Tags: Ernest Hemingway, fiction, fiction writing, Gatsby, Harry Potter, Shakespeare, The Twilight Zone, writers
A Most Unusual Camera
By Charles Bey
“All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you and afterwards it all belongs to you: the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was. If you can get so that you can give that to people, then you are a writer.”
In this concise definition of writing, Hemingway captured the essence of what hooks us on fiction. Think of your favorite author, and then consider why he or she has won your literary favor. Isn’t it because the characters and events that author has created are somehow more real than the reality of our daily lives? If readers are looking for truth in their literature, they want it in sharper focus than real life provides. There is something meaningful to contemplate in the clause “truer than if they had really happened.” When we read, we aren’t looking for what we can see out the window or on the street; we’re seeking color and clarity that furnish a realism beyond reality. In this sense, writing is like photography. When we take a picture, we’re hoping to capture more than we see through the lens.
The title of a lesser-known episode of The Twilight Zone referred to a camera with an unusual feature. This unique device was able to capture images that went beyond the material in front of its lens. It captured more than everything. In a similar manner, good writing mirrors real life in such a way that we are given access to something truer than truth.
Why have audiences continued to enjoy and respect Shakespeare so many centuries beyond his life? Isn’t it because under all the elevated language and flamboyant plot designs we see ourselves? Whether the stage is populated by Hamlet or Helena, Romeo or Rosalind, we’re engaged because we recognize elements of the human nature that we possess. And these characters allow us to study these elements from a safe distance. Their hopes, fears, dreams, and frustrations are ours on a grander scale. Our best laid plans – so often gone awry – are represented under the guise of entertainment, allowing us to examine and understand them more fully than we could ever do in real life.
Did the Harry Potter phenomenon take place because millions of people were walking around harboring a secret craving for sorcery stories? Was there an unspoken desire for fantasy novels – any fantasy novels – that would contain quirky names like Eeylopps Owl Emporium, or Hogwart’s? Did the reading public suddenly demand more flamboyant character names such as Dumbledore or Xenophilius Lovegood? No, what endeared young readers to Harry Potter were the same universal elements that comprise all great literature. Harry Potter is – beneath all the magic – an everyman protagonist with points of vulnerability we recognize and share. His world is accessible because amid the larger-than-life issues with which he deals, Harry has a daily grind of mundane considerations (homework, teachers, friends and dysfunctional family). Just as we do, Harry has personal challenges to overcome as well. At its base, the fundamentals of Harry’s world parallel those of our own. The difference is one of degree; Harry Potter’s truth is grander, sharper, somehow more real.
Why are people who don’t know anything about the Roaring Twenties reading The Great Gatsby more than eighty years after its first printing? Are they enthralled by the mystery of a millionaire who doesn’t appear at his own extravagant parties? The attraction is rooted in something much more organic. Gatsby, despite his wealth, is an outsider. He is deeply vulnerable. He loves with a worshipful naiveté. Even though he has experienced darkness, he hasn’t lost the youthful sense of wonder. These are traits to which we can relate, traits that we might hope to see in ourselves. And Gatsby lets us study them in greater color and clarity than we would find in life.
The fiction that truly moves us, the fiction that stays with us long after we’ve turned the last page, is that which functions as an unusual camera. It is shows us what life is made of by opening a portal through which we see the components as we have never quite beheld them before.
Tags: Literature, Marilyn Monroe, Poetry, Time, YA, Young Adult
I read poetry to save time ~ Marilyn Monroe
THE PRIMORDIAL SCRIPT by Dragoz J.K.
Like an ancient sparrow
Crowing in the golden gloom
Is the writing rare.
Sensibly insensible and
Fantastically inspiring, is the
Spent, decaying, tongue.
The ink lasting forever
But the story falling apart,
Words so exotic.
Creative and artful, yet
How outstanding, the
Expressions on moldy parchment ‑
Blue red yellow, colors of emotions ‑
A painting in minds’ eye that has
Captured our attention.
Though the true meaning
Of our grasp.
Dragoz J.K. penned The Primordial Script whilst working toward her high school diploma. Previously published and the recipient of a gold key in the Scholastic Art and Writing awards, she enjoys reading, video gaming, camping, and long walks. Dragoz is also working on learning a new language.
Dragoz’ poem is featured in Volume 3 of Suddenly Lost In Words.
Thanks for stopping by to save some time reading poetry!
Tags: Advice, Free, Groucho Marx, Kindle, Short Stories, YA, Young Adult
The above quote has nothing to do with today’s post. I just liked it.
Today’s blog has to do with Amazon, its Kindle Select program, freebies and summer. Yes, in that order.
A few weeks ago, our still-wet-behind-the-ears organization noticed that one of our anthologies, Volume 1, was free on Amazon. It came as quite a surprise since we had already completed our 90 day commitment with Amazon’s Kindle Select Program and had used the five free promotional days that come with the program. So, naturally we wondered why it was listed for free. After much messaging and reading of Amazon policy, we discovered that Amazon has the right to do just about anything it wants. Its disclaimers cover almost everything from espionage to murder. In our case, it had the right to change the price of our book to zero, nada, zilch because we had it listed in another marketplace for the same zero, nada, zilch. Amazon will not be undersold nor does it feel the need to inform you of said price change. It just happens while you sleep. Literally and figuratively.
