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The Dot on the Sky

November 21, 2013

For’s flash fiction challenge Find your favourite opening line.

I chose “At first it was just a tiny dot in the cool blue afternoon sky” by ZTS.



At first it was just a tiny dot in the cool blue afternoon sky.

Marnie only noticed it because her son Harold was standing in the front yard with his head tilted back, squinting fiercely to hold something in focus.

“Mama, there’s a smudge on the sky,” he greeted her without breaking his focus.

In the sky, honey.  Things can’t be ‘on’ the sky.”  Marnie shaded her eyes and squinted herself, trying to resolve the dot.  It didn’t fly, or move.  Whatever it was hung there; a stationary blemish in the otherwise perfect blue.

“Clouds are on the sky.”

“No hon, they’re in the sky too.  You wouldn’t say a bird is on the sky now would you?”

“Birds fly in the air, above the ground.”

“In the air, there you go. The sky is just like the air, so you have to say ‘in’.”

“No, it’s not. And that-” Harold pointed “is definitely on the sky.”

Marnie sighed, amused, and let it go for today.  “What is it, can you see?  You have better eyes than me.  Is it a weather balloon?”

“It’s not a weather balloon.” Harold cupped his hands around one eye; an improvised scope.   “It’s just a blurry sort of smudge.” He dropped his hands.

Marnie gave up on the dot and instead studied her son’s face.  He had an expression, halfway between puzzled and calculating –  she’d seen it before when he was stuck with his maths homework, and he wasn’t quite sure if he couldn’t see the solution, or if there was a mistake in the problem itself.  He was a bright kid, and focussed too; just now he didn’t notice his mother’s admiring smile.  “I’ll keep an eye on it, Mama.”

“Ok hon.  I’m going to go inside and start tea.”



Later in the afternoon the dot had grown, but still sat in the same spot on the sky.  Harold watched a cumulus cloud, bright white, drift behind the smudge.  He lost it for a an hour or so in a bank of dark grey rainclouds, and he imagined that they had scrubbed it away; cottonwools cleaning the other side of a window.  But the clouds passed, and there it still was; a troublesome bit of grime interrupting the darkening dome.



When Harold’s father Patrick came home from work, he found Harold on the patio, staring intently at the sky.  His thumb marked a place in the paperback novel forgotten on his lap.

“Hey Kiddo, whatcha looking at?”  He squeezed Harold’s shoulder by way of greeting, and couldn’t help but follow his gaze upwards.

“The smudge on the sky.  I think it just got bigger.”

Patrick squinted, and could just make something out through his glasses.  “Oh yeah,” he agreed, somewhat vaguely.  “What is it?”

“Dunno. It’s not getting any closer.  Just bigger.”

“How can you tell?” Patrick could actually see several blots on the sky – he took his glasses off and tried to clean them on the edge of his shirt, with his briefcase still dangling from his fingers.

Harold shrugged.  “Been keeping an eye on it.”

“Doesn’t sound like a much of a way to spend your day off school, Kiddo.”

Harold nodded thoughtfully, but didn’t break his gaze.  “I think it’s important.”

“If you say so.” Patrick replaced his glasses and glanced at the cover of Harold’s book.  It showed men in uniform firing lasers at robots or aliens or both in the desert under an iron grey sky.  Patrick had chosen it for Harold, and was pleased to see him reading it. “Good book?”

“It’s a little far-fetched.  It’s ok.”

“Is it? Well at least it’s ok.” Harold didn’t see his father’s grin. “Where’s your mother?”

“Making tea.”

“Mm, yum.  Casserole?”

“I think so.”

Patrick lingered a moment.

Harold spared a glance for his father before returning to his observation. “I’ll come in when it’s ready.”

“Sure thing, Kiddo.”



By the time tea was ready, dusk had hidden the smudge. Amongst the spread of suburban stars, it blended into the blankness in between.  Harold strongly suspected that it was still there, though, and even thought he could still see a bit of grey a shade or two lighter than the usual night sky colour, but his neck ached from looking up all day and his eyes were itchy.

