Short Story (flash fiction) of the Day – Skylight, by Silvina Ocampo

Above the hall in that house with a skylight was another mysterious home, and through the glass you could see a family of feet, surrounded by halos, like saints, and the shadows of the rest of the bodies to which those feet belonged, shadows flattened like hands seen through bathwater.

—- Silvina Ocampo, Skylight

Damian Priour, Austin
Temple (detail)
2000 fossil limestone, glass, steel
In Memory of Buddy Langston 1947-2004
Frisco, Texas

 

Today’s short story is a piece of surreal horror:

Skylight, by Silvina Ocampo

From  The New Yorker

This story was translated from the original Spanish by by Suzanne Jill Levine and Katie Lateef-Jan. I’ve never understood why, but fantastic stories written in Spanish have a certain something that allows them to get away with words that English doesn’t – and, somehow, that certain something even comes through in translation. That is usually illustrated in works of magical realism (which are genius in Spanish but often twee and silly in English) but here is true in a story which… well, I’m not sure what is real and what is not – but it could be all real – relates to the horror of almost everyday life.

Short Story of the Day – The Weight by Anne Enright

The plane cut through a skein of dark-gray cloud, through a layer of liquid light, into another cloud that started as dark as steel wool, then thickened to gray and turned slowly white. In a moment, they would be free of it.

—-Anne Enright, The Weight

Reflecting pool, Arts District, Dallas, Texas

Today’s short short story, a piece of flash fiction.

The Weight by Anne Enright

from The New Yorker

I have flown on airliners a lot, have flown all my life. I have no fear of flying. My fear is driving to the airport, or getting through security, or missing my plane. Once I’m in the seat, I relax. A lot of it is that once I’m in that seat with the belt on – my responsibilities are over. Nothing I do or don’t do will influence the crash-free-ness of the voyage, one way or another. I think that is why so many people are afraid of flying (other than the fact that you are in a metal tube hurtling through the air at an insane speed miles above the earth) is that you are helpless. I don’t feel helpless – I feel relieved that it’s someone else’s responsibility… for a change.

This story captures clearly what it feels like (I suppose) when things don’t go as planned. There is a line you move down from relaxation to unease to fear to terror… when there is turbulence, for example. This flash fiction piece moves a long way down the line in a hurry.

How far does it go? You can find out in a few minutes.

Short Story (novella) of the day, The Situation by Jeff VanderMeer

My Manager was extremely thin, made of plastic,with paper covering the plastic. They had always hoped, I thought, that one day her heart would start, but her heart remained a dry leaf that drifted in her ribcage,animated to lift and fall only by her breathing. Some-times, when my Manager was angry, she would become so hot that the paper covering her would ignite, and the plastic beneath would begin to melt.

—-Jeff VanderMeer, The Situation

Art Deco mural from Fair Park in Dallas

 

The Situation, by Jeff VanderMeer

from Wired Magazine

About a year ago I started going to book club meetings at The Wild Detectives – a bookstore in Bishop Arts that features beer and coffee… a great place. Even though I don’t have much in common with the other readers and it’s really tough to get across town after work, I like to go. Actually, now that I think about it, the fact I don’t have much in common with the other readers is the best thing about going.

The book we will discuss the first Monday in February is The Dead Astronauts by Jeff VanderMeer. I’m cranking through the book and haven’t made up my mind yet. It’s very imaginative and well written but exceedingly weird. I like weird – but only if, at the end, there’s a point… some emotional connection. I’m not a big fan of weird for weird’s sake. I have a feeling that I will be a Jeff VanderMeer fan at the end.

I think that’s a good thing. It’s always good to find a new author isn’t it? Even though I have a ways to go on my Zola reading project and enough other books to… well, to fill up my rapidly declining lineup of years left.