Please don’t get me wrong, Amazon has opened the gates of publishing giving opportunities to thousands; no, millions whose written word may not have seen the light of day in the traditional publishing world. It is a tip-top shrewd organization. But an ounce of awareness concerning its business policies goes a long way.
The happy ending is that we altered our pricing in the other marketplace, informed Amazon who changed the price of Volume 1 back to its whopping 99c, and hopefully we all live happily ever after.
Our ears may be wet, but we are not altogether gullible, so our price change experience made us take a closer look at our other anthologies, Volumes 2 and 3, and lo and behold wouldn’t you know that when signing up each anthology for the Kindle Select Program, we had overlooked the unchecking of the box that allows Amazon to continuously enroll any book every 90 days keeping it exclusively with Amazon. Another trick of the trade. Volume 2 had been re-enrolled giving us five more promotional free days to play around with. We will be playing around with them this week July 14, 15, 16, 17 and 18!
Get your copy for your Kindle HERE and enjoy some summer reading on us.
Here are some great first lines from several of the stories in Volume 2:
Cherise planned to become a ghost. The Lion Within by Abby Goldsmith
Given three days of limbo between death and beyond and the chance to live them in your happiest time, what would you choose? Frank’s Three by Amanda Yskamp
Jonathan needs to get a grip. Zeb and the Dirtbag by Steven Mathes
In the years that followed, whenever anyone asked him about his first love, he would say, “It was the sea.” Blue Blonde Sea by Kai Raine
Are we there yet? Bait and Switch by William Meikle
Read all eight great tales in Suddenly Lost In Words, Volume 2 for FREE this week.
Enjoy and thanks for reading!
Siqi Liu, the author of “The Buzzard” appearing in volume 3 of Suddenly Lost in Words initially came to our attention through her impressive fan fiction sequel to Daniel Keyes’ “Flowers for Algernon.” Reading her continuation of the Keyes narrative, it seemed to us as though the original author himself had penned the piece. It was on the strength of this work that we sought her out for a contribution to Suddenly.
Asked about her feelings regarding the appearance of “The Buzzard” in Suddenly, Siqi commented that “I feel honored that the staff of Suddenly Lost in Words saw something of value in my work. For a young author like me, this is an encouraging sign along the journey of a hopefully long-lasting writing career.
Siqi’s opinion of what makes a good short story starts with believability. “The characters, the plotlines, and the moral lessons all have to be established in such a way that readers can forge a connection with them. Because these connections are based on what readers experience in their own lives in the real world, it is vital that the story also takes place in a very real world crafted by the author.
Siqi identifies the short story as her favorite writing genre because “it allows me to play architect with the story. I’ve always been fascinated with building characters and plotlines, and the process of writing fiction really challenges me.
Because of her belief that “being a reader has taught me that writing can influence people in profound ways,” Siqi affirms that “one of my major goals as a writer is to have readers take away something from my stories.” She hopes that “one day my writing can become something that not only entertains readers but also sheds light on things they might not have thought about before.”
Commenting on when she first knew that she was a writer, Siqi traces her interest in the craft back to “a very young age.” She has always been “intrigued by literature,” and she believes that this led her to a desire to create her own literature. She told us that “the first story I remember writing was when I was about nine years old – it was a fantasy tale about people who rode owls. When I think about it now I want to cringe and laugh at the same time.
Asked what she likes to read, Siqi responds with “anything and everything.” She sees “tremendous value in being an omnivorous reader” for the reason that she believes having a wide view of the literary spectrum helps her to improve her own writing and to better appreciate literature as whole. Her advice for young writers is “Read, read, and read!”
The grocery store, biology class, and the view from her bedroom window are all sources from which Siqi derives her inspiration for stories and characters. “Usually, inspiration strikes me in the most surprising places and times, when I am least expecting it.”
One of Siqi’s goals as a writer is to give her readers a worthwhile way to spend their time. “If someone was really to take precious minutes or hours away from their own lives and pick up something I wrote, I want them to be able to take something away from it.
“The Buzzard” was originally titled “The Dream Analyst,” but Siqi changed the name to emphasize the main character’s role as a social predator, taking advantage of his naïve clients. But this character is not exactly a villain; Siqi explains “Norman Miller seems to be morally despicable on some levels, but he also possesses many admirable qualities. He is a good actor, a smooth talker, and a realist. His rise from the bottom to the
top embodies the rise of an underdog, which is something that appeals to many readers. Even though he goes about it in a crooked way, his back story illustrates the social mobility of the American Dream. Norman Miller is essentially a self-made man and a sympathetic character.
If Siqi were to write another fan fiction piece it would be based on A Separate Peace by John Knowles. “The reason I would choose this novel is that it is essentially a story about teenagers. As a teenager myself, I feel a connection with the characters and the writing style. Instead of creating a sequel, Siqi would start “somewhere in the middle of the story,” and develop a different plot line that would lead to an ending of its own.
