A Story in 200 Words – They Killed Our Parents

I recently listened to an episode of Start With This, a podcast about harnessing creativity by the creators of Welcome To Night Vale. Their most recent episode was on repetition, something which has been the bane of my writing style for some time now. I used to think repetition was emphatic, but it really isn’t. But, I listened to the cast to see if there was something I missed, and perhaps there was. I still don’t like the way I used repetition in the past. But, with some guidelines, I took down their assignment. I’m… strangely pleased. I’m not a very big fan of any work that is short. It ties my hands. This time it seems to have done something that at least feels interesting. The constraints were to take a single phrase and use it five times in a work of no more than two hundred words. I came in with twelve words to spare on the first try.

This is the raw result, using only Grammarly for the first draft:

They killed our parents and shuffled us into the system. She was fourteen. I was nine. They told us it was an accident. We held each other’s hands. We cried. But we knew. They killed our parents.

We started to look in all the wrong places and came up with the right answers. They killed our parents because they knew where the hidden things lay. They knew the names. They knew the lies. So, they killed our parents and thought it was done.

When they killed our parents they got more than they wanted. With no one to stop us, no one to tell us that revenge wasn’t the answer, we learned how to hunt. We sharpened our knives. We learned to see them when they thought they could hide. We found they were monsters and skinned them alive.

When the work was done, we went through their lair, and what did we find there? Two trembling forms, one seven, one five. Barely aware of the change to their lives. We killed their parents, and the books weren’t right. So, two more child creatures died in the night.

The assignment asks for the meaning and change of impact each time the phrase is used, which is what makes the difference. In this case, ‘they killed our parents’ is the phrase. The first time it appears it is simply a statement of fact, followed by an immediate result. The second time it’s mentioned at the end of the same paragraph, it’s accusatory and foreshadowing. The third time provides a reason for the killings, knowledge of things one is not meant to know. The fourth time sets up what the killers thought the narrator’s parents would bring about by their murderous deeds. The final time, it draws out the consequences – if the narrator’s parents hadn’t been killed what came next would never have had to happen.

The final paragraph uses the phrase not at all. Catharsis has come and a new cost is introduced to the narrators who learn a dark and terrible thing about themselves. There’s is then a sixth, unspoken time, that the phrase is no doubt uttered by the monstrous children just before they too are dispatched – they killed our parents.

I felt good enough to come out of my author blog cave to write about the experience and post it. I guess that’s something, huh?

I think I shall turn it over some more in my head, see what I can expand from this. I think an Edward Gorey style poem perhaps could come of it, a burst of new signals at my other site.

Beasties: A Terribleminds Flash Fic Challenge

Beasties and creep crawlies abound…

You might have heard of a guy by the name of Chuck Wendig. He’s had a series of fantastic books featuring his trailer-punk death psychic, Miriam Black. My personal favorites though are the many sourcebooks he wrote or co-wrote for White Wolf (now Onyx Path Publishing or O.P.P. if you know them) for the World of Darkness, and also for a book I don’t think gets as much credit as is due: The Blue Blazes.

But, apart from the free advertising here for Chuck (which hell yes, I support; buy his books), he also has a blog at http://www.terribleminds.com. On said blog, he’ll put out a challenge or two fairly regularly.

The most recent challenge was to take two random genres to mash up and then let them have at each other until you have 1,500 words, approximately. I got:

Space Opera and Splatter Punk.

So… this is going to get fucking disgusting pretty goddamned quick. I’m temporarily calling this one ‘Beasties.’ Maybe I rename it, maybe I don’t. Either way, enjoy – provided you can hold down your lunch. You’ve been warned.


The drop craft’s landing was much smoother than its orbital entry. It’s captain, Narthan, was irked at having to walk through one of his newer grunt’s vomit on his way out. According to the pilot, they were only minutes away from the last known location of the prospectors. When he found them, he would put his boot up their collective asses for dragging him down to the surface of… whatever the fuck this shitty planet was called. As the Fury’s Executive Officer, he resented going mudside in some ancient drop craft that his syndicate wouldn’t even retrofit. The smell of defoliant only made him more insufferable.

