Tag Archives: short stories

Time Travel Challenge: History for the Ages

My flash fiction contribution to the Time Travel Challenge, inspired in part by Ask A Slave by Azie Dungey. (Good videos if you like history.) I’m not in love with the story, but it’ll suffice. May keep tooling on it.

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History for the Ages

It’s lonely, being a Historian. They made it sound so much more exciting when we signed up for the program. We would be adventurers, of the best sort, not discovering new worlds but conquering past times. We would bring Knowledge, capture it for the next eons to enjoy. We were heroes, or so they told us. The International Library actually had to turn candidates away, if you can believe it.

Despite the trainings, nothing prepared me for this. Not really.

But I was here, now, so there wasn’t much choice—I couldn’t go back home until my year was up. My intrachronometer wouldn’t activate until then, anyway. I might as well do my job.

I sighed and picked up the sack I’d brought with me, muttering to myself about my damned Locator. I was supposed to have been dropped just outside of the town, but it didn’t look like there was anyone nearby. There were so many trees, so incredibly many. I’d seen one in the Museum, of course, but I had no idea they were like this.

Everything was so green. I felt another pang for home.

Though it had seemed foolish at the time, now I was grateful for those trainings in Era-Appropriate Clothing. I still hated the skirt, of course, the drab dirty thing I’d ported in, but at least now I knew how to walk in it, thighs slightly apart so they didn’t rub. So different from the comfortable slacks at home.

I crested a small hill and saw, in the distance, a grand white plantation home. I started toward it, suddenly excited. My first interaction with my subjects! I tried to remember what to say, what the culturally appropriate language, behavior, for a dark-skinned female in this era was.

I’d been specially selected for this assignment, they’d said. After I’d passed all the requisite tests, ensured that I was compatible for time travel and the demands of the job, been thoroughly taught how to create accurate notations of my time period and experiences, I had waited for my era. Based on the scant information the Librarians had on the era, it was decided that I should go infiltrate Revolutionary America, that my attributes and skills made me a great fit for the task.

Don’t forget, they had excellent marketers. That’s how I signed up to be a household slave in 1795.

The philosophy went like this: As Historians, it is our duty to stay out of the activities of those we are studying. Much like anthropology, the ancient study of other cultures, Historians must live in the populations, but not be of them. It would not do for us to actually affect history! (And there would be serious consequences if we tried!)

So Historians always have out-of-the-way cover stories. I overheard the Librarians talking once: their favorite timelines for Historians in America were colonial eras and the four decades post-1985. The slaves and poor commoners of the colonial era and the skyscraper production methods of these times made them easy to infiltrate.

I hadn’t walked too far before I had to fall back on my training. A handsome man working in a field stopped and stared at me as I walked by. I glanced at him, but bowed my head away like I’d been taught—women in these days weren’t typically seen alone. Pretend shyness, particularly around males.

The man called out to a colleague, and word of my approach beat me to my destination. I nearly climbed the porch, but remembered myself just in time and turned to go around the back. There was a woman there, evidently waiting for me.

“Excuse me,” I said, hoping my accent-work was passable, “I’m lookin’ for a job, ma’am. Do ya have any need for a maid, perhaps?” I was particularly proud of the ‘perhaps.’ My Languages instructor would be proud.

The woman looked me up and down sternly. She looked like a tough nut to crack. She crossed her arms over her chest and said, “Possibly.”

I ran through the backstory I’d been given, explaining that I’d be happy to join the household and work hard if only they’d take me, that my prior master had died suddenly and left me without work.

She didn’t seem to believe me, but eventually agreed to let me stay on “for now.”

Success. I’d infiltrated Mount Vernon. Now I could really get to work.

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Time Travel Challenge: “On The Road”

Wow! My time travel challenge was answered very quickly already. Here’s a post from mishaburnett: “On The Road.”

Stacie stopped for gas at a station on Route 66, just outside of Vinita, Oklahoma. It was 1964, and the air smelled like November. By reflex Stacie checked herself over—black skirt, white blouse, white knee socks, black shoes—timeless. In a pinch she could wear it at her destination, but she’d planned on changing somewhere on the road.

