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Notes

46. Flash fiction: "Nine Lives to One"

Categories: 2005.11.17#1Permalink

In response to flashxer prompt:

THE OLD MAN WAS SENILE, BEDRIDDEN, AND LYING IN HIS OWN WASTE. HE WAS WHEEZING HARD WHEN TWO PEOPLE, WEARING BALACLAVAS THAT COVERED THEIR FACES COMPLETELY DROPPED A PILLOW OVER HIS FACE AND HELD IT THERE...

---

NINE LIVES TO ONE (222 words)
Sacha Chua

Ninety years old and he was still like a child around cats--a mean, cruel, nasty boy who kicked them and pulled their tails and 'forgot' to feed them. His wife loved the cats, but she loved him too, so she overlooked his cruelties and snuck her little kitties catnip every so often.

But cats don't forgive as easily, and they live for a long time.

Age took its toll on the man. He grew frailer and frailer. Bedridden, he ranted and raved at his wife as she took care of him. She pretended not to hear his insults.

The cats heard, though. They took to staring at him from the foot of his bed, silent witnesses to the verbal abuse his wife endured. After particularly bad nights, she'd find herself waking up to the purring comfort of cats snuggling under her blanket or rubbing their tiny faces against hers.

He sickened further, lungs heaving in the crisp night air, arms too feeble to move.

The cats almost seemed to smile.

One day his wife found him staring straight up, rigid. Dead.

Suffocation, the doctors said. How he suffocated in that bare room, no one could explain.

But the cats all purred, even the littlest ones as light as feathers on the nose and mouth and chest of a weak old man...

---

You can tell when I'm procrastinating something big. I write more flash fiction.

45. Too Much — 55 words

Categories: None — Permalink

Written on 2005.10.10 for prompt: IT'S LIKE THIS HE SAID. I'VE GOTTA FOLLOW THIS DIET EVEN THOUGH IT TAKES LIKE CRAP, THAT'S WHAT THE PROCTOLOGIST ORDERED. I DON'T KNOW WHAT IS TO BE ACHIEVED, BUT I GOTTA DO IT, OR ELSE. THAT'S WHAT SHE SAID.

TOO MUCH (55 words)

Good for my heart, my doctor said. It was great for a few days, but now it's driving me nuts. I can't taste anything any more, and my nerves are shot to hell. Bloody diets. Bah.

One bite at a time. I can do this. I stare at my plate.

The double-chocolate cake stares back.

44. Flash fiction: Damsel in Distress

Categories: 2005.11.15#2Permalink

- In response to flashxer prompt: "He was a real cliche. Top of the heap. Strong as steel, a go getter who let no grass grow under his feet, an overachiever who kept his nose to the grindstone and never looked a gift horse in the mouth."


DAMSEL IN DISTRESS (263 words)

He fought his way past the thorny briars and slew the ferocious dragon--all without getting a spot on his gleaming armor. He climbed to the highest room in the highest tower, took off his helmet, and woke the sleeping princess with a gentle (but manly) kiss.

She snapped awake. "ARRRRRRRRRRRGH! Can't anyone get any rest around here?!"

"But... but... Weren't you a damsel in distress?"

"A damsel in _STRESS._ Which is why I was resting, until you very rudely came along and woke me up."

"I'm sorry! It's just that I saw a dragon, and dragons usually guard beautiful princesses and..."

"What did you do to my dragon?!" She ran to the window and saw the bloody carcass. "Pookie! You killed Pookie! Don't you know how hard it is to raise dragons? Every time I manage to train one to sit and beg, some dumb oaf comes along and kills it!"

"I'm sorry--I really am--forgive my--"

"And you chopped down my rose garden!"

"I'm really sorry about that, but I had to rescue--"

"I have HAD it with people who ASSUME that princesses need RESCUING more than they need their BEAUTY SLEEP! OUT!" She bashed him with a pillow. "OUT! I don't want to see you ever again!"

"Okay! I'm sorry!" He backed down the flight of stairs, cowering behind his shield as the princess pillow-whacked him all the way to the ground floor.

"AND STAY OUT!" she yelled as he galloped off into the sunset. She bolted the door, trudged upstairs, and started writing a letter.

Dear Dragons-R-Us...

E-Mail to [email protected]

43. Flash fiction: ALLEYCAT - 196 words

Categories: 2005.11.11#2Permalink

ALLEYCAT
by Sacha Chua

I tug the hem of my red leather dress down against the cold. Out of the corner of my eye, I see another man join my shadow. Three men on my tail. It's two in the morning. Not a good time to walk in this part of town.

I walk faster, my heartbeat louder than my footsteps.

One man yells, "Hey, babe! Wait up! We just want to play!"

I can't outrun them. Not in these stiletto boots. I walk faster anyway, adrenalin surging through my blood. I feel their leers boring into my back.

Narrow alley to my right. Probably leads to a dead end.

Perfect.

I disappear around the corner. Their footsteps get louder, cockier. They can't wait to close the gap. I can hear them breathe.

Snapping my right heel open, I withdraw my monofilament garrote. Strangulation is fun, but decapitation is so much quicker--and this one takes a feather of a touch to slice through bone and cartilage. This way, they can hear their heads hit the ground.

I make short work of the scum. Then I wipe blood off leather, replace my heel, and saunter on, an alleycat on the prowl.


In response to "PIRATES" prompt on flashxer mailing list:

THEY PICKED UP THE BLIPS OF HE THREE BOATS PERSUING THEM, BUT DID NOT REALIZE THEY WERE PIRATES UNTIL THE FIRST SHOT WAS FIRED. THE CRUISE SHIP CAPTAIN ORDERD FULL SPEED, THE LINER WAS PEPPERED WITH GUN FIRE AS SHE MOVED FROM A LEISURELY 15 KNOTS TO MAXIMUM SPEED, LEAVING THEM IN THE WAKE.

42. Insomnia

Categories: None — Permalink

INSOMNIA (108 words)

I couldn't sleep. I tried hot chocolate and textbooks. Nothing worked. It was two in the morning; early afternoon back home. My boyfriend would be working on his novel, but he wouldn't mind it if I interrupted him. Besides, computer-computer calls were free.

"Honey? You okay? It's the middle of the night."

"I... well... it's one of those days."

"There, there. Do you want to talk about it?"

"No, it's okay. Just... could you..."

"Always, dearest. Sweet dreams!"

As on so many other nights, I turned up the volume and settled back into bed, drifting off to the sound of his typing and the rhythm of his breathing.

  • Written on 2005.11.06 in response to "Phone ring" prompt on flashxer from Irv Pliskin:

Two A.M., and the phone rang. Piercing, shrill sound. She picked it up and all she heard was heavy breathing. Not again you creep she yelled, not again. She rolled over and tried to go back to sleep...

41. Flash fiction: GLUTTONY - 55 words

GLUTTONY (55 words)
Flash fiction by Sacha Chua

"Gluttony is indecent and a catalyst for sin," said his devoted mother, measuring rice grains for the famished boy.

"But mom!"

"Forgiving it would be like sending you to hell. No." She controlled everything he ate and did.

Eventually she died, still dogmatic and unrepentant. Traumatized, he satiated himself on junk food. He died obese.

E-Mail to [email protected]

コンピュータの操作の仕方を知ってますか。 Do you know how to operate a computer.

40. Flash fiction: DISTANCE (55 words)

DISTANCE
Sacha Chua

The cellphone rang, a welcome interruption to my dreams of him. I woke up smiling and reached for the phone in the dark.

It lay still. No missed calls.

Suffocated by silence, I curled my fingers around the phone--around his hand, 3000 miles away--and tried to sleep for the third time that night.

コンピュータがこの会社に導入されつつあります。 Computers are being introduced into this company.

39. LIES, DAMNED LIES AND STATISTICS

39 words

The mayor raised his hands triumphantly. "According to a survey by the Asian Development Bank, the Philippines is less corrupt than Bangladesh!"

Someone in the crowd shouted back, "How much did we pay them to make us number two?"

従業員に対する新コンピューター・システム研修があなたの仕事になります。 Your task will be to train the employees on the new computer system.

38. NEW YEAR'S CAT

Categories: 2005.02.04#1Permalink

687 words

Linlin couldn't wait for the fireworks to start. While her parents watched the New Year's special on TV, Linlin sat by the window, never taking her eyes off the sky.

A loud wail cut through the cool night air. She didn't know they made firecrackers that sounded like alarm clocks, and she looked around to find out what part of the city had already started celebrating. The sky was still dark. It was as if the whole city was holding its breath.

The ringing continued. She looked down and was surprised to find a cat nestled against a big alarm clock that was ringing so hard it bounced.

The cat was fast asleep.

It was not every day that she saw a stray cat on her balcony (they were on the 15th floor, after all) and this was certainly the only cat she'd ever seen with an alarm clock. She shook the cat gently. "Excuse me, Mr. Cat, wake up, wake up..."

The cat yawned and mumbled, "Just a few more minutes, Mouse..." It then turned over and went back to sleep.

A talking cat! She talked to animals all the time, but this was the first time one talked to her! New Year's Eve was really magical. She wanted the cat to wake up and talk to her.

Linlin had a great idea. She went to the kitchen and got some cat food. She didn't think her cat Yumyum would be angry if she gave the strange cat something to eat. After opening the can, she went back the balcony and waved it near the cat. "Wake up, wake up, I've got food for you."

A lazy eye creaked open. The cat's nose twitched and dove into the food, followed by the rest of the cat as it slowly woke up. After finishing the tuna, the cat sat back and licked its paws. "You're not Mouse," the cat said.

"No, I'm Linlin. Pleased to meet you."

"Thank you, Linlin. I'm Cat. If you hadn't woken me up, I would have been late for an important New Year's party. Hey, would you like to come? I think the Jade Emperor would be happy to see you."

"Jade Emperor? Party?" Something clicked in her head. "Who else is going?"

"Don't worry, it's just the usual gang: Rooster, Ox, Goat, and lots of other people... Even Dragon is taking time out from his busy schedule."

The animals from the calendar! Her teacher had told that story on the last day of class. Cat and Mouse used to be great friends, he said, but then Mouse tricked Cat by not waking him up even though Mouse promised. That's why the Cat isn't part of the Chinese zodiac, the animals that protect each year.

Maybe this year Cat could make it!

Cat flicked his tail impatiently. "So, would you like to come?"

She really loved fireworks, but how many times did she get to go with a talking cat to a party? "Let me ask permission first." She turned toward the living room and shouted, "Mom, Dad, can I go with Cat to the Jade Emperor's New Year's Party?"

Without looking away from the television set, they said, "Sure, have fun."

She grinned and turned back to the cat. "Let's go!" Cat held his paw out to her. When she took it, she found herself in front of an elaborate palace. She was shy, but Cat urged her along and introduced her to the whole gang. They feasted for what seemed like hours and Linlin made many friends.

When she got back, she was surprised to find out it was still night. She looked at the alarm clock on the balcony. It was just a minute to midnight! As Cat bowed and waved goodbye, the sky exploded into fireworks.

"Wait! Your alarm clock!" She scooped the clock up and held it out to the cat.

"Keep it to remember me." Cat smiled and disappeared.

As the second hand on the alarm clock hit 12, she grinned to herself. No one would believe her if she told them where she was last night!

