Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Drabble: The Gates

The Gates

“Did your life flash before your eyes?”

“Actually, it didn’t, it was more a list of regrets. I know, that sounds maudlin, but as I fell, it came down to the things I hadn’t done.”

“Like what?”

“Nothing big, no ‘I never reconciled with my father’ or any such. Just little things. I should have gotten to the tennis court more. I never tried baba ganoush. I never made love to a cellist.”

“Never made love to a cellist?”

“I always wanted to make love to a cellist.”

“So, how long do you think we wait here?”

“Couldn’t tell you.”

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Drabble: Pot


“I’m thinking about heading home.”

“Me too, Frank. The buffet is almost out.”

“Alright, let’s go.”

“Sounds good.”

We headed to the doors where we’d come in, but there was a big ENTER ONLY sign, so we went to the doors at the far end of the banquet hall, only to find the same.

“They’re not making it easy,” said Frank. “Ah well, there must be some way out.”

“What’s that?” There’s a feeling in my gut like an elevator going up.


“This seems familiar, somehow.”

“I wouldn’t pay it too much mind. Hey, you tried this crab dip?”

Monday, December 29, 2008

Drabble: Fifteen


It was the spring of her thirteenth birthday when Violet’s letter came from the Warhol Institute. She unsealed the official-looking envelope, but she already knew what it contained.

This letter shall serve as notice that, from 11:54 am till 12:09 pm on Friday, July 8th, you shall be the most famous person on earth.

Part of her resented the institute. Sure, she was happy, and who wouldn’t be? But why in the summer, with no schoolmates around to admire her momentary specialness?

And if it happened so early in her life, what was left to wait for?

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Drabble: Confection


“This one’s... mmm... lemon fondant?”

“Let me try one. Oh, maybe dark chocolate ganache?”

“The card says dark chocolate-hazelnut.”

“I don’t taste it, but okay.”

“Here, give me another.” I bite through the milk chocolate shell, and my mind was flooded with memories. Every bittersweet moment, every let's-just-be-friends rejection, every not-quite-right present from every childhood birthday flashes through my head. I force myself to chew and swallow the sticky lump. “What was in that?”

“Existential ennui with raspberry puree.”

“That can’t be right.”

“It says so right there...”

“I could’ve sworn it was strawberry.”

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Drabble: Talk:Charles Foster Kane

Talk:Charles Foster Kane

Last words

anyone know anything about this “rosebud?” - (talk) 23 June 1941

Tried to look up Susan Alexander’s bio, but the link’s broken. -jthompson (talk)
23 June 1941

Checked again, but there’s no “rosebud” mention.
-jthompson (talk) 27 June 1941

Nothing about it in Thatcher’s blog archives, either -jthompson (talk) 23 June

Someone want to check out the Bernstein or Leland connnections? -72.34.423.556 (talk) 24 June 1941

Not finding anything... -jthompson (talk) 27 June 1941

anyone??? - (talk) 28 June 1941

:’’( - (talk) 23 June 1941

Friday, December 26, 2008

Drabble: Bad Advice

Bad Advice

“This whole thing is set to blow wide open.”


“This doesn’t have to be a bad thing.”

“How the hell do you mean?”

“Okay, here’s the plan. Over the next few months, you’re going to go absolutely over the top. Don’t just be corrupt, be a parody of corruption. Do it on every phone line you’ve got.”

“Why would I fuckin’ do that?”

“You’re giving them evidence so ridiculous, when it comes out, people won’t possibly believe it’s real. You’ll be a hero, a victim, a frame-up.”

“Son, you’re a fuckin’ genius.

“Just doing my job, Mr. B.”

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Droubble: Gonna Find Out...

Gonna Find Out...

The hideous thing squinted at the light. “Hey, kid, what the hell are you doing up?”

“I have to pee.”

“Crap, this is not good, not good at all.”

“What are you?”

“What do I look like? I’m a Christmas elf.”

“You don’t look like one at all.” This wasn’t entirely true – the little man stood about the right height, and his ears were pointy, if tufted with greasy white hair. But his features were grotesque, his limbs twiglike and crooked. His outfit, far from festive, looked like it was hastily made from scraps of old sack.

