These are a few tiny stories I sent to a site called SpeckLit a while back. While they didn’t want to publish them, I still like ’em. SpeckLit publishes tiny short stories called ‘drabbles,’ which are supposed to be just one hundred words long. Since the magazine requests a small comment after each drabble, I decided to include those, too, just to give my audience a sense of what my process is like.
(Rated R. Mostly for scariness.)
Seen a Man in Black Around These Parts?
Most days he hated his job. It shouldn’t even exist. He was only activated if the alleged experts screwed up. By being seen, or failing to ‘effectively suppress’ the seer.
These experts weren’t out there brainwashing UFO believers. They were there to erase ETs, who awakened the whole machinery of exposure when they screwed up. He hated them, too.
There she was. The unfortunate witness. No idea what was about to happen, not because she’d seen lights in the sky, but because she’d come home ten minutes early to a guy in a cheap charcoal suit in her backyard.
Author’s Note: This story emerged after I watched my umpteenth cable t.v. reenactment about the fabled ‘men in black,’ the government sponsored security types who keep reports of UFO activity under wraps. Sometimes I have wondered what happens if the men in black fail. Is there a contingency plan for dealing with those who’ve seen too much? Who watches the watchers?
She died in the lake and now the lake is haunted. Except it’s not the water, it’s the boat beneath the dock.
Not sure how, not like I planned it that way. She drowned after too many glasses of wine is how the police saw it. No one checked for the poison I sprayed inside the life jacket. No one asked why she’d rowed out alone.
Now people say they’ve seen her everywhere, usually in that rowboat. Even my new wife, who seems afraid of me. What if that meddling hag spills all? I don’t think they’d buy another accident.
Author’s Note: I’ve always liked the idea of hauntings happening where you least expect them. If ghosts do exist, I doubt they are interested in playing by human rules. In this story, the unpredictability of a ghost gives a murderer some comeuppance, which is another thing I love in speculative fiction—spirits with a sense of justice.
One more day of good luck is going to kill him. So he breaks a mirror, spills salt on the floor, walks under a ladder, opens umbrellas indoors. Coaxes a black cat to walk in front of him. At last, he kills all the spiders in his new mansion.
None of it would bring her back; the woman who died in the tragedy he escaped.
Why had he touched that stone, rumored to bring riches? First sweepstakes, the inheritance. The lottery. Brutal fortune followed him everywhere.
Finally, they found him dead in bed, tears of gold dried on his skin.
Author’s Note: Many people seem to want to be luckier and richer. I think it’s fair to say there are those completely obsessed with pursuing both. This piece is about the perils of excess, even the kind deemed desirable, and about what money can never fix or change.
They bought the house to try to save their marriage.
Victorian built, modern decor.
The bats in the attic didn’t frighten them.
She started to hear voices, he started to speak gibberish.
The shadows advanced, the nights grew long.
When the walls began to pulse, she hid beneath the bed.
He had long since disappeared by that point.
She called for help: her mom, her dad, a priest. The walls pulsed on. Sometimes in daylight. She had put posters on poles, filed him a missing person. She heard the whispering still.
When he returned, it was through wallpaper streaked with red.
Author’s Note: I wanted this story to show the all consuming nature of paranormal activity inside a home, including its effects on relationships. Of course, it can also function as a cautionary tale about why home ownership is not a bandage for a problematic marriage (or anything else.)
He looked up from his arm chair to see Maura at the window again, pretty in pink.
“Is he here yet?” she asked, half plaintive, half desperate.
“He’ll be here soon, honey,” he said. James was never punctual.
She glanced back, the angst of sixteen on her face.
It was 9:30 when James finally showed. Maura’s dad remembered, because it was the last moment before that boy took his daughter away. They had danced a while, then some kids gave her those drugs.
She usually reappeared around the anniversary, always wearing that sequined pink dress.
