wrong place. She’d heard stories about things like that happening. The odds were astronomical, but it was still a coincidence.

She pushed play, and let the video run.

The camera moved slowly up the sidewalk to the house where the writer, or artist, or actor had lived their childhood years.

She should remember why they went there, but she did not. A roadside-sign, maybe. Maybe her husband or one of the boys knew who the museum was for.

In the video, the camera turned, and focused on an upstairs window in the house. It zoomed in slowly, and for just a second, she could see the curtains move.

Cold tingles ran up her spine. She paused the video again, and zoomed in on that single frame, where she thought she could see a face in the window.

She clicked closer and closer, until the window was the only thing on her computer display, and she could see the petunias on the antique curtains.

A little boy in the window—barely tall enough to see out.

She clicked closer, until she could see the cartoon mouse on his sweatshirt, and the impossible cowlick in his fine, blond hair. The grin that always made him look like he was up to something.

Her youngest son, peering back at her from another tourist’s video.

She laughed until her sides hurt. Spooked over nothing.

“Mommy?”

She slammed the computer shut, took a gulping breath, and pulled herself together. The boy would have nightmares, if she told him the story. Even—she knew—if it ended so ridiculously.

“Mommy, what are you doing?”

“Nothing. Just watching some funny videos.” She chuckled, again, and stood up.

When she turned, he was grinning, almost as if he understood the joke. She smoothed his cowlick, and kneeled down to talk to him. “I can’t believe you’re getting so big.”

 

Be sure to stop by some of the other sites on the StoryTime Blog Hop.

You are here—> The Cloud, by Karen Lynn

<a href=”http://wp.barbaralund.com/storytime-blog-hop-data-corruption/” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”> Data Corruption, by Barbara Lund </a>

<a href=”https://www.kamibataya.com/blog/2017/10/24/storytime-blog-hop-wish-granted/” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”> Wish Granted, by Kami Bataya </a>

<a href=”http://www.jqrose.com/2017/10/storytime-blog-hop-witch-of-wall-street.html” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”> The Witch of Wall Street, by J. Q. Rose </a>

<a href=”http://jlennidornerblog.what-are-th…grim-reapers-on-a-field-trip-flashfiction-sff” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>#StorytimeBloghop Grim Reapers on a Field Trip #FlashFiction #SFF, byJ Lenni Dorner </a>

<a href=”http://billbushauthor.com/unwelcome-visitors/” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”> Unwelcome Vistors, by Bill Bush </a>

<a href=”http://www.katharinagerlach.com/posts/bloghop/” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”> A Writer’s Morning, by Katharina Gerlach </a>

<a href=” https://ericamadeathing.wordpress.com/2017/10/25/october-storytime-bloghop” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”> Unverified, by Erica Damon </a>

<a href=”https://www.junetakey.com/titos-max-chris-makowski-storytime-october-25th-2017/ ‎” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>Tito’s to the Max, by Chris Makowski</a>

<a href=”https://www.junetakey.com/boon-juneta-key-storytime-blog-hop-october-25-2017/” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>The Boon, by Juneta Key</a>

<a href=”http://www.ravenofiernan.net/posts/blog-hop-2/” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”> Recommended Reading, @ Raven O’Fiernan </a>

<a href=”http://www.elizabethmccleary.com/sanctuary-blog-hop-october-2017/” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>Sanctuary, by Elizabeth McCleary </a>

<a href=”htttp://inkmapsandmacarons.com/en/till-death-us” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”> Till Death Us, by Fanni Sütő </a>

The Past Tastes Better

The Past Tastes Better

Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, my job is nothing. Forty or fifty years, or in rare cases, seventy, but never much more. A quick nip in time, back to some church dinner or Bar Mitzvah to pick up gramma’s secret recipe—whatever it happened to be—and back to collect the check. Big checks, and bigger tips. Tipping assuages the guilt of asking someone to risk being atomized—and plenty of time to study.