He gulped a lungfull of air from his rebreather and shouted at his crew.

“All right. You all know the reason we’re here. Get to the prospecting team’s transponder and bring back information on what happened to their party. This planet is property of the Noborov Syndicate now, and we’re to bring back anything useful concerning the missing prospectors as well as any survey data. Faster it’s done, the faster we can get our cut of everything valuable on this festering shithole. Fucking get to it.”

The crew split up into pairs to begin investigating while Narthan went back to the craft. He ducked his head into its access point and spoke to the pilot.

“We have a reliable linkup back to the Fury?”

“It’s thready, but it’s here. Even our amped up transponder relay gear is having trouble in this magnetosphere though. Cap’n ain’t gonna be happy, but… nothin’ to be done, XO.”

A scream came out from the jungle. Narthan was on the comm channel immediately.

“What in the fuck is going on? report in!”

“XO, you’re gonna wanna see this,” came a staticky voice. The channel’s signal was poor, but Narthan could make out the voice of Darby, one of the grunts.

“Locked on to your signal. I’m coming to you,” Narthan said, grabbing his gun.

The corpse was all but broken down into a twitching, bloody pile by the local wildlife. A small swarm of tiny, five-legged, eyeless creatures no bigger than a child’s finger were feasting on it, their mandibles clicking and clacking as they shoved gristle into their conical maws. They’d taken out the softest parts of the prospector first – the genitals, the meat near the armpits, spaces between digits on hands and feet. The skin was almost entirely devoured. It could barely be identified as human. Ropes of veins and nerves stood out in sharp relief against ravaged muscle. Bones could be seen in a few places, mostly around the ribs. The limbs looked deflated and withered.

Narthan did his best to look unfazed.

“Where’s his fucking head?” he said to Darby.

“No clue.” Darby’s voice was dull. Narthan recognized him as one of the crew’s only combat veterans.

“Any other bodies?”

“Not yet. If the scavs on this one are any indication, any of the other prospector corpses might be gone by now. These bastards are good little eaters.”

“You sure these things aren’t what did ‘em in?”

“If they were predators, I think they’d have started eating us by now.”

“Probably. But, never trust an alien ecology to be like ours.”

Narthan turned to look at the other crew mates. “All right. I want a standard sterilization here against known insect-like life. Hose this whole place down in a hundred meter radius from the landing craft. Hop to it!”

The men scattered to comply. As they did, the XO began to take count. The crew’s math didn’t add up.

He checked his roster in his ocular implant’s heads up display. One, two, three…

He counted nine men deployed in his line of sight.

Ten was a standard drop, plus a pilot.

“Son of a bitch,” he said, lifting his rebreather to spit. “Where the hell is Finch?”

The transponder became more finicky as Narthan trudged through the fetid jungle growth. Based on the Pilot’s earlier comment, he had no reason to believe that Finch might actually be dead – it was probably a transponder problem causing his reported ‘death.’ They’d seen it happen before on planets with strong magnetospheres. They’d barely touched down on the planet for fifteen minutes, how much trouble could a fuck up like Finch get into? Regardless, Narthan took Darby with him to look into the missing crewman’s last location.

Narthan figured the greedy little shit probably saw something that he thought might make him rich. Bizarre lifeforms fetched a good price in certain quarters of settled space, and Narthan was seeing all sorts of it that might qualify… if you were stupid enough to leave your post on an uncharted backwater planet.

He swatted at a stinging creature at his neck. His hand came away red and yellow with goop. Darby had a few critters on him too, but he didn’t seem to mind while they supped on his blood.

“For fuck’s sake, log this into our report, Darby – more insecticide next time.”

“Aye, XO.”

After a few more minutes they found a gobbet of flesh about the size of an apple in the leafy ground.

“Fuck,” said Narthan. “Is that…?”

Darby began scanning the area visually. His implants kicked in, giving his eye a shine like a cat’s.

“Yeah. That’s his heart,” said the grunt. “Personnel transponder is weaved in it day one with the syndicate. We’re right on top of the signal.”

Narthan sent an alert through the comm. “All right everyone. Pack it in. We’ve got hostile local life here not indicated by the initial sat survey. We’re getting the fuck out of here. Dust off in ten standards.”

