Furious Fiction – May 2019

Alright. Dark Fantasy. Back on brand this month.

As usual, 500 words, and a bunch of conditions. This month is was . . .strangely enough. . . a May theme!

Aside from starting with an eleven letter word and having something running, it had to contain the words ‘Mayor’, ‘Mayhem’, ‘Dismay’, ‘Maybe’, and ‘Mayonaisse’.

Enjoy!

 

The Banality of a Job Well Done

“AAARRRGGGHH!”

It’s truly a unique symphony– each time a cry leaves the choir, another joins the aural mayhem. Hundreds of voices have joined and left. Hundreds of desperate voices creating a matchless harmony. It is a work to be proud of.

I lick my lips, the heat of the fire pits cracking them like boots over autumn leaves. The contract set by the mayor was difficult.

“This place is infested! Liars, thieves, crooks; they’re everywhere in this town! I want it cleared by morning! No trace is to remain!

The task is impossible. No trace not realistic. But as the pits rage, I’m satisfied. I’ve achieved more than most could have done.

I lick my lips again and lift the pipe, joining the exquisite sound. A couple of sharp notes punch the air and a chill runs over me, a welcome sensation among the fires. Another few notes. I can feel it now. A tune flows, more of the pipe’s accord than mine, louder and faster until the thrill reaches right into my bones, the melody engulfing me and I too must dance! Leaping, spinning. . .it’s running through my limbs. I must keep playing! Keep dancing, keep moving, keep running. . .

Aargghh! Burning!  I slap at my coat sleeve, putting out the flame and step back from the pit. How close had I been to following the melody in? Another chill runs through me. My coat is damaged, but it could’ve been worse. I pry my fingers off the wooden instrument, force myself to separate from the melody. It does not control me.

I will not follow the music.

A sharp, acidic odour burns up my nostrils. Smoke, burning hair and skin. The wind has changed. Or maybe I just danced into the path of the smoke. It can be disorienting inside the melody.

I look around – there are still a few left dancing towards their fate, screaming their only defence against their own actions.

One stares back though. I watch as he leaps into a pit, watch as his body turns black, his eyes bubbling and boiling.

But there is something else in his eyes too, before the sclera bursts from the socket, flowing thick and gooey like mayonnaise. Before they turn to ash. Anger. Confusion. Dismay. I hear his questions as clearly as the roar of the flames that consume him.

He wants to know why I did this, why the town is no more.

The answer is simple. Because it was my contract. The town was full of liars, thieves and crooks. Leave no trace.

The pungent odour is still here – I taste the bile it brings, and I need to leave. But as I carefully put some notes through my pipe, I watch with pride as the final few townsfolk find a pit and throw themselves in.

By morning, there should be no trace of the town at all. As per the contact. A job well done.

 

A Hazy Memoir

I’m coming to the end of my Creative Non-Fiction subject at the moment, and while it might not be ‘on brand’ for my usual style, I’ve been feeling a bit guilty about not posting my April Furious Fiction story. So here is my replacement. It is two things; first of all it’s a story on speculation in non-fiction (hence the hazy). It’s also the story of how I met my wife, Roslyn.

Its also the story of why I will never understand why she spoke to me again after that night. But I’m glad she did.

Also as a side note, I don’t condone the irresponsible behaviour I exhibited this night. It may have worked out on this occasion, but that doesn’t excuse it. It just means I was lucky this time.

The task was to write memoir on an event we don’t have all the facts for. To speculate, but keep it in non-fiction.

 

Perhaps one such time for myself is the night I met Roz, my wife. I can only speculate on the details because to be perfectly honest, there was a considerable amount of alcohol involved.

At least there was from my side. She tells me she didn’t touch a drop that night, and I prefer to believe her after she drove me home through the remnants of a cyclone.

In fact I still blame the cyclone for my state of being. Six weeks on Border Protection with increased shifts to try and get qualified had left me somewhat fatigued. Some poor decision making leading to no rest and a big night out led to getting in around five am, and getting a call from the ship at six.

A cyclone was coming. Half the crew was already on leave. We need to sail. Despite the commonly held belief that ships are safer in port, cyclonic winds smashing aluminium hulls into concrete wharves tend to disagree. A bucket of KFC, plenty of glasses of water, and some sobering hours later, we were ready to go.

Thankfully the cyclone missed us. But the extra shifts again and the lack of recovery from the previous night out had taken its toll.

Unfortunately for my health, though very fortunately for my future, I had not learnt my lesson from the last time I went out. I got in to port, and was immediately convinced to head out again.

I don’t know much about what happened, but I remember meeting a girl that one of the other guys was very interested in. The problem was that she was not into him, mainly because she found him an arrogant, self-obsessed creep. Much of which was justified.