She opened the glovebox—heavily reinforced and equipped with a thumprint lock that the Ford Motor company never imagined—and sorted through an envelope of bills, selecting a ten with the date of 1958. That would more than cover a tank of gas.

Her car was a 1953 Ford Crestline, the Sunliner hardtop. The exterior was perfect, but a look at the motor would have shocked the attendant who came up to her window—if he had been able to open the hood without triggering the high voltage alarm system.

Read the rest.

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September 11, 2013 · 10:32 am

Time Travel: Sorry, No Girls Allowed

The Guardian (among others) raised a fantastic point recently: females who travel through time are practically non-existent.

I think time-travel is one of those really awesome science fiction concepts that can range so delightfully from glorious cheesiness to romantic to heart-pounding. It’s a genre I enjoy. But I realized…they’re right.

The time travelers/time travel media I could name:

  • H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine
  • Doctor Who (twelve incarnations, all presenting as male)
  • Marty McFly (Back to the Future)
  • Captains Kirk, Picard, Sisko* (Star Trek: The Next Generation)
  • The Kid in King Arthur’s Court
  • Looper
  • Hot Tub Time Machine
  • Kate and Leopold
  • The Time Traveler’s Wife (I don’t know if I’ve actually seen this or just saw the trailers…)
  • Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventures  (Be Awesome to One Another)
  • Terminator
  • Groundhog Day (I don’t know that it’s technically time travel though)
  • 13 Going on 30
  • Hermione Granger in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Props to you, Hermione, as a main-screen female time traveler. And why did you travel through time? More time to do homework, of course!

Out of that whole list, only 13 Going on 30 and Harry Potter have ladies. And I don’t really think 13 Going on 30 should even count, because she doesn’t just time travel, she also inhabits an older hot-bod version of herself.

That means the only time-traveling lady I can think of is Hermione Granger. And, let it be noted, unlike a lot of the guys who are motivated to time travel by wanting to get a girl, Hermione is into time travel so she can study. Like a boss.

That’s a pretty sad list. Why aren’t women given the chance to travel through time? Is it the cultural notion that explorer = male? In other words, we’re sending men to travel through time because they’re the hunters?

Well that sucks.

It is in this spirit that I issue a challenge: Write a time travel short story in which the lead is female.

That’s it. Take her wherever you like. Explore new worlds and the same world but in different times. Make her good, make her bad, make her lovesick, make her vengeful, make her confused. I don’t care! Just make her!

Leave a comment here when you’ve written one to let me know!

*Granted, I do know that time travel as a concept occurs fairly frequently in Star Trek, in several of the movies and shows. And I think I’ve seen every episode of the original, TNG and Voyager. But the only times it seemed really significant were the Tribble episode of Deep Space Nine (Sisko), Star Trek Generations (Picard), and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (Kirk). And it’s the menfolk who are the focus of all those episodes.

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Review: All There Is; Love Stories from StoryCorps

All There Is: Love Stories from StoryCorpsAll There Is: Love Stories from StoryCorps by Dave Isay

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am not a crier by nature. The Notebook didn’t make me cry; though I do always get a lip quiver when I watch Moulin Rouge, I don’t cry; and I don’t typically read a book or watch a movie with the intent that it’ll evoke some strong emotion.

So when I say that I have found the book I’ll keep handy in the event I’ll ever join a soap opera and need to sob on demand, know that means something.

All There Is: Love Stories from StoryCorps can make me cry in two pages. Not gentle tears, but complete face-twisting uninhibited emotion. And you should absolutely read it.

All There Is is a compilation of true stories collected by StoryCorps as part of their mission to collect stories of people’s lives. These will be given to the storyteller as a family keepsake and another copy goes to the Library of Congress, to pass on to future Americans. It’s a simple mission, but incredibly powerful. If you’ve never heard StoryCorps on the radio, go watch this animated version. It’s one of the stories in the book, but it’s a little different to see it. Go watch right now.

I don’t think this book is necessarily supposed to be sad. The first section is all about finding love, and the stories are all happy endings, and you can practically hear the giggles in the narrators’ voices as they describe their first dates with the people they spend their whole lives with. It’s charming and so authentic, though, it strikes a chord on your heartstrings like nothing else. It makes you believe in true love.

