elmer.

Samantha Celera via Creative Commons

by R.L. Black

It was the last day of school before summer vacation and Ms. Sweet’s first grade class was missing twenty-two bottles of glue. Where had they gone? Had one of the children taken them? Another teacher, perhaps? Ms. Sweet pondered the puzzle but could not come up with a conclusion that made any reasonable sense. What in the world would anyone want with all that glue?

Seven year old Tabitha walked along the sidewalk toward her home with a bulging backpack, a breaking heart, and a plan.
No one had known she was outside the door yesterday afternoon when the family doctor delivered sad news to her parents. It was something a seven year old should not have heard.

“How much longer does my wife have?” Tabitha’s father had asked in a broken voice.

“When will I … when?” Her mother sobbed.

“In the autumn,” the doctor answered in a voice so quiet Tabitha barely heard.

She’d gone to school and asked her teacher when autumn would come.

“When the leaves fall from the trees,” Ms. Sweet said.

Tabitha stopped walking, looked up and around. When the leaves fall from the trees. There were a lot of trees. A lot of leaves. She was going to need more glue.


R. L. BlackR.L. Black is EIC of two online journals and her own writing has been published across the web and in print. Find her at rlblackauthor.tumblr.com where she blogs and reblogs about writing and LOST.

 

 

Fireside

(OvO) via Creative Commons

For more information about this feature, check out the original post.

Fireside
Issue 16, October 2014
Edited by: Brian J. White
Cost: Free to read online

Because my traipsing through short fiction venues is designed to be one-stop, it’s necessary to note that I won’t be bothering with serialized content. I say necessary in the case of Fireside’s October 2014 issue, because the bulk of the issue seems to be devoted to Lilith Saintcrow’s serialized She Wolf And Cub, including a prologue, and then Chapter One. Which is fine because it makes this inaugural edition of The Short List a rather breezy one, consisting of just three stories to read and a short note from editor Brian J. White. That is absolutely not an indictment of She Wolf And Cub—but if I get hooked on every serialized piece I stumble across, I’ll end up doing nothing but catching up on those by the third or fourth Short List. I’m intentionally avoiding it. And that’s actually something worthwhile to note about reading short fiction publications: feel free to skip over anything that doesn’t grab you right away or that just doesn’t sound interesting. With so many other stories to choose from, there’s no sense getting stuck on one that you won’t finish or that isn’t working out for you.

Anyway. Fireside.

Continue reading

Reader

Hartwig HKD via Creative Commons

I’ve spent a lot of time over the past few years trying to improve my writing skills by focusing on short fiction. Along the way I’ve read a ton of it, both to learn from what was out there and to see what was selling as I tried to align my submissions to markets that were (more) likely to buy my work. And in the process I developed a love of short fiction.

I could easily say that liking short stories isn’t particularly a recent development. But considering how well short work scratches the reading itch without the commitment inherent in choosing a new novel, it’s kind of surprising that it took me this long and this particular circumstance to get me truly invested in it. It simply didn’t occur to me earlier to seek out short fiction—other than the occasional author collection or intriguing theme anthology. I certainly never thought about subscribing to or buying fiction magazines.

I recently had a conversation with some other writers in which it was observed that sometimes it feels like short story readers have a 1-to-1 overlap with short story writers. That basically the only people who care about literary or genre magazines which run less-than-novel-sized pieces are people who are writing in that format. Maybe that’s untrue or unfair. But what I don’t think is controversial is the idea that short stories could be getting more attention than they are from pure readers.

My hypothesis is that maybe these publications just don’t get enough non-writer-y attention. Perhaps if someone explored some of the available options with a focus on their value to readers; if there was a concerted effort to get conversations started the way they’re started about books—with the added benefit of more inclusiveness since it’s much easier to get a group of people to read a ten-page story than a 300-page book—the short fiction community might not feel so insular.

