Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Drabble: Jane Doe

Jane Doe

Maybe the Jane Doe was gene-modified, or a chimera, or maybe the wings were a surgical addition. They clearly weren’t big enough to sustain actual flight, but I’d seen stranger cosmetic body modifications.

Her face was a mask of sweet innocence, the kind rarely seen on the dead, at least before an expensive visit to the mortuary boys. The Johns and Janes Doe we deal with at this end of things tend more towards expressions of pain, fear, or dejection.

I make the first incision, and there’s a whiff of lilacs. Another cosmetic, or my imagination, or something else?

Monday, September 29, 2008

Drabble: Critic


“Pretty sunset.”

“Yeah, it’s pretty nice, but what does it represent?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, I get that it’s beautiful, and it definitely draws attention to itself. But why would it just be there, so prominently displayed, if there weren’t a reason for it all?”

“You’re losing me.”

“Well, why bother with such special effects if it’s not meant to convey something? The viewer’s gaze is clearly directed to this particular feature of existence. That would be pretty sloppy creation if there's nothing to it.”

“Quit looking so hard for concrete meaning. Everyone knows the creator’s a post-modernist.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Drabble: Exposure


The commander didn’t look happy.

“Let’s get this straight. You flew at low level, over a populated area, with a faulty concealment device.”

“Sir, there was now way to know how long we’d hold up under that damage damage. I took the straightest course to base.”

“Well, your little stunt down there brought us to the whole planet’s attention. Look at this.” He held up a printout. The writing was in one of the contorted native scripts, but the blurry picture was nonetheless recognizable as my aircraft.

“Sir, I can’t read local.”

“Paper’s titled Weekly World News. World, kid. Honestly.”

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Drabble: Something Else

Something Else

I can’t pinpoint when it happened, but once I noticed it, the change was unmistakable. Domestic animals generally took to me, at least before; I never was a pet person, but they were always happy to come sniff about me.

Now I meet a dog on the sidewalk, it bolts the other way, the owner forced to scold and tug to get past me.

Other things, too – babies crying when I look their way, people staring through me in crowds.

I think I’ve been replaced, somehow, by something not human.

Sometimes I wonder what they did with the real me.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Drabble: The Repetition of Sounds

The Repetition of Sounds

“You know, if you say a word enough times, it sort of loses all meaning. Missile, missile, missile. Sounds like it should be something squiggly, maybe a snake, or a meandering stream. Missile!”

“Roy, now’s not the time.”

“And warhead. Who ever thought of that one? What a strange image. What does that word make you think of?”

“Roy, I really don’t need this right now.”

Roy looked at the screen. “How much longer till they hit?”

“About seventeen minutes.”

“And is there anything we can do about it?”


“So does it really matter how I pass the time?”

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Drabble: Listen


At night, I still hear the gears grinding in the earth.

Of course, I know I can’t, that my hearing isn’t sensitive to pick up what no man-made instrument has ever detected.

But ever since that night horrible night of visions, when the machinery of the world revealed itself to me, I hear the mechanism each night; halting industrial rhythyms of mind-bending antiquity echo in my head.

I don’t know how long I can take it.

- - -

“I’ve been an EMT for 10 years, but man... what drives a guy to use an ice pick as a q-tip?”

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Pickle in the Ashes

Pickle in the Ashes

Dust in the dead streets; then motion, a flash of gold:

Pickle, the capuchin monkey, ran through the streets gently holding the necklace between his lips. Nobody had seen him, nobody gave chase, but still he ran, out of habit, out of the joy of running. He climbed to his little hiding place and tucked the necklace inside, latest of a hoard worth a small fortune, if anyone were alive to appraise it. His master, the man who had taught him to steal, had been gone a while now. But when he got back, there would be so much candy...

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Drabble: Excavation, Part 2

Excavation, Part 2

It was much like I’d seen in books and museum re-creations, but the image in the scratchy holo tank was made more real by the knowledge that it was just below our feet. The holo was in false color, indicating density gradient, but I could picture the bright yellow of the twin arcs, the red of the Idol’s hair and nose.

“Not another.”

“What do you mean?”

“These temples are everywhere. These folks certainly were pious, I’ll grant you that.”

“But we’ll still dig it up, right?”

“Not worth the trouble.”