The second segment is about love lost, and that one packs a definite wallop. In fact, my fiance took the book away from me, because by the third story in, I was clutching him and crying uncontrollably. So, to be completely honest, I haven’t read the whole book–yet. I’m going to need to space it out, because this book is so moving it needs to be taken in small doses.

The final section is on love found again. If it’s anything like the first two, I’ll need the tissues handy.

This is no Chicken Soup for the Soul. No, All There Is is your favorite Chicken Soup story turned to 1000. It’s so raw and heartfelt and emotional, so matter-of-fact, so inherently inspirational and compelling, that I promise it will be like nothing else you’ve ever read.

Even if you’re not a crier and can’t bring yourself to read something that’s going to clear out your tear ducts, I recommend you buy this book, to support StoryCorps in their mission. Or donate to their cause.

It’s money well spent.

View all my reviews

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Black Cat Salon

As soon as she stepped through the door of the Black Cat Beauty Salon, Madge knew something was wrong with her 3 o’clock appointment. It wasn’t just the young woman’s dour looks or moping demeanor, though those were good enough hints. No, Madge had been in this business long enough to know a heartbroken lover when she saw one.

“Hello there,” she said cheerily. The girl started, as if surprised that she’d been noticed. “In search of a bit of pampering?”

She nodded, her loose bangs flopping off and quickly over her downcast eyes. “Yes please,” she said.

“Do you have an appointment?” Madge asked, in her chipper-saleswoman voice.

“N-no,” the girl stammered.

“Well, you’re in luck, I’ve got openings,” Madge said, coming around the counter to take the girl by the arm. In another era she would have commented on how nice and meaty the girl’s arm was, but those days were behind her now. Leading the customer toward the worn but plush seat, Madge said, “what can I do for you today, dearie? Haircut? Eyebrow threading, maybe?”

The girl winced. Not the right tactic. “Oh, I know. Manicure. Just the ticket,” she said firmly. “Go browse the colors while I get set up.”

Her client looked briefly bewildered, but then got up and scanned the wall of polishes. Madge watched her from the back room as she picked up first one, then another pale pink or shimmering gold. She let the girl linger, and busied herself with pretending her supplies weren’t already ready.

“Find one ya like?” Madge finally asked, beckoning the girl over.

“Oh, I dunno,” she said, shy. “I like both of these, and it’s just so hard to choose.” She showed Madge the two shining bottles, one a deep lusty red and the other a pale grey. Interesting, Madge thought. The colors they pick are always so telling.

“Ah, that it is dearie, that it is sometimes. ‘ow ‘bout we use that one?” she asked, pointing out the red bottle. “I find it has a bit of a magical effect on a girl.”

“Does it?” the girl asked, brightening only momentarily, before saying gloomily, “I could use some magic.” She sighed in that melodramatic way only the young seem to manage.

“Sure does. It’s called Bewitched, ain’t it?” Madge said, winking conspiratorially.

“Oh, ha,” the girl said, the “ha” closer to a cry than a laugh. “That’s too bad.”

Madge took the girl’s hands and led her back to the chair. “What’s your name, dearie?”

“Sam. Samantha,” she said, leaning back into the firm little chair.

“Well, good, Miss Sam, just you let me take care of you now and you’ll see things are better for it in no time,” Madge said as she took out her clippers and began snip snipping at Samantha’s long tattered nails.

Sam stared off into space until Madge said, “So, dearie, are you going to tell me what’s troublin’ you or not?” She put down the clippers and held Samantha’s thumb firmly, sanding off the rough edges with a lavender nail file.

“Oh, it’s not a big deal or anything,” Sam said. And sighed again.

Madge stopped filing and looked Sam in the eye. “I’ve been around long enough, missy, that I know that kind of moping ain’t fer nothing. No sir. It’s about a boy, isn’t it?”

She went back to filing, barely glancing down at Sam’s fingers as she worked, and Sam gaped at her. “Is it that obvious?” she asked.

“’Course it is, dear. Might as well out with it. It’s part of my job, listening is, you know.” Madge rounded off another corner on Samantha’s pinkie, and turned her attention to buffing the nails.