We asked Siqi about her outside interests, and she responded with the following: “Outside of writing, I also love music. I currently play piano for Chicago Youth Symphony, and I teach piano in my free time. I started my own volunteer organization to tutor local English as a Second Language Learners, and I have found great joy in contributing to my community through working with these kids and adults. Although I’m not that great at it (yet), I love trying out new recipes and cooking for my family. I also play for my high school girls’ tennis team, and I enjoy biking and running outdoors with friends. In fact, nature often serves as an inspiration for my writing.”
The April A-Z Blogging Challenge has come and gone. So has April. I thoroughly enjoyed following the blogs of all you bloggers out there who had the guts to commit and execute such a feat and blog every day in April from A to Z. My hat’s off to you. Your tenacity and creativity deserve a huge pat on the back.
Speaking of a pat on the back, you may have noticed that we, here at SLIW, recently had a first birthday. * Insert another pat on the back here * If I were to say things like “Wow, what a year!” or “Boy, have we learned a lot,” it would be terribly cliche (although I personally love cliches) and awfully boring.
So, in honor/honour (yes, I’m bilingual, too) of the A-Z challenge that we missed and the milestone that we just passed, here is an entire A-Z in one go; the A-Z of our first year. It blows my mind to think that a little over a year ago, we/I had no knowledge of most of these terms.
(Yes, I know this says 2012, but I preferred last year’s logo to this year’s and since we missed it anyway, what difference does a year make!)
N.B. The item in caps at the end of each list explains how we made it through . . .
A Authors, Absolute Write, Artists, Amazon, Acceptance, Accountants, ADVICE (taken!)
B Blogging, Blogs, Bloggers, Books, Business, Bluehost, BANTER
C Contests, Connections, Characters, Cover Art, Categories, Contracts, COFFEE
D Duotrope, Decisions, Domain, DBA, Digital, DONUTS
E Energy, Edit, E-book, Editors, ENTHUSIASM
F Facebook, Follows, Friends, #FF, Formatting, Focus, Favorited, FAMILY
G Google, Goodreads, Graphics, Guidelines, Genre, GRACE (of a deity perhaps)
H Hyperlink, Hashtag, HD, Handle, HUGS
I Interviews, Insomnia, ISBN, Indie, Images, Instagram, ICE-CREAM
J Journey, Joliet Small Business Center, JELLY BEANS
K Kindle, KDP, Kindle Fire, KINDNESS
L Likes, Links, LinkedIn, Legal, Lawyers, LOVE
M Marketing. Mail Chimp, M&Ms, MEDITATION
N Nook, Ninety-Nine Cents, Networking, NUTS (pun intended)
O Opinions, Omniscience, OREOS
P Publishing, Pricing, Promotions, Photographers, Proofread, Pinterest, PATIENCE
Q Quality, Questions, Query, Quicksand (just kidding), QUIET TIME
R Readers, Reviews, Royalties, Rejection, Rights, Retweets, Reblogs, ROCK ‘N ROLL
S Smashwords, Short Stories, Support, Strength, Schedule, Submissions, SLEEP
T Twitter, Tweets, Tweeps, Teens, Taxes, Teamwork, Trends, TEA & TAI CHI
U Underestimate, Underachievement, Up-and-coming, UNDERSTANDING
V Vonnegut, Voice, Victory, VACATION
W Website, Writers, WordPress, Words, WINE
X X-factor (that special je ne sais quoi!) EXCITEMENT
Y Yahoo, YA, Young Adult, YA Lit, YOGA
Z Zzzzzzz . . . time to get some!
If you have been on any part of this journey with us, we thank you! If you are just starting out, we thank you, too!
Have a great day!
Clare @ SLIW
Last week, we had our first birthday. It marked our first year of publishing anthologies of short stories for young adults. That first year was full of firsts, and it’s no surprise that the firsts are about to continue. So, here’s another one. Our first reblog. This is a great little blog post by author CJ Daugherty who is over at UKYA today as a guest. Her post gives food for thought for readers and writers of young adult literature who wonder how sex should be handled in YA literature. Over to you CJ . . .
There’s so much to consider: How old should characters be when they do it? Should they do it at all? If you write sex into your novel are you endorsing teen sexuality? Creating peer pressure that could encourage teens to have sex before they’re ready? Ruining their lives?
Frankly, it’s a quagmire many of us are eager to avoid.
Besides, even if you do decide to take the plunge, let’s admit it – there’s something inherently hilarious about writing sex. It’s all ‘he touched this’ and ‘she stroked that’ then ‘the lights darkened and she forgot everything…’
I’m sorry but… eeuw. And also, ha ha ha ha…
Personally, I just can’t face it.
Luckily, you don’t have to write sex to write something sexy. Romance…
View original post 431 more words
First off, we’d like to wish ourselves a very HAPPY BIRTHDAY! We are 1 today. Like any one-year-old we are still learning so many things and know that we have a long way to go. When we look back at the past year and see how far we’ve come, we are astonished and had we known all the bumps and curves that were ahead we probably wouldn’t have started in the first place. Just kidding. I think. So, have some cake with us. Cake makes everything better, doesn’t it?
You may have noticed that we have been on a bit of a break recently. Maybe you didn’t notice and that’s OK. Sometimes, as perhaps you all know, life gets in the way of even the best intentions. “Suddenly” has been and continues to be a business/hobby/dream/pastime for the three of us who also have other lives that include real jobs, families, aging parents, and all that those things entail. So, suffice it to say that we are back even though we have not really been away :)
Let’s catch up then. I have been in Scotland visiting my parents and celebrating my dad’s 85th birthday. I was there for almost a month doing all the things that a dutiful daughter does for her parents. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t hard work and rewarding. Here’s a picture of my lovely parents about to celebrate my dad’s 85th with a family lunch.
