April 27, 2012 — 283 words
By Tim Sevenhuysen
"Give us a Jitterdrive, and we'll make it worth your while," said Overard.
The curator twisted his moustache. "My while is quite worthy, I'm afraid."
"How worthy are we talking?"
"A fully functional Jitterdrive is easily worth half its weight in plastic."
"What!?" yelled Overard.
Milly realized she'd never really gotten a grasp of how much plastic was supposedly worth on Entulov 5, not in terms she actually understood. "That's a lot, then?" she said.
Overard ignored her, instead grabbing the edges of the curator's desk and leaning forward. "We'll give you 25,000 litres, not a drop more."
"You insult me," scoffed the curator.
"You deserve it," sneered Overard.
The curator wrinkled his nose. "The museum will accept 25,000 litres," he said, "and I will take an additional 5,000 for my personal account."
"Deal." The combatants shook hands, and the tension in the room instantly melted away into smiles.
"Pleasure doing business with you," said the curator.
"Likewise," said Overard. "I haven't had a good haggle in a while... Milly, you've got the cash, right?"
She did, but she wasn't sure how she felt about the fact that Overard had made that assumption. Still, they needed the engine... She made the transfers, and the curator directed them to pick up their new engine from a loading bay beneath the museum.
They returned to the ship, where Haglyn was disappointed to learn that she'd missed out on a negotiation. "Ex-army?" she sniffed. "I would've gone straight to threats and violence! Works wonders with those meatheads."
"Maybe it's a good thing you weren't there, then," said Milly, but Haglyn just winked knowingly and laughed to herself.
They directed Pelly to the loading bay.
April 26, 2012 — 1,820 words
By Letitia Coyne
You know me; I’m that obnoxious soul who keeps saying, ‘Screw the writing rules’. Every writer knows there are rules that we must OBEY. They are rules, rules, damn it. They exist so we can clearly demonstrate that the weight of educated opinion is with us when we choose to criticize.
Of course there are rules. Even I must relent at some point in the discussion, although I know good people with firm arguments who would say, ‘No, there is no need to relent. Ever. Creativity trumps literary fascism every time.’ But... I have to take a middle road when the choice is there. I argue the case of the Buddha: “Books [rules] are useful for finding your path. Once you have found your path, burn the books.”
In February of 2010, the UK Guardian asked some well known authors what were the most important rules for writing well. Some dug deep into their scholarly vaults and produced great wisdom on the points and counterpoints of language and expression. Like Elmore Leonard, who numbered among his recommendations:
But I read through and found those rules which I believe we should all keep to the fore as we labor through our creative worklife. These, I think, are essential and all aspiring writers should be caused to have them tattooed to their inner thigh in remembrance.
Many of these greats said READ. As many more said, DO NOT READ.
While Roddy Doyle said, “Do not place a photograph of your favourite author on your desk, especially if the author is one of the famous ones who committed suicide;” Colm Tóibín said, “If you have to read, to cheer yourself up read biographies of writers who went insane,” and “On Saturdays, you can watch an old Bergman film, preferably Persona or Autumn Sonata.” So who’s right?
There is only one rule which every writer suggested: Write. Writers write. There you go; the best advice money cannot buy. So off you shoot, then. Start writing.
For the full transcript and a more in depth discussion of the fine points of authorial skill - if you want to know which ‘how to’ manual they recommend; if you want to know the finer arts of metaphor use or non-use; if you seek greater guidance on polysyllabic proselytizing, then go to Ten rules for writing fiction: Part 1 and Part 2.
Then sit down and write.
Or you could put off that moment of decision indefinitely, and create a list or two of rules which every writer must know and share them here.
April 26, 2012 — 268 words
By Tim Sevenhuysen
Milly and Overard deliberated for a few minutes before making a decision.
"Equipping the Pelican with a forcefield or an EMP could be really helpful," said Milly, "but even then, we're not really going to win any space battles. Maybe we should try for a Jitterdrive, with the cloaking device."
"Makes sense," agreed Overard. "Now to see if there's one available..."
They wandered over to the Help Desk and asked to speak with the curator. The attendant directed them to an elevator that brought them to the underfloor of the floating structure. They found themselves in a lobby surrounded by offices with large, thick windows. Strategically placed glass floor panels allowed them to see the pitted, battle-scarred ground, a kilometre or more below.