But I digress. He was creeping on to this girl. This girl was a friend of one of my sailors that I got along very well with, and I really didn’t want either of them having a night ruined by my collegue’s behaviour.

I have vague memories from here on. I think I bought her a drink. Actually, I think I bought Creepy Guy a drink and gave it to her instead. But either way, we sat down a chatted. I have no idea what about. But I guess I saw her drink was empty, so I must have bought her another. Then it was empty again, and I must have said something entertaining because she remained at the table, grinning and laughing when I bought a couple more.

Eventually, she must have said something about driving home. Of course, no matter how impaired I may have been, some semblance of responsibility remained.

I told her I’d call her a taxi. She couldn’t drive after however much we’d had.

As I recall it, she just sat back and laughed.

‘I haven’t had anything. You’ve been drinking my beers all night.’

Well, I felt pretty stupid at that point. I mean, I had probably seemed pretty stupid most of the night. But I had a moment of clarity and called my night then and there. Turns out she was done too, so I offered to walk her to her car. When we got outside, it was absolutely teeming with rain. Cairns in January usually is, but this was more so thanks to the cyclone that had just passed the coast.

So we ran. We paused at a couple of pizza stands – I think I ate some, I can’t imagine Roz would have had anything in her entirely sober and responsible state – and we talked Wolverine, guitars, and knives.

When we eventually got to her car, I said goodbye and tried to call a taxi. She took the phone from me and told me to get in the car. Her mum still tells her I could have been an axe murderer.

I wasn’t.

After another weird, nerdy, conversation later, she dropped me off at the Navy accommodation, at which point I declared her awesomeness by saying, ‘I’m gonna [expletive] marry you someday.’ She laughed, and I wouldn’t have blamed her for giving a fake number and driving off, never to be seen again.

I don’t know what happened in her mind, and I barely recall the details of the conversations. She tells me I just seemed like a nice guy.  Something must have stuck anyway. Because three years, she let me follow through on that promise.

I’ve also never gone out on the same night we get into port, and never will again.

The Amazing Intro of Into the Spiderverse

Alright, the movie’s been out for a while now and it’s kind of implied by the title, but. . .

tenor

That’s right, there are spoilers in this post for the movie it’s discussing.

Excellent. That should be enough waffle to give people the chance to opt out of they like.

So onto the movie!

First of all, I’ve had a decent chance to study this movie. . .kind of. Anyone with kids probably understands the repetition that comes with a favourite movie – we missed Frozen, got caught in Moana, and the Hotel Transylvania trilogy in constantly on repeat. So much of the ‘study’ has been in dribs as drabs, reliant on Mr 7 and Mr 4’s level of concentration.

Still, I’ve really enjoyed seeing not just a good movie, but some fantastic elements of storytelling. It’s not perfect, but it’s easy to see why it’s enjoyed success, and many of the elements of that can be drawn back to the writing.

Also, I’ll be focussing on the start, specifically the expositional introduction. I’ll admit, I’m a big fan of the movie, and a little hyper-analytical. So if I was to look at the whole movie, this would be a much longer essay! Also, exposition tends to be discarded by many writers. In many cases, it should be – but it still has a place. And Into the Spiderverse gives a masterclass in how to use it effectively. So by way of introduction;

Exposition Is Not A Dirty Word

Capture

The main reason it’s so maligned is that it is either overdone, or it’s used poorly. But used correctly, it can control pace, inform the reader/viewer, and rapidly build in layers into characters.

Spiderverse opens with exposition. The monologue of ‘My name’s Peter Parker. I was bitten by a radioactive spider, and for ten years. . . etc” might be difficult to pull off on its own. But it gives us three things in that short time; familiarity, diversion, and action.

Familiarity isn’t necessarily needed for Spiderman, but the flashes of familiar scenes from live-action movies cements which Spiderman this is. Which in a movie with plenty of Spiderfolk, is kind of important.

Diversion comes in two elements. First of all, we see Uncle Ben with his power/responsibility line. I don’t know about other people, but I hated this line from the start and it really put me off Spiderman movies for a long time. In Spiderverse, we hear the line fade along with Uncle Ben. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but I had hope the fading was symbolic of a different theme.

It was. I have rarely been happier while watching an animated film.

What we get instead is a theme presented as an idea, directly contrasted with Peter B. Parker’s similarly expositional introduction.

It’s not a corny line. It’s an idea: what does it take to get continuously get back up.

For Original Peter, it’s simply being Spiderman. For Peter B. Parker, it’s his relationship with Mary Jane – one he ruins through neglect. It’s a set up for the situation in which Miles is rejected by the other Spiderfolk. The question is what will it take for him to keep going – to get back up?

