Tag Archives: short story

Obsessed with an Idea

Exactly seven years ago tomorrow, I wrote a free-form poem called Iron Town. The basic idea and image of the poem was of an industrial nightmare, a city of rust and decay and pollution where haggard workers toiled day in and day out without purpose or joy. In a word, bleak. During this period, it was contrasted by the City of Crystal, a metropolitan dream filled with glass towers and blue skies. But Iron Town was the end result of that particular story. Around the same time, I also wrote a short story, as part of a series of connected stories, that touched upon the fall of the City of Crystal as it collapsed into Iron Town, the City of Rust. As in the story, it was the image of Iron Town, and what it stood for, that stuck with me.

Not long after this I began an attempt to write a story about Iron Town, taking the name of the city as the name of the story. It carried on the industrial nightmare theme, taking on the idea that Iron Town was beginning to die as all the available resources in the area were rapidly running out. The story centered around a young factory worker, who dreams of leaving his dangerous job, and Iron Town, behind. But the catch is that no one ever leaves Iron Town. This story never went beyond three pages and a simple idea. In the shuffle of other stories, it was eventually lost and forgotten.

Four years passed as I worked on other things, mainly The Martian Empire Trilogy. Having finished that trilogy, I started working on some short stories. One of those stories was called The Blasted Lands, which will appear in my short-story collection, Fragments of Mind. The bulk of the action in the story takes place in Iron Town, which rests amid a vast desert land. This time, however, the city was no longer an industrial nightmare, but rather a city of strange monsters and horrible curses; bloat, avarice, and excess abounded there. Far more fitting a fantasy story than something resembling modern day. But the basic idea was the same. Dark, depressing, and dangerous.

After writing a number of short stories, I began work on a new novel, which I called The Jester and the Thief. In the story, a young, exiled prince escapes from a prison in Iron Town with the aid of a crazy old man. Iron Town, however, despite appearing early on, faded away after the first few chapters. In looking back at the finished story, I lamented that it had gone too far afield from the original idea, which was to focus on Iron Town and its bizarre peculiarities. In the end, I put the story aside. However, the basic concept, characters, and world remained.

Several novels later, I began working on a new novel, borrowing liberally from The Jester and the Thief. I called it Between Sand and Sky. I kept the exiled prince, the crazy old man, the beautiful but strange princess, and the assassin. I kept Iron Town. I kept the great desert waste where the city itself was located. I kept the story of the prince searching for the men responsible for his exile. But a lot of things changed. Rather than an escape from Iron Town, Between Sand and Sky was a search for Iron Town. By this time, the more fantastical elements of Iron Town had fallen away, leaving me with something that was much more realistic and, in a way, much more sinister.

More recently, as in just a few months ago, I laid the foundation for a new novel called City of Crystal, City of Rust. As of this moment, there’s really nothing more than a vague idea and an opening paragraph. The thought I have with this is to either retell or write a sequel to The Blasted Lands, focusing on the story of The Traveler and his dealings with the aptly-named City of Rust.

In writing this post, it became even more clear to me that Iron Town and what it stands for is the most enduring theme in my writing. But why? I think its because Iron Town, in all its many appearances, always represents one very simple concept: the sum total of the worst of humanity. People who are absorbed in their own pursuits without a care for anyone else, the turning of a blind eye to the suffering of others, rampant disease and poverty, torture and slavery, and the terrible irony of urban isolation. All the characters who enter Iron Town have to somehow survive its many horrors, but are often changed by their experience regardless.

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Fragments of Mind: Excerpt from “My Mechanical Soul”

~My Mechanical Soul~

 The man behind the counter held out a small card. White with black lettering, cardboard covered in a thin layer of plastic laminate, ordinary in every way. I took the card from him and he thanked me for my patronage, already turning his attention to the next customer in line before the words were even spoken. I moved aside, still staring down at the card that listed my name, identification number, and authorization to operate within the limits of New Port City. I had never before possessed something so important.

Alex Potter, my newly-assigned partner from one of the local precincts, was waiting just outside the door to the Registration Center. He took one last drag from a cigarette before grinding it into the sidewalk with his heel.