MIT doesn’t let just anyone play with their toys, after all.

Not that they know.

If anybody asks, I’m a waiter.

I’d been a waiter for over a year before I got the other kind of request.

The woman looked at me for a long time before she said anything. Something not quite right about her clothes, as if she were trying to hid who she was, and where she came from. Her baggy t-shirt advertised a decade-old Golden Gophers victory, and her khakhi pants had a bargain-basement droop.

“I would like to buy two tacos,” she said. She enunciated each word, practiced, and vaguely reminiscent of the old Mid-Atlantic accent. I still didn’t know where she was from, but not Minnesota.

“Go away.” I turned another page in my nondescript magazine and smiled at a comic strip that wasn’t funny. “Can’t you see we’re closed?”

She stood firm. “Please? They’re for my pet parakeet. He’s dying.”

That was the code. I leaned over the counter to see if anyone was watching. “Oh. All right. Come around back.”

I waited until I heard a knock, and jerked the door open. “You know what I do?”

She nodded. “And?”

“I need you to go to twenty-seven forty-two.”

For just a second, I thought the numbers were coordinates. Then, I choked. “That’s in the future,” I said. “It’s–”

“Nearly six hundred years from now.” She watched my face, my arms, maybe even my legs. “You do … do that, don’t you?”

“Time travel.” I nodded.

“How much?”

“Every couple of weeks.” I really thought that was what she meant, and I really thought that was the stupidest thing I’d ever said in my life.

“How much money?” She asked.

“I can’t do it. The future–”

“The distant future,” she corrected me.

“It’s tricky. I can’t know where I’ll be in the future.”

“You’ll be dead.”

“Excuse me?”

“Six hundred years from now, you’ll be dead. It’s not like you’re going to run into your future self and ignite the atmosphere,” she said. “Just stay out of cemeteries, and you’ll be fine.”

I considered, as I always did, when that kind of an offer came up. A quick peek at the future news could pay off. “It’s complicated.”

“You believe it, don’t you?”

I sighed. Explaining the science to her wasn’t worth it, and she wouldn’t agree with me, regardless. Until you’ve seen it, you’ll never understand how vast and timeless a single grain of sand can be. “There isn’t enough money in the world to make me go to the future,” I said. “Too many variables.”

“The Grandfather Paradox?”

No, she didn’t understand what she was saying, but there it was. My out. I made my next nod an apology. “So, you understand,” I said.

She smiled back at me. “Of course, I do.” She shifted her weight, and got up. I was relieved. She wasn’t going to be a problem. “I’m sorry I wasted your time,” she said.

I shrugged it off. I didn’t need the job. I didn’t need any job. That made it easier to say no. “If you think of anything else you need,” I said. “If it’s within our parameters…”

“Oh, I’ll call you.” A wistful sigh, and I still felt guilty for saying no. She was out the door, and headed back to wherever she came from before I could say anything else.

I followed her into the rain, just to make sure she got back to her car alright. Nobody ever looks for a borrowed quantum distortion generator in a rough neighborhood, but I was uneasy about letting her walk alone. “Hey. Let me walk you to your car.”

She walked a little faster. “I don’t have a car.”

“You live near here? I’ll walk you home. It’s dark.”

She didn’t respond, and she didn’t look at me again. She got to the dead end of the road, and just stood there, with the wind and rain soaking her through.

“You mean, you’re homeless?” People did camp in that park. I hadn’t guessed. I hadn’t even offered her a sandwich. “What could you possibly want in twenty-seven forty-two? I mean–”

“Nothing.” She paced without looking at me. “I don’t want anything. I got what I came for.”

I debated how her mind was. Not good, if she was standing in that neighborhood, in the rain at night. But she got the pass code somewhere, and I tried again. “I’ll call some one. Want a sandwich? I’ll try not to burn the peanut butter.”

“It’s recursive,” she said.

Maybe she wasn’t talking to me. “I don’t understand,” I said. “Lets go somewhere warm.”