From the end of that monologue, we know this movie isn’t about the weight of responsibility thrust on the shoulders of a poor, diamond-in-the-rough youth. It’s about getting knocked down and getting back up. That thematic notion is achieved through blatant exposition – and it works.

The action is something a little more medium-specific – but it’s still important. The exposition is paired with a montage of action scenes telling the life story of Spiderman. The visual element isn’t always available to writers, but action and exposition can be used just as effectively in writing.

To compare this with writing, consider the following lines;

Davis swayed backwards, his head already swimming from the salty sweat dripping into his eyes. A pit in his stomach grew like a black hole, his resilience unable to escape it. Lead-like arms countered the strike, acting almost on instinct at this point. He’d always been told he was quick, but right now it was like fighting at the bottom of a pool – blurred vision, struggling for breath, and unable to muster any momentum. Pain exploded in the base of his jaw, shooting up into his skull, and Davis knew this was it. This would be the finale, and even as he was aware of his arms moving unbidden into a block, he knew even if by some miracle it was effective, it was only delaying the inevitable. He took one more breath, and embraced the relief and respite that came with the blackness.

 

Or the action scene!

 

A left jab. Sway back, counter. Sweat poured into his eyes, blurring his vision. Swinging wildly, pain exploded in his jaw. This was it. He was done. Waiting for the final blow, he instinctively threw his arms up. It didn’t matter – he couldn’t block them all. The world went sideways, and Davis hit the deck.

Alright, so I may have hammed up the first one a little, but in an action scene the reader wants to know what happened now. It’s not the time for flowery, purple prose, and sometimes even the old ‘show don’t tell’ advice isn’t appropriate.

There is a time for a slightly-less-hammed-up version of the first one, but by jamming in all the other elements, a reader is more likely to be invested in the emotional state of Davis. Maybe if this is a critical fight that might work. But in the second version a reader is more likely to be in the action.

In the first readers feel his exhaustion, in the second readers are dodging and falling with him. Both have their place.

Just don’t go overboard like mine.

My ANZAC Day

This might seem a little late, but after putting up a post on my Facebook site (one that was meant to be about two lines long, but somehow kept going), I started to get some calls, emails, and messages from people who could relate. People whose emotions around ANZAC Day are as complex as mine, if not more so. People who really seemed to connect with what was written

In the end, I think it had a positive impact. And if I can get a bit more positivity out there, then why not? Plus, if it looks like a blog post, reads like a blog post etc. . .well, I figured I better put it up.

It might not be the greatest formatted or grammatically correct piece, but this is one that came from a very personal place. I always have trouble writing this time of year, but this is maybe what I can do. This is how I do therapy – getting the words out to express that which ironically, can’t really be expressed in words.

Here ’tis (link then words):

Most people who know me also know I spent the majority of my adult life in the military. In fact, I’m heading back into a uniformed role soon, which will be . . .interesting . . .after some time away.

It might seem strange then that I rarely feel comfortable sharing or writing about anything about ANZAC day. It’s not that I want to disrespect the day, or that I have anything against it. In fact, I hold out hope that the commemorations of wars, and the constant reminding of the cost they induce might make people think twice about the next time they want to start a conflict.

But I guess the main thing that makes me hesitate is that there are a bunch of complex issues, and bunch more complex emotions surrounding it.

The thing is, ANZAC Day brings a lot of emotions to the fore. I consider myself lucky to have served with some truly extraordinary people, and I’m proud of the achievements of some of them too.

It also reminds me of the time we had just finished an intense period of training, and just before we left the ship to go home for a break leading up to ANZAC Day, a colleague killed themselves on board the ship. Six months later, another followed suit.

It reminds me of the time I was on night shift, and a signal came through notifying us of death of an officer on leave. The name on the signal was a good friend of both mine and my wife’s.

It reminds me of launching helicopters and seaboats simultaneously while executing precision maneuvering, with a stupid grin on my face because I was having so much fun, and meeting all sorts of great people from other countries and other cultures, hearing their perspectives and widening my own view.

It reminds me of the intellect and compassion of some of the best leaders and people I’ve ever come across, and watching their careers soar.

It reminds me of ‘leadership’ personnel who simply allowed their subordinate to fade away and die due to a lack of the same attributes.

The contrasting emotions and experiences of my service seem to be heightened by days like this. And to be honest, I got away reasonably unscarred from my time in the military

I think that’s the bit that I find the most difficult. If this is a complex time for me, and I generally had a pretty good career, how hard must it be for those who still suffer for their time in uniform? How heightened are their emotions? What if I say the wrong thing, or they take something the wrong way? Should I be reaching out to someone? Who? Will my lack of participation be seen as a rejection? But what if I say the wrong thing? What impact will that have on people? Who will it trigger?

