Category Archives: Short Shorts

Sorry, Father

Another response to a prompt on Writer’s Digest that I could not post. I did try deleting a few words that might have tripped up the filter, but to no avail, so they have been restored in this version.

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It was a simple plan. 1) Get born of a virgin. 2) Start a new major religion. 3) Be martyred in the hands of a figuratively-rabid crowd at a rally for a literally-rabid demagogue. All I had to do was take the stage and drone on about love, peace, interracial reproduction, and pansexuality, and “the people” would do the rest.

The cheeseburger was not in the Divine Plan.

We arrived about an hour early, not having known that in Portland, Oregon, public transportation actually ran on time. I told my disciples to spread out through the crowd at the Convention Center, ready to agitate and be martyred with me.

I looked for a place to have lunch.

Really, I was ready for my sacrifice. I didn’t have the kind of doubt that had bedeviled my siblings and all those prophets that Father had sent to this world. I had no attachment to this world, like those who had chosen to become cult leaders instead.

But I was going to miss cheeseburgers. They don’t have cheeseburgers in Heaven.

I headed toward Murder Burger at the food court. They didn’t have a line, and surely they had cheeseburgers.

I was greeted with, “Welcome, Friend! Have you eaten here before?”

I sighed. This was one of those over-pretentious hipster joints. “No.”

The “friend” handed me an iPad. “Here is your freedom of choice. If you flick…”

“Whoa!” The phrase “peanut butter” had caught my eye. This infuriated me. Not only did my soon-to-be-literally-sainted mother have peanut allergies. So did many of my disciples, and we had a strict No-Peanut Doctrine. “Peanuts?”

“Of course!” He grinned proudly. “Sourced from our founder’s family farm in…”

“Don’t you know peanuts kill people?”

“Oh, no, these are organically grown.”

I rolled my eyes, and flipped through the menu, becoming increasingly confused. Where was the cheeseburger? “Can I get a cheeseburger without it?”

“Ummm… no, it’s in our grass-fed…”

“There are peanuts in your cheeseburgers?”

“Well, we don’t have ‘cheeseburgers’. You can add your choice of goat brie, walnut chevre, and…”

“Walnuts???” Now I was filling up with Wrath.

“Why, yes, they are…”

“Look, all I want is a cheeseburger! You hipsters have ruined beer! And salami! And pizza! And now you are ruining cheeseburgers?”

“But, Friend…”

“Don’t ‘friend’ me, you devil-spawn!” I spread my arms in anger. “You are the ones who are destroying all that is Good and Right in Creation! This madness must stop! You and your pork-belly pastrami!!! You all be gone to Hell!!!”

The thing about angels is that they kinda’ just do what you tell them. By the time I realized what I had done, it was too late, and I was standing in the rubble of the Convention Center. Tens of thousands of attendees, all dead.

The cops came incredibly quickly, and whisked me away to the nearest Black Site.

Sorry, Father.

Sorry, Mom; I thought you’d be sainted for sure.

The Polyhedronoids Are Coming

Long ago, in our galaxy, on a temperate planet orbiting a modest star, a civilization arose. This was not the first civilization in our galaxy. Not by far. And ours was not the first galaxy to have a planet on which a civilization arose. Not by far. But this was the first of its kind in a way. Like many other civilizations, this civilization gave rise to more civilizations, and within a few thousand years the planet was thoroughly covered with civilized societies, large and small. Like many other civilizations, these civilizations waged terrible wars against each other, while struggling to maintain peace within themselves. Most civilizations in the universe, they come to a point where they realize they can kill off millions and destroy entire civilizations, and they begin to choose peace over warfare. Most civilizations in the universe, they come to a point where they realize they can kill off the entire planet, and they double down on peace, and do their best to eschew warfare. Not on this one planet. Somehow—and we don’t know what exactly happened, because all we have now are very scant archeological remnants—the civilizations on this planet chose to wage a war to end all wars, and they succeeded, by destroying not only all of the civilizations, but also most of the advanced life forms on the planet, through irradiation, climate change, and geological instability, which repeatedly churned up more and more radioactive isotopes from deep in the planet’s mantle.