The girl mournfully told her story while Madge worked on beautifying and painting her nails. It was a story she’d heard frequently enough over the years: there was a charming lad at the girls’ workplace, totally out of her league, and she was pining away while he didn’t even notice her. Madge just listened, and pursed her lips as she focused, applying two even coats of Bewitched red.

When Samantha had run out of lamentations, Madge looked up and said, “Well, dearie, I’m sure it won’t be that way for long. Why, I bet you’ll have a run-in with him real soon now, and you’ll find he’s been just as heartsick all this time. Now put your hands here to let this little light work its magic.”

Samantha obediently slipped her hands under the ultraviolet light, and said “Really? You think so?” Maybe it was just the little bit of pampering, but she felt happier than she had when she’d come in.

“Darlin’, I know so,” Madge said.

Six minutes later, the timer went off, and Samantha paid for her manicure (leaving a more substantial tip than she might have at another salon) and went off with a smiling gracing her face and a lightness to her manner.

Madrigal sighed as she watched the girl go. Witchcraft sure wasn’t what it used to be.

 

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I really like this concept for a character, preferably a main character rather than a background character, but I’m a bit stumped. What problems could a witchy beautician resolve, do you think? What trouble could she get into?

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The Grammarian’s Five Daughters

I found this fabulous short story that uses a fairy tale/fable structure to examine the values of different types of words. It’s beautiful.

Once there was a grammarian who lived in a great city that no longer exists, so we don’t have to name it. Although she was learned and industrious and had a house full of books, she did not prosper. To make the situation worse, she had five daughters. Her husband, a diligent scholar with no head for business, died soon after the fifth daughter was born, and the grammarian had to raise them alone. It was a struggle, but she managed to give each an adequate education, though a dowry — essential in the grammarian’s culture — was impossible. There was no way for her daughters to marry. They would become old maids, eking (their mother thought) a miserable living as scribes in the city market. The grammarian fretted and worried, until the oldest daughter was fifteen years old.

Then the girl came to her mother and said, “You can’t possibly support me, along with my sisters. Give me what you can, and I’ll go out and seek my fortune. No matter what happens, you’ll have one less mouth to feed.”

The mother thought for a while, then produced a bag. “In here are nouns, which I consider the solid core and treasure of language. I give them to you because you’re the oldest. Take them and do what you can with them.”…

I’ll let you find out what happens next, but do go read it. It’s delightful.

It made me wish there was a similar story about punctuation. Maybe there is! I’m a fan of the way commas herd words together in small-but-appropriate-sized bunches, and the way periods are always there to give us a break. The interrobang (?!) is rare but mighty, and apostrophes help us cut the crap.

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Small-town Girl, Livin’ in a Lonely World

First, go ahead and get the song good and stuck in your head. You know you want to.

Now that that’s taken care of, keep clickin’ and read this great list of the appeal of small towns as settings for a story. Basically, in summary, small towns:

  • Harbor undercurrents of deep emotion
  • Have lots of secrets (because anything that’s not a secret is common knowledge)
  • Are really interconnected
  • Are friendly but also distant toward new folks
  • Are an easy snapshot every reader has built-in
  • Have a limited number of suspects but lots of motives*

*I suspect the last part is why “Murder, She Wrote” worked so well!

I think this is a great post, but these things extend not just to a small town, but to any small community. I grew up in a big suburb, but it might as well have been a town of 200 because everyone at my church knew everything that was going on (or that they assumed was going on), and you couldn’t get away with anything. High school is often the same way; you’ve got a small population that is heavily involved in itself. (I’m finally watching “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” and you can always tell when someone is going to die because they’re a new person to the cast for that episode.)

I did live in a small town, or two, and I think this list did leave a few things out. Small towns often:

  • Aren’t up-to-date on current trends (in other words, are “a little bubble of the past”)
  • Don’t have as many resources
  • Are small for a reason
  • The pace is slower, but the emotional stakes are higher

My observations have a lot less to do with people than Elizabeth’s, but can really inform the world and the options available. Unless it’s a really big crisis, the CIA aren’t likely to come to a small town in Wisconsin; the people there are just gonna have to handle their problems themselves, and they probably like it that way.

What is unique about your setting? What made you choose that place for your story?

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