The curator was a plump, rosy-cheeked man with a jovial moustache and fierce black eyes. He wore a military uniform with blindingly shiny buttons and plenty of swishing tassels. He greeted them with a casual salute. "What can I do for you, friends?"
"I'll get right to the point," said Overard. "We've got a crippled freighter in your docks that needs an engine."
The curator stroked his moustache. "For that you need a mechanic, not the director of a museum, don't you think?"
"We tried that," said Milly. "They, um... They didn't have anything that fit a Gyrian-made ship."
"Ah, proprietary connector types, eh?" The curator shook his head. "In the military, all our engines had universal adapters. But still, we are a museum, not a parts shop. Our engines are only for historical display."
"We thought you might say that," said Overard.
April 25, 2012 — 304 words
By Tim Sevenhuysen
Milly and Overard left Haglyn and the others at the ship and entered the museum. Milly was amazed by the high-soaring ceilings and intricate decorations. "This is the architecture they use to commemorate war?"
"Doesn't do much by to warn future generations, does it?" said Overard. "Let's check out the Space Tech section."
Most of the museum showcased the technology used in the Entulovians' most recent conflict. Enormous tanks and walkers loomed over the aisles, many with gaping holes blown through their armour. Overard said, "That's why Gortinawa seeds can do, in the right quantities."
Milly shuddered. She'd been carrying a bottleful of those in her hands!
Three spaceships were suspended from the ceiling in the corner, arranged in a close-quarters dogfight. Beneath them was a row of engines, each bearing an informational plaque.
"Bingo," said Overard.
"These can't still be functional..." said Milly. She read one plaque, which said, The Stubbard Ramjet generates a momentary forcefield during travel. It was used by daring pilots to turn their ships into projectiles.
"Actually," said Overard, "according to this brochure, it's Entulovian tradition to maintain historical technology. They treat their museums like armories."
"So they're always ready for the next fight?" Milly read another plaque: The Jitterdrive was designed for reconnaissance, and is virtually untrackable. Certain models generate cloaking fields. "Boy, this is some crazy tech."
"I know." Overard gestured to a big, red engine. "Listen to this: The Overact System requires higher than average spooling time, but it saw extensive use during the 22nd Tulov War because of its speed and the electromagnetic pulse it emits upon launch, which disables nearby electronics. Man, I'd love one of these."
"They all seem useful," agreed Milly. "But which one should we actually try to get?"
April 24, 2012 — 788 words
By Guest Author
by NL Cobb
In 2007, I tried my hand at writing web fiction.
I started writing the now defunct web fiction It's All Relative. I tried to write this story repeatedly but kept getting stuck, until eventually it fell by the wayside as life and work and school took over.
Ever since It's All Relative went completely dead in 2009, I've been dying to get back into web fiction, but life has been crazy. Yet my time spent trying to get back into the web fiction world has given me some insight into how to find some balance between the whole work, life, and writing thing. This post was supposed to be about possibly finding that balance, but clearly I have yet to find it--I'm thick in the trenches trying to finish up projects and still having trouble maintaining that balance.
However, if there is one thing I have learned over the years, it is that web fiction is like an (unpaid) intership.
Web fiction gives you valuable experience. You might be doing all the hard work and being underpaid (or unpaid), but when it's time to either pursue legacy/traditional or self/indie publishing (I see web fiction as a subset of the latter), you'll have all the experience of marketing your story, building a community, and all the lovely things that come with being an author. One day writing might be your main bacon bringer, so having something to put on your writing resume like cultivating a popular web fiction and building a community might be something that your future publisher may look for.
Web fiction teaches you to build a community. Building a community is essentially like networking with people in the business. This can be from coworkers (other writers) or your boss (which would probably be your audience in this case). Building up rapport with the people you come into contact with can be a great way to breath life into an internship.
Sometimes interships can be grueling. You're busy making copies and making coffee, isolated from the people who actually work at the company. Writing can be the same way. You can be isolated in your room while you are writing a brillant scene, rarely seeing your friends and family. Making personal connections draws people to your story and great writing and stories keeps them reading. Making connections means to have conversations with them.
Don't be a spammer. That's like the annoying butt kissing intern whose sole purpose to get a job and nothing more. Being a butt kisser is not only annoying; trying to please people--or in the web fiction case, trying to get page views--can burn you out. It's not about how many business cards you've got, but who those business cards belong too. In a web fiction sense, it's not about how many page views you have, but who is staying with the story, the true fan.