He shut off the comm and looked into the jungle. That was when he saw Finch staring at him from behind a thicket of leafy growth.

“What the…” he said.

Many things happened almost at once.

First, Narthan heard distant gunfire. Several lights went off in his HUD display implanted in his left eye noting that two of the crew were now dead or dying. Then, that same eye was skewered by a flying lance of bone, sending vitreous humor and chunks of nerve into the blanket of dead leaves around his feet. He screamed and fell to his knees as another sliver of bone flew into his throat. His wet screams were utterly feral.

Narthan tried to rip the bloody dart from his eye socket with one hand and to offer futile panic fire with the other. The thing wearing Finch staggered out of the brush. It was much like the other five-legged insects they’d been shooing away, but larger, standing almost three feet tall and draped in what Narthan had to assume was the remains of Finch. Where the creature’s main body should be was now protected by Finch’s severed head from the jaw up. Bits of trachea, brain, and tongue dripped from its crude armor’s base. Fresh human bones – Finch’s femurs, a humerus, a tibia, and several vertebrae – seemed to cover its segmented legs like extra armor. It seemed to be nibbling on finger bones in it’s mouth, whirling and sharpening them down into darts.

Darby’s autorifle roared. The first hit to the thing knocked off the top of Finch’s skull, exposing the softer, pulsating shell of the beast beneath. The second shot sent a spray of yellow-brown ichor spurting across vines and roots as the thing fell.

The last thing Narthan would ever see, was the squirming of tiny, five-legged things crawling over his remaining good eye and beginning to devour it as his HUD flickered out and died with him.

Darby made it to the drop craft only to find the pilot dead. His head was similarly missing, his body practically rippling with burrowing horrors. He tossed the body out, then gave the craft the command to return to base on autopilot. He found more of the smaller beasts, and killed as many of the squirming things as he could under his boots until he could find no more.

Thirty seconds before docking with the Fury, he hit the airlock controls and voided the craft with an override. He left the airlock open until his skin went icy and cracked, until he felt like his eyes would freeze solid. When he finally managed to close the airlock, he knew he’d be in infirmary for weeks if he survived, laid up with voidbite. So long as the critters were dead, he could live with that.

When he finally felt the dock clamps hit home, the Fury’s alarm klaxons were active with orange quarantine lights. It was then he realized that the death of almost all his crew would trigger a lockdown request after going to an uncharted world.

Darby gave out a wheezing laugh, then lit a cigarette. As he did, a larval creature crawled up his hand. He took one big inhalation of smoke, then shoved the cigarette’s glowing ember into its soft chitin, searing his own flesh in the process.

Then the dock was filled with heat and flame to rival a small sun.

“Fuckin’ figures,” he said as he felt the heat rise, then saw a mass of writing creatures begin to poor out from behind bulkheads and drop cradles.

Then there was only fire.

Writing Exercises – Imperative

The second of the writing exercises I’m working on today is “Imperative.’ The goal is to write a story fragment that is 500 words long, but that only uses imperative commands. I though this exercise to be an act of punishment by some far off person who claims that this will bring me some kind of unexpected result.

It kinda did.

The exercise forces me into a particular structure of narrative. It forces things to move along, sentence by sentence, which as the author of the book I’m using notes all writing should do – one sentence takes you to the next in a progression that’s always moving forward.

It belabors the point a bit, but I can see what he’s getting at.

So here’s the snippet I wrote. It’s a part of some of my upcoming surprises.


Please step forward. Please remain still while our diagnostics take count of your various biometric data. Please inhale deeply, then exhale. Now, provide one sample for each of the labeled samples in the seven containers in front of you. Take as much time as needed to complete this task.

Please remain seated for the next several minutes and confirm all information on the touch screen in front of you. Be sure to sign off on all documentation with your approved fingerprint as use of any non authorized fingerprints could result in the activation of the countermeasures agreed upon in your employment contract.

Stand and go to the decontamination shower unit adjacent to the intake center area. Wash everywhere thoroughly, rinse, then repeat on more time. Do not wash and rinse a third time as this may scrub off trace elements that we will need to continue monitoring your wellbeing within the facility.