“It’s not a paradox. It’s recursive.” She was talking to me, and she wasn’t, and maybe she didn’t remember I was even there. She chewed her lower lip, and thought hard. “The whole thing. Time travel. The whole species. Maybe even the whole planet. It’s recursive.”

I gave her a stern smile. “You never told me what you wanted,” I said.

“It’s okay, Grandpa. I got what I came for.” She took something out of her pocket, and looked at it for just a second. “You get there, eventually.”

“I get where?”

She pressed a button, and disappeared into the blue crackle of distorted time.

Be sure you visit the other blogs on the hop for more short fiction.

You are Here—>The Past Tastes Better by Karen Lynn

Revealing Space by Barbara Lund

The Rose Tender by Raven O’Fiernan

The Last Sleeping Beauty by Tamara Ruth

Freeman byElizabeth McCleary

Hell’s Play by Juneta Key

The Token by Eli Winfield

Moshe by Chris Makowski

To The Moon And Beyond, by Fanni Sütő

Surprise, by Katharinia Gerlach

In A Picture by Erica Damon

StoryTime Blog Hop: Your Invitation

We’re a little less than a month out from the next StoryTime Blog Hop, and I’m actually getting the invitation out in time that everyone has an actual opportunity to write a short story. The deadline for links is July 20, this time around, and the Fabulous Juneta Key will be hosting (again. Because she’s amazing.)

StoryTime is a Speculative Fiction blog hop, so bring your Science Fiction, Fantasy, and anything else that has speculative elements, and join us.

The hop features speculative short stories, usually under 1000 words with a G or PG rating (No graphic sex or violence, and try to avoid the dirty filthy language you hear around here.) It is not specifically oriented toward children, although children’s stories are welcome and encouraged.

If you want examples of stories from previous hops, I have a (dismally out of date) list of links.

I hope you’ll join us as a writer, but if not, be sure to come back and read the stories on the 26th of July.

True Self

I don’t know why I took the pills.

It wasn’t smart. Just a moment of try-anything desperation, and a gulp of water, and two slightly luminous capsules the size of castor beans went sliding down my throat.

Half a second after I swallowed, I decided to put my finger down my throat. That was the sane thing. The only choice. Throw up. Throw up. THROW UP!

I wasn’t fast enough.

The room didn’t spin, and nothing went black. My vision didn’t even blur.

I was going to puke up those pills, and then, I was on the floor. The cold tile and the sound of lukewarm water still running in the sink. Yeah. I knew the old woman’s promises were lies. I probably knew the pills were a rip-off, too. After all, the damn things glowed like theater props in her hand, and nobody ever said what they were supposed to do. I was hoping for something—anything—but there I was, waking up. Painted horse tranquilizers. Maybe Nimbutal.

Six hundred dollars down the drain, all because some poverty stricken fortune teller reminded me of my grandmother.

I stayed where I was, and listened to the water run.

Thought about calling an ambulance.

But what was I going to say? Passed out for a while. No, I don’t know what I took. Feel better, now. Feel better than I have in a month. But, maybe check my blood pressure?

No.

I got to my feet, and brushed off my bathrobe.

The clock on the counter said a barely-believable number. Time had passed, and lots of it.

If it was already evening, that was bad.

It wasn’t evening. The grinding progress of a garbage truck insisted it was morning.

And that meant I’d been unconscious for at least an entire day.

I’d have to be at work in a few hours, and for the first time in nine years, I wasn’t ready. The project I was working on wasn’t finished—not unless the pills had magical properties even the fortuneteller hadn’t predicted—and the company was relying on me. Failure was—

Not an option.

It was inevitable.

I was going to be fired, and the truth… Maybe the pills were working. Maybe they were–as advertised—resurrecting my true self.

Resurrecting? It had been so long I couldn’t remember for sure what my true self had been in the first place. I know people asked, once… what do you want to be when you grow up, little girl?

And I answered.