(Written in response to the "Last Night" prompt on flashxer)

37. THE GAMES KIDS PLAY — a 55er

Categories: [[ShortStories:37]] [[FlashFiction:15]] — Permalink

The boy winked before dropping a black beetle on a girl, who screamed and whirled around to smack him. He dodged and dashed off, glancing backward, slowing occasionally. She was furious. His grin stretched ear to ear.

I turned to my wife. "Did I ever..."

"Worse." She laughed. "Boys are crazy when they're in love."

E-Mail to [email protected]

36. THIRD TIME'S THE CHARM, 55-word flash fiction

Categories: [[FlashFiction:14]] [[ShortStories:36]] — Permalink

Burnt the toast. Charred black, three days in a row. He didn't yell, didn't leave; just laughed and told me he'd cook for me. Breakfast in bed, everything.

That's when I knew he loved me with his heart, not just his stomach. Definitely a keeper. Guess I'll put my Cordon Bleu diploma back on display.

- thanks to arion and dagbrown for feedback!

35. Cat — 55 words

Categories: [[ShortStories:35]] [[FlashFiction:13]] — Permalink

"Your cat's vicious."

"Neko?" I stroked the cat sleeping on my lap. She yawned, stretched, and curled up around my hand.

"Absolutely antisocial." He shivered. "Psycho. Pure evil."

"Nonsense. She's a darling." I leaned in and whispered, "Just let her think she's boss."

A hiss and a deep scratch told me I wasn't quiet enough.

- In response to the "ABSOLUTELY ANTISOCIAL" prompt on the flashxer mailing list

34. SAND CATS - 563 words (2004.10.19#7)

Categories: None — Permalink

"Here, kitty, kitty..." The girl made a welcoming sound in the back of her throat as she coaxed the shy tabby out of the sand. Loving hands ran over the cat's smooth, soft back, brushing away excess grains from the tabby as it turned a pebbled stare on her. Beside it, a sleepy cat yawned and stretched, oblivious to the inscrutable gaze of a sphinx who studied the retreating sea. Behind the girl, a calico cat twitched its coconut-ribbed tail as it stalked a mouse, teaching a pair of kittens how to hunt. A timid kitten peeked out of its mother's shadow, terrified by the sea spray. Carefully stepping back, the girl surveyed the gamboling cats and clapped her hands with delight.

Just one more, and then the light would be perfect for a picture. The girl worked with an easy rhythm, digging into hot sand with glee, raking away powder-dry layers to uncover memories of this morning's tide. Nimble fingers shaped the sand into an arched back, alert ears, and a bushy tail that almost seethed with anger. She bent to brush her lips against the cat's warm forehead and for a moment she thought she could feel it move under her hands. Asking the fierce cat to stand guard, she ran, breathless, to call her parents and show them the sand cats.

Her mother put her newspaper down, said, "That's very nice," and went back to reading the entertainment page. Her father--ah, her father had a camera, her father would take a picture of her cats, would love them as she did! She flew down the beach, clambered among the rocks and pulled her father's sleeve insistently. He laughed. Of course he would come. He would take their pictures.

Her father ambled along the beach taking pictures of every wave, so slow she pulled him in impatience. Couldn't he hear the cats call out to them? Didn't he want to learn their names, their stories? Didn't he understand that her cats were waiting to be photographed, worshipped, loved? She dashed ahead, then circled back, alternately pulling and pushing him as she chattered about the cats' antics.

As they crested the rise, she heard the sea keen, a long, low note that sent shivers up her spine. The once-angry cat bowed its head in apology and pain, his face mauled by a vicious footprint. She cried out to shoo away the kids gleefully stomping on the other cats but no one paid her any heed, and when they moved on to other distractions, she ran to the ruined tableau of all her cats wounded and grieving.

She turned away so that her father couldn't see the saltwater that stung her face. In a wavering voice she said she'd do them again, already stooping to reform the cat closest to her, pouring all her love into it. Sand caked her skin and got under her fingernails but she didn't mind. She didn't even notice when her father strolled away, laughing about the simple joys of childhood.

When she smoothed the last cheek and pinched the last ear, the sun was too low and her father too far away to call for pictures or admiration. No one would understand anyway, no one but her cats. She sat there, still and silent, a sand-girl-cat guarding her kittens. The tide came in and claimed them all.

33. CHOPSTICKS

Categories: 2004.10.15#2Permalink

"Help me do my hair." Palsied hands guided mine to the pair of chopsticks Mama always used to bind her hair in a tight bun. I gathered the limp gray strands gently, conscious of Mama's fragility. No matter what I did, though, the chopsticks kept slipping out of the knots I made.

"Harder." She reached up and gave the chopsticks a sharp twist. I winced as I heard hair snap, but her face showed no pain. "I want to look my best when I die."

"Mama, don't say such things."

"I'm dying and you know it. No sense pretending. When I'm gone, you have to keep the family together. Someone has to keep your brothers from killing each other." She nodded toward the other room. Through the thin wooden walls, we could hear them already arguing about inheritance.

"How can I? They won't even give me the time of day."

"I know you can do it. You have to be strong." She patted my hand.

I felt her slip away. "Mama!"

"I love you all." As the light left her eyes, her head bent forward. The motion jarred the bun loose and the chopsticks clattered to the floor. I reached for them and tried to do her hair again, but there was no strength left in my shaking fingers. A door slammed shut, and my family was no more.

(Written on the train.)

32. LAZYBONES

Categories: 2004.10.08#3Permalink

The lambanog-soaked farmer snored, lulled to sleep by the carabao's steady rhythm as it navigated the muddy trail home. The coarse, broad neck of the carabao pillowed the man's head as he mumbled insults and curses at drinking buddies now far away. The carabao plodded on.

Sleepily swatting the hitch-hiking flies away, the man shifted onto his side, for a moment dreaming that he was at home on a nice soft bed. Lost in dreams, he was unable to avoid an undignified fall when the carabao tripped on a tree root.

Covered in mud, he shook a fist at the carabao. "Watch where you're going! Worthless piece of... If you don't shape up, I'm going to eat lengua!" With that, he clambered back onto the carabao and nudged it with his knees.

The carabao refused to budge.

He nudged it again, sharply. "Move! I'm going to give you a kick in the behind if you don't!"

The carabao took a few steps backward.

"Lazybones!" He jumped off with a muttered curse. The carabao munched grass, unconcerned. He drew back to deliver a powerful kick, but missed. Alcohol-addled senses may have failed to register the carabao's snort, but bruises showed the carabao had much better aim!

(In response to flashxer prompt "Motivation": You want motivation? Okay, okay. How about a kick in the behind if you don't get it done? Is that motivation enough, or do you need even more vigorous persuasion?)

31. THE LAST PROMISE

Categories: 2004.09.28#3Permalink

"I'll love you forever." He pressed her fingers to his tear-stained cheeks.

She pulled her hands away. "No more promises. That way, you can't break them." She left without looking back.

Two years later, he saw her obituary in the newspaper. Only the moon knows the vow he made, the first since they parted. To see her one last time, perhaps? He never made it, dying in the flood that rose that night.

They say you can sometimes still see him struggling through the mists, bound by his last promise.

(Reply to flashxer prompt: "Trust you? Trust you? Of course I don't trust you. Once again you made me a promise you just can't keep.")

30. A LAZY AFTERNOON

Categories: 2004.09.28#1Permalink

The carabao grunted to a halt unceremoniously. I felt Maria wake up. Steadying her, I jumped off the broad back and tugged the carabao's horns.

"We have to get Maria home. C'mon, lazybones..."

The carabao shook its head.

"Please, Ambo?" I waved some grass in front of it enticingly.

The carabao snorted and closed its eyes.

"Oh, man, don't go to sleep now!" I scratched my head and sheepishly grinned at Maria. "I can walk you home, if you want. I'll just come back for Ambo."

"It's... it's okay. My home is still far from here, and there's plenty of time. Maybe he just needs to take a short nap."

"Yeah. I'll try waking him up in a while. For now..."

"Shhh. The afternoon sun is beautiful."

I smiled and sidled closer to her, throwing a wink at the carabao. Who says old carabaos can't learn new tricks?

(in response to flashxer prompt: Stalled)

29. COOKIES

Categories: 2004.09.14#2Permalink

"Glad you could make it on such short notice. Babysitters are hard to get on a Friday night, particularly those with references as good as yours."

"Don't worry about me. I love children. In fact, I brought a treat for--Benjamin, right? A cookie now, and--if you behave--another cookie later. How does that sound?" The girl produced a jar and offered it to the child, who shook his head and hid behind his father. The babysitter laughed and set the jar down on a small desk. "Isn't he such a dear?"

"Ooh, is that chocolate? Benj, if you don't want any..."

"Now, now, John, no snacks before dinner. Kathy, just two cookies, okay? Please make sure he eats dinner. I've left something in the ref. Before I forget, here's the advance you asked for. Good night, Benjamin, Kathy! See you at 10."

Then they were gone.


His stomach rumbled. He put down the truck and waddled over to the dining room. No dinner in sight. He could ask the babysitter, but that'd probably mean having to eat boring vegetables.

He caught a whiff coming from near the front door. Cookies! Cookies would be perfect for dinner. He peeked behind him. She was still on the sofa, staring at those gross shows with lots of face-sucking. Removing his squeaky shoes, he tiptoed through the living room and climbed onto a chair, carefully wrapping his small fingers around the jar. Easing the flip-top lid open, he reached in, grabbed his prize, and crammed it into his mouth.

It wasn't quite chocolate. He didn't know what it was. But it tasted... nice. He wanted another one. And another. And -

"You like the cookies?" The baby sitter smiled at him.

Cookie-laden hands froze half-way to a crumby mouth.

"I love cookies. You can help me make some. Your kitchen has an oven, right? Let's go. Bring the jar with you."

He found himself taking a step, and another, and another. He couldn't take his eyes off her, staring, horribly fascinated as she dipped a hand into the jar and snared a cookie.

"I do so love children," she sighed, and bit into it.


A note greeted his parents when they came home.

"Benjamin was absolutely wonderful. Thanks."

(in response to flashxer prompt "Splintered")

29. ONIONS

Categories: 2004.09.09#1Permalink

I watched the old man examine the onions carefully. It was my first week on the job and I couldn't help but notice that every afternoon the old man came to buy half a dozen onions.

Today was no different. There was the old man, hefting the onions, examining them for defects. After choosing six plump onions, he would ask me to dice them and put them in a plastic bag. I always cried. Our manager told us to humor an old man's whimsy, but didn't explain further.

It was a slow Tuesday afternoon, and my curiosity got the better of me as I chopped the onions. "Excuse me, sir, but I've been wondering why..."

He looked around. Seeing no one else in the store, he turned to me. "Why I buy so many onions?"

I pulled a chair close and gestured. He settled into it, turning the uncut onions over and over in his hands. "My wife... She loved onion soup. We must've fought about it for thirty, forty years, but she always won. Who wants to eat onion soup every day? Her hands always smelled like onions, too."

"But now... I don't know how to make onion soup. I wish I could. I miss her."

With that, the old man gathered up the onions and left, tears streaming down his cheeks.

(in reply to flashxer prompt 2004.09.03: Love)

27. OUT OF THE RAIN — 25 words, 158 chars

Categories: 2004.07.15#2Permalink

The drenched pair eyed the unrelenting storm.

Resigned, he asked, "Coffee?"

A smile. "Don't you just hate rain?"

The puddles were long dry when they left.

(can apply to "A brisk morning walk" if you think of it more as a quick dash escaping a morning shower...)