“Eat up, hon,” Marnie smiled at him.  “Your show’s about to start.” She’d forgotten all about the smudge.

Harold made a gallant effort with his vegetables, and excused himself to the living room. He put the television on at a moderate volume, and his parents could only just hear the epic opening chords of the theme song.

“He’s such a good boy.” Marnie mused with a smile.

“He’s taken to the sci-fi too.” Patrick said by way of agreement. “I hope that means he’s going to be a programmer like his old man.”

“Oh! That reminds me,” Marnie turned towards her husband, with her brows raised.

“The dead pixels?”


“We’ll get it fixed before morning.” Patrick grinned as he stood and started  clearing the plates. “If not, well, we’ll just have to have a cloudy day tomorrow, despite the forecast.”

“Ah well,” Marnie answered her husband’s grin with one of her own.  She gazed at the back of Harold’s head; he watched the LCD television screen as intently as he had watched the sky outside.  “It has to rain eventually.”

Y is for questions at the Yeti Convention

August 31, 2013
Philosophical discussion about the nature of Yeti being, or territory disputes.

Philosophical discussion about the nature of Yeti being, or territory disputes?

X means No

August 29, 2013
Just don't.

Just don’t.

Shoe Hangin’

August 26, 2013


There is no one in the city but Truck, as far as she knows.  At least, she hasn’t seen another person since she turned up here.  But occasionally there are signs that they’d been.  Like Shoe-hangin’ Alley.  That’s what she calls it; the street signs are all blank.

Power lines leap from wall to wall, high up in Shoe-hangin’ Alley, and from them shoes, all sizes and styles, flung in pairs, dangle by their laces.

Her own shoes are worn and losing their soles.  Her feet inside are stiff from walking.

Truck sits and pulls the shoes off, and then her socks. She undoes each bow, and ties the two together.

It takes fourteen tries, but she gets the hang of the throw and her shoes catch on a line. They twist around and set the rest of the pairs dancing.  She watches til they settle still again, then walks on, barefoot.

Whimsy and Dust

August 24, 2013
W is for Whimsy

W is for Whimsy

And a new piece of flash fiction – Scatter. I had fun writing this one, but there’s so much more I wanted to add.  It feels like a first draft, in that it’s all dialogue and action with only the necessary description.  There’s a whole lot going on in the background with bystanders and reactions that didn’t fit in the word count.  There was a bartender and a backstoried antagonist.  There was a more obvious dystopian element.  Maybe I’ll write it all in. but for now it’s bare story bones; long thought about and quickly written.

V is for Vanity

August 17, 2013
Don't forget your happy face.

Don’t forget your happy face.

Following Instructions

August 2, 2013

I so enjoyed the world and feel I created with last week’s flash fiction challenge that I wanted to write further into it with this week’s. The cards seemed stacked in my favour – fitting ‘random’ items like an iron horseshoe, leather mask, animal skull, road sign or child’s toy into this steampunk/western world I’ve stumbled into? Easy.  Perfect.

So I thought.

This story was easy to visualise – I can play it like a film reel in my head, appropriately grainy and with colours muted, but story flowing.  It was near impossible to write.  I had two possible starting points and far too much backstory butting into the single scene I wanted.  I could easily have stretched this out to pages, but I’ve only got 1000 words.  I’ve rewritten it and reorganised it several times, and the deadline’s fast approaching.  As a result of all this, Instructions is hastily written, and one of my longest flash pieces at 820 words.  But hopefully, still works as a standalone piece, and enjoyable.





The servant stares down the shaking barrel of the shotgun and into the wild eyes of the man that aims it.  Black pupil and too much white.  Sun-baked Sand Rat.

“Hold it,” the thug growls.  He blinks hard.  Sweat makes tracks down his dirt-crusted face, over a holy brand on his cheek. He takes a crouching sideways step closer, trying to see under the servant’s wide-brimmed hat .  “Cleansin’s not completed yet.”

A gust of air escapes from under the steer-skull-and-leather mask that stands in for the servant’s face. Glassy lenses set into the skull’s eye sockets reflect the thug and his cronies creeping up to flank them.