I must have answered.

But what I said?

I don’t remember.

My true self. Maybe I would have known, when I was eleven, and maybe… if I could remember… maybe knowing my true self would be enough to make me happy, or at least, to let me know where to look for happy.

I splashed some water on my face, and reached for a towel.

I couldn’t call in hung-over. I’d have to pull it together and make it through the day. I was a grown-up person, with a grown-up job, and after all, not everybody gets to be an astronaut when they grow up. Glowing pills. What was I thinking? I’d never go back to believing I could be a rock star, or a fire woman, or a sea captain. Whatever thing it was, I’d forgotten it for a reason. And a pirate? Why not just dream of being a serial killer? The only difference is a hat.

I threw the towel in the hamper.

Then, I looked in the mirror, and stopped breathing.

I leaned in to look at my own face—at my true self, a voice in the back of my head repeated, not quite mocking— just to be sure I wasn’t leaving for work with the imprint of a shoe or a wrist-watch on my face. The mirror stared back at me.

And there was nothing there.

Nothing left of my true self.

So, there you have it. Something I whipped up for your entertainment. Let me know what you think, and be sure you beat the hell out of those share buttons.

Cemeteries and Science

Somewhere, in the Great American Prairie, on land that belonged to a town that no longer exists, you will find a small cemetery. Be sure you close the gates. You don’t want to chase the cows out, and the volunteer who mows doesn’t want to clean up after them.

Now and then, a new grave goes in–someone old enough and local enough to own a plot–but for the most part, you’re the only living person there. All the rest–the pioneers and cowboys, the homesteaders and farmers, even your own great-something-great grandfather, who used to deliver the mail a couple of times a month… they’re stories from before your time.

And if you went there often enough, you still know those stories by heart.

And you know the family names, of course. The families are still around. Mixed into bigger towns, more successful towns.

Seven children died, once. One after another, from whatever the disease was at the time. Typhoid, maybe. Cholera. Something we cure with antibiotics if modern water systems even let it through.

And their father had to bury each one, himself.

Carry the bodies out to the cemetery, tuck them into the ground, and cover them with dirt.

Their neighbors told the parents they had sinned, and judged harshly, as if they, themselves would be immune.

But, not quite sure, they made him bury his own children.

 

The Short Stories I Didn’t Intend to Write

I’m working on a short story. It’s the kind of thing that’s only very, very vaguely science-fiction, and it’s longer than most of the things I’ve done for the blog. It also has a very different tone.

It’s the kind of year when everything connects to everything else, whether you want it to, or not. Whether you expected it to, or not. I started out with a nice story about llamas eating ice cream, and I wound up with a story about immigrants. What I’m working on now started as a not-so-nice alternate future history… alternate future? Whatever you call it, when it’s a future talking about a history that is past in the future, but still future in the present? And that’s probably about the environment and pipelines.

Maybe if I wrote something unpleasant about politics, I’d wind up with something fanciful and delightful, involving talking frogs, and possibly a dancing unicorn. I don’t know.

Having just updated my progress report for the 52 week challenge, I realize that I am, in fact, only one short-story behind. (plus or minus some editing.) I feel much more behind than that. It is still very possible that I will manage to catch up.

So, I have short stories, and I’m beginning to think about looking for a home for them. I would like to pull in some writing credits–they’re always so shiny–and frankly, I’d like to get paid. So, I’m looking at things that look good on a resume (or query letter) and things that would let me into the professional associations of my dreams. (well, my ego. My dreams are much more interesting than that.)

I’ll post something, when I sell one. You don’t have to read that post; you’ll probably have heard me jumping up and down screaming, anyway. No matter where you live.

 

The Poisoner of Time

Story Time Blog Hop Logo

It was nearly midnight before the first fatal drops splattered from the rattling still.