Some advanced life forms did survive this catastrophe, including handfuls of the species that had destroyed the planet, in fortuitous shelters here and there. But, not for long. Advanced life forms need some degree of stability and/or regularity in their environments to survive. This planet could not provide that anymore, except in very small pockets for short periods of time. Radiation also made it difficult to pass on useful genetic innovations to the next generation. Most of the advanced life forms went extinct entirely. A few did survive, by devolving into single-celled organisms, when their circulatory cells found pockets of favorable conditions in which they could survive and reproduce.

One of these single-celled descendants—possibly of the formerly-civilized species—happened to mutate a gene that synthesized a silicon-boron compound that could protect the cells from radiation. This increased their chance of survival greatly, and other genetic innovations followed, such as the ability to harvest energy from electromagnetic radiation, and the organization of the compound into geometric shapes in which a small colony of cells could survive sudden changes in their environment, including complete desiccation, vacuum, and high heat. The most successful of these cells had a sixty-vertex shell, about 2 centimeters in diameter. Being descendants of intelligent species, these colonies developed the ability to move their shells in a rolling motion, and the ability to detect and move toward favorable conditions for reproduction. When such conditions were found, the shell would burst, releasing the individual cells of the colony, each of which had to very quickly and efficiently form a colony of its own, before the favorable condition dissipated again. Once the geology of the planet stabilized, these colonies were able to proliferate.

Over millions of years, these polyhedronoids came to cover the entire planet. Because all the essential ingredients of life they encountered became encapsulated in the shells, the planet’s crust was slowly depleted of these elements. Every time a few liters of organic matter chanced to pool somewhere, the polyhedronoids would descend upon the pool and almost instantly devour it, before any other life form had the time to give it a go. Eventually, there was no life left on this planet but the polyhedronoids, encapsulated in their shells, waiting for the next favorable condition, which would never again form on this planet.

As the star which the planet orbited, over a billion years or so, began to overheat, the planet lost its atmosphere, and the geological upheavals began anew. Being light for their size due to dessication, the dormant polyhedronoids were churned up off the planet’s surface, and carried into space by stallar winds, scattering throughout our galaxy. Billions upon trillions of them were released, and they traveled at incredible speeds across space. A few of them here and there found a planet on which there was a favorable condition, and there they did what they had done in their home planet, sucking up all ingredients of life in very short order. Even planets with advanced civilizations, like ours, were powerless against these mindlessly efficient, voracious invaders. After a couple of billion years, there was not a single planet left in our galaxy that could support life.

Now quadrillions and quintillions of these polyhedronoids are leaving our galaxy, and heading to others. We fear that they have acquired the ability to steer themselves in space, and some—a few trillion—are heading for your galaxy.

The planets on the edge of your galaxy that faces our galaxy, like your planet, of course, will be the first to meet these unwelcome guests. And your planet’s condition is very much favorable for the polyhedronoids.

Your only recourse is to destroy your planet before the polyhedronoids arrive. That is the only way you can help save life on your galaxy, although, we fear, this will only delay the inevitable.

We wish you luck.

“Harry Potter Comes To Your House”

Another entry for Writer’s Digest writing prompt.

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(I’ve changed it to when they are adults.)

“So, it must be quite awkward for you,” said Father. I held my breath.

Harry didn’t see what was coming. “Sorry?”

My father took another bite of pudding, and immediately realized his mistake. He held up a finger while he finished the bite. “Being named, you know, like the famous…”

Harry still didn’t get it.

Mother did. She decided to intervene. “Dear, could you pass me the…”

“Oh! Ah. Here.” At least Father was able to read her mind. And easily lost his train of thought. His mind was a wrecking yard of old train cars still carrying their precious unfinished thoughts.

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“This is the thing…” Harry held it out.

I jumped back. No way. There was no way. “No way, Harry. No. Way.”

“It’s all broken up now. It’s not a Horcrux anymore.”

“I don’t care. I’m not letting that anywhere near me.” Just to make the point, I stepped further away from him.

“Oh…” Harry looked quite crestfallen. Disappointed. Rejected.

Like the way I felt when he had rejected me. “If it’s really that harmless, why don’t you just keep it? Hang it on your wall or something. You know, like a trophy. Or give it to Ron. He’s the one who…”

“Yeah, well, he definitely doesn’t want it.”

“Then why me?”

Harry blushed.