“But, I thought–”

“Give it a rest, kid.”

Monday, September 22, 2008

Drabble: Excavation, Part 1

Excavation, Part 1

“Welcome to the dig, kid..”

“Th, thanks, sir.”

“We just got the last of the density scanning equipment set up. Why don’t you come into the command tent, and I’ll show you how this works.”

The tent was full of rugged, out-of-fashion computers. “Take a look at this tank here. That’s where the scan results show up. We’ll look at that, and that way we know if it’s a dig worth fully excavating. Want to do the honors?”

I entered the command, and there was a deep rumble.

The image forming in the tank took my breath away...

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Droubble: Transit


I didn’t recognize the driver when I got on. That was strange in itself; I rode the bus everywhere, and I was pretty sure I knew every driver in our small county transit system.

I figured he was new, and this suspicion was confirmed, or so I thought, when we missed the turn onto Fifth.

"Sir?" I asked. "You were supposed to turn there...."

There was no response, so I walked to the front. The driver stared straight ahead. I tapped his shoulder, and my touch was met not with the give of flesh, but rather with hollow hardness. I looked closer. The mannekin was convincing, but definitely inanimate.

I opened my mouth to shout, but what could I say that wouldn’t just confuse the old asian lady and the developmentally delayed adult who were the only other passengers? I lunged for the door release, but wasn’t terribly surprised when it did nothing.

The bus turned in to an abandoned warehouse, and the doors rumbled shut behind us. It was almost completely dark, the only light coming from a line of small, dusty windows high on the wall. The bus rolled to a stop.

That’s when things really got weird.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Drabble: The Pit Lord

The Pit Lord

He gazed down on the firey chasm: His domain, over which he alone exercised control. Gouts of flame spurted up from the pit, and you could almost hear tiny screams as they rose. The fumes, the heat on his face, he stood in it all, for he was the great overlord of this firey domain, and not about to worry about some small discomfort. He-

"Honey, when are the burgers going to be done?"

"Just, just a little bit longer, dear."

"Well, hurry up, the bugs are starting to come out.

"Alright, I’ll bring them as fast as I can.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Drabble: Untitled no. 31

Untitled no. 31

The walls of the cage are stark wire mesh, devoid of embellishment. Huddled in one corner is a creature – some small mammal, made unrecognizable by malnourishment, emaciated and losing hair in big chunks. Every once in a while it makes a run for the dish of food in the cage’s far corner, but the tether tied tightly around its throat holds it just inches from its goal. The rest of its time is spent either chewing futilely at the tough wire tether or curled up in total exhaustion.

"Powerful, and laden with pathos, for sure. But is it really art?"

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Drabble: West To The Dawn, Part 2

West To The Dawn, Part 2

...So we loaded up the outrigger sailing canoes and sailed west. Just over the horizon, we met with horror. We are a seafaring people, and we all know all the islands of the great sea. But they were wrong now. Some were burnt beyond recognition, covered in a thin layer of ash; others were gone entirely.

Then one by one we became ill, our hair falling out in great clumps. Whatever magics had killed our gods (for surely that is what had happened) lingered malevolently.

I know that I shall die here, but if the gods are gone, why live?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Drabble: West To The Dawn, Part 1

West To The Dawn, Part 1

The old songs tell that the day the sun rises in the west, the gods will walk the earth again.

Of course, this was just a legend, at least until that night, when the horizon began to glow, in the middle of the night, like the first blush of dawn. But it faded, and the sun rose after all in the east. This repeated on and off for several months.

The village elder sought portents, and they showed what was happening: Something was keeping the gods from returning. So we set off for the western horizon, to set them free...

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Drabble: The Twitter of Birds

The Twitter of Birds

sparrow156 I’m still awake, guys! STILL AWAAAAKKKKEEEE!!!!!!!!111 half a minute ago from web

hotchickadeegrrl i just got this thing im not sure if im using it right lol : / 3 minutes ago from web

slowjoecrow Anyone seen any good fresh trash around lately? 5 minutes ago from txt

spitorswallow Check out my nest, is this nest the shit or what? 7 minutes ago from web

robinredbreast This worm’s a little stale but I’m eating it anyway 7 minutes ago from im

sparrow156 I’m awake! Just thought everyone should know that! Everyone on the block, I’M AWAKE! 9 minutes ago from web

Monday, September 15, 2008

Drabble: Casualty


“Come on, one more shot of whatever that was.”