While I was away, my blog following took a nose dive, but I was able to enjoy several bloggers who took the April Alphabet Challenge blogging each day this month with a letter topic. I notice that today is “S” and had we been up for the challenge would have declared it a Suddenly Day. Perhaps an A-Z of our first year should be a blog topic. We’ll see. Oh, and we should have news of Volume 3 of Suddenly Lost In Words very soon.
Catch you later ..
Clare @ SLIW
Tags: Short Stories, Teen, YA, Young Adult
In today’s short story, the final in our Short Story Sunday Series, Nadia discovers that having a robot to do everything for you isn’t what it seems; there are things a robot can’t do. For that, she’ll need . . . another robot!
ZEB AND THE DIRTBAG
By Steven Mathes
Jonathan needs to get a grip.
“This is Jonathan,” Jonathan says to her, pinging a metal finger against his metal chest.
Jonathan’s teenager Nadia fondles another device, her Clever Companion. She looks up in condescension.
“If you were alive like Rufus, I’d almost care.”
Rufus is bio‑patent pending. It looks like a headless, fuzzy monkey. Or a fleshy, hairy, throbbing book bag. Here at this house Jonathan does the chores. Companion does nothing but eat feces and defecate food.
Jonathan is inorganic, but at least his designers took a stab at making him look human. His chrome and plastic face has all the correct human parts, and can show expression. He has a little pink apron painted on his body tube. He is programmed to act jealous, and does it quite well. He has plans for the furry fleshbag Rufus.
The breeders love the way the market for that fleshbag Clever Companion has grown. They have big budgets for development, with all sorts of newer, more stylish models just coming out. They never think about long‑term consequences.
“No Clever Companion at the table,” Jonathan says to Nadia. “Jonathan knows it’s not sanitary.”
“His name is Rufus,” she says.
Nadia pries Clever Companion’s tentacles off her shoulders, and it scuttles off to her room. She does not remove her music player. She listens to Zeb. She cycles over and over through his entire output of a dozen, nearly identical songs. Over and over. She’s reached the age where she mostly doesn’t speak unless she needs money, transportation, or permission.
Tonight she talks, so Jonathan wonders.
“Rufus understands you when you say mean stuff,” she says. “And he’s cleaner than you are. The zines and the wikis say that you’re toxic. I mean when you’re junked, right? You’ll be toxic waste!”
“Jonathan is zero‑bio,” Jonathan says, again jabbing a finger into his own steel chest. “His environmental impact is understood, and therefore managed at your local recycling center. He is not an invasive species.”
“You’re just jealous. I have Clever Companionship!”
Jonathan dishes out supper, but not before uploading the transcripts of this conversation to the parents.
He is programmed to cook all of Nadia’s favorites. This is allowed because her parents get home too late to eat her bland, fatty, teenager food. If her food were good for her, it would be one thing, but it forces Jonathan to supplement with countless additives. Her digestive flora are particularly sick.
Jonathan eats, also. He could put just about anything organic into his fuel cell, but greasy French fries and cultured burger “meat product” provide calories. What is bad for her is good for him. He could stuff all of it in at once, but his teenager has him programmed to break the food into dainty pieces, and swallow those individually.
“Jonathan noticed the kitty litter was gone again,” he says.
“What?” says Nadia.
“It ate the kitty litter. Your Rufus thing.”
Jonathan notes the wave of disgust that crosses her face. Her hand goes to her mouth, and she stops eating. While she deals with what she kissed all day, he adds his little conversation to today’s activity record. Rufus was originally developed as a waste recycler for astronauts in deep space. It is a toilet, as well as a pet. Her parents are big on sanitation, and care about what meets their daughter’s lips.
Nadia finally puts on a brave face, touched with a little anger.
“Well, Rufus’s kibbles are basically the same thing,” she says, sticking out her chin.
She gets up from the table, calls out softly, and the not‑so‑Clever hairy toilet bag scuttles back to her. She makes a show of cuddling and cooing. In an effort to curry favor, Jonathan bends over, and strokes the thing. It wheels around, hissing. It has no teeth, just a sucking tube.
Jonathan focuses on cleaning up, and notes that Nadia has left most of her supper. All the cooing in the world cannot hide the loss of her appetite. Safely out of sight in the kitchen, Jonathan scrapes the plates into his mouth. The garbage lands on top of the dainty bits he put in earlier. He activates his grinder, and the material goes into his fuel cell. He gives his exo‑structure a good polishing before going back out.
He brings her a brown éclair, covered with lumpy chocolate. A confectionery turd.
“Very funny,” she says.
The parents get home before she can decide whether to eat the turd. It’s early for them, and as soon as Jonathan sees them, he can tell something is up. Mother still wears her yoga outfit, and Father wears his rugby interface. They have cut their busy days of work and exercise short. Right now, the faces of the parents show classic indicators of parental panic. It is time to have a “discussion.” Jonathan knows his surveillance, the sum of the activity logs, is responsible. He has no programming for how to act when gloating, but he knows he is gloating. He almost dances.
