best intentions

Day 1
Moved to a new neighborhood in the middle of winter. It’s old, with lots of trees. I can see birds clinging to the branches. Poor little things, they get so hungry when it’s cold.

I scattered some seeds on the back porch for them. I wonder if any will come eat.

Day 2
Success! One little sparrow. I’m off to a good start!

Day 3
Another one! Two little sparrows.

Day 4
Five little sparrows. A whole flock!

Day 5
No little sparrows. Fun fact, did you know the neighbors have cats?

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*DISCLAIMER: No birds were harmed in the making of this flash fiction.

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the brighter they burn

Winter chills the blood and bone. Halfway across the world, my sister Instagrams her holiday cheer. Christmas lights wreath her paper-cutout smile. White, red, and green flares with caustic brightness, her face a contrast, livid with shadows. Or what I hope is only shadows.
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The topic for December’s 50-word fiction competition by the Scottish Book Trust: Write a story inspired by winter lights.

experimental theology

“They never do what I want them to.”

“Poke them?”

Under the glare of sunlamps, the vivarium wallowed in desert. Sheila had long since removed the shading trees and cliff crags, leaving nothing but bare sand. It had to be blistering in there. A thermometer clipped to the glass rated it over a hundred degrees Fahrenheit.

Sarah picked up the pointer from where it lay next to the tank and prodded the little figures within, trying to nudge them towards the flap in the tank that would lead them to another, larger vivarium, one that had actual flora and a water source and wasn’t broiling them to death. Instead of taking the hint, the little figures squeaked and huddled together even closer in the middle of the sand.

A lone figure detached from the rest. It ran at the pointer and latched on, kicking and punching furiously. Stubborn, Sarah thought with equal parts exasperation and admiration. She shook it off and withdrew the pointer. “See what I mean?”

Naomi thought for a moment. “Try misting them.”

“It’s not going to work.” But Sheila picked up the spray bottle anyways.

At the first touch of moisture, a keening noise went up from the figures in the vivarium. The group broke apart, spreading out to explore the perimeters of the damp ground. Sheila continued to spritz, gradually moving towards the flap. To her amazement the figures trailed after her, cheeping happily. When they reached the flap, one by one they trotted through without hesitation.

Sarah closed the flap, severing the connection between the two vivariums. She looked at Naomi. “I can’t believe that worked.”

Naomi grinned. “I wasn’t sure,” she admitted, “but I heard Jacob talking about a new feature they built in the other day. He called it imagination.”

“What’s that?”

“I’m not sure, but I think it has to do with making things up that aren’t real.”

Sarah stared. “Surely not like–not like us.”

“Oh, no. Nothing like us. It’s only in their heads. But it’s good for suggesting. If I were to guess, I’d say they probably thought some divine being from on high had taken pity on their sufferings and created a rainstorm that would lead them to fertile lands. Religion has to have a carrot as well as a stick.” This with a jesting flick at the pointer.

“Well, whatever, as long as it works. At least I’ve finally got this batch into the third stage.” She wiped her hands off on her lab coat. “It’ll be a couple more hours for them to acclimate to their new biome. Want some coffee? My treat.”

“I won’t say no to that.” Sarah checked the new vivarium to make sure the lid was firmly in place–it was a nightmare if they ever got out–and led the way out of the room.

the moon in the bottom of the well

There’s nothing quite like reading three or four books in a row that are so entrancing that you devour them without pause in as many days. Each one is a thick, sweet wine whose taste you never grow tired of, and when you reach the end of one book you surface for a single gulp of fresh air before you dive right on into the next. You could drink this in forever. It’s a thirst you never knew you had being slaked. It’s all your hunger being sated, over and over again.

The books this time:

  • La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman
  • The Shadowed Sun by NK Jemisin
  • Annihalation by James VanderMeer

And there would be The Stone in the Skull by Elizabeth Bear in there as well, but I have meetings tomorrow that I technically have to be awake for.

a la carte

For nine years the food cart has stood on the corner of the seaside market. People bring her their troubles; she takes them all. She takes them, and transforms them.

Unrequited love folds into pastries, baked to perfection and studded with raisins. Sorrow gets thrown in the deep fryer and comes out crispy and sizzling. Unhappiness transforms into sugary sweetness, pain into pleasure.

Standing on the sidewalk, they hungrily devour what she made of what they gave her. Their faces gleam with contentment. And when they go away, they do it with stomachs that are heavy but hearts that are lighter than they have been in years.
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The 50-word flash fiction theme this month is street food. So, yeah, there are going to be a lot more of these stories popping out until I can finagle my way into the word count.

buttercream

drag me
fold me into your deliberations
the frothing flute in hands linked arm in arm
buttercream on my tongue
magnolias touched to the wrists

shake the beasts of burdens from our skins
become large, extrasolar
candled and sleek in the firelight
sugar castles in humid Southern air

today
the very first day
just like any other day
a day is a day is yet another day
and tomorrow, tonight, today
kinked ever so slightly
into an elevated plane of being

a touch of heat

The sizzle of meat on a hot griddle stops me dead halfway through the snow of Eighth Avenue. Beneath a rainbow halo of streetlight, a street vendor sends wreaths of steam into the cold. I can’t remember if they were there before.

A chance wind gusts smoke in my direction, onions and gamy meat. Kebabs. My mouth waters.

The vendor behind the griddle is swathed so thickly in coats and shawls and scarves that I can’t make out whether they’re man or woman. I trudge up to the counter and order two skewers, teeth chattering. “That’ll be five dollars.” Even their voice is androgynous, scoured of all identifiers. It’s got cracks in it that could be from age, or cold, or a throat tickle. Otherwise it could be the voice of anyone.

I fumble the money from my pocket with stiff fingers. They accept it and turn to slap more meat on the heat.

“Cold night,” they say conversationally.

“Very.”

They nod at the shovel on my shoulder. “Working?”

“Someone has to take care of the snow,” is my reply. “What about you? What are you doing out on a night like this?”

Their eyes smile through a slit in the fabric. “Someone has to take care of the snow shovelers.”

They hand the skewers to me, one at a time, waiting for me to wolf down the first before taking the second off the fire. The meat is fiery with spices. Heat slides down my throat and blossoms to the tips of my fingers. By the time I finish the second, I’ve stopped shivering. I am warm, from head to toe.

I trudge back out into the snow, no longer cold, and get back to work.