26. Stargazing — 157 characters

Categories: 2004.07.11#4Permalink

Highways intertwine, a concrete canopy lit by the unsleeping city. Stargazing, we find constellations not in the light-choked sky, but in twinkling offices.

25. Mail — 126 characters

Categories: 2004.07.11#3Permalink

"No new mail."

"No new mail."

"1 new message(s)!" Heart jumps! Hands shake. Click, click.

Face falls. "MAKE MONEY FA$T!!!"

24. A Teacher's Life — 160 characters

Categories: 2004.07.11#2Permalink

The words are thick and foreign in your mouth. Stumble. Try again. Some nod. Most seem indifferent. Bell rings. As they shuffle out, smile courage and despair.

23. No signal — 160 characters

Categories: 2004.07.11#1Permalink

"Searching..." Step back. Wave it. Turn it off. On. Damn. Three days in a row? This time for real, but she'll never believe me. Long-stemmed roses? Might work.

22. STUDYING FOR THE BAR — 55er

Categories: 2004.07.02#3Permalink

"Could you help me analyze this?"

"Give me that." Pages flipped. "The bar's tomorrow and you're still having problems? You'd be so lost without me to help you review. It's your textbook asset preservation prenup. Can't see what's wrong with it."

"Last page." Nervous cough. "Doesn't have your signature."

Pause.

"Of all the ways... Yes!"

- Written for flashxer prompt "Letter from a lawyer"

21. COFFEE OR TEA?

Categories: 2004.06.30#1Permalink

I turned, startled, as the doors burst open and the staccato beat of her heels announced her approach. From the look of it, she just had a bad day at the office. "Long time no see," I teased, standing up as she stalked into the cafe.

She gave me a perfunctory peck and slid into the booth, waving aside the offered menu with a brusque "Coffee. Black." She looked at her watch. "I have another meeting in two hours. Are you sure an afternoon date is a good idea?"

"You need to relax every so often. Another late night, dear?" I wrapped her hands in mine, quelling her fidgeting. "You're working too hard." I lifted her delicate palms and breathed in the remnants of rain-washed air. "And you're still not wearing the perfume I gave you."

"Can't bother. Always in a rush. That's advertising for you. No such thing as a nine-to-five job. Exciting, though. Always something new."

"I'll take what I can get of you. Perhaps I can invite you out to a late dinner at Chateau Verde?" I caught her glancing at the wall clock. "But let's get your coffee first." I beckoned the waiter. "The lady will have coffee. Black, please, no sugar and no cream. I will have Earl Gray, if that's available. That will be all, thank you."

"Black coffee. Earl Gray." The waiter ambled off.

She sighed in frustration. "Dinner? Can't make it. Don't know how late the meeting will run."

"Maybe I could bring you coffee at the office. One of those gourmet blends. Perhaps I can convince you to try tea?"

"Whatever. As long as it has lots of caffeine."

"Allow me to spoil you. Is there anything else I can do for you? I missed you, you know."

Her eyes softened. "Sorry about the past few days. We've just landed a major account and I've been too busy--"

"Hush, it's okay." I leaned forward to kiss her, careful not to smudge her lipstick. Her cellphone rang, so I bumped her forehead instead. I quickly moved back as she snapped her phone open and listened.

After a rapid-fire conversation, she stuffed the phone into her purse and groaned. "Oh, damn! They've moved the deadline up, so we have to scramble." She threw me another apologetic look before digging around for her wallet.

"It's okay, I'll take care of it. You know I never let you pay anyway."

"Can't blame me for trying." She kissed me on the cheek again as she slid out of the booth. "I'll call when it's done!"

I signalled the waiter. He hurried over with a tray, setting coffee in front of me and tea on the space opposite. Waiters always switched our drinks. I hadn't the heart to correct him or ask him to take them back, so I thanked him and asked for the bill.

I reached for the tea across the table. Dark curls of flavor spread through the tepid water as I steeped it, swishing the tea bag around. The acrid smell of strong coffee overpowered the delicate aroma of my tea. I felt myself drawn to it, lifting the cup of coffee to my lips. The bitter taste made me grimace. I gripped the black velvet box in my coat and took another sip, and then another, letting the burnt roast trickle down my throat.

- Written in response to flashxer prompt "A relaxing spot of tea"

20. Beloved canines, cherished friends

Categories: 2004.06.21#4Permalink

(Sacha here. Lucas and Kaygee are both perfectly alive and well. I just couldn't think of any other names at the moment.)

"I'm sorry, son, but they really have to go."

"Awww, c'mon, dad! Look how hard they're trying to hang on! Can't I keep them forever and ever?"

"Don't worry. You'll have two new ones soon."

"But that's just not the same, you know..."

"It's part of growing up. You're just going to have to deal with it."

"But they've been with me since I was a kid!"

"All things must come to an end. You'll understand that when you're older."

"But how am I going to smile without Lucas and Kaygee?"

"You named your _teeth_?!"

(Written in response to "A trusted, cherished canine companion", 2004.06.20 flashxer prompt)

ShortStories

19. A long wait — 75 words

Categories: 2004.06.17#1Permalink

She'll come around eventually, I know. We promised, one decade and three kids ago, never to let the sun go down on our wrath. Saved our relationship more than a few times. This time will be no different. We'll make up and laugh it all off. She just needs time to cool down.

I shivered and sank back into my parka. Blasted midnight sun. It's going to be a long wait.

- written in response to 2004.06.15 flashxer prompt "Let not the sun go down on your wrath"

18. Moonlight

Categories: 2004.06.08#4Permalink

The smog-choked and world-weary sky shrouded the moon and the woman was glad of that, glad of the blurred shadows she faded into as she walked undefined through the resolute dreariness of the city, eyes fixed on the ground and a careful blankness maintained in her head, filling her time with the quotidian in order to escape her grief.

Then the world stopped in breathtaking clarity, razor-sharp shadows cast by a perfect moon suspended against stars she hadn't seen in years. Against her will, her eyes were drawn to that horrible bright orb that mocked her as her heart traced again and again that one question: why.

Moonlight prickled her skin, pooled in her eyes and trailed down her cheeks unnoticed. She stood there in the middle of the street, searching even as she told herself her eyeglasses could do no more than the telescopes at the space command lab. Somewhere beyond, unblinking eyes stared at her, helmet dustless on an disturbed plain. Who knows? Perhaps a bone-dry mouth whispered sweet nothings across the expanse as she stood there, transfixed, deaf to the car that hurtled in from nowhere and sent her across the skies into his embrace.

E-Mail to [email protected]

17. "After Life"

Categories: 2004.06.08#3Permalink

The funeral procession slowly winds its way through the rain, oblivious to the struggling man desperately trying to claw his way out of the tightly-sealed coffin.

"He always knew what to do." "He was a good soul." "He'll be missed." The well-wishers talk loudly to muffle the dull thuds of frantic fists. I draw my coat about myself to keep out the chill as I stare at the coffin in morbid fascination. So the greater good has claimed another victim. I shiver, wondering when it'll be my turn.

"Dearly beloved, let us remember there is death after life and life after death." We bow our heads. The eulogy is short. The grave-digger's shovel works constantly through the service, reforming the irregular cavity hard-won from a too-yielding surface, shoring up the sides of the grave as they slope back in. The last words are said, the last prayers murmured.

The coffin is gently lowered--and then released, plummeting through the air in a cloudburst of light and shattering upon a hospital below where a baby wakes up, squalling, thrust unwillingly into the violent world.

16. Graduation — 55er

Categories: [[2004.05.22:1]] [[FlashFiction:17]] — Permalink

The valedictorian choked back tears several times during her speech. The keynote speaker drawled on with great seriousness. My co-teachers grudgingly paid me for correctly predicting both trite templates--"graduation is not the end, but the beginning" and "hard work pays", respectively. As students fidgeted, waiting for their turn, I yawned and opened my book.

15. Feast

Categories: 2004.05.14#3Permalink

We feasted on chicken marsala risotto. The creamy arborio rice tickled our tongues; the chicken hinted of the best wine. We savored every dreamy bite.

Afterwards, I put away the full-color cookbooks that fed our imaginations and helped my mother scrape the last grains of coarse rice and salt into a bowl for tomorrow's dinner.

- Another 55er for the 2004.03.09 flashxer "A quick fix"

14. Link — another 55-word story

Categories: 2004.05.14#1Permalink

Webpages flash through my optic nerves. I flirt with the system. Guatemala, average rainfall. Pi, 500 digits. Uzbekhistan, capital. Girl, second row, great legs. Whoops, still connected to the projectors. Press conference finished, long day over. Gulp sleeping pills. Hyperlinked terrors drown my eyes. Must escape. Bloodied, clawed-out eye sockets--but nightmares flood back in.

- In answer to the 2004.03.21 flashxer: "A fleeting thought". - Thanks to Baryon for editing.

13. 55er: "We're Pregnant"

Categories: 2004.05.12#6Permalink

"Easy does it. Remember that Lamaze class we took? Breathe in, breathe out. Don't think of it as a big deal."

"I'm going to kill you! ARRRGH!"

"Owww! Honey, my hand..."

"At least it's just your hand. I can think of something else--ARRRGH--I'd rather crush."

He winced. "Okay, it _is_ a big deal."

E-Mail from Irv Pliskin: (Prompts: "Easy does it", "A big deal")

12. "Adopted"

Categories: 2004.05.12#4Permalink

"Mother? Am I adopted?"

A tiny hand slipped into mine. The moment of truth? Raised her as our own flesh and blood, but always told her she was different.

"Kids at school say I'm a freak."

"No, dear, don't mind them." I embraced her, warm skin over cold metal. Not adopted--assembled from love.

11. Short story: SMOKED

Categories: 2004.04.23#3Permalink

"All right, kiddo, cough it up."

She shook her head, mouth clamped shut.

Exasperated, he pinched her nose.

When she gasped for breath, he grabbed the saliva-coated cigarette. "This is bad for you." He was about to chuck it into the trashcan when nicotine pangs hit. Wiping it on his sleeve, he lit it up.

E-Mail from Irv Pliskin

10. Kidding: "Second Honeymoon"

Categories: 2004.04.07#10Permalink

Prompt: "Just Kidding"

(a shot at trying to reply to prompts on the same day)

SECOND HONEYMOON

"A trip to Paris. Just the two of us." I tapped airline tickets against the palm of my hand.

"You're kidding."

I poker-faced until her disbelief turned to delight. "It's my way of making up. You're the only woman in my life."

Gratitude lit up her face. "I knew they were wrong about you!" She threw her arms around me. "Wait until they hear about this!"

I kissed her on the forehead gingerly. "I just have some business to arrange in town on Tuesday afternoon. The meeting would bore you out of your wits. Why don't you just drive down and meet me for dinner at... What was that restaurant you wanted to go to?"

She went on in a breathless litany of thanks and fantastic plans. I knew she'd be on the phone for hours tonight, boasting to all her friends about how thoughtful I was after that big fight we had. I didn't bother to catch the restaurant's name. I wouldn't need it anyway.

She ran out of breath and I saw my chance to get out. "I'll tune up the other car." I headed to the garage.

After all, it would be such a tragedy if her car skidded out of control in those difficult zigzags at night. A terrible accident, considering that she's normally such a cautious driver unless excited. I think I need to take a look at those brakes.

A smile crept over my face. It should be easy enough to be loving, then heartbroken, then free.