“You look agitated, Mother and Father,” he says. “Jonathan is concerned.”
“Indeed?” Father says.
“Let’s go sit together around the table,” says Mother.
Nadia goes to put her Clever sewage treatment device back in its cage.
“No, no, Rufus should be with us,” says Father.
They sit. The chocolate turd sits uneaten, the centerpiece of the table. The phrase “Checkmate!” burbles up from Jonathan’s memory.
“Please take the buds out of your ears,” Mother says.
Nadia obeys. Mother nods, unsurprised, but now satisfied. Normally the tiny inserts are completely invisible to humans, but then again, the teenage mind is predictable enough.
“This isn’t going to be easy,” Mother adds.
“Jonathan has been giving us updates about you,” Father says.
Nadia’s face goes through many feelings, some of which Jonathan has difficulty analyzing. She inhales and blows out hard. Her parents wait until she has mastered herself.
“It’s about Rufus,” she says. “Jonathan and Rufus don’t like each other.”
“But you and Rufus are extremely attached,” Mother says.
Jonathan understands irony. Nadia’s attachment to Rufus is literal. She strokes one of the tentacles wrapped over her shoulder, starts to pry it off, but pats it back down.
“So?” she says. “I thought that was supposed to be healthy.”
The fear welling up in her eyes agitates Jonathan. She shifts her weight, and she averts her head. The caregiver software in him thrashes. He wishes to protect her. She begins to sway a little.
“So I have to make a choice, or something?” Nadia says.
“If this was your choice, we wouldn’t be having this discussion,” Father says. “The choice has already been made.”
Nadia goes still. Jonathan’s sensors tell him that she has paused breathing. Her eyes are hard.
“Well?” she says.
Father and Mother both have trouble controlling their mouths. Father actually smiles.
“We have a surprise for you,” Mother says. “An early birthday present.”
Mother gets up and opens the door to the apartment. The figure that enters is the too‑perfect replica of Zeb. Jonathan happens to know that the real Zeb is a computer construct, even his Nadia knows that, but this is a doll‑sized Zeb in the flesh. Jonathan knew they were out, but never predicted this.
“What?” Nadia says. “You bought me a Zeb?”
“You’ll be fourteen on Monday,” Father says. “The Zebs are selling out, and we couldn’t very well hide him.”
The Zeb just stands there grinning. He looks moony, stupid and obedient. The perfect boy. The perfect slave.
“My God, can he sing?” says Nadia. “Did you get the one that sings?”
“He has up to twenty phrases,” Father says. “He can sing all of his songs.”
Nadia was already weakened before the surprise, and now the tears stream freely. She removes the headless dirtbag Companion from her back, and sends it back to its crate. Now she has two organic pets. Jonathan’s thrashing thoughts run out of control.
“What should I name him?” Nadia asks.
“You can call me sweetheart!” says the sassy Zeb, batting his eyes.
Nadia pulls him into her arms. She kisses him on the lips. Then she pulls back enough to stroke his head.
“I’ll call you Zeb, of course.” she coos. “It’s not original, but it’s what I want. My sweetheart Zeb.”
The Zeb watches her face, and smiles a moony smile. It holds her hand, and they cuddle together like a more traditional couple. Jonathan understands the use of this pet. This is a distraction, a way to buy time. With the Zeb in the picture, the threat of having a real boy is delayed.
Jonathan wonders what the Zeb eats. Will Jonathan need to buy more kibbles, or will he have to provide more greasy cultured meat product?
“With every milestone comes responsibility,” Father says.
“Oh, I’ll take good care of him. I promise!”
“No, no. We know that. We’re talking about responsibility around the house.”
“Jonathan’s feedback confronted us with some of our failings,” says Mother.
“You don’t pick up after yourself, you expect him to fix every little snack when you ask for it, he washes your clothes, he makes your appointments for health and grooming . . .” Father says.
Father shrugs, struggling to come up with a list of the hundreds ‑ thousands ‑ of things Jonathan does for Nadia.
“We could go on,” Mother says.
Jonathan cannot continue suffering.
“What’s this about?” Jonathan says. “What’s happening?”
“Please be quiet, Jonathan,” Father says.
“And please stay seated,” says Mother.
When ordered to stay seated, any device with Jonathan’s programming is frozen by direct commands from his operating system. Many questions come up, but he has orders. Fortunately, his Nadia finally defends him, and asks the questions for him.
“What are you going to do?” she asks.
“We’ve decided you’re old enough to be left alone with your Clever Zeb,” Mother says.
“Just ‘Zeb,'” Nadia says.
“You can call me sweetheart!” Zeb chirps.
“Zeb can help, and Zeb can remind,” says Mother. “But you do the actual chores.”
“What’s happening to Jonathan?” Nadia repeats.
“For now, Jonathan will be kept in the closet,” Mother says.
“If we decide you’re still too young, we’ll turn him back on. But we hope that won’t be necessary,” says Father.
Nadia looks at Jonathan with something almost like affection. Her tears still flow, but she wipes at them with a sleeve. Jonathan must sit still, but he can watch. He watches every muscle twitch, watches the angle of her eyebrows, analyzes the pheromones, and even measures the electric potential of her skin.