Enter The Short List. This will be an experiment. For as long as it feels fun and engaging, I’ll choose a different publication for each installment and offer mini-synopses, reviews, and essays about the selected issue. My intent is to spread the focus around: professional-paying, high-profile publications will sit alongside indie and niche collections. I want to do genre magazines and eclectic anthologies. But more than anything I’m going to focus on these selections from a reader’s perspective. What’s the value like? How fun are the stories to read? How likely is it readers will find themselves sharing their favorites with friends? I specifically won’t be talking about the publications’ submission process or pay rates. Cover price may be a factor, art design might come up. What won’t be discussed are topics like the ease of working with the editors, what kind of submissions they’re looking for, or how frequently they respond with personal feedback.

The format may change and evolve over time. I do want to consider this a somewhat critical evaluation of each selection, but I don’t really care to fixate on ripping apart stories (and authors) I don’t care for. I also don’t have much interest in carefully curating my selection of a given publication based on issue or theme. The way I see it, any reader should be able to pick up any issue and be well-rewarded for their time and money. So I won’t be cherry-picking too much.

But here’s my hope: if you love to read, I hope you’ll read along with me, at least sometimes. I want to start conversations, introduce people who love to read to stories they might not otherwise have seen, connect new fans with new favorite writers, and get people excited about short fiction publications for the joy of reading bite-sized stories.

Stay tuned for the first edition of this feature coming very soon.

who are you?

Bianca de Blok via Creative Commons

…and Ellie groaned against the quickening contractions.

“It’s funny, right?” Barry said. “In labor on Labor Day.”

“Right,” Ellie said, “hilarious.” And it was funny, in its own predictable way.

But the hospital parking lot was full. The admissions desk drowned in scared and angry women, all suffering from violent wrenches of pain in their lower abdomens.

“It’s not possible,” Ellie heard the sweating receptionist say.

A doctor squeezed past and climbed on a table. “How many of you are actually pregnant?” His words quieted the crowd.

Only Ellie raised her hand.

“Okay, we’ll start with you.”

Evergreen more than eversun

Mashthetics via Creative Commons

“I guess that reputation you have of non-stop rain ain’t true, then?” Gary asked the gaunt-looking cab driver.

“We get our share, true enough.”

“Nice day today, though,” Gary remarked.

“Yep. Enjoy it while you can.”

“I will.” Gary was quiet for a few minutes. Then, “Any suggestions?”

“For what?”

“You know, stuff to do. I just got in.” It seemed a dumb thing to say, considering the cab had picked him up from the airport.

“Space Needle? Seen that?”

“Yeah,” Gary said, leaning back, “I seen that.”

“Lots of people go downtown. The very first Starbucks is there.”

“Nah, I don’t drink coffee.”

“Well, it’s a great day. You could hit the water. Or the mountains. Beautiful scenery up here. Lots of green.”

Gary was quiet.

“Not outdoorsy?”

“Not really,” Gary answered. “But I do like green.”

The cab driver fidgeted. Sweat beaded on his wrinkled forehead. “Green’s nice,” he said.

“You got anything green,” Gary paused, then added, “Frankie? Maybe some gemstones?”

“Ah, crap,” the cabbie said. “Come on, man, I was gonna give them back. I swear.”

“Sure you were. Tell me where the case is and then pull over here.”

“Here?”

“Right here.”

Wells Fargo Tower_lg

Dystopos via Creative Commons

Wells Fargo Tower is not the tallest building in Alabama. But is is the tallest in Birmingham. I don’t work on the top floor, but I work near it and I can look out from my thirtieth story window at the rolling hills of the South and I know there’s no other place I’d rather be.

The hardest part of my job is not letting it change me. I take home a comfortable paycheck, but I earn more than that. Here’s the thing about embezzlement: you don’t have to be smart to do it, you just need the stones to return to the scene of the crime five days a week and ask them to pay you for the privilege. Not that I’m some kind of hillbilly idjit. You don’t siphon three million dollars from phony expense reports in under five years without some kind of plan.

But there’s a part of me that wants more than the money. I want the life. Seersucker suits and adopted personality quirks. Charity lunches and political glad-handing. I want people to know I’m rich, to feel it when they walk into my office. I want people to grovel.

For now, I’ll wait.

