an old song

The years warped and weathered them in tandem, pianist and piano alike. Decades exchanged acuity for cataracts, deftness for cold-aching joints. The keys, pressed, are mute. But though the hammers fall soundless still he hears the music in his bones, even if no one else hears a sound.


The topic for January’s 50-word fiction competition by the Scottish Book Trust: Write a story that features an old piano.




like a pent-up breath,
the rupturing of a swollen vessel–
the overwhelming bloom
that swallows you whole,
nerve cells and fatty tissue,
in a blossom of unexpected motherhood:
a lifelong gestation
releasing into unwanted enlightenment.

if the shoe fits

You fell in love with the glossy red shade of her lips. The champagne bubble of her words, the way she trapped her laughter in her throat and released it in small, smoke-ring bursts. She’s a conglomeration of tics that taken all together is called glamour. You’ve never met anyone so fragile before, her whole being as delicate and ringing as salt crystals. You can see her from across the room, see yourself reflected in the heat haze of her curves.

You dance and chatter. The only one in the room is her. Then the clock strikes twelve and all those delicate crystalline edges grow slippery, so that despite all your best efforts you can’t keep hold: she wriggles free and is gone. Running, fleeing ahead of the cracking toll of bells.

You chase after her. Surprise, though, who’d have thought someone made of glass and wind chimes could be so fast? She’s gone before you can really get up to speed, vanished to dust. But at the bottom of the stairs she left a glittering fragment, broken off and abandoned in her haste, and you think at first it’s her foot, shorn off at the ankle, but no, it’s only a shoe.

2017 reading tracker

1. The Wall of Storms by Ken Liu
2. Chew by John Layman (comic series)
3. Everfair by Nisi Shawl
4. The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg (NF)
4.5. The Jewel and Her Lapidary by Fran Wilde
5. The High Window by Raymond Chandler
6. Rose by Jeff Smith (comic)
7. Normal by Warren Ellis
8. Spin State by Chris Moriarty
9. Cinder by Marissa Meyer
10. The Circle by Dave Eggers
11. Bookburners, season 1 by Max Gladstone et al
12. Scarlet by Marissa Meyer
13. Cress by Marissa Meyer
14. Winter by Marissa Meyer
15. Fairest by Marissa Meyer
16. What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami (NF)
17. The Inquisitor’s Apprentice by Chris Moriarty
18. The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett
19. The Iris Fan by Laura Joh Rowland
20. The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett
21. The Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett
22. Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
23. Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman (NF)
24. Spook Country by William Gibson
25. Poodle Springs by Raymond Chandler
26. Heartless by Marissa Meye
27. The Silver Metal Lover by Tanith Lee
28. Echoes in Death by J.D. Robb
29. Confessions of a Crap Artist by Philip K. Dick
30. Luna: Wolf Moon by Ian Mcdonald
31. Zero History by William Gibson
32. The Widow’s House by Carol Goodman
33. The Peripheral by William Gibson
34. Proof of Concept by Gwyneth Jones
35. Final Girls by Mira Grant
36. Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami (SS collection)
37. Walkaway by Cory Doctorow
38. The Dain Curse by Dashiell Hammett
39. The Glass Key by Dashiell Hammett
40. Humpty Dumpty in Oakland by Philip K. Dick
41. The Ganymede Takeover by Philip K. Dick and Ray Nelson
42. The Other Victorians: A Study of Sexuality and Pornography in Mid-nineteenth-century England by Steven Marcus (NF)
43. A Prescription for Murder: The Victorian Serial Killings of Dr. Thomas Neill Cream by Angus McLaren (NF)
44. Raising Stony Mayhall by Daryl Gregory
45. The Dream-Quest of Vellit Boe by Kij Johnson (novella)
46. Kangaroo Too by Curtis Chen
47. The Killing Moon by NK Jemisin
48. The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M Cain
49. The Spy Who Came In From the Cold by John le Carre
50. Mildred Pierce by James M Cain
51. The Witch Who Came In From the Cold by Max Gladstone et al
52. Spoonbenders by Daryl Gregory
53. Spin Control by Chris Moriarty
54. Ghost Spin by Chris Moriarty
55. Darwin’s Radio by Greg Bear
56. The Watcher in the Shadows by Chris Moriarty
57. The Fault in Our Stars by Gohn Green
58. Taiwan: Studies in Local Chinese History by Leonard H.D. Gordon (NF)
59. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
60. Ruin of Angels by Max Gladstone
61. The River Bank by Kij Johnson
62. Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews
63. The Red Threads of Fortune by JY Yang
64. Palace of Treason by Jason Matthews
65. The Black Tides of Heaven by JY Yang
66. The Elements of Alchemy by Cherry Gilchrist (NF)
67. La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman
68. The Shadowed Sun by NK Jemisin
69. Annihalation by James VanderMeer
70. The Stone in the Skull by Elizabeth Bear
71. Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson
72. Authority by James VanderMeer
73. Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

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?


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

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.

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.