He watches himself lose. She sorts her priorities, and does the inevitable. For his teenager, growing up takes precedence over love.
“Okay,” she says. “I can do it.”
“Do it, do it, oh, oh, baby, do it!” sings Zeb.
The silence after this little cheer drags on awkwardly, but finally ends.
“Jonathan, please step into the closet.”
Having no choice, he goes in, turns, and pushes his back against the wall. His servos power down. He waits. Nadia still dabs at her eyes with her sleeve. Mother and Father look at her with uncharacteristic concern.
“If there’s an emergency, you can turn him on,” says Father.
“We’ll wait until the school year is over before we recycle him.”
“I don’t know,” Nadia admits. “I mean, he’s just a machine, not like Zeb, but I don’t know.”
Her tears are back. She looks at Jonathan, looks him right in the eyes.
“If you don’t think you can do this . . .” says Mother.
Nadia gets out of her chair and approaches, eyes full of hard tears. Jonathan looks into them and sees the reflection of his apron. The reflection causes him to think about reflection in general. He knows he does not feel, and would not be allowed to do so even if he could, but his system thrashes. A software glitch?
“I’ll just shut him down,” Nadia says.
Her still‑shaky hand reaches toward his face, gently, toward the switch under his ear.
“Jonathan!” Jonathan says quietly, just loud enough for her. “He is!”
Her eyes harden, but she does not look back. She does not tell Mother or Father that Jonathan said something illegal.
“No,” she says. “I’ll turn him off.”
Jonathan stops now.
Meet Steven Mathes, the author of ZEB AND THE DIRTBAG . . .
W.C. Fields once said that anyone who hates kids and dogs can’t be all bad. Given that Steven Mathes has published numerous stories that feature both kids and dogs in a sympathetic way, he just might be as bad as they get.
THANKS FOR TUNING IN TO SHORT STORY SUNDAY!
HAVE A GREAT WEEKEND EVERYONE!
Welcome to week five of Short Story Sunday. There will be one more in the series making a grand total of, yup you guessed it, six. This Sunday, we are featuring a story written in Canada about growing up in India. The author, Ahmed Khan, takes us back with him to his childhood in India engaging all of our senses as if we were right there with him.
SMELL OF TIME
by Ahmed A. Khan
I grew up in Hyderabad in India.
In that place, the sixties were interesting times to grow up in.
I was an only child to my parents. One of my earliest memories is that of a feeling of loneliness. Not that I was actually alone. No. I had many people around me who loved me and cared for me. But I felt that other people didn’t understand me, my thoughts and feelings. It was much later I found out that almost no person is fully understood by any other person in this world.
When I look back on the days of my childhood, I find that in many things, I was luckier than most. I was lucky in the fact that I was an extremely sensitive boy. I thank God for my sensitivity in spite of all the hurt it caused me, because the alternative would have been insensitivity.
A big, yellow old‑fashioned house with tiled roofs was where I lived. The house sported a garden, too. There were numerous fruits and flowers in the garden. In the midst of the garden there was a small water reservoir around which lilies grew.
My grandfather ‑ who in his time had been a magistrate ‑ had the habit of getting up early in the morning. After his morning prayers, he would take a round of the garden, watering the trees. Tending the garden was one of his pleasures. After watering the trees and plants, he would change his dress, pick up his walking stick and take a long walk through the paddy fields. Sometimes, when I had risen earlier than usual, I would accompany grandfather on his walks.
The paddy fields ‑ no, they didn’t belong to us ‑ stretched for three or four acres in front of our house. To reach the fields, all you had to do was to cross the road. This road led to the railway station that was about two minutes walk from our house. Sitting in the house, we could easily hear the sounds of the coming and going trains. These trains were steam‑powered and I liked the smell of the coal smoke that the steam engines gave out. The railway tracks passed through the fields. I enjoyed seeing the trains passing through the paddy.
In the garden was a mango tree. This tree was one of my favorite haunts in times of leisure. On this tree, I had fixed a small wooden board and a tin can. On the board, I would place grains of rice, wheat or corn and in the tin can I would put some water. This was for the birds to eat and drink. On this tree would I sit silently for hours and hours, watching the birds. Sometimes, I would bring books with me and sit reading atop the tree. On this selfsame tree, stripping down to my shorts, I played Tarzan a number of times.
In the evening, all of us, father, mother, grandfather, grandmother, would either take a walk or bring out chairs and sit in front of the house in the gathering coolness of the night, gossiping. It was pleasant.
Summer nights in our house were extra special. Some of us ‑ particularly my grandmother and myself ‑ would sleep in the open, on wooden cots covered with crisp, clean sheets. It was extremely pleasant lying there in the coolness of the night, staring up at the star‑studded sky and listening to the snores of the rest of the sleepers and the chirrupings of crickets, grasshoppers and other insects, while the fragrance of spring flowers filled my nostrils.
During holidays, my afternoons were usually spent in grandfather’s room. I would lie beside him on his bed and he would tell me stories of prophets, martyrs and great thinkers of the world ‑ and I would lie there assimilating it all, occasionally asking him a question, otherwise remaining silent.
