Short Story of the day – Button, Button by Richard Matheson

While she was stacking dishes, she turned abruptly, dried her hands, and took the package from the bottom cabinet. Opening it, she set the button unit on the table. She stared at it for a long time before taking the key from its envelope and removing the glass dome. She stared at the button. How ridiculous, she thought. All this furor over a meaningless button.

Reaching out, she pressed it down. For us, she thought angrily.

—-Richard Matheson, Button, Button

The button on the Maestro’s shirt – detail from “The Storm” a mural on Ace Parking Garage at 717 Leonard Street, Dallas, Texas

Sunday, I came out into the living room to eat some eggs that I had scrambled with a few beans and some sausage. The television was on and a series of old Twilight Zone episodes were playing from the Syfy channel. Right when I sat down I Sing the Body Electric – which was written by Ray Bradbury and adapted into a short story of the same name (I was familiar with it) was on.

(2 minute preview)

I love the old anthology television shows – Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits… especially Alfred Hitchcock Presents. First, it’s fun to spot famous actors – Twilight Zone was the Law and Order of its time. I Sing the Body Electric had Veronica Cartwright in it.

But what I really like are the stories. So many of these were written by famous and extremely skilled short story writers. I am amazed at the work.

Sure enough, the next episode was Mute, by Richard Matheson. He was an amazingly prolific pulpy writer and you have seen his work everywhere (probably best known for I Am Legend – made into several movies) – he wrote sixteen episodes of The Twilight Zone alone.

I looked for a copy of the short story Mute online, but couldn’t find one. I did find another Richard Matheson story however:

Button, Button by Richard Matheson

This is a famous story – the basis for a shitty Cameron Diaz move called The Box.

It was also made into an episode of The Twilight Zone – this time the 80’s incarnation.


The ending of the television is very different than the short story – not sure which I like better… at any rate, Richard Matheson wasn’t happy the Twilight Zone Version and used a pseudonym as the author. So read the story and watch the show. Which one do you prefer?

Actually, in looking around, I found something that I really liked… probably the most realistic take on the story.

This is Funny or Die’s version, which is genius:




A Month of Short Stories 2014, Day 30 – A Horseman in the Sky

A year ago, for the month of June, I wrote about an online short story each day for the month. It seemed like a good idea at the time. My blog readership fell precipitously and nobody seemed to give a damn about what I was doing – which was a surprising amount of work.

Because of this result, I’m going to do it again this year.

Today’s story, for day thirty – A Horseman in the Sky, by Ambrose Bierce

Read it online here:

A Horseman in the Sky

When I think of Ambrose Bierce, I think of carefully written, exquisitely detailed military stories – with the wild addition of fanciful magic realism. I suppose that, today, well over a century after he lived and wrote, his most well-known tale, An Occurence at Owl Street Bridge, fits that description.

He also wrote The Devil’s Dictionary – which is a little dated today – but is still valid in its bitter satire on life and its foibles.

To wit:
From The Devil’s Dictionary”

LIFE, n. A spiritual pickle preserving the body from decay. We live in daily apprehension of its loss; yet when lost it is not missed. The question, “Is life worth living?” has been much discussed; particularly by those who think it is not, many of whom have written at great length in support of their view and by careful observance of the laws of health enjoyed for long terms of years the honors of successful controversy.

“Life’s not worth living, and that’s the truth,”
Carelessly caroled the golden youth.
In manhood still he maintained that view
And held it more strongly the older he grew.
When kicked by a jackass at eighty-three,
“Go fetch me a surgeon at once!” cried he.
—Han Soper

or, from the “S”:

SAUCE, n. The one infallible sign of civilization and enlightenment. A people with no sauces has one thousand vices; a people with one sauce has only nine hundred and ninety-nine. For every sauce invented and accepted a vice is renounced and forgiven.

(this is a fact that I agree with)

There is much to say about today’s short and simple story… but I want to point out one simple aspect. The story has, among other things, a surprise or twist ending.

This sort of story is hard to pull off. A successful surprise ending really has to be no surprise at all – at least no surprise after you have read it. Though you should not be able to see it coming, after it has passed you have to realize that things could not be any other way.

Bierce does all this in today’s. Through careful manipulation of point of view, time shifting, and judicious information release by the omniscient narrator the ending is concealed until the end, yet is foreshadowed to the extent that the reader knows that no other plot direction would be possible.

That’s especially tricky because this is the most common and hoary of all twist endings, still being done to this day.

Hope I didn’t ruin it for you. It’s still a cool story.

For an instant Druse had a strange, half-defined feeling that he had slept to the end of the war and was looking upon a noble work of art reared upon that eminence to commemorate the deeds of an heroic past of which he had been an inglorious part. The feeling was dispelled by a slight movement of the group: the horse, without moving its feet, had drawn its body slightly backward from the verge; the man remained immobile as before. Broad awake and keenly alive to the significance of the situation, Druse now brought the butt of his rifle against his cheek by cautiously pushing the barrel forward through the bushes, cocked the piece, and glancing through the sights covered a vital spot of the horseman’s breast. A touch upon the trigger and all would have been well with Carter Druse. At that instant the horseman turned his head and looked in the direction of his concealed foeman–seemed to look into his very face, into his eyes, into his brave, compassionate heart.

A Month of Short Stories 2014, Day 21 – The Skull

A year ago, for the month of June, I wrote about an online short story each day for the month. It seemed like a good idea at the time. My blog readership fell precipitously and nobody seemed to give a damn about what I was doing – which was a surprising amount of work.

Because of this result, I’m going to do it again this year.

Today’s story, for day twenty-one – The Skull, by Philip K. Dick.

Read it online here:

The Skull

Sometimes you are not in the mood for simile and metaphor – not feeling like subtle characterizations or complicated thematic structures – ready to eschew deep symbolism or confusing transcendence…. At times like that you want to read a yarn.

And that’s what I give you today… a yarn. Philip K. Dick has plenty of wild off-kilter stories to tell of alternate universes, alternate histories, or alternate lifestyle – but his plots are rock-solid. That’s why his work, though it never lifted him out of poverty while he was alive – have been made into so many well-known films (Total Recall, Blade Runner, A Scanner Darkly, Screamers, Minority Report, Imposter, Paycheck,The Adjustment Bureau… and more).

Here he tells a simple story, embellished with a little time-travel mystery and political comment concerning war-mongering and the McCarthy-era red scare thrown in. It’s one of his earliest works (1952) and one of the handful in the public domain.

He spins his yarn around an unlikely hero moving through time in a crystalline machine and lugging the eponymous body part in a plastic bag.

It’s more than a bit of fun.

The day was warm and bright. Conger’s shoes crunched the melting crust of snow. On he went, through the trees heavy with white. He climbed a hill and strode down the other side, sliding as he went.

He stopped to look around. Everything was silent. There was no one in sight. He brought a thin rod from his waist and turned the handle of it. For a moment nothing happened. Then there was a shimmering in the air.

The crystal cage appeared and settled slowly down. Conger sighed. It was good to see it again. After all, it was his only way back.

He walked up on the ridge. He looked around with some satisfaction, his hands on his hips. Hudson’s field was spread out, all the way to the beginning of town. It was bare and flat, covered with a thin layer of snow.

Here, the Founder would come. Here, he would speak to them. And here the authorities would take him.

Only he would be dead before they came. He would be dead before he even spoke.