An internship is what you make of it. If there is nothing for you to do, don't spend your time goofing off, ranting to friends about how little work you get to do and at the same time bemoaning the fact that you aren't being paid enough. Take the initiative and take on more work. Posted chapter 1 of your web fiction? Start writing chapters 2 and 3, maybe even start outlining the rest of the series.
If you set a standard to learn everything you can about what you are doing, you'll transfer those skills to other things, whether you want to find another job in the field (go the traditional or indie route) or get a full-time position with your current company (make a living out of web fiction).
So the next time you're struggling with your writing, remember: you're not alone. Set some standards, and work towards them, because the more effort you put in, the more you will benefit. And if you find that magic formula for balancing work, life, and writing, let me know. It's muddy in the trenches.
NL Cobb is a graduate of UC Riverside with a degree in Psychology and Creative Writing. She is currently working on finishing the first a graphic novel retelling of Beauty and the Beast, trying to resurrect her defunct webfiction It's All Relative and turn it into a graphic novel, as well as a host of other projects in the works. To follow her exploits, like her page on facebook or read her (currently empty, but not for long) blog at nlcobb.wordpress.com.
April 24, 2012 — 285 words
By Tim Sevenhuysen
Milly put the bottleful of deadly Gortinawa seeds in the hold and returned to the cockpit, where Mak Overard was feeding Pelly some coordinates.
"Okay, where are you taking us?" asked Milly, sitting down in the copilot's chair.
"The Tulov 22 War Museum," said Overard.
"...And you think we can get a new faster-than-light engine there?"
"Without getting arrested?"
"I guess I can't be too skeptical," said Milly. "Things didn't work out that great when I was in charge. But can you at least tell me what the plan is?"
"Sure. Galactic Pelican, please show us the ground below."
"You can call me Pelly, dear," said the ship. The viewscreen changed to reveal a visual of the ground below, miles and miles of pitted, pockmarked terrain, marred by frequent, massive craters.
"Whoa," said Milly. "What caused all of that?"
"War," said Overard. "The Entulovians are a crazy bunch. Astronomy lesson: did you know there are only two planets in the Entulov system?"
"Really?" said Milly. "So why is this one called Entulov 5?"
"Because there used to be more."
"Oh," said Milly. "Wow."
"Yep. Their last global conflict, the 22nd Tulov War, was a couple decades ago. They put up the Tulov 22 museum out here in the middle of the battlefield to remind future generations to settle down, or they're going to run out of planets. We should be almost there..."
Pelly switched the viewscreen to a forward-facing camera. A floating building loomed ahead. Pelly swooped down and docked in its parking structure.
"What are we going to find here?" asked Milly.
"Lots and lots of old Entulovian Spaceforce equipment," said Overard, "and a bunch of volunteer staff with skinny wallets."
April 21, 2012 — 2,440 words
By Guest Author
by DL Morrese
Both science fiction and fantasy present things that do not exist. All fiction does this, of course. That’s what makes it fiction. But science fiction and fantasy include not only imaginary characters and events but settings, creatures, concepts, or devices that are qualitatively beyond our normal, everyday experience. If you are fortunate enough to have a brick and mortar bookstore near you, you are likely to find science fiction and fantasy grouped together in the same section of the store, probably labeled (logically enough) “Science Fiction / Fantasy,” and although they share some characteristics, there is, I think, a clear and unambiguous distinction between them.
Fantasy may be as old as speech. From the time we—well, not us specifically, I mean our ancestors—could communicate more than simple facts, people probably made up stories to explain the inexplicable, like where rain, thunder and babies come from. I’m talking about our earliest ancestors here, not those now living at a ’55-or-older’ community in southFlorida, although they probably made up some good stories, too. The people I mean are those who first discovered that they could chip flint to make sharp points to put on the end of long sticks, which they then used to hunt for food and intimidate their neighbors who had wild cave-painting parties late into the night or played their music too loud. I can easily imagine them huddled around a fire once they got around to discovering that, telling tales filled with imaginary creatures and mystical forces, which remain the defining characteristics of fantasy to this day. Fantasy is as old as mankind.