Looking at other Jeff VanderMeer works there’s the Southern Reach Trilogy (I’ve seen the interesting movie Annihilation which was adapted from the first book in the trilogy) and I think those books will get added. Also there is the Borne novel which is set in the same insane world as The Dead Astronauts. That’s four more books to read. So little time, so many books.

As I was looking around for info (The Dead Astronauts is difficult enough I’m not worried about spoilers) on The Dead Astronauts and the Borne world I discovered an online short novella called The Situation. It is billed as a proto-Borne story – set in a preliminary version of that universe (are we reading about the origin of the giant bear named Mord?). So I sat down and read it.

And liked it. It is a sort-of comedy about the difficulty of surviving sane inside an evil bureaucracy. Quite a harrowing story. And well-worth the time and effort.

Shit. That means I’ll eventually have to read all those books. So many books, so little time.

Short Story (flash fiction) of the Day, The Jungle Banshee by Jim Gibson

The oven was thick with grot and whenever you opened it to get your food, it would flood the room with smoke. I’d long ago taken the battery out of the fire alarm to stop that fucker going off whenever I made anything. And then it was back up to my room, to my games.

—-Jim Gibson, the jungle banshee

Old School Video game inspired graffiti, Deep Ellum, Dallas, Texas

Today’s bit of flash fiction is the jungle banshee (not sure if it should be capitalized or not – I like how it looks without caps) by Jim Gibson at 3AM Magazine

the jungle banshee

In the last thirty-odd years I’ve only had two jobs. I only remember once going on an interview and not being offered a job (it turned out they were interviewing me simply to gain information on the company I was working for). But, then again, I never spent that much time shut in playing video games. Of course, Pong showed up my freshman year of college and it cost a quarter and a quarter was a lot of money then. I remember you could get a pint of milk from the dorm vending machine machine for a quarter – I remember that because it was faulty and thought nickles were quarters – for a nickle you’d get a milk and a dime back (which you could take to the front desk and get two nickles for two more milks and two dimes… in theory you could be rich, especially if you could find someone to buy all that milk)… but I digress. I guess my point it that it was tough to get addicted to video games if all you could do was play Pong for a quarter. Pong was fun and in 1974 it was pretty amazing – but it wasn’t exactly addicting.

By the time video games became addicting I was grown and old and had kids and my memory was fading and my fast-twitch abilities were shot. I guess I was lucky.

When I was young people played Poker, Monopoly, or Chess. I did play a lot of chess, but I would get a headache if I played too much – it was never what I’d think of as fun – it was too serious. As I became more than a fairly good chess player I had to quit because it was stressing me too much. I never had enough money to play poker. And Monopoly – well, you couldn’t get addicted to that – that’s like getting addicted to watching paint dry.

The guy in the story has a video game problem. Or maybe it’s something else and the video gaming just falls into the hole.

It’s surprisingly affecting – I really feel sorry for the guy and wish him well. Probably more than I would if I knew him in real life. And I guess that’s a sign of a good story – if you care more about the character than you would if he was actually a real person.

 

 

Short Story (flash fiction) of the Day – The Tired Day by Benjamin Woodward

And in an empty parking lot, Louis, a junkie, dropped his syringe before the heroin could enter his vein, saving his life, if only temporarily.

—-Benjamin Woodward, The Tired Day

Downtown Square, McKinney, Texas

 

Today we have very short piece of flash fiction –

The Tired Day by Benjamin Woodward

from Craft.

I enjoyed this simple little piece of unique fiction. Like all good flash fiction it asks many more questions than it answers. Maybe I liked it because I feel like that all the time.

The Author’s Note is interesting too – he talks of writer’s block and bringing abandoned work back to life.

Short Story of the Day – A Fight With a Cannon by Victor Hugo

A cannon that breaks its moorings suddenly becomes some strange, supernatural beast. It is a machine transformed into a monster. That short mass on wheels moves like a billiard-ball, rolls with the rolling of the ship, plunges with the pitching goes, comes, stops, seems to meditate, starts on its course again, shoots like an arrow from one end of the vessel to the other, whirls around, slips away, dodges, rears, bangs, crashes, kills, exterminates. It is a battering ram capriciously assaulting a wall. Add to this the fact that the ram is of metal, the wall of wood.