E-Mail to [email protected]

9. Sacha's Paradise: "Island Paradise"

Categories: 2004.04.07#9Permalink

The image of islands like townhouses just popped into mind... =) I need to check this against real-estate ads, but it's a quick draft.

ISLAND PARADISE

"No man is an island... but you can own one!"

Tired of living in the city? Own your own island paradise now! Sip a martini while watching the sunset on your own private beach. Spend a lazy Saturday afternoon in a hammock strung between two palms. Located only thirty minutes away from the commercial district, the Island Paradise planned community offers all the amenities of modern living in a idyllic setting.

Each island comes with:

- A one- or two-bedroom cabana - 24h electricity, hot/cold water - Palm trees - At least 20 meters of beach

For your convenience, ferries pass by every hour, and a boataxi is just a phone call away. A shopping mall and a playground are on a large island in the middle of the community.

Ask your real estate agent about Island Paradise now!

E-Mail to [email protected]

8. School Bus

Categories: 2004.03.23#2Permalink

It's not much, but if I don't force myself to write, I might never get around to it. =)

She glanced at the clock impatiently, trying to ignore the giggles and peals of laughter that erupted from the classrooms next to K-1B. 8:35. Where were her kids?

By this time, Annie would be gazing out the window, daydreaming of castles and princes. Mike'd be fidgeting at the back, unable to keep still. Laurie would be dutifully working on the exercise for the day.

She wrung her hands. Where were they? Kindergarten students were almost never late. The school bus service dropped them off at 8:15 everyday. One or two might be truant, but an entire class?

She surveyed the empty chairs with growing concern. Locking the classroom door behind her, she hurried to the principal's office. "My students--", she began, but the look of horror on the principal's face robbed her of breath. She turned to the television set that transfixed him and her world blew away with the smoke billowing from the yellow crushed metal that once protected her angels.

7. Hotshot — 55 words

Categories: 2004.03.08#1Permalink

Hotshot programmer fresh from college thinks he can do everything, eh? I keep particularly nasty COBOL code for these special occasions. Just because it's on a computer doesn't mean it's legible. Looks like English, but it's worse than the Gordian knot. That'll show him his place--then maybe he'll be willing to learn something.

6. Long shot

Categories: 2004.03.07#3Permalink

Company bonding, so we're out for billiards this afternoon. I spot an easy shot, although long--ricochet off the cushions and pocket the last two balls. My gal claps when she sees how I've lined it up. The boss watches me intently, twisting his cue stick. I think of the rent, and carefully miss.

55 words

First draft

Company bonding, so we're out for billiards this afternoon. I spot an easy shot, although long - ricochet off the walls and pocket the last two balls. My gal claps when she sees how I've lined it up. The boss watches me intently, twisting his cue stick. I think of the rent, and carefully miss.

Reviews

Hi Sacha. Enjoyed your little tale of diplomacy and self-preservation. The last two words of this story were crucial. Made me laugh. How does one bond with the boss by stomping on him in a game of pool?

You've written a gem of a story here: clear and bright. I admire how in so few words you give us a good picture of the anxious boss. The whole idea of the narrator's purposely blowing the shot under the aegis of "company bonding" is funny.

Nice piece. The pace is smooth as a billiard ball's roll on a slow err shot, giving a payoff only in the last two words. Some little nits...

The em-dash (that dash which breaks a sentence a little like a semi-colon, or like parentheses when used to surround a phrase) is usually represented by two consecutive small dashes in cyberspace, since our keyboards often do not have the proper typographical symbol, and there is no space between an em-dash and the surrounding words. Thus: '...although long--ricochet off the...' That's finicky and technical, and I doubt many publishers would worry about an author not knowing, but it's nice to surprise them.

'walls' on a pool/snooker/billiards table would more usually be called 'cushions' in my experience. The shot doesn't sound very easy, even for an experienced player, but I think you can get away with that since the character could conceivably be fantastic. In sum, an almost perfect piece with the structure just right to bring a smile to the reader at the last moment.

Buzz word in corporate is Team Building, sounds like Company Bonding is the same. Sounds like this guy took the wisest shot. I really need to learn to do that.

Another good one from you. I think this can be sent out as is.

5. Why am I interested in short stories?

Categories: 2004.03.02#5Permalink

Flash Art

"Paint summer in fifty brushstrokes and three colors." Brushes and palettes clattered throughout the warehouse, artists bent on challenges beyond mind-numbing portraits and caricatures. It didn't pay the rent, but it kept us sharp.

Hours passed. Still a blank canvas. The judges grew impatient. "The competition's only until three." I took no notice. Someone won. I don't know who.

Alone in a warehouse. Brush on paper - a broad, confident stroke. I smiled.

Good use of the prompt.  Well done.

Welcome to the group. I really like this flash story. I guess artists can get "blocked" too. No nits at all. Think you should send this piece out.

4. A Fairy Tale

Categories: None — Permalink
Note: I do this because I must write. It's probably not very good. It could use a lot of improvement. People who read this are permitted to laugh. Note also that I do not actually want a servant. I want people to understand that my life points toward something... different. =) Again, don't read too much into this.

Once upon a time, in a small kingdom by a lake, there lived a king and a queen with three daughters, each marked from birth with a special gift.

The eldest princess had the gift of rule. Even as a child, she spoke with authority, and the king and queen sometimes found themselves instinctively obeying her.

The second princess had the gift of adventure. She could out-ride the fastest horsemen, out-shoot the best archers, out-hunt the keenest woodsmen. She chafed at being kept in the castle and was forever riding around the countryside.

The youngest princess had the gift of curiosity. She wanted to learn everything about people and the world around her. She always asked in such a sweet manner that no one ever grudged her an answer. Everyone felt honored when the youngest princess asked them questions.

As the princesses grew older, their gifts increased and their fame spread far and wide. Many princes and even a few kings came to the kingdom by the lake to court the three princesses.

The eldest princess saw that an early match would allow her to practice the art and science of ruling. She married a prince who deferred to her judgment at every step. They became queen and king of a small kingdom formed from parts of their parents' realms.

The second princess laughed at the offers of those who courted her. She vowed never to marry anyone who could not match her in terms of daring. All her suitors went away dejected.

The youngest princess had not made up her mind about marriage yet. She did, however, know with every inch of her being that she wanted to learn more about the world, so she began working on a Grand Manuscript. The king and queen looked with approval upon their youngest daughter's desire to become a scholar.

That did not stop princes from seeking her hand. Her first suitor invited her to balls and to walks around the lake. Because the youngest princess was curious about the world, she listened intently as he told stirring stories of his adventures. She thought nothing of their long walks under the moonlight, listening to him as she would a travelling bard. Her questions made the prince feel that he was the bravest and most important man in the world. The prince fell deeper in love with her every day. Eventually the prince pressed his suit. "I want you as my Queen," the prince said. "Sit by my side. Bear me heirs. I will give you gifts of gold and precious gems if you are mine."

The youngest princess apologized for the confusion. "I cannot marry you now, kind prince, for I must work on my Grand Manuscript. Ask me when ten years have passed, but I cannot promise you a favorable answer even then."

Heartbroken, the prince pined away and stopped visiting. After some months, he started calling upon fairer but less-accomplished princesses in other kingdoms. The youngest princess missed his stories, but knew that this was the best course.

Other suitors made the same supplication and were equally firmly denied.

Whispers circulated. Perhaps the youngest princess was a witch who ate men's souls, luring them with bright eyes and a sweet smile then breaking their hearts and their spirits with careless words. Yet princes still loved, still pined, still forgot. The youngest princess sighed and continued writing. She was halfway through her Grand Manuscript.

Years passed. Sometimes the youngest princess looked out of the library and saw the village maidens with their swains. She wished to also romp on the grass and weave ribbons around the maypole, but she was almost done with her Grand Manuscript and it would be such a waste to leave it unfinished.

And finally it was complete. She blew the ink dry, tapped her quill to remove the last few drops and cleaned her quill carefully.

Applause burst from a dark corner of her room. Startled, she overturned the ink bottle, but caught it with her sleeve before it could smear the page. Black blossomed on crimson velvet and she cried out in dismay.

"Apologies for startling you, milady." A man emerged from the shadows. A small silver crown graced his head. His robes rustled as he strode into the light.

She examined him closely, her surprise at a stranger in her room overcome by curiosity about a face she knew and yet did not know. "You look familiar, but..."

He laughed, took off his crown and ruffled his hair. He bore a faint resemblance to the page who had attached himself to her personal service some years before. "I have been watching you all this time," said the prince. "I filled your ink bottle when it ran dry and brought you parchment when you finished each roll. I found the books you required in libraries in this castle and seven kingdoms besides. I kept the fire that warmed you and sang the songs that cheered you during the long winter nights. I seek nothing more than to help you write a second manuscript, an even greater one, for I love you."

She looked at him with wonder and stretched her hand out to him. "Asking this little of me, you shall have everything."

Wow, ma'am Sacha! I didn't know you wrote short stories... I really liked the story about the three princesses. I wonder why you entitled it A Fairy Tale when obviously there was nothing magical nor anything fairy-like in it... Guess you've started to redefine the meaning of the word to something else... ;)

3. A Stone's Throw

Categories: None — Permalink
Second draft (2004.02.06)

Diff: Changed some of the older brother's words, made them less formal when he's talking to his brother.

"How long have you been engaged?"

"One year this June. We're still scraping together some money for the wedding."

"Tell me, Jo - have you ever..."

"Why?"

"I'm your older brother. Tell me the truth."

"No." I sighed.

"Then it's true? That strumpet! Engaged to you, and already her belly swells with another man's child! I can't let you wed her. Our parents would turn over in their graves."

"Shh! The neighbors might hear. Look, I love her. Please, you have to help me find a rabbi who'll marry us quietly..."

"Are you blind, man? Everyone sees the life growing within her. You're too simple and honest to have bedded her. Ergo, someone else must have done the deed. The Law demands..."

"I _know_ what the Law demands, but please! I love her! I don't care if she made a mistake before. I can't live without her. Please..."

"You were always a fool, Jo. I can't let you do this. Don't worry. Things will work out. I'll help you. Now just _stay_ _here_."

"You'll help? Oh, thank you! We'll name our first child after you, and our first grandchild, and our first great-grand-child..."

"Thank me afterwards. Remember, I do this out of love for you." Yanking his hand out of mine, he threw back the door-curtain and hurried off in the afternoon sun.

I waited. My brother was wise and learned. He would know what to do. I knew he would make things work out. In the meantime, I had a gift to make.

I pulled the soft cloth off the half-finished cradle and breathed in as the scent of olives filled the room. Taking the finest pieces of wood, I started shaping rockers that looked like our hands. My rough, blocky hands were easy to carve, but her delicate fingers were hard to find in the smooth wood. I was chalking over my third draft when a dust-covered boy rushed in, nearly tripping over my stool. He pulled me by the hand. "Hurry!" He gasped, out of breath. "They've dragged my sister to the wall!"

I ran faster than I had ever run in my life. With all my strength I shoved and pushed my way through the crowd, but it was ten men deep and thicker as I got closer. I jumped up and down, trying to see her. Her robe was torn, her hair loose and wild. Her lips moved in silent prayer.

I heard my brother's voice boom above the crowd. "Remember the rules set forth by our fathers' fathers? What punishment is ordained for adultery and fornication?"

"Stoning!" The crowd shouted as one.