“Considering your body mass and metabolic activity, another dose at this time could cause long-term damage to your renal and hepatic systems.”

“Do I look like I have a long term, you freaking tub?” I raise a radiation-burned arm in emphasis, leaving half the skin stuck to the bedding. I let out a small scream.

“My programming requires I do whatever is necessary to ensure my pasengers’ survival,” intones the lifeboat.

“Did you see how close I was to that meltdown? I’m not a survivor.”

The boat is silent.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Drabble: Heartbeat

Note: Today's drabble, Heartbeat, will not be posted here until further notice, as I am submitting it for outside publication. This is less about publication rights, as I understand that the market I'm submitting to doesn't mind reprinting; it's more about keeping it fresh. I'll let you know how it goes!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Drabble: 20,000


“So I don’t know if it was bird strike or what, but the plane’s engine was seriously messed up. Disaster waiting to happen, right? So I jumped on like usual, did my best to get the thing fixed. But there was this guy, sitting right over the wing, kept looking at me.

“So of course I hopped off, figured I’d take care of it once the guy dozed off. Well, what do you know, he was still staring!”

“That sucks.”

“Oh, it gets worse. Ya see, next time I showed up, bastard shot me!”

“You’re kidding, man.”

“Nope. Fuckin’ nightmare.”

Friday, September 12, 2008

Drabble: Roadsong


When I was a little boy, my family lived just alongside a curve in the highway. The rest of the family seemed not to notice, but I would lay awake every night, listening to trucks downshift. Oddly, I never much resented this interruption; though I’d be bleary eyed and irritable at school in the morning, that nighttime space was a kind of solitude in a house too full of people. While the rest of the house slept, I dreamed.

Now, huddling under overpasses in the aftermath of the Last War, I sometimes feel a similar solitude. Everything’s so calm.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Drabble: Covert Ops

Covert Ops

“Orders, sir?”

“It’s not officially an order. If you get caught, we will disavow any and all knowledge of your actions. I’m sure you understand, however, that it is in the best interest of this agency, that of the nation’s security, and in the end the safety of the world at large. Your name will not be known, but you will be the greatest hero in our nation’s history. Among the few who actually know what is going on, your deeds will not go unnoticed.”

“Uhh, sir, do you want pizza or not?”

“Sorry, I’ve always wanted to say that.”

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Drabble: Genius


The genius sits in his parlor and broods.

It’s not the brood of a brooding genius; it’s garden variety, non-productive brooding, just like anyone else. He’d never been the broody kind of genius – his best work had always come in bright flashes, not in the dim.

No, this was just a run-of-the-mill deep pit of doubt. For the genius had never really seen any greatness in his own work. But wasn’t that really just as self-absorbed? The world loved it, and who was he to argue with the masses?

Reality TV is a harsh mistress.

Droubble: Coda


After a storied career as a prominent skeptic and debunker of paranormal claims, you can understand my chagrin at coming back after my death.

The worst of it, though, started about a week after my death. I wasn’t trying to make contact – at least, not in a conscious way. I was simply following her around, watching her, wanting to see how she was coping with my passing. Self-involved, but how else to fill the hours?

But as I followed her one day, she stopped abruptly, and as I passed through her, it seemed she’d felt it, that she had some idea it was me. From that day on, she became more and more convinced it was me she’d felt. You’d think this would be a solace, but it was like ashes in my mouth, watching my own wife come to believe in something as absurd (even if true) as my ghostly existence, on such little evidence as a chill down her spine, an intuitive hunch. As I helplessly watched her squander the royalties from my very books of skepticism on mediums and psychics, whatever love I’d ever felt for her withered to disgust.

But what to do but watch?

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Drabble: Trial


The student balances with one foot on the pole, balanced precariously, arms outstretched. The master gently brushes an ostrich plume dusted in rose-hip powder along the most sensitive areas-- nose, underarms, nipples, toes. The student doesn’t twitch, though it takes an enormous force of willpower. The tickles don’t subside, but because of the powder intensify into burning fire. Finally he can take no more, and as he reaches to scratch, the balance is lost, and he falls down the mountain.