“Ahh, you’ve only seen factory elves. Of course Santa keeps the pretty ones around for publicity shots. But we do the real work.”

“What work is that?”

“Uhh, nothing. I was just, uh, passing through.”

“What’s behind you?”


The child pushed him aside, and gasped. His old teddy bear sat on the shelf, its face ripped open along the seam. A tiny camera blinked inside. The elf had been midway through stitching up the hole with a needle half as long as his forearm.

“Listen, you tell anyone about this, that’s big-time naughty list. You saw nothing. Now go to sleep.”

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Drabble: Bird's Eye

Bird's Eye

The caged bird is defined by the cage. Without it, it would simply be bird. The bird is a thing inside the cage, a state signified by and identical with the cage.

But wait. Look out through those little black, glassy eyes. You, the dog, the couch and the bookshelf and the walls and the potted plant, these are things outside the cage. If the bird could see or imagine elephants, the Tour Eiffel, sycamore trees and black holes and sushi, they too would so defined.

So are we your monsters from space, or are you our songbirds from Earth?

NOTE: I will be flying out of town early tomorrow, and I'm not bringing my computer, so the drabbles will just have to wait to be posted until I get back.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Drabble: Consensus


“I tend to disagree,” said Counsellor Trouff.

A gasp of shock went through the forum at sound of those near-forgotten words. Decisions in the Forum, and for that matter all manner of decision, were always made by consensus. Dissent was unheard of – not because it was quashed, but simply because it was unheard of to separate one’s thoughts from the zeitgeist long enough to come to a dissenting viewpoint. The thought of doing so was too terrifying to imagine.

The remaining members of the forum were, of course, unanimous in the decision of how to deal with the Counsellor.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Droubble: Adventure Travel

Adventure Travel

It was so hot along the edge of the highway that the glue binding the spine of my guidebook was starting to fail, and as I compulsively checked the maps to see how far we were from our destination, pages kept coming loose, like the wings of craneflies in the hands of a sadistic little boy. I tucked them, in ever-increasing number, back in their place inside the glossy cover.

This was supposed to be a good area to hitch a ride, and perhaps if any cars would pass through, this would be true. But the road was barren, the locals apparently knowing better than to travel on such a day in their mostly un-air-conditioned (for who here could afford to have such a non-essential system repaired?) prewar cars, and all the hospitality in the world didn’t help if nobody was along to offer it.

We stopped under a crumbling overpass, opened the last two cans of now-lukewarm beer. It was too foamy, and not terribly refreshing, but it was all we had left.

“Ain’t this fine,” I said, bitterly.

I’m not the genius who wanted to take vacation on the Surface,” spat back Martha.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Drabble: Evening


“What if somebody sees us?”

“We’re not doing anything wrong here.”

“Then why are we sneaking around like this?”

“What are you talking about?”

“Come on. Why else did we come halfway across town to this restaurant?”

“I just didn’t want to take you to the same old places. You deserve to be treated like a princess.”

“And the taxi? That wasn’t to avoid being seen together in your car?”

“I just had an eye exam today, they said not to drive for three hours after.”

"Okay, but I still don’t understand why I have to wear the nose glasses.”

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Drabble: Fragmentation


Time’s going by in shards and fragments now. It started small, like a flickery movie projection, but the intervals grew, time freezing, hanging on an image, then jumping to another moment to catch up with itself. Now, at times, it can be the better part of an hour before the next comes along.

This arrangement is not without its benefits. I have plenty of time to analyze every moment, and to do so in the moment, no filter of retrospection.

Some day, will I freeze entirely? Perhaps it’ll come down to one solitary moment. I hope it’s a good one.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Drabble: Allowed


“Umm, aren’t you going to do something about that?”

“Oh, don’t worry,” said Martha. “He’s allowed to do that.”

I tried to control my distaste; it felt just wrong, but it wasn’t my dog, nor was it my house. Who was I to argue?

“Can I use your bathroon?” I asked.