I had no idea what that meant. All I had were some wild guesses. His b&*$@ wife probably thought I was dispensable. Or harmless. Or both. Just didn’t want such a dirty thing in their house, with a baby coming. Can’t just recycle the Dark Lord’s old junk. What could she do with it? I know—give it to the slut who’s always hated her.

Better yet, Harry thought I was dispensable. Persuadable. Bored with my menial job and wanted something “special” from the “special” guy who…

“Honestly, because I’ve asked everyone else.”

“What?”

“You’re the last person I wanted to ask… and now, literally, you are the last person I’m asking.”

I frowned. What did he mean?

“I can’t keep it. I know… It’s just too tempting. It still…”

My frown deepened even as I started to understand. There was a rumor that What’s-his-name had imbued it with a lot more magic before deciding to use it as a Horcrux.

“I should not be near this thing. None of the people who know Dark Magic should be near it, and you are the last person I know who doesn’t know any Dark Magic. And…”

“And yet you don’t want any harm to come to me.”

Harry smiled thinly, and nodded. “I… I did like you.”

“Bullshit.” He was telling the truth, however.

“I mean, I liked you a lot. I’m so sorry… I wasn’t turning you down. I was just too shy…”

I took the locket. “Bullshit.” I believed him.

“…”

“Is it gonna try to kill me?”

I put it around my neck, and Harry flinched. He wasn’t sure.

Writer

Another prompted writing that I don’t seem to be able to post on Writer’s Digest.


I’m thankful I’m a writer because, otherwise, these cocktail parties would be horrifyingly dull. When Jim and I walk in, and someone introduces me as, “This is Nolan; he’s a writer,” the room suddenly lights up, and all these dull business executives and their dull spouses have something quite a bit less dull to talk about. Jim is a writer, too, of course, but he writes things like reports, executive summaries, and research notes. He is quite good at it, and so are many of his fellow MBAs. But, I’m a bona fide published novelist, and that’s a lot more interesting than annual reports.

The truth is, so many of the MBAs are married to aspiring writers, and so many of the MBAs themselves have at one point in their lives been aspiring writers, their dreams dashed by life circumstances, parental pressure, and unfortunate lack of talent.

The truth is, I have an MBA, too.

“So, a novelist, eh?” said the new guy, whose name I’d already forgotten.

“Not just a novelist. An up-and-coming gay novelist,” said someone’s wife.

I’d rather think that I’ve already arrived, but whatever. “Except I only write about straight people.”

That always baffles them for a moment.

“Their lives are so much more interesting, you see,” I quipped for the hundredth time. Usually, people respond with something like, “What makes you say that?” or, “Surely, that can’t be true!” or, “I have a gay sister.”

This time, the new guy said something new, “Well, it’s because our lives are so dull, that we have to spice it up with things. Don’t you think so, honey?”

His wife didn’t nod. The other wife nodded. Actually, I think she is the colleague, and her husband is the wife. Whatever. He nodded, too. The new guy’s wife’s lips were tightly sealed, and they quivered a little.

The new guy continued, “I have a sister who is gay, and she has this all-gay all-fabulous life with her all-gay friends, and they look like they are doing all sorts of interesting all-gay things, but it’s actually quite boring and predictable, you know, deep down. It’s us seemingly straitlaced people who are into…” Finally catching the expression on his wife’s face, he stopped himself. “… Interesting… things… that novelists write about.”

I decided to help him out. “That’s what keeps me employed,” I said with a thick “gay accent”, which didn’t quite come out right. It was not my native language.

“We’re happy to be of service,” said the new guy with a sinister smile, back to his drunken, inconsiderate self.

The truth is, I only write books about gender-less alien races. If any of these dull people would bother to read my book… Actually, no, I’d rather they didn’t, because then I wouldn’t be able to joke about what I write. It’s not like the royalty check’s gonna be any bigger because an MBA buys a book.

Remembrance of Me

This was written for the Plotto contest week 3 at TinHouse.com. I haven’t written one for week 4, yet…

I’ve also posted an entry for the Writer’s Digest prompts. This week’s topic is “Mystery Cookie.”


“There’s your appointment… OK. All checked in… So… have you seen Remembrance of Me?”

Jonah sneered at the receptionist. Remembrance of Me was a new movie based on a novella that Jonah had written two decades ago. It had been optioned soon after publication, but a successful lawsuit by someone claiming to be the subject of the story—which was complete nonsense—had killed the project and plunged Jonah into heroin addiction, and, here he was, checking in at the methadone clinic for his weekly appointment. The movie concept somehow had been resurrected, but Jonah had absolutely no rights to it anymore.