The master sighs. “Will I ever find a student smart enough not to put up with these ridiculous tests?”

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Drabble: Old Timer

Old Timer

“Heroes these days just don’t get it. I mean, yeah, they still fight the crime, and some of them still have capes and masks and the tights, but they don’t get the spirit of it all.”

“I hear ya.”

“Used to be enough to beat the bad guy and save the day; now there’s got to be angst and ambiguity and so, so much drama. Total lack of self respect, I tell you..”

“Don’t have to tell me. Youngsters these days wouldn’t know Truth, Justice, or the American Way if it hit them in the face.”

“What can ya do?”

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Droubble: Survivor's Guilt

Survivor's Guilt

I finish my prayers, remove the phylacteries from my head and hands, and try my best to look on the bright side. I’m alive, but besides that, there’s not much.

Most of my long life, I was religious enough; I made my devotions and went to temple, but it never seemed terribly immediate. Things changed, of course, when He started talking to me. I was honored, and, at the time, quite willing. I was His chosen one.

Now it’s all shifted again. He doesn’t talk to me anymore.

Maybe he sensed my doubt. I never really thought he’d go through with the plan; I assumed it was a test, an empty threat, that he’d spare us at the last moment. Right up to the last, I assumed he’d take it back.

Or maybe he’s just done with me.

I lie as still as I can, trying to decide how much of the nausea is from the heaving seas, how much from the farmyard stench, how much from the memories playing in my head of drowning men and women scratching off fingernails trying to get onto the ark. I wonder, not for the first time, if I’m really the lucky one.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Drabble: Technicality


“You won’t like this.”

“But you’re still going to tell me.”

“It’s Lieutenant Tanagata. His counsel is arguing for parole.”

“On what grounds? He’s put away fair and square, twelve years left before he’s elligible.”

“Well, his lawyer is arguing he’s served those twelve years. And he might have a case.”


“You do know how fast this installation is moving...”

“Time dilation? But surely that won’t wash.”

“Well, ‘year’ is traditionally defined as the time it takes the earth to describe its orbit; that’s happened eleven and a half times since we put him away.”

“I need a drink.”

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Drabble: Invasive Species

Invasive Species

They spread in the holds of great ships, picked up as pets and novelties and specimens by careless travellers, then forgotten or cast off or escaped at later ports of call.

This had all happened before, but more than any other species, the creatures proved hugely adaptable to local conditions, sometimes to the detriment of native flora and fauna.

Before long, the pests had become ubiquitous, and then unremarkable, and then a tolerated and barely noticed minor annoyance.

And that is how, in the end, Man colonized the galaxy: Not as intrepid explorers, but as the rats in the bilge.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Drabble: Infestation


Something was scratching in the walls. I tried to ignore it, to pay attention to the man from the county, but I kept coming back to it, wondering how they’d gotten back in. I thought I’d closed up all the holes they got in through before.

“Have you had any more episodes?”

“What?” I asked, my attention snapping back to the conversation at hand.

“Have the new medications helped?”

“Oh, yeah, I’m fine.” I wanted to get this over with so I could go find where they were getting in.

A tiny green hand probed testingly through the furnace register.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Drabble: Earth Men

Earth Men

The two met in the tunnel, greeted with voice and touch and smell. Their eyes were useless, for though not blind, neither had seen any but the most fleeting of lights since birth. After just a few generations, the surface was a dim memory, the stuff of myth and legend; nobody was quite clear why it’d been abandoned, but this was the life they lived now.

The adaptability of human beings is incredible. Nobody missed sight -- how could you miss something you neve knew, something nobody you ever met ever knew?

The pair crawled together a while, then parted ways.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Drabble: Focus Group

Focus Group

“First of all, thank you all for participating today.”

“We didn’t have a choice, you kidnapped us!”

At a nod, three burly henchmen took the offending gentleman by the collar and dragged him from the room. There was one scream, then silence.

“As I was saying, audience feedback is vital to the modern supervillain.

“On to item one. Of the names on List A, which is most intimidating?”

The hostages made their selections, with “Dr. Calamity” leading, with only one vote for “Major Fear” bucking consensus.

“Good. Next.” Henchment handed swatches of fabric around the tables. “Time to talk costume.”