“Sure, down the hall on the right.”

I closed the door behind me, locked it, then heard something moving. I pulled open the shower curtain, and there was the alligator.

I screamed for help as I tried to pry its jaws off my leg.

“She’s allowed to do that.”

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Droubble: Wrong Turn

Wrong Turn

“We should be turning on to Virginia any minute now, then I’ll know where we are.”

“We’re lost, okay? Just stop and ask for directions.”

“You’re the one who’s so sure we’re lost, you ask.”

“I will. Stop here, I’ll ask him.” She indicated a man in a plum-colored suit.

“Fine, knock yourself out.” He pulled over to the curb.

“Sir, I’m afraid we’re lost. Could you tell me where this is?”

“Who said that?”

“Down here.”

“A, a talking dog?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Oh, of course. Y, you say you’re lost?”


“Well, this here is the conservatory, then past that is the billiard room.”

“Could you tell my friend how to get to Virginia Avenue?”

“Your friend?”

“Over there.”

“I see an automobile...”

“Yes, him.”

He let out a choked laugh. “A talking dog, out for a stroll with her friend the automobile, looking for an imaginary street. I must lay off the opium.” At this the man in purple walked briskly away.

She walked back to the car. “I don’t recognize anything here. It’s all wrong.”

“It’ll be fine.”

“If thimble were here, he’d know–”

The car glared. “I told you never to say that name.”

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Drabble: Wrong Answers

Wrong Answers

Laura draped her arms around over shoulders. “What are you thinking about?”

I’m not sure anyone’s ever answered that question honestly. It’s not as if I was thinking some horrible thing that I wouldn’t want to tell her about; it just wouldn’t be the right thing for the moment. Our minds wander, more than we’d like to admit. In the most romantic moment, that leaky pipe under the faucet still might sneak its way into your thoughts, or that thing that happened at work the other day.

Something trite, anything but the truth.

“Other women?”

Crap, that doesn’t sound right.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Drabble: Z and Me

Z and Me

The taillights swerved erratically as the car skidded to a stop. I almost didn’t get in with the wild-eyed man, but I wasn’t sure I could flag another ride so late at night.

“Glad to see they haven’t got you, yet.”


“You know your way around a shotgun?”


I’d hitched with crazy people before, without trouble; mostly, if you pretended to listen to their rambling, they’d take you anywhere. But this guy’s violent nonsense was scaring me.

I was thinking how to get away when we topped a rise and plowed into a phalanx of lurching flesh.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Drabble: Flaws


It started around the edges, nothing I could be sure I even saw. A bit of tearing in my peripheral vision, glitches in the sound, straight lines and sharp edges where there shouldn’t be any. Two identical pebbles on the riverbank.

As they piled up, I realized what was going on. It was all a simulation.

At first I thought maybe it had always been so. But in that case, how should I know that these glitches, these sharp edges, these repetitions, weren’t the natural norm?

How, when, why was I put here?

And had I been given a choice?

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Droubble: One Being's Trash...

One Being’s Trash...

The Zzdagx had been almost as poor stewards of their planet, Zzd, as we had been on Earth. Overpopulation and poor management of resources had thrown the ecosystem of Zzd drastically out of balance. Overextraction had reduced the oceans’ levels of dioxins and mercury, necessary to the physiological processes of life evolved on Zzd, to almost nothing. Industrial processes had cooled the planet’s average temperature, and had left a dangerous caul of ozone in the upper atmosphere, blocking out necessary radiation. There were mass extinctions, terrible wars over remaining resources, famines of historical proportion. But when things were at their most dire, our species chanced to meet.

Serendipity on our side, a deal was easily brokered with the Zzsagx – a straight across trade, world for world. Great arks ferried back and forth, transferring the populace of Zzd to Earth, and vise versa. Long extinct flora and fauna were reconstructed from genetic databases, populating new, more hospitable ecosystems.