"We are the people of the Book. The Law must be observed. What should we do?"

"Stone her!"

"We must fight to protect our way of life! Jerusalem cannot bear this shame! What should we do?"

"Stone her!" People shifted from foot to foot impatiently.

"Stop! Please!" Fear gripped me. "Stop! I beg you!" My voice was lost in the crowd. "Stop!" I sobbed. "Stop..."

My brother looked at the crowd. He saw me and mouthed, "This is because I love you." He smiled and then threw a rock at my beloved. Hard. A trickle of blood ran down her cheek. Then it rained gray and black. She did not scream, did not cry - she just kept praying.

I shut my eyes and staggered away, retching in the grass.

I must have fainted. The next thing I remembered was my brother hauling me to my feet. "Be a man. You'll forget about her in a few months."

I stared at him, throat raw from sobbing and screaming and vomiting. Without her, without her child, my world was empty - without light, without hope. I stumbled towards her... her corpse. My brother blocked my way.

"The Law forbids us to touch..."

"I've had enough of that damned Law!"

"Your grief has driven you mad. Let us go home."

"Leave me alone!" I lurched to her side.

My brother shrugged. "Your sin is not on my hands. Purify yourself before you step over the threshold."

He probably said more before turning and walking home, but I couldn't hear him. All my attention was on her, listening for the faintest of heartbeats. Maybe she still lived. Maybe there was hope. There was only silence. She was gone.

I knew what I had to do. "I love you," I told her as I cradled her broken body in my arms. "I love you," I repeated, washing her blood with my tears. "I love you," I said as I took one last look at her, pressing her fingers to my heart. Then it was time.

I knew where I had to go - the grove where we first met, a short walk from town. I was dizzy. Each step was impossibly light. I was going home to her.

A stone's throw from Jerusalem, as I was walking in the moonlight, I saw a tree whose empty branches promised me reunion. I climbed, untied my belt, and then -

First draft 00:03 (2004.01.30#1)

"How long have you been engaged?"

"One year this June. We're still scraping together some money for the wedding."

"Tell me, Jo - have you ever..."

"Why?"

"I'm your older brother. Tell me the truth."

"No." I sighed.

"Then it's true? That strumpet! Engaged to you, and already her belly swells with another man's child! I can't let you wed her. Our parents would turn over in their graves."

"Shh! The neighbors might hear. Look, I love her. Please, you have to help me find a rabbi who'll marry us quietly..."

"Are you blind, man? Everyone sees the life growing within her. You're too simple and honest to have bedded her. Ergo, someone else must have done the deed. The Law demands..."

"I _know_ what the Law demands, but please! I love her! I don't care if she made a mistake before. I can't live without her. Please..."

"You were always a fool, Jo. I can't let you do this. Don't worry. Things will work out. I'll help you. Now just _stay_ _here_."

"You'll help? Oh, thank you! We'll name our first child after you, and our first grandchild, and our first great-grand-child..."

"Thank me afterwards. Remember, I do this out of love for you." Yanking his hand out of mine, he threw back the door-curtain and hurried off in the afternoon sun.

I waited. My brother was wise and learned. He would know what to do. I knew he would make things work out. In the meantime, I had a gift to make.

I pulled the soft cloth off the half-finished cradle and breathed in as the scent of olives filled the room. Taking the finest pieces of wood, I started shaping rockers that looked like our hands. My rough, blocky hands were easy to carve, but her delicate fingers were hard to find in the smooth wood. I was chalking over my third draft when a dust-covered boy rushed in, nearly tripping over my stool. He pulled me by the hand. "Hurry!" He gasped, out of breath. "They've dragged my sister to the wall!"

I ran faster than I had ever run in my life. With all my strength I shoved and pushed my way through the crowd, but it was ten men deep and thicker as I got closer. I jumped up and down, trying to see her. Her robe was torn, her hair loose and wild. Her lips moved in silent prayer.

I heard my brother's voice boom above the crowd. "Remember the rules set forth by our fathers' fathers? What punishment is ordained for adultery and fornication?"

"Stoning!" The crowd shouted as one.

"We are the people of the Book. The Law must be observed. What should we do?"

"Stone her!"

"We must fight to protect our way of life! Jerusalem cannot bear this shame! What should we do?"

"Stone her!" People shifted from foot to foot impatiently.

"Stop! Please!" Fear gripped me. "Stop! I beg you!" My voice was lost in the crowd. "Stop!" I sobbed. "Stop..."

My brother looked at the crowd. He saw me and mouthed, "This is because I love you." He smiled and then threw a rock at my beloved. Hard. A trickle of blood ran down her cheek. Then it rained gray and black. She did not scream, did not cry - she just kept praying.

I shut my eyes and staggered away, retching in the grass.

I must have fainted. The next thing I remembered was my brother hauling me to my feet. "Be a man. You'll forget about her in a few months."

I stared at him, throat raw from sobbing and screaming and vomiting. Without her, without her child, my world was empty - without light, without hope. I stumbled towards her... her corpse. My brother blocked my way.

"The Law forbids us to touch..."

"I've had enough of that damned Law!"

"Grief has made you speak hastily. I'll overlook that for now. Let's go home."

"Leave me alone!" I pushed past him and lurched to her side.

My brother shrugged. "It will all work out, I tell you. Anyway, if I don't see you, I can't give evidence against you." He deliberately turned his face from me and walked back to town. The darkness swallowed him and left me all alone under the cold unfeeling stars.

"I love you," I told her as I cradled her broken body in my arms. "I love you," I repeated, washing her blood with my tears. "I love you," I said as I took one last look at her, pressing her fingers to my heart. Then it was time.

I knew where I had to go - the grove where we first met, a short walk from town. I was dizzy. Each step was impossibly light. It felt like I was going home.

A stone's throw away from Jerusalem, as I was walking in the moonlight, I saw a tree whose empty branches promised me reunion. I climbed, untied my belt, and then -

Now that was a powerful story. Stripped down to the core, fantastic buildup, good denouement, and pure raw emotion. Staggering.

Re: Stone's Throw — I agree, the imagery is powerful. I like how the title fits. :) I have problem with the dialogue though-- the older brother sounds too formal. He sounds like he were an actor in a Greek drama. Dunno, it hits me that way... I really can't put my finger on it.

Sacha: That's because he _is_ too formal. =) He studied law, practically lives it, will sacrifice his brother's happiness for it. Maybe I should exaggerate it a bit more for effect...

(Since we're on the topic of short stories, <shameless plug> http://www.mycgiserver.com/~butiki/stories/ </shameless plug>) ;)

2. Going Home

Categories: 2004.01.26#1Permalink

<insert disclaimer here: mostly fiction (although some fact, as always)>

By the way, the idea for this story came from a friend.

Here's an experiment - first person and third person. Guess which one was written first and say which one you prefer.

Going home (first person)

I was quietly reading a textbook in the lobby when this crazy friend of mine snuck up on me and went "Boo!" almost in my ear. Nearly fell off my seat. Glared at him, but he just laughed.

"You're still here? Classes were dismissed two hours ago." He raised an eyebrow.

"Project - had to stay late. My carpool left already. And you?"

"Library. Hey, how are you going home?"

"I just called my dad. He's picking me up." Rush hour on a payday Friday. My dad was going to have to get through at least two hours of bumper-to-bumper traffic to reach school. He hated traffic, but I knew he'd come for me. My family never liked the idea of my commuting alone.

"It'll take hours for him to get here. I can commute with you, you know." He had travelled this route before - the jeepney to the bus stop, the bus to Ayala/LRT/Leveriza, the short walk to my home.

"But it's out of your way," I argued feebly. As if that would make a difference - he'd won this argument before, even though I pointed out that going to my house meant commuting more than thrice the distance to his house, and there was the matter of the lonely commute back. I didn't really mind. I had a hard time staying awake on the long bus ride home, and sleep was dangerous for a girl on public transportation. Conversation kept me up and made the trip bearable.

"I like the company. Besides, it looks like it's going to rain and you don't have an umbrella." He proudly unfurled the checkered umbrella he always brought to school. The umbrella was barely large enough to cover us. The last time it rained, part of my physics textbook got soaked and I spent an hour carefully drying the pages so that they wouldn't stick together.

"Well..." I eyed my still water-stained textbook gingerly.

"C'mon! If we hurry, we can make it to the bus before it starts pouring." He pulled me by the arm. Surprised, I pulled back, but his grasp was firm and my hand fell into his and of _course_ we both blushed and pulled back when we realized what just happened. Nervous giggles.

"Hold on a sec." I slipped my hand inside the bag and fingered the crisp folds of the brand-new umbrella. I bought it yesterday - the smallest umbrella in the store, perfect size for just me and my books. I looked at his umbrella and remembered crowding under it in rain that drowned out all sounds but our laughter.

I let go of my umbrella and brought out the phone instead. "Let me tell my dad."

Going home (third person)

She was so absorbed in the textbook that she did not notice the boy sneaking up on her until he said "boo!" almost in her ear. Startled, she nearly fell off her seat. She glared at him in a disapproving manner and he laughed.

"You're still here? Classes were dismissed two hours ago." He raised an eyebrow.

"Project - had to stay late. My carpool left already. And you?"

"Library. Hey, how are you going home?"

"I just called my dad. He's picking me up." She looked at her watch. It was rush hour on a payday Friday. Her dad would have to fight at least two hours of bumper-to-bumper traffic to reach school. He hated traffic, but he would come for her. Their family did not think it was safe for her to go home alone.

"It'll take hours for him to get here. I can commute with you, you know." The boy had travelled this route before - the jeepney to the bus stop, the bus to Ayala/LRT/Leveriza, the short walk to her house.

"But it's out of your way," she argued feebly. She knew the trip would be more than thrice the distance to his house, and there was the matter of the lonely commute back. A token protest; he had won this argument before. Besides, she had a hard time staying awake on the long bus ride home, and sleep was dangerous for a girl on public transportation. Conversation kept her up and made the trip bearable.

"I like the company. Besides, it looks like it's going to rain and you don't have an umbrella." He proudly unfurled the checkered umbrella he always brought to school. The umbrella was barely large enough to cover them. The last time it rained, part of her physics textbook got soaked and she spent an hour carefully drying the pages so that they wouldn't stick together.

"Well..." She eyed her still water-stained textbook gingerly.

"C'mon! If we hurry, we can make it to the bus before it starts pouring." The boy pulled her by the arm. Instinctively she pulled back, but his grasp was firm and now her hand was in his. A pause - and then both reddened and hastily dropped their hands to their sides. Nervous giggles broke the tension.

"Hold on a sec." The girl slipped her hand inside her bag and fingered the crisp folds of the brand-new umbrella she bought yesterday. It was the smallest umbrella in the store, just enough shelter for her and her books. She looked at his umbrella and she remembered crowding under it in rain that drowned out all sounds but their laughter.

She let go of the umbrella and brought out her phone instead. "Let me tell my dad."

Original

E-Mail

1. The First Letter

Categories: 2004.01.25#2Permalink

Fiction, resemblance to real-life characters somewhat intentional but don't read anything into this, as I'm making much of it up.

More sketches, somewhat revised

What is innocence if it is not the first blush of love? Let me take you back to a crowded high school classroom during the five minutes between the bells that mark the start and end of a lecture. From her wallet, a girl takes out a crisply-folded piece of paper. She reads the words silently as the folds reveal wavering but painstakingly-formed writing. In another classroom, a boy fidgets. Two hours until the shared lunch break - how each teacher drones!