The old woman checked the door, but she was alone. Her husband was long since in bed, the cat was locked safely in the cellar, and the most lethal poison in the world was gathering in the bottom of one of her grandmother’s rose tea cups. And her other self? The harried young woman she’d been all those years ago? She wouldn’t be there. That was certain. The old woman no longer remembered exactly where she had been that week, but somewhere else. A business trip, probably. There had been so many of those, and always, the promise was later… always, later…

The old woman scoffed, and adjusted the fire under the still.

Later. When? After she got pregnant, she’d worked even harder. A baby to support. A new house. A newer, safer car. They’d both worked harder, and they told each other they’d relax later. In time, when things would be better, and they’d all be secure. The baby was born, they hired a sitter, and kept working.

The baby grew, and changed, and said his first words. The sitter took video.

By then, she’d regretted all those days and nights she spent working.

The sitter went home. The baby got sick. The husband packed him into a warm car on a cold, winter night, and disappeared too fast down a too icy road.

And then, Time. Tick by tick, second by second, she moved further and further away from them. The love of her life—she’d always taken him for granted—and their child—more and more Time between them.

She learned to fight her way backward through time, like running the wrong way up an escalator. She could get close – now and then, she could see them on the other side of the years and decades.

And then, she slipped back. The currents carried her away again and again.

She was still young, when the first strange optimism entered her mind: Time separated them. Time, and only Time. And if Time could be destroyed… if she could end Time… or even just wound Him, there would be nothing left to keep them apart. She could be with her family again.

She plotted—how to reach Time, how to brew poison strong enough to kill Time, itself, how to sneak into the palaces of eternity unnoticed.

And after she made her plans, she’d waited longer. No one would suspect a gray old woman of carrying poison in her tea. No one would suspect a single thing.

She walked deliberately, so slowly, that at times, she believed she would die before she ever reached Time. Step by step, carefully… if she splashed—if she spilled a single drop–the poison that was brewed to kill an immortal could overcome a thousand, a million aging mortals like her.

She teetered down to the end of the corridor, pushed open the last door, and stepped inside the dimly lit room.

And then, there was Time.

He lay, half-exhausted on a feather bed. Slender, almost delicate, though the lithe muscles in his legs and back suggested a runner’s strength.

He looked—she thought, just for a moment—like her own baby might have looked at twenty or twenty-five, if he had lived long enough to grow so tall and strong.

She pushed the thought out of her mind. The poison trembled in her cup: another second longer, and her own strength might vanish; she could collapse and spill the poison on herself. She inhaled, lifted the cup, as if she were about to drink, and then flung the liquid, cup and all, across the empty space between them.

The poison splashed across Time’s back, and seared the flesh it touched; the cup bounced on the mattress, and then rolled over the edge. It fell fast, but, just before it should have hit the marble floor, it stopped falling. It stopped falling. Everything stopped.

In the motionless silence that followed, the old woman laughed; her enemy was dead. There wasn’t a second of Time between herself and… Her family, her husband, her baby… They were all in that one, single Now. Now was all… the teacup was floating in air. Not falling. There was no Time for anything to fall. Not anymore. Time was dead.

She laughed again.

Running footsteps on the floor behind her. A man or a god swept her out of the way. Before she could say anything, he rolled the corpse onto its back, and pounded on Time’s chest with his fists. He pressed his mouth to Time’s lips. A kiss, perhaps, or maybe resuscitation. She knew the effort wouldn’t work; the new god was already kneeling in her poison.

“Mortal, you fool!” He compressed Time’s chest again, and again, nothing. Nothing, and the teacup didn’t fall an inch. “You fool. Don’t you know what you’re made of? What they’re all made of?”

“Flimsy things, I know.” She took a step backward. “And yet, here you are. Take him, Death.”

“Death?” The god’s voice was thinner than before, and a cold sparkle In his eyes was already fading. He sank onto the pillows, and let his eyelids close. “No, woman. I wasn’t Death. I was Memory.”


The elegant room faded into white tile and florescent lights, and then, it slipped away all together.

She’d been somewhere else.