—-Victor Hugo, A Fight With a Cannon

Commemorative Air Force, Wings Over Dallas, Dallas, Texas

A FIGHT WITH A CANNON By Victor Hugo

All my life I have heard the phrase “A loose cannon” used to describe a person that, in some way or another, is dangerously out of control. Have heard it, as have you, thousands of times. I have never really thought about what it means.

Today’s short story A Fight With a Cannon by Victor Hugo explains what a loose cannon is and what it means in intricate, desperate, and horrific detail. Imagine a huge cylinder of metal, heavy and hard, on a carriage of wheels set loose unrestrained on a deck of a sailing ship on the high seas. It is a battering ram – full of random destructive motion. This is what a loose cannon is.

But what to do about it? And what to do after that? And after that? The story has the surprising solutions(s). Some people are not what they seem.  There is truly more than one kind of loose cannon.

Some helpful definitions:

Carronade – an obsolete naval gun of short barrel and large bore

Assignat – one of the notes issued as paper currency from 1789 to 1796 by the revolutionary government on the security of confiscated lands.

Chevalier – French History. the lowest title of rank in the old nobility.

Cascabel – a knoblike projection at the rear of the breech of a muzzleloading cannon.

Cross of Saint-Louis – The Royal and Military Order of Saint Louis was founded in 1693. The king would award the Cross of Saint-Louis to reward outstanding service to France. The recipient then became a “knight of Saint Louis”.

Ambuscade – an ambush.

Hammock-shroud – A poetical expression which derives its force from the fact that the bodies of sailors or other persons dying at sea are sewed up in hammocks and committed to the deep.

Short Story of the Day, The Peasant Marey, by Fyodor Dostoevsky

I liked to lie like that; a sleeping man is not molested, and meanwhile one can dream and think. But I could not dream, my heart was beating uneasily, and M.’s words, “Je haïs ces brigands!” were echoing in my ears.

—–Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Peasant Marey

The Wild Detectives in the Bishop Arts District.

Dallas Streetcar

Reunion Tower, taken from inside the Dallas Streetcar. On my way to Bishop Arts for a discussion of Gravity’s Rainbow.

Signs at one end (downtown) of the Dallas Streetcar

 

Starting in January of this year, every Wednesday after work I took the DART train downtown, then rode the Streetcar to the Bishop Arts district – arriving at the bookstore The Wild Detectives. I was part of a group called the DRBC (Difficult Reading Book Club) and were slogging our way through Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon. It was a ton of fun, and when we finished up in the summer, it was announced that the next Difficult Book was going to be a trilogy by Virginia Woolf. I thought hard about it (even bought the books) but at the end decided that I didn’t want to give up the time to criss-cross the city… plus I had my own long/difficult reading project to complete (which I’m still working on after well over a year).

Today, though, I received an email outlining the next DRBC book – The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky. In theory, I read that book in college, but have no memory of it (at the time I was mixing literature and writing studies with Physical Chemistry classes – and the combination almost broke me) and suspect I might have made too liberal use of the study guides. But now, I want to read it, and read it in a diverse group, and maybe get a bit more out of it.

This will start up in January… sometime. In the meantime I thought I’d do some research on the deeper meaning of Dostoevsky’s work (without reading any of The Brothers Karamazov before it’s time) and maybe brushing up on some of his shorter works.

Thus, the short story of the day:

The Peasant Marey, by Fyodor Dostoevsky

available along with a number of Dostoevsky short stories at Project Gutenberg.

Here’s an audio version, if you prefer:

This is a (on the surface) simple story of a man in a Siberian Russian prison reminiscing about a slight incident from his childhood. There is a lot there beneath the surface, however. Worth the read.