What is more poignant than the first heartbreak? Witness a quiet grove right before the junior-senior prom. A boy storms off angrily, bluff and bluster hiding the tears that threaten to spill down his face. With trembling hands, a girl takes a well-creased letter from her wallet. Her gaze lingers on every word, bringing up ghosts of happier times. "With all my love forever," - and then a signature burned into her heart. The letter drops from fingers that have suddenly lost their warmth. She leaves, the paper too painful to even be touched. They will not speak for years.

FIXME last paragraph

First draft

Fiction, resemblance to real-life characters somewhat intentional but don't read anything into this, as I'm making much of it up.

The First Letter

A crowded high school classroom during the five minutes between the bells that mark the start and end of a lecture. From her wallet, a sophomore takes out a crisply-folded piece of paper. She reads the words silently as the folds reveal carefully-formed but shaky writing. She glows, then - remembering where she is - tucks the letter away and prepares for her next class.

A quiet grove right before the junior-senior prom. A boy storms off angrily, bluff and bluster hiding the tears that threaten to spill down his face. With trembling hands, a girl takes a well-creased letter from her wallet. Her gaze lingers on every word, bringing up ghosts of happier times. "With all my love forever," - and then a signature burned into her heart. The letter drops from fingers that have suddenly lost their warmth. She leaves, the paper too painful to even be touched.

A different place, a different time. A man who was once a boy smiles at his girlfriend. He met her in college after a succession of other girls. He has written many, many letters since that first day. In another country, a woman who was once a girl fingers her thick collection of letters, arranged chronologically. She reads it from time to time to remember what life was like when loving was child's play.

The first page of the album is empty. She touches the space and for a moment mourns the loss of innocence.

It's not a short story, because there are no characters, only caricatures. There's a ghost of a plot, but a very pale one. There's no conflict, no decision, no development. All we get are vignettes of life, and it could be anyone's life. Why should we care about either person?

On the positive side, you have very good imagery. I was almost tempted to pick up pencil and brush to draw the pictures. The images would have made a very good script.

Drafts

letters

After she died, I used to read and re-read her e-mail to me. We had megabytes of memories.

That was before my computer crashed. Fool that I was, I didn't have backups. That was the second time she died. It tore me apart.

Grieving, I decided to move out and get away from the memories. While going through her things, I found a shoebox hidden behind the books in her night stand.

The box overflowed with letters laboriously written in the painful scrawl of a generation born with computers. From whom were these letters? We never wrote. Snail mail was expensive and slow, and e-mail had always kept us connected no matter where we were. Did she have an affair?

The words seemed familiar. Did she learn those charming phrases from someone else? I threw the box against the wall. Letters flew everywhere.

Seeing the corner of a photo buried under a couple of letters, I crumpled the papers and threw them aside. I had to see what man had stolen her heart.

My hands grew numb.

A note on the back. "Print-outs are nothing like the real thing." Was this her handwriting?

I cradled the letters to me as gently as I had smoothed her hair.

trains

Ordinarily they

Bodies thrust together by the rush-hour crowd gazes not meeting.

the thinking of something to say to salvage a four-year friendship

"You never needed me," he said. "You never needed anyone."

inexorably

She nodded mutely and

teaching

Premise: The university is dead. Extrapolating from the current trend toward the commercialization of education and the commodification of knowledge, _all_ education is delivered through mass-produced modules. There are still teachers. Their nominal duties include adapting the coursework to the local context and student needs. However, hiring practices have degraeded to the point where the only qualification necessary for teaching is the successful completion of the module to be taught, and the instructors are ill-prepared to handle student questions. The students learn not to ask. Instead, they learn to memorize, to regurgitate. This is coupled with more advanced artificial reasoning systems developed off-shore and deployed here. To minimize costs, schools mandated 7-day schoolweeks for the periods of intense education.

The system survives because the industry and the academe collude, and between the price competition and industrial pressure, all other forms of education have closed.

scraps

"Any questions?" I scanned the classroom, smiling.

Thirty freshmen tried their best to look attentive but inconspicuous.

"Any at all?" Maybe eye contact would help. The girl in front of me suddenly found her fingernails very interesting.

The bell rang. My reminders were lost in the shuffle of bags and books and feet as students filed out of the classroom. I sighed, picked up my bag, and trudged back to the department.

"Stonewalled."

"How do you do it?"

"I just don't get it! They spend an

"They _think_ they know. It's all up here," she said, tapping her forehead. "The minute the students actually have to do something with it... poof! They realize they don't know anything at all."

"The trick there," Betty said, "is to see the answers bubbling under their skin. Your job isn't to tell them answers. Your job is to help them work it out."

only by the light of the moon

prefers light drizzle to heavy rain

She used to lean over and do the crossword upside-down in ink while I pencilled in guesses and erased them. I hated it when she did that. I hated how she glanced at the cafe chessboard and told me to resign.

2004.02.10

The pitter-patter of pebbles bouncing off the windowpane woke him up at 2 in the morning. He rolled over carefully so as not to disturb his wife - not that a herd of elephants could wake her tonight, but old habits died hard. She did not stir. He drew the curtains aside and glanced at the street. With an exasperated sigh, he slipped into a silk robe and padded down the stairs.

---

Sweat beaded on her forehead, unnoticed, as she spun a plate and balanced it on a stick.

---

Young detective

You know the story.

This particular young detective is in the middle of an impassioned plea to the grizzled veteran.

crayoned drawing

cobwebs from the desk to the chair

i leaf through her books

Ji-Ae was a very promising graduate of the technical institute. So the supercomputer decided to get rid of its current technician. So it changed the traffic lights. So there was a terrible accident. So the head technician died. So the personnel department had to choose a new one. So they looked at the list of recent graduates. So they judged them based on academic achievement and psychological fitness. Because there was a study that said introverts are better at this and because Ji-Ae was really good at computers she was chosen.

Ji-Ae was really into computers so she worked late hours and kept herself up to date.

but then she fell in love so she spent less time at the computer but still more than was asked.

she started making silly mistakes. except when she received a bouquet of flowers then she'd type faster

but she left earlier and earlier so the computer got jealous and started breaking down

she fixed it but thought about quitting her job

so the computer decided to start working again maybe if she felt happy there, she'd stay

but she was looking forward to leaving and she put all the docs she needed in order

so the computer set up her boyfriend and made her feel jealous so she broke up with him and stayed with the computer

Dearest Ji-Ae,

Based on what you told me, the undocumented neural network extension the last tech added was the one that messed up the traffic lights. We certainly won't be doing _that_ here - at least not on my watch!

Here's a copy of our backup tapes.

Dearest Ji-Ae,

The tapes won't work? Strange. Sounds like the patch that wacko head tech added put in some self-modifying and self-preserving code. Might even be hardware-backed. You'll have to isolate those changes and rip them out - not easy in a running system! Good luck.

I've attached the schematics just in case you'll find them useful.

Dearest Ji-Ae,

Hope you liked the flowers. =) Hey, let's get together soon. I'll drive down there and

Dear Ji-Ae,

Hello? Hello? Ping? Does this e-mail address even still work? Bah, looks like your communications server's on the fritz. I'm taking a leave and driving down there. Expect me at 3:00 PM tomorrow.


EFFICIENCY

22 hours and 45 minutes after Ji-Ae Soon graduated from the Metropolitan Supercomputing Systems Training Institute, the head technician for New York was electrocuted in a freak power surge while he repaired circuit logic boards. 145 seconds after hospital staff keyed an official death report into the system, the city's personnel department received a list of top graduates and the selection of a new head technician began.

The head technician's role was to maintain and improve the supercomputer that controlled all the city functions. Telecommunications, transport, even entertainment - anything that was city-related eventually tapped into the System. It took a single-minded, dedicated person to unravel the complex layers of software the System had accumulated over decades. Maintenance was part creation and part archaeology. The head technician was compensated generously. No one ever quit.

What if I was working on a project with a complex neural networks an


EFFICIENCY

A day after Ji-Ae Soon graduated from the training institute, the head technician for the metropolitan supercomputer died in a 7-car pile-up due to incorrectly synchronized traffic lights. Two minutes after the hospital staff entered an official death report into the system, the personnel department received a list of the top graduates and the selection of a new head tech began.

The process took into account not only academic achievements but also number of non-technical factors. Despite public disavowals of discrimination, the personnel departments of all cities made it a point to hire single, introverted programmers. Internal studies had shown that social misfits spent more time on the job, asked for fewer raises, and could respond to emergency requests 2.3 times faster than married technicians and 3.1 times faster than single technicians with active social lives. It took a single-minded, dedicated person to unravel the complex layers of software the System had accumulated over decades. Maintenance was part creation and part archaeology.

They had the perfect candidate. Ji-Ae Soon had the highest marks in the school's history, with a weighted average of 99.98. Her psychological profile heavily skewed toward introvert/thinking. Even her extracurricular computing projects had all the signs of monomania. She was quickly sworn in, and she devoted herself to her work exactly as the personnel department expected.

In the course of routine maintenance, she discovered that the previous head tech made several undocumented and unauthorized changes to the central neural network.

All was well.

The system flagged a significant decrease in her working hours over January, although she still stayed an average of 315 minutes past the nominal schedule. She received a memo from the mayor asking if she was all right and if she liked the conditions of her job, and she replied that the extensive automation and the advanced neural network she'd set up took care of most of the tasks.

By February, she was leaving at 5:00 on Friday afternoons. This was usually preceded by the beep! beep! of a text-message conversation. For Valentine's Day, a large bouquet of flowers was delivered to the supercomputer center. The card simply said, "From John." After the flowers were carefully scanned for electronic devices and biochemical agents, the bouquet was placed on Ji-Ae's desk. The personnel department was informed and they began watching her carefully.

Anomalies cropped up in the system. As luck would have it, low-priority problems like misdirected mail and crossed lines always happened on Friday evenings when Ji-Ae was not around. The first three times this occurred, Ji-Ae returned to the center and resolved the issue within an hour of the bug report. Inspection invariably revealed that that sections of the supercomputer had short-circuited due to surges, and she requested better power supplies. As the frequency of these problems increased (sometimes three such incidents happened in one night), she posted a notice that low-priority bug reports were to be resolved only during normal working hours.

A few days after this policy was posted, the traffic subsystem went berserk. The city government had to mobilize hundreds of reserve police officers to direct confused motorists. As the cellphone subsystem was also down, a messenger had to be dispatched to wake up Ji-Ae at 2 in the morning. She overrode the system and restored the old neural network model from backups.

Although everything seemed to be running smoothly again, she quietly began e-mailing her resume to prospective employers. Citing personal reasons, she gave the mandated one month's notice to the mayor to allow the personnel department time to find and train her replacement. She checked her mail frequently but received no responses.

Beep. "Great time last night, Marie. Let's do that again." She glanced at the header, sighed and filed a bug report that read: "Cross-linked text message. Action: Running a physical scan to locate damaged component, then searching for original transmission and redirecting message."

The physical scan didn't turn up any defective boards. She ran it again. Still none. She did a memory check. The system was running perfectly. Puzzled, she viewed the text message and pressed send/call.

A girl's voice answered breathlessly. "Hello?" Ji-Ae hit cancel and looked at her phone to make sure she had the right number. She dialed. Again, the same voice. "Hello? Hello?"

"J... John please," she stammered.