Science fiction, on the other hand, is a relative upstart, a form of fiction that has its roots in the Age of Enlightenment. Science was an element in fiction as early as the Seventeenth Century, included in works by Francis Bacon (New Atlantis 1617), Johannes Kepler (Somnium 1634), and Francis Godwin (The Man in the Moone 1638). The term ‘science-fiction’ wasn’t coined until 1851 by the English author, William Wilson. The first known reference to ‘science-fiction’ appears in Chapter Ten of his book A Little Earnest Book on a Great Old Subject, but it did not come into common use, apparently, until the 1930’s. I’m not quite that old, so I can’t say I have any firsthand knowledge of this, but I have it on good authority that this is true (see references below).
It may be hard for us living in the 21st century to imagine, but people did not always regard the scientific method—that is, empirical evidence obtained through observation and experimentation—as the best way to understand things about the world. In many societies prior to the Enlightenment, reality was what your tradition, king, or priest said it was, and you had a much better chance at living to a ripe old age of about 40 by not questioning them. (The average European life expectancy in the 17th Century was 35.)
According to my old and somewhat tattered copy of Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, (you knew I’d include a dictionary definition in this somewhere, didn’t you?) science fiction is “fiction dealing principally with the impact of actual or imagined science on society or individuals or having a scientific factor as an essential orienting component.” In other words, science fiction relies on a scientific foundation for the speculative elements of the story. The tone of such stories was originally a positive one, supportive of a scientific outlook and optimistic about the possibilities science creates.Wilson’s usage of the term in 1851 is in reference to the laudable goal of using science fiction to popularize real science. The best of the genre, in my opinion, still does this.
Jules Verne and H.G. Wells are two of the earliest true modern science fiction writers. Both stretched the bounds of what was known at the time to posit things that did not exist. Unlike earlier, and even much of the other speculative fiction of the time, though, they based their plot devices on extrapolations from current science and technology. Previous visits to improbable lands, encounters with strange creatures, and even fictional travels through time were often the result of a dream or mystical insight. Both Wells and Verne presented their readers with fantastic machines, but these were based on scientifically explained principles. They included strange creatures, but they were natural rather than supernatural, with abilities explainable, at least in theory, solely in terms of biology and evolution.
Fantasy is less constrained. It can include just about anything—magic wands, vampires, dragons, demons, werewolves, genies, talking rabbits in waistcoats with pocket watches... well, you get the idea. These things just ‘are’ and don’t need to be explained from a scientific, naturalistic, post-Enlightenment perspective. The magical elements must be internally consistent, but they don’t need to be based on known science. If the story includes supernatural or mythological characters or forces that cannot be supported with plausible sounding techno-babble in scientific terms, then it is fantasy. Well known examples would include Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings and (my personal favorite) Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books.
There are, of course, books that fall into a gray area and even merge these two genres. A term that has been applied to these is ‘science fantasy.’ An example would be Star Wars, which is mainly a fantasy adventure with some science fiction trappings. The fantasy element is the Force, which is described as a mystical ‘energy’ field. The science fiction elements, obviously, are extraterrestrial aliens and space ships, although there is never much of an explanation for how the latter are supposed to work. Another example would be Star Trek, which is mainly science fiction but with some fantasy thrown in. One of the science fiction elements is super-luminal space travel, which the various series explain is achieved through a matter/antimatter reaction creating a warp in space-time. The fantasy aspects of Star Trek include such things as the scientifically unexplained psychic abilities exhibited by Vulcans and Betazoids.
Although there are many exceptions, science fiction stories also tend to take place in an imagined future or futuristic setting while fantasy tends to be set in an imaginary past, often a medieval type setting. This is not always the case, of course. There seems to be a growing popularity for fantasy that is set in current times with stories such as Harry Potter and a plethora of vampire and zombie novels. The possible combinations of settings and mixtures of fantasy and science fiction elements are extensive, and many subcategories of both genres have been identified. I won’t go into these here because they are beside the point of this post, but if you are interested, SF Site put together a good list.
When asked to explain the difference between science fiction and fantasy, Isaac Asimov, the prolific writer of mystery, science, and history but known mostly for his science fiction, replied, “science fiction, given its grounding in science, is possible; fantasy, which has no grounding in reality, is not.” Although I am a great fan and admirer of Asimov, I think this statement is presumptuous because it implies that we know everything that is possible. I’m inclined to believe we don’t.
