Short Speculative Fiction
I opened a rejection letter yesterday; they don’t come as often as they once did, but they still sting. I’ve become abnormally good at almost getting published, so I usually get the “we loved it and you’re on the short list” letters, which I like to refer to as “eventual rejections,” and I get a flat out “yes we’ll take it, here’s your ten bucks” once or twice a year. But the main reason I receive fewer rejection letters is the fact that I’ve chosen to self-publish and post most of my work on this blog… See how I made it sound like a choice? That was me trying to make you think that I could go the traditional route if I wanted to because publishers are constantly kissing my ass. Spoiler alert, they’re not.
Anywho, most of the publications from which I’ve received rejection letters have fewer subscribers than this blog. The truth is that I get more exposure this way; I only make the occasional submission to a third party because I crave the validation. Yes, it hurts like a bitch when some magazine with thirty regular readers says “thanks, but no thanks,” but it’s nearly orgasmic when they say yes.
It’s gotten to the point when even if I receive a rejection letter, the editor always sends a nicely written note with a few critiques and a reason for the rejection. This last one said that “the story felt rushed” but that they loved my style, and that I should submit again ASAP if I had something written in a slower pace. Actually, it was a damn good critique. I reread my piece and came to the same conclusion. But here’s the bitch: this particular publication has a five-hundred word limit for submissions. Holy shit.
“They” say that the hardest part in writing a good short story is keeping it short, and “they” are damn right. How the hell is one supposed to tell a story, with a clear beginning, middle, and end, complete with believable character development, in five-hundred fucking words? Of course it’s going to come across as rushed.
The trick, I’ve been told, is to boil it down until all you have left is unalloyed story. There’s no room for maudlin prose or overly descriptive bullshit. One must rely on simple fiction and pure plot to be a successful short story writer, and according to my most recent rejection letter, I don’t always pull it off.
Another thing that “they” have been saying is that “the short story is dead.” I can see where they’re coming from, but I’d like to think that short fiction is simply resting in a lull of sorts because the full length novel is just so damn trendy. I might be full of shit, but whatever. Honestly, I enjoy short fiction, and I absolutely love collections of short fiction. I might be a bit solivagant in this love, but so be it. Short stories are like perfect little vignettes of make-believe into which a reader can delve briefly without commitment. And collections are even better because if you start into a story that doesn’t feel right, you can always move onto the next piece. I don’t want you to think that I’m promoting a short attention span, it’s just that every once in a while, a trip to the buffet is better than a single entre meal. Get it? That’s why I’ve decided to dedicate the fourth segment of this look into burgeoning authors to writers of short, speculative fiction.
The first author I’ve chosen to feature is Rob Walker.
He’s a writer and filmmaker living in Colorado. Rob is perhaps best known for “Victorian Cut-out Theatre”, an animated comedy series featuring monsters, deranged billionaires and time travel which is distributed through Cinevore.com. He also writes for the pop culture website Nerd Reactor. You can read his blog at www.robwalkerfilms.com”
The House on Maple Street
In a normal state, in an average town, on Maple Street, there was a house. The house was guarded over by two long dead trees. These trees, being long dead, had no leaves. In place of greenery, however, there were several crows. So many crows, in fact, that if you were to view the house on Maple Street from a distance, you would swear that these strange trees were in full bloom. But you’d be wrong.
If anyone had ever taken the time to measure the inside of the house on Maple Street, they would have found that it was a foot bigger on the inside than it was on the outside. That sounds impossible, but it’s true. And contained within the house were twelve rooms, one for every month of the year. Thirteen including the cellar, but no one ever did.
The house on Maple Street had been designed by Edward Clemmins in 1928, for George and Emily Bryant. Clemmins was considered a genius by many of his contemporaries and was responsible for designing the bakery in New York that looks like an elephant… you know the one.
Shortly after finishing his plans for the house on Maple Street, Clemmins shot himself in the head. They say that he knew that this house was cursed from the beginning and couldn’t live with the knowledge that he would be responsible for such a place. I think maybe he was just sad.
George and Emily Bryant moved in upon the completion of the house, and set to creating a family. After a year in the house they bore no children, and soon Emily disappeared. Many thought that Emily left George in the middle of the night to avoid the shame of a public divorce. Neighborhood children thought that George had murdered his wife and hid her body in the cellar. Nothing was ever proven. Before hanging himself in their bedroom, George wrote a note with one word on it: “Whispers”.
George might have been referring to the stories told behind his back after his wife’s disappearance. However, his friends say that before his demise, he complained about hearing Emily’s voice echoing throughout the house, like she was close, but he could never find her.
The house sat empty and had no visitors until 1930, when famous spiritualist Madame Devoe paid the house a visit, to cleanse it of what she called “disquieted spirits”. This visit lasted fifteen minutes before Madame Devoe was stricken blind. She retired from spiritualism shortly after. Though blind, she led a relatively happy life with her daughter in Florida until her death in 1975.
As so often happens with buildings of similar reputation as the house on Maple Street, local children would often dare each other to go inside, or at the very least knock on the door. One such event happened in 1963 when ten year old Jimmy Boyd entered the house on a dare. By many accounts, he was the bravest of the children. Five minutes later he emerged claiming that a beautiful woman that lived in the house offered him cookies if he would stay with her for a bit. After three weeks, Jimmy’s raven colored hair had turned white. This extreme and early change in hair color earned him the nickname “snow-top”. If you find him, ask him about the woman. He’ll be more willing to talk if you bring him a plate of macaroons.