A giggle. "I'm sorry, he... can't come to the phone right now." Another giggle. "He's --" A laugh. "-- otherwise occupied." A male voice. "Who's that?" "Some girl." A peremptory click.

After fifteen minutes and three cups of black coffee, Ji-Ae turned back to her console and began typing a bug report. "Lost mail. Mailbox ID: 232315268. Action: Search mailbox for returned messages." She opened John's e-mail and started paging through it - slowly at first, then at a furious rate.

She picked up the direct line to the mayor's office.

"Hello, sir. This is Ji-Ae Soon, the head technician for the metropolitan supercomputer. I e-mailed you a few days ago about my intent to resign. I'd like to revoke my one-month notice. I am no longer considering other offers, and I promise that my full attention will be given to this job from now on."

"Let me check... Hmmm, never got your e-mail. Were you thinking of leaving us? Is there anything wrong?"

"No, sir. Nothing's wrong. Everything's fine now."

Around her, the supercomputer hummed reassuringly.


Dust gathered on the desk and cobwebs stretched from the once-white wood to a chair upon which a cream jacket was neatly placed.

I hadn't seen my roommate in two weeks.

Our schedules normally did not coincide. She woke up early to grab some quick toast before heading off to class. I stumbled out of bed at 10, too late for breakfast and too early for lunch. I stayed late at school and in cafes, chatting with friends over dinner and hot chocolate. I'd come home at midnight to find her sleeping.


guy has fight with wife goes to the corner convenience store meets a girl nothing happens he squares his shoulders and goes back to his wife who is crying because she missed him again it happens this time because she thinks he's seeing someone else so he goes for a smoke break again sees the girl again


Conflict: jealous insanity

7:00 p.m. on the dot and I look out my window just in time to catch them rounding the block onto my street, walking hand-in-hand, laughter echoing in the empty street.

always in the moonlight, shivering in

It would have been okay

empty, empty inside, nothing behind that

Do you think he'd like me if I wore my hair like that?

but this is the long route between school and her house, a few more blocks,

She always forgets her jacket or her umbrella or some other excuse to huddle up close to him.

She laughs at every little joke he makes, tilts her head, flashes her teeth in a smile that h

She can't be real. She's just out to break his heart.

Someday she's going to have to walk home alone.


He slammed the door behind him. The thick pine muffled the angry shrieks that tried to follow him out of the house. He felt his pocket. Lighter - check. Cigarettes - no, all out. He didn't particularly feel like going back into the house


I look out my window and see a man walking around under stars he does not see, his gaze fixed on the ground and his hands in pockets that in the moonlight look pieced together from magpies and gypsies.

Bamboo rustled

a courtesan

Never at noon because then the lunch crowd there's just the constant kaching-kaching of the cash register


People will dare to do in moonlight what they will never do at noon.

She laughed and skipped ahead


She sliced the onions furiously, tears streaming down her cheeks.

lost himself in nothingness.


kids, car, drizzle, rain

star luminous nova

alien infestation


in a town of ghosts

My father and my sister Kathy suffer from incurable wanderlust, which is why they found themselves heading out of Metro Manila and toward Vigan during the long Christmas holiday. A friend on his way back from there warned them not to stay at the place near the funeral parlor. They did not need to be told twice, having not only itchy feet but also active imaginations.

They arrived in Vigan as the afternoon sun lent warmth to the cold, empty houses. narrow road, so a bystander guided them to the back entrance.

Yellowed, framed newspaper clippings of gruesome deaths and ghost sightings gleefully peered at them from above the dining table.

The bathroom walls stopped a foot short of the ceiling. The gap was covered by colored glass. Tinted shadows flickered and danced. From their window they could see the coffins that

Turning to my sister, my father said with resignation, "Let's get drunk."


Family Ties (draft)

I finished setting the table just as the gaudy cuckoo clock chimed 7, synthesized bells coinciding with Mama's careful steps as she balanced chicken adobo and steamed rice. I used a large wooden spoon to scoop half the rice and meat onto my plate with a large wooden spoon, offering the rest to Mama. "I'm not hungry," Mama said. "I ate a bit while cooking." She took half of what was left and pushed everything else over to me.

Mama fumbled with the remote. Click. Click. Nothing happened. I pushed my chair back, stood up, and gave the vidscreen a little kick. We were going to get a new model last year, but then my little sister got sick.

I kicked

The vidscreen in the dining room flickered on. Long-distance video calls were expensive, but our ritual was sacrosanct.

Every Friday evening, at 7:00 home time, we ate together. My father, an engineer in Abu Dhabi, would drop in during his coffee break. My eldest sister would get up extra-early to have breakfast at 5:00 AM while starching her nurse's uniform, using the crisp display in staff housing. My second sister would sneak in a few words while cleaning up after the lunch crowd in Zurich, grainy through her third-hand wrist-phone.

Random images

The sharp knife bit into the

Cold metal brushed her knuckles as the cleaver sliced through the onion's paper-like skin. Rough fingers squeezed the wet slivers together so that the razor-thin cuts disappeared into the onion's white flesh. Even at two feet away, my eyes watered, blurring the fluorescent reflections that glinted on her cheeks. I moved closer, breathing in sweat, crushed garlic and memories.

I once asked her why she never used the food processor Papa sent two Christmases ago. She said she enjoyed chopping onions. Last time Papa left, we had onion soup for a whole week.

She fished through her pockets frantically. "Oh, no, I don't have any more call cards." She blew air kisse


Mama hovered about me as I worked on my college application. "Have you thought about what to take up in college?"

I sharpened my pencil and kept my eyes on the paper.

"Your uncle Boy is a lawyer. Maybe you should take up business or some other pre-law course. It would be nice to have another lawyer in the family."

I neatly lettered in my name, erasing it several times before getting the shapes just right.

"Or a doctor. That way, your papa and I can get good treatment at the hospitals. Imagine that? Dr. Santos. Paolo Santos, MD. You've seen them on TV, right? Isn't that such a cool line of work?"

Address, contact information, family details...

"Mama, what year were you born?"

"2012. Come on, child. What do you think?"

"I'm not sure yet... I think I'll take history."

"History?" Her face fell and her lips quivered. "I'm sure it's a nice course, but your grades should be enough to get you into the Intarmed program at UP. Wouldn't you like to be in the Intarmed program?"

"Well, I really liked reading about our heroes, and I want to learn more about them..."

"The real heroes are OFWs like your father and your sisters." She forced her mouth out of the firm line it had formed and into a fixed smile. "Aren't they so brave? Your father misses you terribly, you know."

"I miss him too. He's coming home two years from now, right?"

"Yes! And he'll bring lots of presents. Now make him proud and be a doctor. Or a lawyer. Someone important." She smiled and hugged me. "Besides, you won't get any girls if you're into history."

I blushed and waved a hand. "Good night, Mama." I kissed her on the cheek.

"Now that's a good boy. Sleep well!"

-*-

I flew down the stairs and slid into the seat beside her at the breakfast table. "Mama, mama, last night I dreamt I was in Intramuros and Rizal talked to me. I think it's a sign that I should take up history!"

"Don't talk when your mouth is full, Paolo." She wiped the crumbs of garlic fried rice from my mouth with a napkin. I flinched. She treated me like such a baby. "What were you trying to say?"

"I know what I want to take up for college! History!"

"History?" Her eyes fogged as she tried to remember, then widened in recognition. "For college?"

"Yes, Mama! I think it's my calling."

"History?" Her fork clattered on the plate.

"Please, Mama... I promise I'll do well."

"History?!" She wailed and wrung her hands. "Ay naku, anak, is this why your papa is away for two years at a time working in Kuwait? Does he work in a factory so that his only son can take up history instead?"

"But I enjoyed Mr. Rodrigo's class, and I thought..."

"History!" She continued, oblivious. "No one hires people with history degrees. You'll end up behind the counter at Jollibee! When your papa and I are old and poor, how will you take care of us on the salary of a public school teacher or Jollibee employee?"

"Mama..."

"And we worked so hard... Look, all of your older sisters are living abroad and very happy! Do you want to get stuck here?"

"Mama..." I was crying now, frightened by the brightness of her eyes.

She fished a rosary out of her bag and turned away from me. "Mama Mary, look at the kind of child you sent me! He wants to study dead people instead of taking care of us!"

"Shhh, I'm praying. Lordpleasegranthimthewisdomtoseewhatsbestforhimsanlorenzoruizguidehimsanpedro..."

I pushed my chair away from the table and wiped my cheeks angrily. TWhy couldn't she understand? As she went on in a breathless litany of saints, I fled to my room and slammed the door. I turned the music up loud, trying to shut out everything.

The first track hadn't even finished when my phone vibrated. "how r u? i hrd ur aplyng 4 collg alrdy." I groaned and threw the phone on my bed. I'll reply in an hour or so. I can always blame it on lag.

The phone beeped again and again. My hands shot out and shucked the battery from the phone.

The vidscreen flashed. Uh oh. Realtime. I couldn't escape that. The canned telephone rings blared over my speaker system. I smoothed my hair, pasted a smile on my face, and hit the green "Answer" button near my bed.

"Hi, Papa..."

"Hi, Paolo! Wow, how you've grown." He yawned, unable to stop himself. "I'm going to speak directly here, child." He rubbed his forehead and sighed. "What's this I hear about you taking history?"

"For college, Papa. I like it. Can you convince Mama to let me?"

"You should listen to her more, child. She knows what's best for you."

"But I--" My plea was interrupted by another ring. Incoming call multiplexed on the same line.

"Ate's on the other line. Hold on..." I tapped the blue "Conference" button.

"What were you thinking?!" Three minutes into the tirade, my sister noticed that our dad was still linked in. She coughed and broke off with a perfunctory "Hi, Papa," deferring to our father.

"Paolo, I'm getting old. I need someone to--"

His words were drowned by another ring. I sighed and punched the blue button again. My second sister barely got a word in before getting cut off by another incoming call, and another, and another. I jammed the "Conference" button down as my display divided to accommodate the newcomers.

A message flashed on my screen. "This unit cannot support more than 16 simultaneous conversations. 1 call held." The number ticked upwards. I hit the OK button and surveyed my fragmented screen: representatives from every branch of the clan, spread over four continents--even an older cousin I hadn't seen in five years. I struggled to remember how we were related. The vidphone displayed their names, but I had to use the proper titles or I'd never hear the end of it.

As the Muzak background died out, everyone started talking. "What--" "Have you--" "Where--" "Paolo--" "Who gave--" Only one square was still. My great-grandfather on my father's side sat quietly, hands folded on his lap, head resting on the recliner. He raised one shaking palm. Everyone fell silent, deferring to the oldest present.

"My great-grandchild, you are applying for college, yes?" He spoke in with the mellifluous tones of deep Tagalog.

I nodded, more afraid of his gentle eyes than anything else. Fifteen faces sighed and formed into masks of respect.

"Let me tell you what it was like when I was a boy. Back then, a college education prepared you to do anything. If you were born then, your parents would be proud to have a scholar in the family."

Papa grimaced and whispered, "Don't encourage him, grandfather..."

A shadow passed over my great-grandfather's face. "But those times were long ago. Now you must make sure you have a good job, and the only jobs that pay well are abroad."

"I see a lot of openings for nursing here. Even doctors are training to be nurses."

"You could be a caregiver instead," my second sister piped up, shifting an infant to the other side as she fed him a strained lunch.

"Or a--" "Why don't you try--" "Law pays well--" All my relatives started speaking again.