“You get what you came for, L?” he asked.

“Yes, Alex,” I said, holding up the card for him to see. “I was able to obtain my registration card without any significant issues.”

Alex nodded. “Good, maybe now you won’t get so much grief out on the streets.”

“Perhaps so, but I believe that those who would give me grief will see little reason for this card to deter them from their actions.”

“Maybe,” Alex said, shrugging. “Anyway, let’s get down to the precinct and get your desk set up.”

Rain again. Not a downpour like earlier, just a steady, soaking rain. I opened my umbrella and offered it to Alex, but he refused, saying that the rain never bothered him. Rather than press the issue, or relate to him facts about the health risks of wet clothes, I used the umbrella myself even though I had little need for it. Alex was soaked by the time we got back to his police cruiser.

Traffic was heavy at that time of day. Everyone was getting off from work and in a rush to get back to their homes. Alex grumbled about this fact, but there seemed to be little that his complaining could do to alleviate the situation. He even yelled at a few of the drivers who were moving particularly slow, despite that they would be unable to hear him inside their own vehicles.

I found Alex to be the most interesting human that I had yet been acquainted with. In the three months following my construction, I had only been able to interact with a few other humans in anything other than incidental contact. Most of those were my creators. They were all very intelligent and dedicated people, strict professionals, rarely given to bouts of extreme emotions or irrational behavior. Alex often exhibited both simultaneously. Though it was not within the bounds of my programming to understand such human characteristics, I nevertheless found myself inexplicably drawn to them.

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Here’s one more as Fragments of Mind rapidly reaches its release! I only need to do a bit more work and it’ll all be ready.

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Fragments of Mind: Excerpt from “Pollen”

~Pollen~

 A few high clouds drifted through the sky, too thin and scattered for rain. It was going to be an exceptional day, Jace could feel it. Maybe a little on the hot side, but that wouldn’t be too much of a problem. A good omen…that’s what it was. This semester was going to be much better than the last. Of course, that was pretty much a given with everything that had happened during the fall ‘31 semester. That was certainly one for the books and not in a good way. He winced involuntarily as a collage of memories best forgotten rose to the surface of his mind.

The fridge still held a few leftoves from the night before, half of a chicken sandwich and some potato soup. Not exactly the breakfast of champions, but it would do. He ate a quick breakfast and then went back up stairs to brush his teeth and comb his hair; it was important to start off the new semester on the right foot. If the mirror was any judge, he looked a-okay. Down the stairs, turn left at the kitchen, down the hallway and to the front door.

Finally, the last step of his daily rituals, though this was also the most emotionally difficult to go through. It wasn’t like he hadn’t done it a hundred, a thousand, times before, but the risk was just as real now as it had been every day since he was born. Jace opened the front door and stepped into the airlock. A panel slid open and his biosuit rolled out. He grabbed the suit and stepped into it, clipping clips, attaching harnesses, and zipping zippers with a deft hand as the suit slowly closed around him. A quick inflation to check the seals. No dull hiss of leaking air, no visible deflation. Good. The second door opened and he stepped outside into the morning light.

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Pollen is a story that turned out far better than I ever thought it would. Though it does dabble in science fiction, it’s really more of a quiet drama about human emotions and the need to interact with others, it’s a much more character-driven piece than I’ve ever attempted before. I don’t want to spoil too much of the story, of course, so I’ll leave the details a bit vague here.

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Fragments of Mind: Excerpt from “Two for the Money”

~Two for the Money~

 Lister Yves’ front door exploded. Splinters of wood showered down on him while he sat on his couch. Before his mind could even being to formulate a response, someone grabbed him by his collar and hauled him to his feet. He was shoved roughly towards the door. Lister turned just in time to catch his Palmer as it came flying at him. His assailant, who was dressed from head to toe in jet-black attire, grabbed him again and pushed him into the hallway.