A distinction I like better was provided by the Canadian science fiction writer Robert J. Sawyer, who I had the honor of chatting with at the 100 Year Starship Symposium hosted by DARPA in 2011. He said: “Succinctly: there's discontinuity between our reality and fantasy; there's continuity between our reality and science fiction.” To expand on this just a bit, I believe he is saying that fantasy proposes the existence of things we can’t begin to explain rationally. Science fiction, on the other hand, must present at least some backstory for how such things could exist and at least imply a plausible theoretical explanation rooted in what we currently know. Where did they come from? How might they work? What allowed them to evolve the way they did? Works of science fiction don’t need to answer such questions in any detail. They don’t require elaborate explanations in the stories, but the reader must feel that scientific explanations for them are possible. Somehow, the fictional marvels that are components of the plot or setting must link back to our current scientific understanding of the real world.
This is the key distinction. Fantasy does not require such things to have a basis in known science. Science fiction does. Science fiction, in the original sense of the term, is supportive of a scientific outlook and optimistic about humanity’s ability to use science to explain the universe and create a brighter future. In this respect, it is almost the antithesis of Fantasy, which has a mystical basis, positing the existence of things science cannot explain or, quite possibly, deal with.
To appreciate the distinction between the two genres requires some knowledge of science, of course. Without it, the reader has no foundation for distinguishing between ideas that are plausible, unlikely, or almost certainly impossible from a scientific point of view. You don’t have to be a scientist; you don’t need to have a firm grasp of general relativity or quantum mechanics (I certainly don’t), but you must have some familiarity with the major findings of science and an appreciation for how science approaches questions about the world through careful observation and experimentation. As Carl Sagan once said, “Science is a way of thinking much more than it is a body of knowledge” (Broca's Brain: Reflections on the Romance of Science, 1979).
This, I believe, may be the major cause of confusion about these two related but distinct genres. Scientific literacy, especially inAmerica, could be better. If readers believe an opinion is the same as a theory, or that intuition and insight are as likely to provide as reliable an answer to a question as controlled testing, then they will not be able tell the difference between fantasy and science fiction. Regular science fiction readers may be more scientifically astute than the general population and therefore more likely to understand the difference, although I know of no survey or study that has been done on this. I do know, at least from anecdotal evidence, that many current scientists and engineers were inspired by reading or watching science fiction when they were young, so at least in that respect, there is a connection.
But even people who believe a magic wand is no less implausible than a TV remote control, or that telepathy is as likely as reliable cell phone coverage, can read and enjoy fantasy and science fiction. Stories from both genres can be insightful, thought-provoking, mind-stretching and evoke a sense of wonder. Both can take us to strange and fascinating worlds. There is a difference between the two, but you don’t need to recognize it to enjoy the tales. Personally, I would imagine they are more enjoyable if you do, but that is just my opinion. It’s not science.
DL Morrese is a fulltime American Science Fiction/Fantasy author with degrees in philosophy and government and a background in military logistics. His books are a unique blend of genres, often funny, and sometimes satirical. All are set in a well-conceived alternate world and populated with interesting and endearing characters. DL, or Dave for all things other than book covers, lives near Orlando, Florida with a varying number of humans, dogs, cats, and a turtle. You can find out more about him at his website http://dlmorrese.wordpress.com/
April 21, 2012 — 300 words
By Tim Sevenhuysen
More pursuers rounded the corner, blasters at the ready. Haglyn raised her hands.
Milly reached into Haglyn's lap and grabbed the bottle of beads. "Stop!" she shouted. She held the bottle up over her head and brandished the blaster in the other hand for good measure. "Back away, or I'm going to set these suckers off!"
Every person at the other end of the alley recoiled in terror. "Eep!" cried one. "No, don't!" said another.
Milly continued, "You're all going to put your weapons down and leave the way you came, and we're going to disappear. No one gets hurt."
One blaster dropped to the pavement, then another. People began backing out of the alley. "But..." said one. "Do it!" said another. "There must be two hundred seeds in there!"
The moment the alley was clear, Milly dropped the beads into Haglyn's purse and they whirred off the other direction. Milly checked her PAI and picked out the quickest route to the spaceport. They arrived with no further fanfare, and Overard ushered them aboard. Pelly was already prepared for takeoff, and Overard put the launch in motion.
Once they were in the air, Milly fished the beads out of Haglyn's purse. "So," she said, "what's the big fuss with these things, anyways?"
"You brought them with you!?" Overard sputtered.
"Those are condensed Gortinawa seeds," explained Overard. "They're like acid bullets. You can eat a fist-sized hole out of a brick wall with one of them."