Please walk through the exit and into the dressing room area. Change into your approved clothing as seen in the bin at your feet. Be sure that all sleeves and pants tuck neatly into your gloves and boots. Fasten your headset firmly to your crown, placing the earpiece in your right ear. Adjust the microphone to a space approximately two inches from your mouth. Test the microphone by saying: Hello, my name is ___________ my employee ID is _________. Do not take this instruction too literally. Say your full name in the first blank and your ID number in full in the second, as leaving the blanks empty may also activate the countermeasures outlined in your employee contract.

When you hear the beep in your left ear as a low noise, raise your right hand. When the noise becomes unbearable, put it down. Repeat this again upon waking if you have gone unconscious as a result of high sonic resonance Lower your right hand before it reaches the previous threshold if unconsciousness has occured in prior hearing calibrations.

Remove your headset now, and do not wear it anywhere else but in the listening facility at the end of the hall. Proceed to your Medical Overseer. Provide him or her with any information he or she may request.

Please provide one secret to your Medical Overseer that no one else knows. Write this down in your provided spiral notebook with your approved number two pencil. Do not include the names of family pets, spouses, prior addresses, or the name of your god unless they are one hundred percent uncompromised and secret. Once your secret has been extracted, proceed to your Floor Manager.

Please read today’s instructions extremely carefully. Do not skip any text, no matter how boring it looks. Especially be sure to review the countermeasures of your contract as they may be deployed at any time for failure to comply with facility bylaws and regulations.

Proceed to your listening station. Make sure that it is kept orderly and tidy. Please place your listening gear back onto your head, plugging the jack into the port provided on your desk. Ensure that your spiral bound notebook contains no traces of your secret. Rub your number two lead pencil over the top page until you are sure there are no secret traces remaining.

Make sure you are comfortable.

Please begin listening to your assigned transmissions and allow the Harcourt Group to welcome you to your new home at the Transmissions of Interest Program.

Writing Exercises – The Reluctant I

When my girlfriend and I started dating, she knew that what I wanted to do was write. She read my work, gave a lot of good observations from the reader point of view, and encouraged me to write more. As I did, she observed that I was always looking for ways to sharpen my skills.

So she bought me a book called ‘The 3 A.M. Epiphany‘ by Brian Kiteley. It’s mostly a series of exercises with some explanation on writing process and expansion on said exercises. I’ve used it on occasion with some random exercises where I thought I could use the lesson being taught, but I think I’ll start going through them sequentially now that I’ve got some time on my hands.

I decided to do one this morning called ‘The Reluctant I.’ The goal was to pop out a six hundred word piece in which the writer is not allowed to use the words ‘I, me, or my’ more than a total of three times. The goal is to have a narrator who is less interested in his personal feelings or thoughts, and more interested in what has occurred.

I decided to do this in the form of a witness statement being given to a police officer by a security guard who got brought in on an odd call.

I figured I’d share it here. Enjoy.


Incident Witness Statement: 7204-028

Witness: Brendan O’Niell

Crime Scene: Castro’s Convenience, corner of 17th and South St.

Look, you’ve asked three times already between two officers. But, sure. We can discuss this again if you want. The facts ain’t gonna change though.

The store was a mess on arrival, okay? It was fucked up when I got there. You can tell the pricks in the company’s liability department that. The security gate on the convenience store window is busted in like it got hit by a truck – no big surprise the burglar alarm went off. Glass is all over the place and the alarm is blaring. The lookie-loos aren’t out on the street – not yet. But, people are lookin’ out their windows, both from above the storefront and across the street. There’s stuff all over the place. Cheetos, soda, cigarette lighters, smokes, and that vape shit that’s got so popular. Junk’s everywhere. You can’t walk around without hearing something crunch underfoot. Protocol says that it’s required of all guards to take a look around the place before shutting off the burglar alarm. It’s policy and procedure. Standard stuff. So the book gets followed, no matter how fuckin’ weird the call site looks.