Miami Beach at night

Daniel Lombraña González via Creative Commons

This place is full of weirdoes, and I fit right in. Kendra Corinth thought this as she stepped out onto the Miami boulevard. Warm summer nights weren’t her favorite, but streetlamps were her sunshine. Her powder blue hair caught the flash of an LED billboard. For a moment her pale face looked pink, like a cooked shrimp. The elaborate makeup on her eyes went beyond the extravagance of the club-hoppers, swirled and looping in intricate artistry from lashes to temple and down onto the slope of her cheek. She wore her clothes like she was daring everyone to stare. There were six knives and two guns hidden in the elaborate crooks and folds of her overlapping layers.

She bummed a light off a gawking tourist and picked his pocket while he leaned in. Around the corner, she tossed the cigarette aside. She didn’t smoke.

Fresh with cash, she set about her plan. She needed an uncooked salmon, large enough to hold a bowie knife and a delivery van—preferably covered in graffiti. She also needed half a gallon of nail polish remover. As she broke the beauty supply window she thought, Yeah, my weird sunshine fits right in.

Welcome to Iowa

Jimmy Emerson via Creative Commons

Orchid made a call to a friend in Iowa, trying to keep the panic and unprofessional thoughts out of her voice. The friend hadn’t seen what she was looking for, but his casual reassurance that he would look into it settled Orchid’s nerves for a few hours. Usually she would be furious—murderous. But the phone call from her bagman had sent her into a quiet panic. Had the runner simply taken off with the money, she could kill her way out of the situation. Hunt him down. Get it back. She believed him when he said it was stolen. Vanished. No way to track it down in time.

She still had to try to get Bashar back. He was running, but she didn’t hold that against him. She thought about running, too. The Eastern Europeans would be by in less than 24 hours looking for the money. They wouldn’t entertain excuses. Orchid didn’t fear most men, but she feared these guys.

“Jesse,” she said into her Nextel.

Chirp. “Yeah, boss?”

“You’re in charge. I need to take off for a bit?”

Chirp. “Um. Okay. How long?”

“Not long. Just need to look for something.” She paused. “Up north. Iowa.”

Nothing's too hard for God

Marshall Astor via Creative Commons

Bashar made the drive once a week from Columbia to Kansas City. I-70 wasn’t much to look at, but he liked the alternating billboards that told the story of his life: religion and porn. A mega-church advertising Sunday services, then an adult bookstore trumpeting a sale. John 3:16 in tall letters. A quarter mile later, a gentlemen’s club reminding motorists that they had girls who were not just nude but all nude.

The job was boring, but it gave Bashar time to pray. When he arrived in KC, the men in sunglasses would inspect the guns in silence. They’d nod, and hand over a locked briefcase and a small stack of bills that Bashar knew was his cut. It was always tempting to pull into one of the clubs on the way back. Or even at one of the churches. His money would be welcome at either. But he knew better than to stop until the money was safe in Orchid’s hands.

It all went wrong with six words: what’s the worst that could happen? The passenger seat, where he left the briefcase, was empty when he got back.

Bashar turned the car north and drove.

Don't Mess with Texas

Nils Geylen via Creative Commons

Jennie Sherman believed that Texas was big for a reason. She wasn’t from the South, but she was so far removed from the North she didn’t remember it. The Lone Star State suited her because she was her own lone star, and she felt the land in her bones.

“Don’t mess with Texas, and don’t mess with me,” she’d say with a silly-serious laugh. Jennie knew people thought she was overdoing it, but Texas was big to accommodate people with big personalities. At least, that’s how she saw it. That’s why she fit in so well.

The job at the bank didn’t pay much. It seemed ironic. When the men in the ski masks and ten-gallon hats came in and asked her to fill the bag, she leaned over the counter.

“If you take me with you, I’ll show you where the gold is,” she whispered.

“Gold?” the man whispered back. She imagined he was handsome underneath the wool.

“Lot of it,” she said with a wink.

Everything in Texas was bigger. So if you were going to commit a robbery in Texas, Jennie thought, might as well make it a big one.