Milly and Haglyn exchanged a glance. "Huh," said Milly.
"Interesting," said Haglyn.
"That could've gone poorly, then." said Milly. "Anyways, we still need a new faster-than-light engine..."
Overard thought for a moment. "Okay, put those things somewhere secure. I think I know where we can get an engine discreetly."
April 20, 2012 — 1,457 words
Jess loved trinket shopping.
“Look at this Cozumel shirt!” She holds up a white shirt with the word Cozumel glittered across the front. “Your grandmother would love this.”
“Why would my grandmother love that? Why would anyone love that?”
She sighs. “You’re no fun.”
“No. I just don’t like spending money on junk.”
We leave there, pull our shades down to block out the piercing sun, and head to the next shop full of useless nick-nacks.
“Ola.” This lady comes out in this dress, the brightest purple I’ve ever seen.
“Hi,” Jess replies.
This lady starts pointing at this and that, grabs one of those Jesus candles, and presents it to us. I shake my head “no,” trying to cut her off. Jess peers at me.
“What? I don’t want to waste her time.”
The lady sets Jesus back on the counter.
“Stop it, Michael.”
“Stop what? It’s junk.”
We follow this lady around this place full of Jesus and Virgin Mary candles, crosses in every color and size, rosaries. There’s more religious clutter than walking space.
After several wasted minutes of my life, out of nowhere, this tiny doll falls to Jess’s feet. The lady picks it up, dusts it off, and looks it over. She smiles.
“Ah, si. For goo loke.”
“Ah, look honey. For good luck.” Jess bats her eyes at me.
“That ragdoll piece a crap is good luck? Tsss.”
Jess’s eyes burn a hole through me. She turns back to the lady.
“How much?” she asks.
“Oh.” The lady’s smile reverts and this intense look washes over her face. “No. Ees not for sale.” She shakes her head.
“What? There’s a price tag right there.” I point to it.
“No, no. Thees doll, he find you.” She places the doll in Jess’s hands, squeezing them tightly. The lady’s smile returns. Her eyes glimmer. “He’s yours,” she says, slowly elongating the words.
“Well . . . Thank you.”
We leave there and the sun hits us. We pull our shades back down. It’s blistering hot.
“Margarita?” I ask. God knows I need one after following Jess around all day on her little shopping spree.
We walk into the restaurant, sit down at the bar, and order our drinks.
“Two margaritas, senor.”
The Mexican bartender mixes the drinks and then hands us the two giant margaritas, as big as fish bowls. Jess smiles at me like a kid in a candy store. I smile back. I pull out my wallet and before I get it opened all the way, the bartender stops me and says, “First wan ees free.”
“Ees free. Ees free. Next wan,” he tells me, turns, and starts wiping down the bar.
Since when has Mexico become so generous?
“Wow. See honey, maybe this doll ees good luck.” She laughs.
We lose count after . . . I don’t know how many drinks. I feel clumsy getting off the stool. Leaving the bar, we are stammering drunk. Jess wraps her arms around my waist and smiles up at me. I smile back. The aggravation we felt toward each other earlier had lifted.
We get back to our room and walk out onto the balcony facing the beach. It’s going to be sad leaving this place: the aqua-blue pool-like ocean, the glowing orange sunsets, the salty breeze. Down the beach, are the faint sounds of mariachis.
We need to make the best of tonight, so we do. We have dinner down the beach, and talk and talk, just her and me. After a great meal and even better conversation, on the way back toward the room, we take our shoes off. Cold waves run over our feet. We interlace our fingers and squeeze tighter than usual. The moon is high, reflecting off of the vast ocean. I block out the mariachis to enjoy this moment. It’s just me and her. We don’t say another word to each other the rest of the night, but say more in other ways than we’ve said for a very long time.
The next morning, we wake up naked and one. We pack up. It’s time to fly home. We both say how we’re going to miss this place before shutting the door to our room, behind us.
On the flight, Jess sleeps most of the way. She’s got one hand on mine, and the other wrapped around her new doll. I drink some coffee and read whatever magazine they have in the seat pouch. We get off the plane and walk up the jetway. We get through customs much faster than anticipated, as the airport seems almost empty.
“That was quick.” I say, surprised.
“See?” Jess rattles her new so-called good luck doll in my face. Her eyes are sleepy. “It ees good luck.”
“Eet stinks.” I playfully knock it away.
She smiles childishly.