So there’s a mess, but it ain’t so bad that a walkthrough can’t be done. Anyone who comes in to do anything afterward is gonna make the same kinda disturbance. Sure, it’s dark – whatever made the impact knocked the shit out of the fuse box – but that’s what the maglite’s for. And yeah, the pistol for anything unexpected. Totally legal, permit and everything. Book says guards on call can carry licensced sidearms if they want with client consent, which is also in place. Check with the company. All above board.

Anyway, gettin’ further into the store a smell comes up. Not exactly sure at first what it is. Then it hits: ozone. That smell you get when you have a bad storm comin’ on.

That’s when shit got weird.

Cause, there’s this guy in there, behind what’s left of the counter. He’s not easy to see, right? Like a black human outline surrounded by, no shit, little bolts of lightnin’. Raisin’ the gun isn’t a question – that happens as a reflex. There’s some yellin’. Might have called him a motherfucker. Understandable though. Dude shows up lookin’ like somethin’ out of a comic book, some f-bombs are gonna drop. Harsh language ain’t against the law yet.

Then the second guy swoops in.

The other dude is dressed up in some kinda ninja outfit. He’s got a pair swords in his hands and he tackles the guy who looks like the end of a severed livewire. The lightnin’ arcs off his swords, and it’s runnin’ over his arms and legs and… fuck, how is that even possible? We both know that ain’t possible, but… shit. God’s honest truth.

They tussle. Lightnin’ guy gets tossed over the counter with the ninja guy wailin’ on him to beat the fuckin’ band. The swords aren’t doing shit to lightnin’ guy. They’re bouncing off the bolts like goddamned Nerf  blades. Then there’s this huge jolt of electricity and I go blind. But they’re still goin’ at it, makin’ a racket like you ain’t ever heard. Next thing it’s totally dark. Musta passed out or somethin’. EMTs are there, askin’ about injuries, doin’ their thing. Someone gets a gurney while they start askin’ about vitals.

Look, it sounds crazy. I also understand that the body cam the company mandates is all fucked up. It was next to a guy who looked like he shoulda been playing dress up as one of Thor’s fuckin’ brothers. But honest, man: that shit happened. So you do what you gotta do. Send in the headcase guys, make an arrangement with a psychologist, reserve a padded room if it makes you feel better. If the cameras in that bodega are still working, they’ll corroborate the whole thing.

Those guys were real.

Real and dangerous.

And beside – you got all of the people who were standin’ out there when the EMTs came on scene. Ask them. They’ll tell you the same.

A Pattern To Emerge – Writing Challenge

So, the pattern I speak of is going to assert itself if I have my druthers. And that pattern is this:

I want you to come to my blog every Wednesday. Because every Wednesday in 2015, I plan to have a short story written. This shall be the day each week that I’ll check in with a new story, god willing. I promise they’ll be short – not my usual bloated messes. Because that’s a part of the challenge to myself. I have 2,000 words maximum. The challenge is not just a creative one, but a technical one. I have to learn to be concise, to know that I have the determination to kill my darlings as it were. I’m finding submission guidelines to be pretty uniform: less than 2,000 words or GTFO.

This Wednesday’s story is written. I’ve let it marinate a bit, but I’ll run it through a quick edit and pop it into place then. I’m also working on the next story – just a rough. I’m letting myself get ahead because it gives time for polish and editing – something I know I need. I have a bad habit of putting up work that sorely needs it.

I can’t wait to have fifty two stories to share.


Thought I’d try my hand at flash fiction. Sorry, this one’s kind of a downer. Not all stories have happy endings. It’s titled ‘Issei’ and is 1020 words long.

‘Watanabe, what do you have?’

Tamaki Watanabe looked into the alley again to make sure he was getting all of the details right before speaking to his superior. The body was under a tarp now to keep the rain from disturbing it further, but dirty, bare feet jutted clumsily from under it as a grim reminder of the temporary nature of flesh. Not that it mattered. This was open and shut. A common case really. Tamaki felt something in him, maybe his ninjo, urging him to feel pity, but there was work to be done. Obligations were to be upheld. He couldn’t let his feelings get in the way.

‘Unidentified caucasian male,’ Tamaki said, his voice muted to an impassive drone. ‘Estimated age of thirty five. Eighty kilos.’