The receptionist was still waiting for his answer, but, not getting one, gave up. “She’ll be right with you.”


The campaign volunteer was more than happy to give him a button. “Are you registered to vote?”

“Yup,” Jonah lied, contemplating where on his vest to put the button. There were already dozens of buttons there, and Jonah took care not to let any of them overlap. He decided to take off the button for John Edwards, and put the new button in its place. He handed over the old button. “You guys recycle?”

She took it cheerfully. “Sure! And, are you registered in Marion County?”

“No…” His mind clouded over for a second. “I mean… yes.”

“We have some petitions…” She reached for the clipboards behind her.

Jonah left.


The water pipes at the shelter had burst, which meant everyone was turned away. Jonah hated the shelter crowd, and doubly hated walking with the crowd.

“Hey, look! You saw Remembrance of Me, right?” someone asked.

“No!” said Jonah emphatically, but then realized that the question was not directed at him. The snicker that followed, he was sure, was directed at him, but then that’s what his heroin addiction told him; wasn’t that what his counselor would say?

So, he obeyed his heroin addiction that night.


The man who was leaving the restroom as Jonah entered almost pointed at him. That was for sure. But, some vague sense of decorum made him realize that it was best not to do that. Or to say what he was going to say.

Jonah growled at him anyway.

As usual, he did his best not to look at his own reflection behind the sink. Unfortunately, the mirror was very big, very bright, and very enticing. Jonah did his best to resist, and focused on washing the grime off his glasses, but, the act of putting the glasses back on made him look.

And there he was. He thus realized why everyone kept mentioning the new movie, without knowing who he was. The meticulously arranged buttons on his vest, his beard, his glasses, his baldness… he looked exactly the way he had described the main character in his book. Somehow, over the last several homeless years, he had subconsciously made himself over to look like that character.

Jonah scoffed, walked out, and never gave it any more thought.

The Hut

This was written for the Plotto contest week 2 at TinHouse.com. It takes place in a setting for a planned-but-not-yet-written book.


Kshtet surveyed the interior of the hut yet again. After the massacre, the village had been burned down, but many of the huts had survived, some standing alone, some in clumps of several or dozens, by the miracle of Gods…

No, by the miracle of One-God. Despite years of devotion to the words of One-Prophet, old linguistic habits died hard.

And despite years of that burning, heart-felt emotion… Emissary had called this feeling ‘Faith’, but Kshtet knew a better name: ‘Love’. The heart was not the only place where Kshtet had felt this feeling. Love for One-God, for sure. Love for One-Prophet, for sure. But, really, Love for Emissary.

The hut was quite well provisioned. All the food that spoil had spoiled, but there was plenty that do not and so had not. All the necessary tools of cooking, hunting, and cultivating were still there, too primitive for Forces to pillage. Even present were some weapons, primitive and rudimentary, but still capable of killing. Kshtet felt the weight of the peasant-claw in both hands. Just the right weight and just the right length. Sharpened with care.

The battle hadn’t been lost because the peasant-claws had not been sharpened with care. Neither had Believers of One-God been not faithful enough. Even if Kshtet’s faith, personally, might have been misplaced, Forces were not nearly as devoted… and were even more misplaced in their faith, of course. The battle had been lost, instead, because there were to be many more battles, and in the struggle was Faith, and Salvation.

Kshtet felt that heart-felt longing again. The only worthwhile Salvation would entail a reunion with Emissary, in life or in death. And reunion was one promise that Emissary had made. Kshtet just had to wait, and Emissary would arrive.


After rummaging around the other huts, and confirming that there were no other occupants in the village, Kshtet returned with some prize finds. Four unripe melons, and another one that was just about perfectly ripe. Dried meats. Lard-cheese. Fresh pelent leaves still growing in the ground. Some spices, including sep, putii, and knn, the spices of Three Gods, which the devotees of One-God used mixed together, for the three gods were all One-God.

Kshtet set the table for two, and prepared a Petap meal, the way that Parent had taught Kshtet over many years. Another act of defiance, since today was not Petap, and Forces forbade Petap meals on any other day. With the spices defiantly mixed together.