Two instructions, his master had given him.  Three words each.  Simpler in saying than in execution, as it turns out.

The first: deliver the letter.  That was more or less done.  The servant had ridden far out into the Barrenlands, so far that his horse had started creaking from lack of oil, and then further again to this faded and forgotten town.  It had come to expect a cold reception while out doing its master’s work, but when it arrived it had to take a pause.  Pull the envelope from inside its coat, and hold it up against the dust-blasted lettering on the road sign.  To double-check that the markings matched, before it rode on in over the indifferent dead lining the road.  They’re all shot full of holes, and covered in blood turned to brown rust in the dusty wind.  A crow screamed, cursing the intrusion, and fluttered down to the feast.  The first carrion-eater of many.

The address led him to the general store.  A man blocked the doorway, fallen over a shotgun he never got to fire.  The servant crouched down, and turned the body over.  A stout and weathered man, grey hair and trimmed beard.  Vacant eyes behind cracked spectacles.  The servant sighed, and tucked the letter into the bloody vest.  Then it heard a little creaking noise from inside.

Which brought it to the second instruction.  Boots crunching over shattered glass, it stepped over the corpse and into the cool dark of the shop.  Around the counter, a woman, all dusted in flour, slumped in front of the cupboards there.  Her hands were clamped around a bled-out belly wound.  The servant crouched down again, creaking at the knees.  Heard a shuffling.  The doors were inlaid with buckshot and painted with blood, but it’s tough old wood, and solid.  It pushed the body aside, opened the door, and  reached in.  One leather gloved hand closed around a stick of an arm, and drew it out along with the little girl and fierce shrieking it was attached to.  She hollered and kicked at the skull mask as the servant hauled her out and held her up to scan her face.  More tear-stained and tooth-bared than the image it recalled, but this was the one.  Paying no mind to the pummelling ball-bearing fists, it carried her back out into the glare.

Where this brainwashed Sand Rat and his shotgun were now trying to prevent it from fulfilling that second instruction.

“Boss says we gotta make sure this town’s purged good and proper.”  His darting eyes flick to the little girl.

The servant plants her down behind itself,  one gloved hand gripping her coat-rack shoulder.  She’s stopped squirming now though.

“Get out of my way!” the Sand Rat jabs at them with the gun muzzle.  The servant doesn’t blink.  Can’t.  “I ain’t never seen you before, but I got no problem sending you to the Fire along with the rest of this tainted filth!”

Cogs whir in the servant’s head.   Retrieve the child.  A whole lot of tasks were coded into those three words.  A whole lot of actions could be sanctioned.  The cogs click, and stop.

It pushes the child to the ground and fills its hands instead with a pair of pistols pulled from under its coat.  It puts a bullet between the eyes of the Sand Rat and ducks the dead man’s reflex blast.  With mechanical precision it moves, sights, and executes the henchmen before they get a chance to return fire.  The last shot rings off into the crows’ cawing; disturbed from their glut they fuss and fall silent again.

The steer skull swings left and right.  The carrion birds are the only things that move now.  The child is gone.

The servant spies her in the doorway of the store, whimpering over the body of the man there, holding the delivered letter .  With a grunt, the servant strides over and plucks her up.  Ignores her wailing and pries the blood soaked envelope from her matchstick fingers, trading it for a rag dolly drawn from another pocket.  She sniffs and falls silent.  Clutching the toy like a tether in a sandstorm, she lets the servant lift her up into the saddle.

It hauls on the reins and turns the iron horse around, pointing it home.

Pulling the Strings

July 26, 2013

This week’s flash fiction challenge involved a random plot scenario generator that spat out two characters and an action for each of them.  I had an idea, but I couldn’t bring it to life until I started telling myself the story in a female version of the voice of the narrator from Bastion – gently Southern, no nonsense, sure of itself.  This is a technique I’m sure I’ll be using again, when I can’t find the right words or the right description.  The voice cut through all the others in my head offering distracting suggestions, and, I hope, makes it flow more naturally, and with more character.

I’ll tell you what the random generator told me, but later.  I don’t want to spoil the story.