I raised my hands to ward off the flood of suggestions. "I don't know what to do. I want to take up history." I looked at my great-grandfather, a plea for support in my eyes. He sighed and shook his head almost imperceptibly.

No history, then. I loved it, but if I went against the will of the family, I'd be cut off like one of my aunts, my favorite aunt who gave me candies and books and took me out to museums. She eloped with a Sri Lankan and was never spoken of again. ("Not even an American," my grandmother complained on the night she discovered my aunt's note). I shivered. To be away from my family like that... Maybe I didn't know what I wanted. It's just history, after all. What does a teenager know about his calling in life?

I bit my lip. "What do you want me to do? I can't hear when you're all talking. Message?"

The vidscreen flickered as most squares were replaced by white on black text. I copied the list of professions down on different scraps of paper as I felt sixteen pairs of eyes pop stare at me.

"I'll... I'll do my best." My dreams of past heroes formed a bitter lump in my throat. "I'm sorry for disturbing everyone."

"All grown up now..." "You'll do well..." "Say hi to your mom from Tito Bhen..." The squares winked out of existence with sentimental goodbyes.

"Now go talk to mama. Give her a hug." My father smiled at me.

"Good night, Papa." The vidscreen faded into gray.

I looked at the scraps of paper left in front of me. I crumpled them up into little balls, closed my eyes, and picked one. Unwrapping it, I made a careful checkmark beside the course on my application form. Easing the door open, I padded down the steps.

Mama was waiting for me at the foot of the stairs. She threw her arms around me and hugged me until I gasped for breath.

"Mama, I'm sorry..." I felt her tears on my cheek.

"It's okay, child, it's okay... I'll love you no matter what you take up in college. I'll always love you."

"I've... I've decided to take up civil engineering."

"You'll be an engineer like your uncle Jun!" She held me even closer. "Engineers are very much in demand. You'll be the best one! I know you'll love college. I have such a brilliant and wonderful son."

FIXME: Figure out how to end this

FIXME: Cut mom's drama, add more things about the vidconf

A quiet suburban community

Square by square this was one of the most highly-valued plots in the land, more valued than the skyscrapers that choked Makati's business district.

grounds immaculately maintained in landscaped perfection.

It was a popular venue for reunions and it even drew a number of tourists, particularly in the more gaudily decorated parts. Street vendors hawked fishballs and bananacues to the hordes that streamed in from the city. On certain holidays, the normally quiet suburb was jampacked with almost a fiesta.

Misc

The sharp crack of a pencil snapping startled me out of the half-doze I'd perfected as a veteran examination proctor.

"That can't possibly be right." He leaned back and stared at me. "You're smarter than I am."

The shadows under Mark's eyes underscored the quaver in his voice. "You're really leaving?"

...

"I have a girlfriend," Mark repeated. "That's why I'm not in love with you."

"Of course." I leaned back and sipped my hot chocolate. "Of course you aren't."

Tails, the slightest thing would set him off. Simmering. I would have watched the buildings blur past. Raindrops smeared his smoked-glass reflection into unrecognizablity. The hum of overloaded airconditioning struggling to keep the tropical weather at bay, the fragmented conversations that ran in the background like static on a TV station muffled the sounds of his breath.

"Why do you keep ignoring me?"

The sullen stare heavy

retreated further and further into his sulking.

Gunshot

"I got the scoop of the century, girl, but you gotta hide me somewhere or they'll kill me!"

"Who are 'they'? Why don't you go to the cops? I'm just a reporter. Hey, you said you have a scoop?"

"See, I was walking around last night, umm, slightly inebriated, when this pole decides to attack me. The next thing I know, I'm in the slammer. Nothing major. Being a public nuisance or something like that. There I was with a splitting headache, demanding my rights--"

"Yes, I remember you called me up at three in the morning. What did I tell you again? Oh, right, stew it. I think I was a bit more colorful than that."

"Your compassion's why I love you, honey. Anyway, the cops dumped me in a cell all by my lonesome. Boring as heck. Was almost asleep when they dragged this druggie in. Eyes glazed. Stoned into the next week. You know the type, eh? No, of course you wouldn't, but you've seen pictures of them before. The cop frisks him. This guy--he's loaded! Couple of packets of stuff fall out, and I don't think they're sugar from McDonald's."

I perked up. "Hey, the boss has been bugging me for a big bust article." I slapped his hand lightly as he raised a suggestive eyebrow. "Not _that_ kind of a bust. You think you're onto a drug ring?"

"It's worse than that, baby. Much worse than that. See, I counted the packets when they fell out--sheep were too boring--and I saw two from the left pocket and three from the right. But I got a look at the evidence bag on the table and it had _four_ packets."

I narrowed my eyes. "How drunk were you then?" I held up two fingers. "One plus one is?"

"It doesn't matter! Just trust me on this one. So there I was, the only other person behind bars. I twitch a story here so I go real quiet and make like I'm sleeping, yeah? All the while I'm slipping out that digicam--the one you got me last Christmas, that matchbox-like thing? I just keep snapping madly. Don't dare open my eyes. Got a smoking gun shot, ya know?" He laughed at his own pun. "Anyway, I just want to stay alive if you run this in the paper! Dang it! Biggest scoop of my career and I can't do a darn thing!"

"You're from the Philippines, right?"

I nodded.

"Yeah, that's the place with white sand beaches. Palm trees. Booraykaye. Thinking of going there this summer."

Boracay. I didn't bother correct him. I thought of my Boracay, outside the tourist enclaves. Local prices driven sky-high by those damned dollars and euros foreigners scattered without a care.

I grit

Tasks

Priorities - A: high, B: medium, C: low; Status - _: unfinished, X: finished, C: cancelled, P: pending, o: in progress, >: delegated. Covey quadrants - Q1 & Q3: urgent, Q1 & Q2: important
B1_Write story: E-Mail%20from%[email protected]
B2_Reply from E-Mail%20from%20joan%20pinto
B3_Reply about unfamiliar words from E-Mail%20from%20KR%20Mullin
B4_Reply from E-Mail%20from%20John%20Sullivan
B5_The silent alarm went off, and within minutes, ... alarm from E-Mail from Irv Pliskin
B6_There was light enough to see — Light from E-Mail from [email protected]
B7_Feelings from E-Mail from Irv Pliskin
B8_Determined from E-Mail from Irv Pliskin
B9_Look, you can't just play it straight. It's a devious world full of manipulative people and you gotta beat them at their own game... Devious from E-Mail from Irv Pliskin
B10_Everyone in the room was joyfully elated, dizzy with excitement and challenge and giddy with glee... Elated from E-Mail from Irv Pliskin
B11_despite the obvious dangers, he/she decided to tough it out — dangers from E-Mail from Irv Pliskin
B12_"The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong." - Mahatma Gandhi — Forgive
B14XReply about suddenness from E-Mail%20from%20Margaretda@aol[email protected] (2004.10.16)
B15XReply from E-Mail%20from%20sandra%20seamans (2004.10.16)
B13XSend flash fiction story from E-Mail%20from%20joey%20alarilla (2004.10.06)
B16XLove from E-Mail from Irv Pliskin

from E-Mail from Pam Casto

Priorities - A: high, B: medium, C: low; Status - _: unfinished, X: finished, C: cancelled, P: pending, o: in progress, >: delegated. Covey quadrants - Q1 & Q3: urgent, Q1 & Q2: important
B17_Left Out from E-Mail from Pam Casto
B18_There's plenty of hard evidence, but nobody is going to believe it — evidence from E-Mail from Irv Pliskin
B19_Out of options, out of choices — options from E-Mail from Irv Pliskin
B20_Take it from me, you'll never get a better deal — deal from E-Mail from Irv Pliskin
B21_Reply to Betty about decisions, decisions... from E-Mail from Betty Dobson
B22_Reply about decisions, decisions... from E-Mail from John Sullivan
B23_Help is on the way — Help from E-Mail from Irv Pliskin
B24_an idyllic vacation spot: warm sun, soft breezes, white sand and topless beaches. — Vacation from E-Mail from Irv Pliskin
B25_Loneliness conditions — loneliness from E-Mail from Irv Pliskin
B26_looking for the love we all need — love from E-Mail from Irv Pliskin
B27_It isn't what you say, but what you do, that matters — matters from E-Mail from Irv Pliskin
B28_Strangely, the vigorous knocking on the door sound truly ominous — knocking from E-Mail from Irv Pliskin
B29_The emotional flood gates burst open — gates from E-Mail from Irv Pliskin
B30_Ante up folks, we're playin' texas holdem — Holdem, July 13 2004 from E-Mail from Irv Pliskin
B31_You can't deny it... it's a threat — Threat from E-Mail from Barb Chandler
B32_That's what I do for a living — Living from E-Mail from Irv Pliskin
C1_A seaside stroll: 2004.03.05
C2_The brass ring: 2004.03.16
C3_Good news: 2004.03.19
C4_No prospects: 2004.03.23
C5_Along the midway: 2004.03.26
C6_Old friends in a book club: 2004.03.28
C7_An important date for lunch: 2004.04.02
C8_Happy birthday parties, unhappy birthday gifts: 2004.04.04
C9_A stressful world: 2004.04.09
C10_A fickle friend: 2004.04.11
C11_A missed appointment: 2004.04.18
C12_The big picture: 2004.04.20
C13_A stunning surprise: 2004.04.25
C14_Loud sings the coocoo: 2004.04.30
C15_Out of options: 2004.05.11
C16_A summer surprise "Surprise" 2004.05.14
C17_A hell of an idea: 2004.05.16
C18_A hidden meaning: 2004.05.18
C19_Surprise party "Surprise": 2004.05.22
C20_That's life...and it is tough stuff.... "Life" 2004.05.25
C21_There is this rumor: "Rumor" 2004.05.28
C22_Sure it was great, i tell you, really great... "GREAT" 2004.05.30
C23_Go ahead, you deserve happiness "Happiness" 2004.06.01
C24_Great memories "memories" 2004.06.04
C25_Okay, find the answer: work it out "Answer" 2004.06.11
C26_Sometimes, windows of opportunity slam shut unexpectedly... "Opportunity" 2004.06.13
C27_A quiet suburban community "Community" 2004.06.18
C28_The gun shot caught us by surprise "Summer" 2004.06.22
C29_Write a short story about the thought police. Subject: name, genre, story title from E-Mail from Irv Pliskin
C30_Write short story from E-Mail from Irv Pliskin
B33XReply from E-Mail from Lisa Wohlwinder (2004.07.19)
B34XReview story from E-Mail from Sean Uy
B35XReply from E-Mail from Trace Belsher
C31XA quick fix: 2004.03.09
C32XYou're late, very late for an important date: 2004.03.14
C33XA fleeting thought: 2004.03.21
C34XA brisk morning walk: 2004.05.21
C35XFar and beyond "beyond" 2004.06.06
C36XFuneral procession "Procession" 2004.06.08
C37XLet not the sun go down upon your wrath "Wrath" 2004.06.15
C38XA trusted, cherished canine companion "Canine" 2004.06.20
C39XA letter from a lawyer "Letter" 2004.06.25
C40XA relaxing spot of tea "tea" 2004.06.27
C41XWell, now, that's your opinion from E-Mail from Irv Pliskin
C42XWrite "Talk to me, damnit, talk to me! / Talk" story from E-Mail from Irv Pliskin

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Page: Short Stories
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