Naysayers on both sides expressed fears and apprehensions. This easy solution, they claim, has left us to learn nothing, and history, they fear, will repeat. But who cares, I say? So long as the Zzdagx haven’t learned, either, we can always trade back.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Drabble: Mirror Mirror

Mirror Mirror

I avoid mirrors. I keep one in the bathroom to shave, but inside a cabinet, so I only have to look at it for those few minutes. I don’t like what I see in there. Bacause the face in the mirror – it isn’t me.

He’s not a stranger; he’s familiar, like someone you see in passing, maybe someone from work, someone in a different department who you see every few days. But it’s not me, that’s beyond question.

I sometimes wonder if there’s a mirror somewhere that actually shows me. I can’t imagine trying enough mirrors to find out, though.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Droubble: Training Wheels

Training Wheels

“Why do people hate us humans so much, Szjak?”

“It’s not hate. It’s just... your kind are rather loud.”

“Not all of us. I mean, we were minding our own business, talking quietly at our booth when that snail-looking thing kicked us out of the bar.”

“Not loud like that. See, this is hard for a race that hasn’t yet developed functional telepathy to understand, but in galactic society at large, it’s considered rather crass to walk around without at least partially masking your emotions and surface thoughts. You’re practically screaming right now, a muddled combination of indignation, shame, and confusion, with some hunger tossed in. We enlightened types just try to filter it out; we know it’s not your fault. But not everyone’s so understanding.”

“But I don’t know how to mask my thoughts.”

“Your race is still growing. We were all there once – that’s why I can’t be too impatient with your kind. You’re close, too; your mastery of your own minds will reach a level where you can meaningfully become full members of the galactic community.”

“How much longer?”

“Maybe a few thousand of your years.”

“That’s soon?”

“Sometimes I forget how young you humans are.”

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Drabble: Gifts


“Oh man, not again.”


“Another dead animal by the door.”

“Eww, that’s sick.”

“They think they’re helping out. You should see how proud they are when they leave it there. I’ll just go throw it away.”

“I’ll never understand you pet people.”

“Yeah, it can be a little gross, but it’s worth it for the love, the loyalty and companionship. Not to mention their adorable antics.”

- - -

The priest stood before the altar. He turned to address the people.

"The gods have accepted our sacrifice! The flood will come again, and we shall not go hungry. Let us give thanks.”

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Drabble: Moonwalk


The white glow of the moon seems to add to the cold of the already-chilly evening. Branches cast silver-edged shadows where the ground is dark enough for the moon’s light to show, the spaces between and around corners from the harsh yellow sodium pools of the street lights. A high and thin layer of clouds show an aura around the moon, a perfect circle surprisingly sharp and as big as almost the entire sky. White ring and white dot against black sky present the inverse of a cartoon eye.

You wink at the moon. It doesn’t wink back.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Drabble: Reception


When I woke up, my ears were totally plugged. I practically slept through my alarm, the muffled, tinny buzz only piercing my slumber several minutes after it rang, and no amount of yawning or chewing could budge the eustachian blockage. I went to work, hoping nobody would notice, but surprisingly, I could tell what people were saying even without hearing. At first I thought I was just reading body language, but no, I was hearing something else. If I focused, I could even hear people’s surface thoughts.

Then the cold cleared, and my ears popped. Nice while it lasted, though.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Drabble: Calling


I shore up the walls of the tunnel as I go, turning back to press the soil and rock into itself every few metres, spray it down with a glandular secretion that hardens quickly into a solid bulwark. The smaller ones will follow behind, put in their metal walls and fixtures and amenities. They carry me world to world, give me new and interesting soils to chew, and they thing they are using me. But that doesn't matter to me, that's behind, all that matters to me is ahead, ecstasies of soil to chew, rock to crush or pry loose!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Droubble: Heraclitus' River

Heraclitus' River

I’d been back in town a while before I felt the urge to stop in at the old deli. I hadn’t been in since my return; not, that matter, since I’d left town in the first place, not on any of my visits home. But as I walked by that day, it seemed suddenly important.

A bell jingled as I opened the door. The place hadn’t changed – it even smelled the same, same as those days sweeping floors and washing plates. The owner – Robert? Richard? – looked up. I nodded, and after a few seconds I saw recognition on his face.