Suddenly, he was on the ground, nose against dingy wood. Something loud and angry buzzed through the air just above his head and then drilled itself several inches deep into the wall. His kidnapper tossed a metal cylinder along the floor. The stairwell at the end of the hall lit up with a blinding light. Angry shouts drifted upward from the floor below. The window behind him at the other end of the hall was quickly smashed with a gloved fist and then he was dragged through the newly-created opening. A rush of air whistled past his ears as he fell, screaming. A pile of wet garbage stopped his fall. Before he could get up, he was grabbed by the arm and tossed into a waiting flier. The door slammed shut, just missing his toes.

His kidnapper hopped into the driver’s seat and pushed the flier into the air. A group of figures appeared in front of them, each holding something in their hands. Flashes of light, like a camera. Cracks exploded across the windshield. Lister threw his hands up in front of his face, knowing the gesture would be futile if any of those shots made it through. The figure in black slid the throttle forward and the flier rapidly accelerated. At the mouth of the alley, another flier came from the right and slammed into them. Lister’s face smacked into the passenger-side window, causing a thousand stars to explode across his vision.

A hatch on the side of the flier slid open and something shot out, trailing smoke behind it. Lister turned just in time to see the flier behind them explode in a brilliant fireball; the torched and twisted remnants crashed into the street as other fliers swerved around it. The kidnapper turned off the main street and into another alley. Buildings and lights flashed by at blinding speed as the flier zipped around and through a number of obstacles that all seemed little more than a blur. Lister sat with his hands gripping the sides of the passenger seat, his mind having long since determined that it had reached critical capacity and then simply shut itself down.

Then the driver slowed and pulled into an empty warehouse. A large, metal door slammed shut behind them. The driver got out, walked around to the passenger side door, and pulled Lister out. He was led away from the flier and down a set of stairs. He looked once over his shoulder and saw flames crawling across the hood of the flier. In just a few seconds, it was completely engulfed. Before he could even think of anything to say, his kidnapped shoved him into a small, plastic capsule. The door shut, sealing him inside, and then his stomach was violently shoved up through his throat.

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Despite the rather abrupt and menacing intro, Two for the Money is actually a fairly light adventure. I wanted to do something a bit different here, I want to focus a bit more on action and to make it something that was exciting and fun to read. The basic idea is that a rather uninteresting young man named Lister, who has far too much time on his hands, is suddenly pulled into a world where everyone is after him. His only hope lies in a girl who sees all this as another exciting chapter in her adventurous life, much to Lister’s dismay. Unlike some of my other works, there’s no deep themes here or some grand examination of the human condition, it’s just a fun little adventure. It’s also one of my favorite stories.

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Fragments of Mind: Excerpt #1 [The Blasted Lands]

~From out of the Desert~

 “It’s rare to see a man foolish enough to brave the desert alone, rarer still on foot,” the merchant noted as he urged his team forward.

“Something urgent came up that needed tending to,” The Traveler said. “There was no time to arrange proper transport.”

The merchant snorted. “Nothing could be so urgent as to make a man risk such a journey. Not two weeks ago, a caravan of nearly twenty men was attacked on its way to Iron Town. All but one was killed, and that one allowed to live only so he could spread the story. And the fear.”

“I heard,” The Traveler said simply.

On the dawn of his third day with the caravan, The Traveler at last caught sight of Iron Town. It was a large city, a strange city, and there were a great many, both human and not, who called it home. The distant towers shimmered in the heat, writhing on the breast of a crystalline sea. For the weary, sun-parched traveler, it was a blessed haven.

Yet it was no less dangerous than the desert surrounding it. The caravan guards would be even more watchful there than they had been out amongst the dunes. For in that place even the cobblestones were haunted by nameless and formless evils that had existed since the foundations of the world were laid. Iron Town was the meeting point between the world of man and the world of darkness, where things crawled and slithered that had no name and no mortal had ever laid eyes upon. It was no paradise to soothe the weary who’d come in from the wastes, rather it was merely a different sort of Hell.

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This may be my favorite of the short stories I’m including in Fragments of Mind. There’s just something about the darkness of this place, the surrealism of the images and characters, that perfectly encapsulates the kind of story that I like to write the most. I’m very proud of how this story turned out and I’m really excited about being able to let other people read and experience it, too. Over the next week and a half or so, I’ll be posting an excerpt from each of the stories to give you an idea of what it’s about.

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