I shake my head at her and sniggering, say, “You’re crazy.”
We get home and unpack. Jess sets her new doll on the nightstand next to the bed. Exhausted, we both lie down for a nap. Jess rests her head on my chest, and she smiles up at me. I smile back. I rub my hands softly through her hair.
When we first got to Mexico, I wasn’t sure we’d be coming back together. We had lived together for two years, and all the small things were starting to get on each others’ nerves. Everything was. There was nothing left to say to each other. There was no passion. There was . . . nothing. We almost canceled the trip but decided not to, both of us thinking that maybe a trip like this is exactly what we needed to salvage what was left of our relationship. The travel there was awkward, silent. At the resort, we were annoyed by each other for a few days, same as at home. But by the final night, we were both reminded of all the things we loved about each other in the first place.
I wake up to hear Jess vomiting and crying from the bathroom. I rush in there to see her head hanging in the toilet.
Oh no, Montezuma’s revenge.
She gags and more vomit comes up. I go fetch her some water and say, “Drink this.”
She does. She sits down onto the floor in a curled up fetal position. Her face displays an expression of agonizing pain.
“Oh, it hurts, Michael.”
“I’m sorry, babe.” I rub her hair. “I love you.” Seeing her in pain kills me.
Her vomiting fit went on for a couple of hours. Once stopped, she lied down. But after a while, her overall condition seemed to worsen and soon after, she stopped responding to me at all. I called 911 and within minutes, we were in an ambulance heading to the emergency room. I grabbed her new doll for good luck and placed it in her hands.
“I love you, honey. I love you.”
After pacing around the waiting room for . . . I don’t know how long, forcing myself to breathe in and out manually, the doc came in to speak to me.
“Yes?” Give me some good news, doc. Come on.
“Sir, you’re girlfriend . . . she contracted some sort of rare parasite.”
“What? Parasite? What is tha…”
“I’m very sorry, sir. She didn’t make it.”
My stomach dropped out of me. I remember shaking my head—the room around me spinning, the floor beneath me nonexistent—and then falling to the floor. Darkness . . .
In that same week, there were four other deaths. They were able to trace the parasite back to Cozumel and then narrow it down even further. They quickly discovered all the victims had been to this one particular shop in Cozumel and all of them had come home with these good luck dolls. Apparently, they were good luck, but not for the people who took them.
The old hymn goes:
Give this doll a new home, in which it will take the owner’s life and future riches. The reaper of this fortune will be the sewer of its stitches.
I remember Jess saying, “See honey, maybe this doll ees good luck.”
I guess she was right after all.
* * *
Matt Micheli is a transgressive fiction writer out of Austin, TX, author of MEMOIRS OF A VIOLENT SLEEPER: A BEDTIME STORY. His analytical, sometimes satirical, and often times blunt views of love, loss, life, and beyond are expressed through his writing. For him, writing is an escape from the everyday confines of what the rest of us call normal.
April 20, 2012 — 277 words
By Tim Sevenhuysen
Milly pounded down the sidewalk. Behind her, Haglyn was steamrolling through the crowd with the bottle of beads in her lap.
The cashier ran out of the parts shop. "Stop them!" he yelled. "Help! Police!"
Milly knew couldn't go to prison—she had to get back to Haddock and save her parents! Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the alley where they'd cornered the thief. She rushed in, flung open the dumpster, and hauled out the thief's blaster.
Haglyn zoomed up at the alley mouth. "Jump on!" Milly did as instructed. Haglyn threw her weight forward and they bowled off again. "Why did you grab that thing?" said Haglyn. "Do you want to get shot at!?"
"Why did you go back for the beads?"
"I thought they were really valuable! What's wrong with them?"
"I don't know!"
"Then why are we running?"
"Because we're being chased!" Milly looked back, and her heart leapt into her throat. A police officer was aiming a long-barreled blaster in their direction.
The officer's partner swatted the barrel of the blaster down to the ground. "Don't shoot! You'll set off the seeds!"
"That way!" said Milly, pointing into an open alley.
Haglyn veered the GyroCart off the street and drove them through a network of interconnecting alleyways at random, twisting and turning between the brick buildings.
"Stop here," suggested Milly. They pulled up in a shadowed corner and strained their ears for any sound of pursuit.
Echoing footsteps approached, and before the women could determine which direction the sounds were coming from, several silhouetted figures rounded the corner. They were trapped!