She knew she—

Somewhere… hadn’t she just been somewhere else?

She tried to get up. Tried to find someone she didn’t see. She couldn’t remember who.

And then, a bland young woman in a too-cheerful set of hospital scrubs was there beside her, coaxing her back into the chair she’d just left.

“That cup never broke,” the old woman said, and smiled. She knew that much, at least. That was the important part of the thing. “You know that old rose tea cup? The antique one? It–

“Your cup is perfectly safe,” the bland woman said, and patted her hand.

 

 

Be sure you visit the other writers in the StoryTime Blog Hop for more stories!

New Stork Inc. by Katharina Gerlach
The Thief & The Pocket Heart by Juneta Key
Hello Again! by J. Q. Rose
Reflected by Elizabeth McCleary
Veronica by Jessica Kruppa
Last Stop by Erica Damon
Jesse and Tyler by Bill Bush

The Christmas Invertebrate and Other Delusions

For my first 52 Week Challenge thing, I started writing a short story. By the time you read this, the short story will be finished, maybe edited and formatted, and I’ll be looking for a good home for it. If you know of anyone who’s looking to make a movie, give them my e-mail. Yup, I know it’s a long shot.

It’s a Christmas story, of all things.

Well, you know… Christmas on a spaceship. With aliens… or at least… Sorta… Christmas as celebrated by sentient invertebrates who learned about the holiday entirely through cheesy romance novels and the occasional television commercial.

No, I don’t know why.

Yes, I’ll seek professional help.

Editors are professionals, right?

I’m having fun with this one.

Getting Back to Work is Hard to Do

Why is it that good habits are so much easier to break than bad ones?

Let me lay it out for you.

My pattern is this:1.) Get into a good writing habit. 2.) Stop to revise. 3.) Really, really stop to revise. Farewell, new words. 4.)  Fail to make revision a measurable part of my routine. 5.) Try to figure out what happened to the good habit just broke into a million pieces.

Get into a good writing habit. I’m actually pretty good at that. When I’m working on those first-draft word counts, I’ll hit a thousand words or more a day. That’s a lot. In the course of a year, it can add up to more than a quarter of a million words.

Stop to revise.  Well… that seems pretty necessary. Especially for someone who’s been known to cram twenty-seven murder scenes or  five versions of the same proposal into one book.

Really, really stop to revise.  This is where things start going wrong. The word count drops off, and I don’t really land in the next project with any kind of wits about me.

And then… well, just exactly how do you measure revision goals? What do you do to make sure you do enough? And how do you keep track?  Pretty soon, I’m not writing new words, and I’m not revising, either. I don’t switch back and forth all that well.

And that’s it. Progress is slow–or maybe just not noticeable enough–and I feel like I’m not getting anywhere.

Right now, I’m in the revision stage. I would like to finish my novel. Finish-finish. High-shine polish finished. Elegance and refinement finished.

I keep looking for that perfect balance.

Maybe the short stories I’ve promised to write are it. Something I can finish in an afternoon when I’m not revising.

Maybe short stories will be just enough to prime the pump.

We’ll see.

Suggestions and advice welcome.

Today Is My Day!!!

For the last couple of years, I’ve participated in the Independent Bookworm Advent Calendar. It’s a literary countdown to Christmas, and every day, there’s a different short-story. I think it leans toward the Sci-Fi Fantasy end of the spectrum, but I’ve never really done the math.

Today is my day.

The door opened, and there I am. Me and my short story about a nose hair trimmer. If you subscribed to the newsletter at the beginning of the month, you also got my fabulous recipe for puppy poop cookies with flies. Yes, I know that’s disgusting. But it keeps the children busy, and it also has butterscotch and chocolate.

I got a real kick out of doing it, and it sounds like people are actually enjoying the story.

If you haven’t already, head over there and check out the calendar, and if nose hair trimmers aren’t to your taste, there are plenty of stories that don’t have them.

Let me know what you think.