Over the years, the people in town thought of tearing down the house on Maple Street. Everyone agreed that it was unpleasant to look at, and no one could ever sell it given the history. Town officials never did tear it down, though. So it still sits on its yard, all twelve rooms, well unless you count the cellar. Guarded by two long dead trees and several flocks of crows. A group of crows is called a murder by the way, I wasn’t sure if you knew that, but it’s true.
The second author I’m featuring is KendallJaye Collard:
“I live in Springfield, IL with my husband and daughter. I am in an unhealthy relationship with a 1967 4-door Chevy Impala hardtop. Cancer survivor, wine drinker, and protected by rock salt.
I can be reached at email@example.com and can be found lurking around Twitter @KJCollard.”
Failure No. 12
I’m all groggy. Something smells like industry. Something metallic. Like iron.
I realize it’s blood.
I sit up and try to open my eyes. It’s blindingly white. Like a million watt light bulb pointed directly into my eyes. My head should hurt but it doesn’t. What the fuck happened to me?
I squint and try to open my eyes again. It’s still so very white, but it’s okay. The white isn’t from a light at all. The white just is. I’m so confused.
Then I realize I don’t just smell blood. I taste it.
I rake the back of my hand across my mouth. I look down to where my hand should be. There is nothing there but white.
Then ever so slowly, outlines happen. Nearly paper thin lines of black simply appear and grow. The outline of my hand. The outline of where blood is smeared across the back of my wrist. There’s not even a hint of color. It’s like a blank page with a few calligraphy pen marks. The lines of the liquid blood far thinner than the lines defining my hand. How strange.
CLICK Hello there. Do you know your name? CLICK
A voice. Where is it coming from? I look around, and white things start to come into focus. Black outlines defining a ceiling corner. The walls. The chaise I’m lying on. But there is no shading. No colors.
CLICK Hello. Can you hear me? CLICK
CLICK Do you know your name? CLICK
“Yes. But… who…”
CLICK Just answer the questions for now ma’am. Everything will be answered in due time. What is your name, ma’am? CLICK
“My name is Cawks. Where am I?”
CLICK You’re very safe. Glad to meet you Cawks. My name is Beeks. Do you know where you are from? CLICK
My head should hurt. I’m bleeding. Why doesn’t it hurt? “Um… No. I can’t… recall.” More lines materialize breaking the monotony of white. This is an interrogation room. A pane of glass on the far wall. I sit up on the chaise and hang my feet over the edge. The velvety touch of the fabric tickles my fingertips. But it just looks white. I look across the room and notice a table being drawn before my eyes.
CLICK Where are you from Cawks? CLICK
“I said I don’t know. What’s going on here?” I stand up and trust that a textureless floor will support my weight. But why wouldn’t it? The chaise did. And the floor responds in kind. It’s cold on the pads of my feet. My bare feet.
I look down at myself for the first time and see more than just my blood smeared hand. I see the outline of feet, legs, arms. All the normal human body parts. I realize I am naked. The outline of the tiny vent in the corner breathes a sigh and the rush of chilled air goes across my skin. I feel panic rising.
“Beeks, where are my clothes?”
CLICK Cawks, I need you to go over to the table for me. CLICK
I look back again at the table. I walk across the floor. My feet go one in front of the other. The table inches closer, and the chaise moves farther away. All still white. I see the outline of the speaker come into view. Beeks.
On the table is an assortment of weapons. Their outlines are familiar to me. But I’ve never held a weapon. Why can’t I remember where I’m from?
CLICK Cawks, I need you to pick up the one you like best. CLICK
My eyes roam the table. So many to choose. “Which one?”
CLICK The one that suits you. CLICK
I let my eyes roam over their forms. Pistols. Rifles. Slingshots. Knives. My eyes stop at the longbow. I cock my head to the right. Suddenly I smell the wood and the oils used in it. “The Bow, Beeks. I like the bow. Can I hold it?”
CLICK Of course Cawks. It’s yours, after all. CLICK
I gingerly lift the strange white bow. It is firm in my hand. It feels like it should. Even though there is no wood grain to identify it, it feels familiar. Comforting. The outline of the bowstring somewhat thinner than the hard outline of the bow itself. There are no arrows here, but I snuggle the grip deep into my left hand. I hold it as if to take aim. I pull the nocking point back across my cheek. It feels like home.
“Beeks, why are there no colors?”
CLICK What do you mean? CLICK
“It’s like a blank sheet of paper. Like someone is using a pen or charcoal to draw lines. There are no shades or colors. I can only feel the textures.” I release the bowstring as I exhale.
A sudden crushing. My chest. I can’t breathe. “Beeks?” I drop my best friend on the ground. I grab at my chest. “BEEKS!”
“BEEEEEKS! I CAN’T BREATHE!”
My eyes fall on the chaise. I stumble my way there and fall heavily upon it.
Just a nap. That’s what I need. Just close my eyes. Just a little sleep.
Somewhere in the United States three scientists continued their conversation.
“Cracking job on the tits, Reeve.”
“Thanks, Jude. I’m kind of an expert,” she replied as she crassly grabbed her own. “Sorry about the optics being off. Bummer man.”
“It’s okay. I’m really close. There’s a blood leak on start up, too. And Beeks hasn’t quite mastered the memory implants anyhow.”
Beeks shook his head. “Can’t stop until She’s perfect. Then we’ll make a million more of Her. Hated putting Her down though. You’d think it would get easier.”
Reeve slapped him on the back. “C’mon. Let’s go get lunch. We can clean up the mess when we get back.”
The three scientists laughed heartily and headed out the door.