Flash Fiction: Sludge

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The Sun Is Sick (Austin Osman Spare)

We’d been trudging through the treacherous sludge of the Louisiana bayou for nigh on a fortnight, when we came to the clearing. Boudreaux, our guide, stopped us outside the stone circle.

“I do not go into this place,” he said. “It is cursed.”

At the time, I laughed off Boudreaux’s melodramatic warning. I did not laugh when we found the heathen idol on its crimson stained altar, its bulbous outline depicting the hideous features of a membranous winged monstrosity. And as I compile my notes, here in the British Museum’s archives, it begins to glow with a pale, unearthly luminescence.

~100 words

via Daily Prompt: Sludge

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Thursday Quotable: Danse Macabre

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“I think that writers are made, not born or created out of dreams of childhood trauma—that becoming a writer (or a painter, actor, director, dancer, and so on) is a direct result of conscious will. Of course there has to be some talent involved, but talent is a dreadfully cheap commodity, cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work and study; a constant process of honing. Talent is a dull knife that will cut nothing unless it is wielded with great force—a force so great the knife is not really cutting at all but bludgeoning and breaking (and after two or three of these gargantuan swipes it may succeed in breaking itself…which may be what happened to such disparate writers as Ross Lockridge and Robert E. Howard). Discipline and constant work are the whetstones upon which the dull knife of talent is honed until it becomes sharp enough, hopefully, to cut through even the toughest meat and gristle. No writer, painter, or actor—no artist—is ever handed a sharp knife (although a few are handed almighty big ones; the name we give to the artist with the big knife is “genius”), and we hone with varying degrees of zeal and aptitude.”

― Stephen King, Danse Macabre

Can you write, if you weren’t given the tools? If not born with knife in hand (sorry, Mom…), can you find one, somewhere out there, buried under autumn leaves? Or maybe you have to learn to disarm someone who does have a knife, pry it from their stiff fingers and claim it for your own. See, that’s what happens when you extend a metaphor too far.

In the book, King points out that he’s not a great guitar player, no matter how many years he’s been at it. I can sympathize. I can barely keep a rhythm; perhaps it’s something inherent in the writer’s brain that they can only follow the beat of the sounds inside their own heads? The point is that some people weren’t born with talent, in one area or another. The trick is to find what you’re talented at, plunge your face in, and eat the whole damn thing, heart and all.

The book is great, filled with all the candid, black humor that you’d expect if you’ve read On Writing, a more directly applicable piece of nonfiction for the aspiring author. It’s also a brilliant meditation on the horror genre in film, although I’ve learned that King’s taste in movies and my own deviate beyond his distaste for Kubrick’s The Shining, which I think is one of the greatest films to have been put to celluloid. Put it on your shelf, Constant Reader, and take it down some dark night when the tree branches scratch at the window panes.

via Bookshelf Fantasies

 

Flash Fiction: Because I Could Not Stop

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Image Credit Brooke Lark

“It’d be so nice to hear little footsteps, tramping along the boards of this drafty, old house. I’ve asked outright, but Barbara is too busy with her career,” said Esther.

“You don’t have to worry about Barbara anymore,” said Death.

“I’ve set two places at breakfast. I don’t know why I did that. Charlie’s been dead ten years now.”

Death reached out a black gloved hand and helped her up from the dining room chair. “It’s time to go. There is nothing more for you to do.”

“Easy for you to say,” said Esther. “I’ve got to wash these dishes.”

~100 words

Flash Fiction: Riff

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Robert Johnson Photo Origin

When you sell your soul, the devil asks for a bill of sale. He don’t make you sign it in your own blood, just regular old ink. Both upstairs and down have some very specific, and arcane, laws.

For example, you get thirty days grace period, in case you change your mind. I’d seen the side effects by now, my fingers gliding up and down the neck of my old six string like magic. But it wasn’t me that was doing the playing. The music was playing me.

“Lucifer!” I cried, standing at the crossroads, “You and I gotta talk.”

~100 words

via Daily Prompt: Riff

Flash Fiction: Nanjo Castille

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Photo origin

“Several consumer surveys have shown,” said Nanjo Castille, “that having a human name helps customers identify with our brand.”

“Okay,” said Detective Merrick, “but I’m gonna call you by your model number, NAN-50.”

“As you wish, officer,” said Nanjo, “perhaps a handbag for the missus?”

Merrick produced a hologram photo from his trench coat. “Have you seen this girl? Name’s Cheryl Wei.”

“No,” said Nanjo, and held up one of the handbags, “but this is a very popular purchase among our sixteen to twenty-one demographic.

Merrick inspected the tag, and in that instant drew his sidearm. It read “Cheryl”.

~99 words

For Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Challenge

Flash Fiction: Murder Ballad

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via Google Books

She lay her lover’s head gingerly down, seeping red into the muddy water. She smeared a red stripe on her white dress as she wiped the knife clean. It was, after all, not so different than slaughtering a hog.

She’d come up from behind with a midnight embrace, the way they’d done in a thousand secret trysts, here by the river. He didn’t know she’d overheard him talking to his father. They’d decided a pregnancy was too much scandal for their family to bear.

But she wouldn’t be another Pretty Polly, and this murder ballad wouldn’t be about her.

~99 words

via Daily Prompt: Gingerly

Thursday Quotable: Haunted

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These four provinces also correspond to four prime areas of cultural anxiety in the Western world from the eighteenth century to the present. In other words, these are the monsters of modernity, each commanding a particular area of fear, even while some of its characteristics overlap with others. They are the monster from nature (like King Kong), the created monster (like Frankenstein), the monster from within (like Mr. Hyde), and the monster from the past (like Dracula). From these, virtually all varieties of the monstrous flow.

— Haunted, Leo Braudy

Haunted is a taxonomy of monsters, as well as something of a history of fear. Horror writers take note: this is your field guide for monsters. No, it won’t give you stat blocks for each and every monster from story and folklore, like a DnD Monster Manual, but it will teach you how to understand the dark recesses of human imagination where monsters live, putting them in context of society and religion.

Also discussed, though not entirely monstrous themselves, are the witch, the ghost, and the detective archetypes. I’ve only found one glaring mistake in the book, a reference to Michael Myers’ “hockey mask”, alone enough to scrape at the nerves of any horror movie fan, but I’ll chalk it up to an oversight in editing rather than genuine ignorance. Other than this, Braudy is dead on and keenly insightful.

via Bookshelf Fantasies