After the story session, he would usually go to sleep and I would get up from his bed and go around prowling in his room, searching for any books he might have brought from the State Central Library. I would find the books and start reading them at once, sitting in his armchair. These books were usually quite old ones, their bindings torn, their pages termite eaten, and a strange sort of smell rising up from them ‑ a mysterious, magical smell. Have you ever noticed what books, particularly old books, smell of? They smell of sunny and cloudy days and dark and moonlit nights. They smell of battlefields and gardens, of open skies and dusty attics, of deserts and mountains, of destinies and purpose. They smell of time.
If I ever sit and try to analyze the components of my present personality, I am sure I will find therein several constituents comprising of strange elements like a mango tree, paddy fields, summer nights and smell of old books.
Meet the author of SMELL OF TIME , Ahmed A. Khan . . .
Ahmed A. Khan is a Canadian writer. His works have appeared in several venues including Interzone, Strange Horizons, Boston Literary Magazine, Queens Quarterly (Australia), Anotherealm, etc. He has also co-edited the anthology, “A Mosque Among the Stars.”
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Enjoy your Sunday!
Thanks to the Internet gods (Comcast) for allowing this week’s short story to post on time, and thanks for checking out short story number 4. This week, meet George who takes his son on a traditional family fishing trip only to discover that there’s more to fishing in the wilderness than meets the eye, and ‘survival of the fittest’ may just have been replaced with ‘survival of the tech-savvy’.
BAIT AND SWITCH
By William Meikle
“Are we there yet?”
George Watkins sighed and turned to look downstream. His son Bobby was thirty yards behind, and dawdling.
I guess we’re just too far from the TV and the video games for his liking.
“Nearly,” George shouted. “It’s just round the next bend.”
“You said that ten minutes ago,” Bobby wailed.
This trip up the Monongahela was supposed to be character building, a chance for George to bond with a kid he was rapidly losing to the enticements of the internet and games machines. He’d thought that a fishing trip would bring them closer together.
So far it wasn’t going according to plan.
“Come on son,” he said. “There’s a big trout up there just waiting to be our supper.”
The boy kicked at some pebbles, sending them scuttling into the river. He never raised his head.
But at least he’s following.
When they turned the corner they saw the creek spread out before them, with the rock shelf and ruined cabins at the far end.
“Why did people live out this far?” Bobby asked.
George took this as an encouraging sign. At this stage even a simple question was progress.
“Well there’s mine workings all over these hills and . . . ”
But the boy seemed to have lost interest already. He fished a cell phone from his pocket and put his head down again.
George sighed and set his sights on the rock shelf, their campsite for the night. Ten minutes later they pitched camp in the ruins of the Taylor and Nichols cabins. Rather, George got the tent up and started in on collecting firewood for later, while the boy moped around trying to get a signal on his phone. George resisted the urge to bawl the kid out, trusting that the lure of fishing would grab as quickly as it had taken hold of George himself at the same age.
Wait until we get that first nibble of the day, George thought. He’ll come round soon enough.
But even after they’d set up on the riverbank and George had caught a fine two pounder for supper, still Bobby remained resolutely unimpressed.
“If you don’t cheer up, I’ll feed you to the Ogua,” George said.
The boy’s head finally rose from where he’d been staring at the phone, even though it was currently switched off.
“What’s an Ogua?”
George smiled inwardly.
I’ve caught him.
“It lives hereabouts,” he said quietly. “The Iroquois say it’s as big as a bear, with a hard shell like a turtle and a thick tail that can break a man’s back. By day it stays under the water. But at night it comes out, looking for deer . . . or anything else it can drag away to its den.”
Bobby’s eye’s had gone big and wide open.
Time to reel him in.
George waved in the direction of the ruined cabins.
“That’s why the folks who built these here dwellings had to leave. The Ogua got all their cattle . . . and they were afeared it was coming for them next.”
George looked out over the still river, remembering how his own father had told him the story, in this same spot. He cast the line, sending the weighted lure over to the far bank where it landed with a soft plop.
He was remembering his own father’s story, and the insistence, the sincerity with which he’d told it. The Ogua might, or not be real, but one thing was for sure, George’s old man had believed it, and had made George believe it, for a time at least.
Now if I could only get through to Bobby. Maybe we could both believe.
“Its den is about there I reckon,” he said. “At least that’s where your Great‑Granddaddy saw it, back in Fifty Five. It gave him such a fright his hair went white. And do you know . . . ”
He never got a chance to finish. The boy’s cell phone rang, the blast of tinny music breaking any spell George had woven.
“Yay. I got a signal,” Bobby shouted, happier than George had seen him all day.
He was on the phone all the time while George got a fire going and cooked the trout. He only put it down to eat. George tried to interest him in the beauty of the sunset, but the boy sat there, head down, thumbs working frantically, lost in a world George would never understand.
He did get the lad to switch it off as they got into their sleeping bags. Bobby wanted to stay in the tent. George preferred to lie out in the open, like he had in his youth. When he woke to take a leak around midnight he saw a tell tale blue glow from the phone’s display just inside the tent. By then he was too dispirited to get into an argument about it.
First thing in the morning, we’re outa here. It’ll be best for both of us.
After that, sleep wouldn’t come. He lay on his back, staring up at the Milky Way and remembering nights such as this with his own father; the anticipation of the fishing to come the next day, the feeling of closeness with his old man he feared he’d never achieve with Bobby.