Author’s Note: I love stories in which the Big Reveal is someone’s status as a ghost. That scenario is almost impossible to write well, and I am constantly looking for new ways to make it intriguing.
Claw and Earth
It was a shadow crashing behind the car. Massive paw thuds on the ground. You saw it. Your kids saw it. One dropped her fries on the floor mat.
Now nobody seems to recall what it looked like. A thing with horns? A thing with feathers? Nothing at all? So hard to tell in the dark.
This morning, you find the claw in the driveway. Thrown from the bumper, maybe. Mud cakes the length of the long talon. You wonder, did it find you? Should you move, stay in town a bit? How will you hide yourself from now on?
Author’s Note: I’ve had one too many unexplained events in cars that seemed to end on an ominous note. Eventually, they were going to wind up in a story. I think the hardest thing about an encounter you can’t define is the knowledge you may have an enemy you can’t defend yourself against.
Mad Scientist Blues
He told no one the experiment succeeded—his objective precious, guarded at high price. To make humankind immortal, victory over Death.
The problem was, he was the only proof. Keeping it secret meant no confidants. No records, either, none survived the War. A bad break he’d finished before computers.
Immune to disease, bones unbreakable, he can’t decipher how he got here. No notes to comb through, no lab partner to call. Just a memory too deep to sift through.
He has a calendar with his ancient triumph marked: July 13, 1914. Since then, he has been free to mourn his life.
Author’s Note: If there’s anything more short sighted than wanting to cheat Death, it’s wanting to beat Him permanently. This drabble came from the idea that wanting immortality isn’t merely foolish, it’s inherently self-defeating.
The Other Cycle
He’s heard of the attacks through local news. A jet black beast, the size of a Suburban. My God, he thinks, it’s by our neighborhood. Getting further off, and yet too close.
He dismisses it, despite the fear. He’s worried about Jane. Drinks after work, she says, no need to worry. But she comes home tired, later each time. It is worse, he notes, when the moon looms large.
After three months, she has grown haggard, lean. He has ceased to ask her any questions. Bristling, she can resist no longer. She eats his right foot last, a savored morsel.
Author’s Note: I get tired of werewolf stories in which the monster is written as a masculine entity. I think the idea of a beast whose energy grows with the cycle of the moon is more interesting in the context of a woman’s experience. While this drabble is not an attempt to demonize women for menstruating (or women who don’t or can’t), it does allude to the reason society still stigmatizes women’s bodies for this process—as a source of inherently feminine capability and power.
“For safety’s sake, the clones stay in the basement. I don’t want Babs or Lee mistaking one for Mom. Which would be pretty hard to avoid if a clone ran into them. So I’ll bring down some…cots, perhaps. Futons. Something.”
It’s hard to argue when he gets like this. Also hard to tell which one of us he was just addressing. That could come in handy. No one has the heart to tell him his wife ran off last month and left us in her place. And nobody wants this job for good. Sweet dreams, dear husband of ours.
Author’s Note: Even in the modern age, division of domestic labor within marriages or cohabitating couples can be a major source of stress between partners. I have not personally seen any arrangement in which both halves of a two pair family are pulling their weight in the housekeeping arena. As the drabble’s title suggests, no matter how many cloned housekeepers might exist in a fictional household, the resident not doing any work weighs heaviest on the environment overall.
The Difference Between Crow and Raven
They are not the same bird. Not at all. One parades in parking lots, the other out-Poed Poe. One is a warning to enjoy life, the other to enjoy your life because it’s almost over.
That’s something I don’t tell people, even when I’m paid to. This old woman hates to give bad news. Seen too many Raven sightings end in limbs akimbo, instead of loose black feathers. See a Crow, slam on your brakes. See a Raven, just stop driving. Forever.
I only mention it because one’s on my sill. Meaning the angina’s finally got me, or you have.
Author’s Note: There really is a difference between the crow and the raven, biologically speaking. Two different birds entirely. This drabble explores the idea that their differences also have metaphysical importance.