I know most of the worries are ridiculous, especially the last couple, but that’s how my brain works

I guess the point of all this is to point out, however; as conflicting as the day is for me, it’s a hundred times more difficult for others. Not only today, but potentially every day of the year, or for some, sporadically at unpredictable times.

Veterans are not the only people who suffer in silence, so maybe it’s a little selfish of me to limit the focus. But still, that is my area. It’s who and what I know, and quite frankly, I don’t want to lose anyone more friends if I can help it.

So this ANZAC Day, whether you are commemorating or not, I would ask of this; try to view veterans outside of personal views on war, or specific wars, outside of politics or election campaigns etc. Remember they are people first. Be kind, be compassionate, and if you come across someone suffering, remember that this is not the only day they suffer. It might just be the only day it’s so close to the surface that you see it.

~Nathan

 

Drowned Earth Novellas Announcement

Pretty excited to see this all-Aussie spec fic collaboration start rolling out!

Aussie Speculative Fiction

After two months of evaluating pitches, short-listing authors, reading opening pages, discussing, creating spreadsheets, and finally high-fiving… we are pleased to announce the nine authors invited to be a part of our ambitious Drowned Earth Novella project!

These nine authors will each be writing a novella set in the same scenario… a flooded Australia!

So without further ado, we would like to extend a big congratulations to the following…

More information will be communicated soon, but for now, why not sign up to our mailing list or follow Aussie Speculative Fiction for updates on Facebook and Twitter.

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Furious Fiction – Mar 2019

Another month, another 500 word (or fewer) story. This time it was a visual prompt, with an image of a laundromat. 

To be honest, it isn’t my strongest writing and I nearly didn’t post it up. But accountability is important, and this is as much my record of accountability as it is a platform to get it visible to the outside world.

Enjoy!

 

RUMBLE RUMBLE. THUNK THUNK.

The full line of six budget-bought washers seemed to amplify the silence between the child and the woman.

“You really shouldn’t stick around,” the child repeated.

“What makes you say that?”

He gulped, the woman’s tone surprisingly sharp.

“Not safe ‘round here at night. That’s what Mum says.”

“Huh. What are you doing out then?”

He shrugged. “Nothin’ else to do. We’re across the street, locals ya know? No-one would do nuffin to us. We’re known.”

RUMBLE THUNK.

No reply came. The woman just wrapped her arms around herself, gripping the sleeves of a too-big t-shirt as she peered out past the window’s security bars, a faint siren wailing in the distance.

“You alright, miss?”

“Alright? Hah! Yeah, I’m fine.”

He watched as she chewed a nail, still looking out the window.

“Miss. . .you prob’ly should get home. Can’t your washing wait til morning?”

RUMBLE RUMBLE.

She peered at him for a moment.

“Don’t really have a home to go to.”

THUNK THUNK.

“No home? How come?”

The woman sighed “Just. . .it’s complicated. It was a messy breakup. Got the clothes I was wearing, got the car, and got out.”

RUMBLE THUNK.

“And he wouldn’t let you back for a night?”

“Hah! Not even if he could. Jacob was a special kind of asshole.”

“Sorry.” He didn’t know what to say. This was a bit beyond him. He’d just seen a stranger in the laundromat from his room, and curiosity had gotten the better of him. Lit up in the fluorescent lighting, big white shirt and all – for a moment, he’d wondered if she was some kind of angel.

“Don’t stress kid, he’s not around anymore.”

“Then why can’t you go back?”

RUMBLE RUMBLE THUNK.

She sighed again, grabbing a jacket off a worn red couch near the exit.

“It’d be weird. Already cut away that part of my life, know what I mean?”

She cast a sideways look at him. “Nah, too young. Hopefully you don’t get it for a while.”

“Still, might want to get somewhere soon. Those sirens are getting louder.”

“You think they’re coming here?”

“Nah, they’re probably headin’ to Kess’s place on the corner. Runs somethin’ outta there, an’ the cops drop by every now and then to try and get him. Mum won’t tell me what for though.”

“Your mum sounds like a smart one,” the woman replied. He watched as she strode out the door before the roar of an engine signalled her departure.

RUMBLE THUNK RUMBLE THUNK.

The boy turned to the machines. Weird, she’d taken off without her washing!

RUMBLE RUMBLE THUNK THUNK.

How did she have so much anyway?

Curious, the child peered into one of the washers.

As the police entered, they found a boy focused on the contents of a machine, seemingly unresponsive to their commands. Pulling him away, he just continued to stare, the lifeless, spinning eyes of Jacob staring back at him.

RUMBLE RUMBLE. THUNK THUNK.