Ethan Barnes was looking out of the window of the Newark Airport. The skies were dull and light-less, much like his expression. Just two years ago, he’d been okay. Everything had been manageable. It wasn’t perfect. He’d had to sacrifice. He’d had to make do with what he had. Everyone did. When the collapse truly hit, things were okay at first, but in a matter of months, everything he’d come to depend on seemed to fall apart.

The power blackouts. The unrest. The deflation. Some of America’s allied nations had tried to boost things in an attempt to keep things stable. They’d influxed capital into ’emergency currency’ to stave off wider collapse. The EC scrip they sent were worth next to nothing now. It carried about the same value as toilet paper. He’d spent everything he had to get a ticket to another country. He had thirty EC to his name and the clothes on his back.

His flight was called and he found himself pressing in against a mostly Asian looking crowd who looked much better off than he did. He shuffled among them to get into the plane and dreamed of what might happen when he arrived in Japan. He’d always been fascinated by it. Now he was going to live there. For good or for ill. It couldn’t be worse than America.

‘We have motive?’ came the inspector’s voice again.

‘Not yet, but he probably brought it on himself’ Tamaki said. This looked routine. Dead gaijin showed up in gutters three or more times per day. This one would see no justice. It was even possible it did not warrant it.

Gaijin had flooded the country following the collapse. Their ways made people uncomfortable. Before they came, it was easy to manage society by the old rules. But, with so many foreigners with no concept of giri and their abject poverty, they were beginning to upset the natural order of things. Tamaki’s parents often spoke in harsh terms about these gaijin. About how Japan should treat the outside world like they did in older times. He admonished them for their lack of empathy – but at the same time he saw their point in the face of every dead gaijin that turned up like this.

‘Make it quick,’ said the inspector. ‘We have real crimes to work through, Watanabe.’

Life was hard on the streets. The EC Ethan had on him were worth nothing at all in Japan, and he had only what he could scrounge from compassionate passers by. Begging in any one place was difficult as after a few minutes police would show. There was a kind of social dance expected in every strata of society here that Ethan did not understand,even amongst beggars. Police in the district had no reservation about beating begging foreigners in plain sight for breaking rules they didn’t understand.

He’d met a few other ex-pats in the streets the first weeks, but was disappointed to find that just because someone was white didn’t mean they could speak English. The first ex-pats he encountered ran him off. The second group had grabbed him, beat him for several minutes, then took almost everything he owned including his shoes. After that, he stopped trying to team up. He was on his own.

‘Cause of death, Tamaki?’

‘Reporting officers noted multiple stab wounds. Trauma to the kidney area. There were a lot of bruises from prior encounters, but fresh ones too. Time of death was probably sometime yesterday.’

All Ethan had asked for was food.

As they stood in the alley, forming a rough circle around him, Ethan knew he had made some sort of mistake, again having failed to understand the delicate balance of begging. The people surrounding him were wearing surprisingly conservative clothes. A few wore sunglasses, which he knew on some abstract level was not the norm here. One rolled up his sleeves to reveal intricate tattoos. They would occasionally speak, but always in Japanese. The one word he kept hearing though was ‘Issei.’

When the blows came, he was helpless to defend himself. Putting arms up to block the strikes was impossible when there was always someone behind him to punch at his weakspots. When he fell, he hunched into a ball and tried to protect his head. One pulled out a knife and stabbed him between two ribs, then again in his back and finally in his kidney. He screamed but they did not stop.

The last thing he saw was the shopkeeper across the way whom he’d asked for food. He occasionally looked into the alley to see the progress of the beating unfold. Never once did he call for help, and never once did concern cross his eyes. As Ethan died, the shopkeeper simply swept the concrete in front of his noodle restaurant and then went inside.

‘Come on, Watanabe. Time to go. We have other cases to work. An Amerikajin got himself killed. It happens every day. We must tend to our own now.’

Tamaki turned after giving the body one last, cursory look and wondered when it was going to stop. The collapse was rippling out and washing onto his shores like a human tsunami. It was only a matter of time.

The Issei, the new first generation of American refugees, would bring the world down with them.

Proudly powered by WordPress | Theme: Baskerville 2 by Anders Noren.

Up ↑