She landed in a crouch, breathing hard, watching.  Dust settled.  Bits of metal somethings clinked, crashed and wobble-rolled out of the cloud.

But it was over.  The mechanical millipede, or whatever it was supposed to be this time, fumed. Torn metal and popped struts jagged from its carapace, and black clouds billowed from its belly.

High up in the leftovers of the cockpit, its operator fumed even darker.

She stood up, wiped a little bit of blood from her cheek.  Someone broke the fallen hush with a  whoop, and all the innocent bystanders broke into a roar, clapping and cheering.  The Artificier and his latest invention of terror were defeated yet again, and never mind the damage.  Just one more scrap heap in another broken-down nowhere town.

Here on this dust plain beyond the fringes of civilisation, he could make monsters and chase her all he liked; these people meant nothing to no one.  At least, not until the stories started getting told, filtering back.  The inventor, gone mad and rampant, and the mysterious girl who foiled him at every turn.

She gave a tiny nod, satisfied with her work today.  But then she saw him move, the slightest of motions.

Their eyes locked.  His hand was on some kind of dangerous-looking lever.  She tensed and, unblinking, tapped her jacket pocket over her heart.  His eyes blazed like the fires slowly burning out in the engines; that last shriek of twisted metal giving way was the grinding of his teeth.  But he let the lever go.

She slung her hammer over her shoulder  and turned away.  The crowd parted for her, chanting her name.

“I’ll get you next time!” he yelled out over the celebration.  The townspeople hushed, eyes wide.

She halted.  Then she grinned and blew a kiss over her shoulder.  “You just try!”  The crowd went wild.

A little smile touched her lips as she walked away.  She knew his secret.  As long as she had it, he would keep on trying to catch her.  And as long as he wanted it back, she would keep on living, and keep on winning.

And she would always be the hero.




So the random plot generator gave me this:

The story starts when your protagonist uses someone else to get ahead.

Another character is an inventor who is determined to make your protagonist look bad.

Digging the Bones

July 23, 2013
This is what happens when I don't write.

Digging up old microfictions, because sometimes looking back keeps me motivated moving forward.












According to science, all things are possible, though most things are highly improbable.


well then it seems fair to say that, it’s unlikely, but it’s possible, that the electricity firing between the synapses of my brain as I’m daydreaming could,

and I emphasise could;

COULD, in theory, give birth to some kind of thought monstrosity, cobbled together from

wayward thoughts and flash images and things I need to remember to do tomorrow.  This creature

(and creature is definitely the word, a creation.  A creaturation.)

could be in the world already, feeding off the synaptic firings of struggling writers and con men; invisible, intriguing, insistent.


In theory.


I wish I knew what it was after though.  Its scent is becoming distracting; it leaves the decaying bones of ideas around, and digs great holes in my mind.

Screaming Nonsense into the Storm

July 18, 2013

I forgot how much I enjoyed Chuck Wendig’s weekly flash fiction challenges over at his blog.  When I’m working on my own projects, I pile pressure on myself, and quickly lose the knack of ‘don’t worry about the first draft – just write.’  With a given starting point I attempt stories I would not normally have thought myself capable of, and with sometimes maddening constraints, I finish them. The challenge forces me to make my brain work in ways it’s not used to, and draw inspiration from unexpected sources.  My personal challenge at the moment is to relax and – aargh – just write. I try to kick back (here I imagine my desk chair scooting across the floor from where I’ve pushed off while I swivel and shriek) and write anything, even nonsense.  We should not underestimate the value of nonsense.


Sometimes you find wonderful things hidden inside.

Sometimes you find wonderful things inside.


These aren’t my proudest works, but I often come up with something I can use; a voice, a setting, a tone, a style, a single image.  In this week’s The Device, I didn’t love the voice I was trying to invoke – it led to wordy and unweildy sentences, and I’m sure I missed the mark on silliness – but I came up with some images that haunt me and I fully intend to recycle them elsewhere.  I know I’ve talked about the benefits of weekly ‘non-critical’ writing exercise before; actually re-reading posts like On Track, from a time when I was feeling a lot better about my writing, was what prompted me to have a go at these challenges again.