It was nearly two o’clock when he rolled onto his side. There was still a faint glow from the tent where the boy lay.
Enough is enough.
He moved to climb out of his bag.
And that’s when he heard it . . . a soft slump as something pulled itself out of the water, barely five yards from where he lay.
He rolled, still cocooned in the bag, ignoring the stones and twigs that poked and prodded even through the nylon, making for the boy’s tent.
“Bobby!” he said in a whisper that wanted to be a shout. “Get out of there.”
Something big moved across the ground towards him, twigs snapping and pebbles tumbling with small splashes into the river. Above that there was breathing, a liquid gurgle.
“Bobby!” he said, louder this time.
He shucked off the sleeping bag. It was grabbed from his grasp and whisked away. He heard the sound, very close now, as whatever had come out of the water tore the nylon with loud rips.
A bobbing blue light moved somewhere to his left, heading into the woods, but George had no time to think. He headed for the other tent and almost pulled it out of the pegs as he threw the flap open.
The tent was empty. The boy had indeed heard him and slipped away. George looked around, hoping to catch another glimpse of the bobbing blue light that would show him where to find the lad.
“Over here,” a small voice shouted from among the cabin ruins. George could indeed just make out the faint blue glow of the phone.
He felt the air move over his head and something large and heavy swished, just missing him. He tried not to remember the stories, of how the Ogua could break a man’s back with its tail. He headed in a stumbling run for Bobby’s location.
The Ogua followed him. It tore the tent to shreds, the ripping loud in the quiet night. The moist breathing got louder and there was a clicking noise that George realised could only be claws; claws scratching on stone. He made out a shape in the darkness. The thing that followed him across the campground was tall, almost as big as George himself and twice as broad. A long tail, eight feet of more, stretched out behind it, swishing from side to side, balancing the creature’s stumbling forward steps on its stubby rear legs. It closely resembled a dinosaur from the old movies, but its back was protected by a thick carapace, glimmering in the moonlight like oil on tortoiseshell. The eyes were the worst; almost perfect circles, like small saucers, and milky white like fine porcelain. They tracked George’s every movement as the Ogua came forward, hands bearing long knife‑like claws clenching and unclenching, anticipating the rending of flesh.
George reached the cabin ruins just ahead of the Ogua. There was no sign of the boy as he skipped across fallen timbers and rocks.
“Over here,” a voice called. The dim blue light showed at the edge of the forest.
“Stay there, I’m coming,” he called back and ran faster.
The Ogua followed, tossing timber aside as if it were matchsticks. George fled into the woods. The boy had already moved on, the blue glow bobbing as it moved further into the trees.
“This way,” Bobby called.
“Wait,” George replied, but all too soon the blue glow was lost in the thickets. He had no choice but to follow. And as he went after Bobby, so the Ogua pursued him. He ran, almost blind in the dark, branches and thorns tugging and tearing at clothes and skin. The Ogua crashed through everything, breathing louder now, panting like a hot dog. Something pulled at George’s ankle and he let out a yelp, but it was just a twig, He tore away from it, leaving the lower half of a pant leg behind.
“Over here,” he heard Bobby shout above the noise of the Ogua. “Quick. This way.”
He ran, ignoring the hot blood flowing from numerous small scrapes and tears. Finally he saw the faint blue glow ahead of him. It was still, unmoving.
“Jump,” Bobby shouted. “Jump now!”
He didn’t think. He leapt, aware of crossing a dark void, landing hard and toppling sideward. A small hand steadied him.
“Run,” George shouted, making a grab for the boy. “It’s nearly here.”
The Ogua crashed through the trees, white eyes shining almost silver in a thin wash of moonlight. George turned to run again, but Bobby put a hand on his shoulder.
The Ogua came on hard; then lost its footing and fell away, the liquid breathing turning to a screech as it tumbled into a dark hole, scrambling frantically. It kept trying to reach George, tail thrashing wildly, but all it managed to do was send timber and debris falling, hastening its descent.
It dropped away into darkness, the screech fading.
George leaned over slowly and looked down into an old mineshaft, the walls now only partially shored. Below there was only deep quiet blackness.
Bobby came and stood beside him, a big grin on his face.
“How did you do that?” George asked.
Bobby held up the phone.
“Research and GPS,” he said, smiling.
George looked at the phone, seeing it through the boy’s eyes for the first time.
“It looks like I need someone to bring me up to date with all this new‑fangled stuff. Want a job?”
Hand in hand, father and son headed back to what was left of their camp.
George realised something else.
“You used me as bait didn’t you?”
Bobby looked sheepish.
“I saw it in a game once. It worked that time as well.”
George ruffled the boy’s hair.
“Maybe fishing is your thing after all.”
Meet the author of BAIT AND SWITCH, William Meikle …
William Meikle is a Scottish writer with fifteen novels published in the genre press and over 250 short story credits in thirteen countries. His work appears in many professional anthologies and he has recent short story sales to NATURE Futures, Penumbra and Daily Science Fiction among others. His ebook THE INVASION has been as high as #2 in the Kindle SF charts. He now lives in a remote corner of Newfoundland with icebergs, whales and bald eagles for company.
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