“How have you been?” he asked, his enthusiasm just a little forced.

“Well,” I replied.

“I’m sorry, I can’t quite remember your name.”


“Ahh, of course. So, are you in college now?”

“A few years out, actually,” I say.

“Oh, you’re making me feel old. You worked here in high school, right?

“First job, in fact,” I said, nodding. Suddenly an urge to be anywhere else. The conversation felt like reading a script.

“How the time flies. Well, come on in for a sandwich some time.”

“I will. Good seeing you.” I turn and step outside, gasping for air.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Drabble: Baseline


A couple of gene punks slink around the corner, one’s features vaguely feline, the other covered in complex patterns of glittering scales.

“What’chu staring at, human?”

I know not to respond; their physiology is almost completely human as well, the differences only cosmetic, but let them call themselves what they like.

“Hey, he asked you a question! Don’t you walk away, baseline!”

Heh, baseline? They don’t know what they’re messing with. A few echolocative clicks, outside the range of human ears, and I know their exact location as they surround me from behind – wait till the last minute, then jump...

Friday, December 5, 2008

Drabble: The Operator

The Operator

Things didn’t fall apart all at once, but eventually it became evident even to the most Pollyannaish. Civilization had collapsed, and in hindsight, this was not so much a surprise to the survivors as that it had never happened before.

It was frustrating for the operator to admit, but there was no way out. He opened the File menu, restored a save file before things started cascading. It might take a few tries, but eventually he’d get it.

The operator mused to himself, not for the first time, that to an observer in his world, his actions would appear omniscient.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Drabble: Twist Ending

Twist Ending

There is a twist at the end of this story.

I know, the twist ending has become so ubiquitous as to no longer be a surprise. I know it’s usually sloppy writing, leaning on shock or surprise to carry through a story which might not otherwise stand on its own. Much harder to put all your cards on the table, engage the reader through strong plotting and character development.

But who has the time for that, anymore? Much easier to trick the audience, let them feel either clever for catching the twist or stupid for missing it.

Wait for it...

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Droubble: Housemates


You stumble into the kitchen but what’s that noise, rhythmic and coarse? Moments of disorientation in the greyness of not-quite-dawn, then you see the mouse.

When you first heard them you hoped they were on the roof, but gnawed corners on the cereal boxes, scratch-marks on the butter later you recognized what needed to be done. You put down traps, baited them with peanut butter and waited, and after three nights your effort has borne fruit.

It’s still alive, though it still draws breath through its badly crushed windpipe. The bar came down across the base of the creature’s head from the side, crushing spine and skull. It’s amazing that a creature so destroyed, so irrevocably harmed, still clings so hard to life.

In the dull light of morning, you find in yourself a touch of fellow-feeling for this being, so much as you despised it as you disposed of ruined food, as you listened wide awake to its scrabbling in the weest hours. For all of that, this creature shared at your table, ate the same food as you.

You whisper farewell as you fill the sink, hold the creature under till its struggles cease.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Drabble: Mistaken Identity

Mistaken Identity

“Please, let me go.”

“You know I can’t do that, V’sshar.”

“Listen, lady, I don’t know who you think I am, but my name isn’t--”

“I don’t have patience for games tonight. Not after what we went through tracking you down, this time.”

“My name is George Wilson, not Vish-- whatever you said. I’m an accountant.”

“I’m familiar with the alias you’re working under. The time for that is past.”

“Look, here are pictures of my wife and -- w, what’s wrong with your face?”

“Interesting. I’m starting to think you’re not V’sshar.”

“Thank god.”

“You’ll make a fine meal, though.”

Monday, December 1, 2008

Drabble: Context


The sheet is as fine as vellum, delicate as a rose blossom. You handle it with utmost care, you hardly breathe, lest it fall to bits in your hand. You can see light through it. You hold the square up to your eye, look at a blurred world through the interwoven fibres, sunbursts of light glowing around lightbulbs and windows. The sheet flutters at your breath as you lower it from your eye.

It could be a thing of great beauty, maybe, in a different context.

You make a mental note not to buy this brand of toilet paper again.