Perhaps Emissary would find this hut, by some miracle, or drawn by the scent of the spices, the scent that said ‘home for the holidays’ to all weary travelers. And there would be a feast. And reunion.

Kshtet smiled.

Phone 2

I’ve started writing stories with prompts from Writer’s Digest. This week’s prompt is “Smartphoney.” I’ve already posted one story there.


“In the old days, we had these things called ‘pick-up coils’. Stick it on the side of the phone and…”

“Shhh. Just get it back, Nolan,” barked Barbara through the in-ear comm.

Nolan didn’t really understand why they had to use this super-expensive technology. As it happened, the suspect had made the incriminating calls in his own office, and it would have been better to plant a cheap, disposable bug. But, no, they had to swap his phone with a replica, connect the real phone to a device that replicated his hand gestures and transmitted the screen images, which meant that the tech people wanted the super-expensive replica back.

He did like the pick-pocketing part of this investigation. His life had turned around thirty years ago when he had been caught snatching the wallet of an off-duty…

The elevator door opened. “OK, here we go.” Nolan walked into the executive suite, and smiled his winning smile at the assistant.

“Hey, Mr. Iwu,” the assistant greeted him with a flirty smile. “He’s expecting you.”

The security guard nodded and opened the door to the office.

“Thank you, Mr. Han.” Nolan flirted back as he entered. “And, thank you, Mr. Ralston.”

The guard nodded resolutely.

Nolan was surprised to see that the suspect was not at his desk. He was not anywhere in his office. “Mr. Beigi? Are you here?” The executive bathroom door was open halfway, and the light was on. Nolan moved closer and peered in. “Mr. Beigi?” He was not in there.

Turning back, Nolan was surprised to find the suspect sprawled on the floor by the desk. He ran over, and found a pool of blood by the head. He crouched down to take a closer look. There was a bullet entry wound. Probably a 9mm, and he saw the gun as soon he made this guess. “Shit!”

“What’s the matter?” Barbara asked.

“He’s dead.”

“Get the phone.”

“You’re cold, man,” Nolan acknowledged, and, as he did so, found the replica in the suspect’s hand. He picked it up, and reached for the real phone in his inside coat pocket, still mated to the replicator.

“Freeze!” said the authoritative voice of the security guard.

Nolan knew not to get his hand out of his pocket. He slowly turned his head around to look at the guard. “Hey, look…”

“I said, ‘freeze’!” He was visibly nervous. He wasn’t sure if he wanted Nolan to move his hands where they could be seen or keep them where they were.

“Look, I’m a Federal agent. If you let me…”

“Shut up!” He wasn’t listening.

“Let me just get my…”

The barrel of the .45 was now shaking. Tense. Nervous. Frightened. “Another word, and I shoot!

“OK! But…”

A shot rang out. Nolan had failed to appreciate how much of a threat he would appear to have been in the surveillance footage.

“Nolan? Nolan? What the…” Barbara’s voice faded away.

Couponing 3

I’ve started writing stories with prompts from Writer’s Digest. This week’s prompt is “Coupon Cutter.” I’ve already posted two stories there, and seem to have reached a limit, so I’m posting the third one here.


That was almost five years ago. I was the villain in the tale, with my Khloé-Kardashian good looks and bitch-wannabe attitude, rubbing the loser’s nose in shit every time I won, Joker-worthy smug grin always on my façade. My woefully inadequate challenger had the Nell-Jones pixie face and the feistiness of Hetty Lange, painfully shy and humble but formidable and beloved by fans and foes, her cocker-spaniel-like super-supportive husband always by her side at the starting line and the finish line.

There was not a single shred of doubt in my mind that I was going to win. And I knew I had clinched it when I saw her coming out of the Jo-Ann’s with three foam boards under her arm. Forty percent off was not going to get her nothing when Elmer’s three-packs sold for less than that at Staples. Rookie mistake.

And here I am, lying in bed, touching the tattoo of her name on the arm of that same super-supportive cocker spaniel, sound asleep.

“Please, don’t do that.” He is ticklish there. Something about an infection and scars.

“Sorry.”

He turns around, still sound asleep… appearing still sound asleep, with his tender, loving, devoted eyes closed slumberingly. “You’re thinking about her again, aren’t you?”

I try to hide my tears that he cannot see by blinking.

“It was not your fault.”

I don’t believe that. “I know.”