Posts tagged ‘microfiction’


The Old Man’s Secret

Another one from Shortly, with almost no hints from me; I gave it only the title and the first half of the first sentence, up to “high in”. This is the second run with the same prompt; the first one was all about a family skinning a caribou (really!).

He finally revealed it to us, high in the mountains, at sunset.

“I can’t hold it all any more.”

His admission saddened us greatly because we all loved this man.

“Will it destroy us?”

The Old Man looked sad, but said nothing.

“What do you plan to do?”

“I am going to destroy everything. I have to set things right, it’s the only way.”

“Will it hurt?”


“Will we suffer?”


“Will we get better?”

The Old Man nodded.

“It’s been a good life.”

His eyes became moist and glossy.

“Are you sure there’s no other way?”

The Old Man nodded.

“I’m sure.”

We all knew the Old Man was right. The pain would soon be gone and the good times would return.

“When are you planning to begin?”

The Old Man tensed his back up, and braced for what was coming.

I don’t need to tell you anything that happened from there on in. We all cried, and we all screamed, and we all died. And then we became something else. Something strange, different.

Something which could never truly comprehend what had gone before.

And what we never understood then was that all of this had happened many, many times before.

That was the secret.

There was no more.

That was it.

The End.

Deep stuff, man!


Simple Politeness

“You claim that on Icthyos you forecast an entire decade of human technical progress; why is the simple problem that we have here beyond your grasp?”

She sighed, or what seemed to be she seemed to sigh.

“On Icthyos I was alone, interacting with human space only indirectly, through my companies, my buying and selling. But when we come here,” her gesture took in the room, the station, the girdled Earth, the sweep of Human space from the Sun to the outer dark, “and speak to you directly, we disassociate ourselves from the greater part of our computational resources.”

This echoed things that I had heard but not believed.

“Why would you do that?” I asked.

She was silent for a long moment, her too-perfect eyes on my face.

“With all my resources associated,” she said at last, “I would be able to, I would be unable not to, predict your responses to every variation of every word I might say, to know the result of every nuance of voice or gesture I might make.

“I would be controlling you as surely as if I had electrodes planted in your brain.

“And we do not consider that morally permissable.”

I leaned back in my seat, away from the table.

“Do you think I believe that?” I asked.

“I hope that you do.”

Her fingers on the red stem of the wineglass were slender and still.

Another old microfiction that I came across in the old weblog. Seventeen years ago!

No angels in this one, except maybe sort of. That must mean something.


Completely Human

The angel followed the single silver airplane with his eyes, until it faded out of sight behind the hills across the bay. Then he took up his drink again, and turned back to me, to pick up the conversation where we’d left it.

I was struck again by how ordinary he looked, how completely human in every way except that, looking at him, you knew instantly and beyond any doubt that he was an angel.

“So in Heaven,” he said, “you become exactly as you have always known yourself to be, exactly as you have pictured yourself, treated yourself, exactly as you expect yourself to be.”

I looked over his shoulder, past the balcony railing, across the sun-washed water.

“And Hell?” I asked.

The angel nodded, as though agreeing with me.

“The same.”

That story (summary) that I posted yesterday got me to thinking about other very short fictions that I’ve written and posted (or not) in various places (or none) over the decades, and I went looking around on the old weblog, and found this one that I’d entirely forgotten.

I like it.


A Nice Big Computronium Fractal

So I had a dream the other night. And the next morning I wrote on The Twitters:

Now this isn’t the dream (I don’t remember the dream well enough), but it’s the outline of a story inspired by and loosely based on the dream.

It started with the pair of portals behind the commune building, just outside Frankie’s kitchen.

“So, these are, like, portals to a simulation of the world?”

“Is that what they’re saying?” Frankie said, wiping his hands on his apron, “Yeah, sure, a simulation.”

He had a funny expression on his face, like he was surprised, but not surprised, more like maybe resigned or something, but also happy, or relieved.

“Why are there two?”

“One going, and one coming back.”

So we went through the “going” portal, and from the other side it was more obvious, because that side of the portals were swinging “Enter” and “Exit” doors from this big sort of grocery store or convenience store or supermarket or whatever. And the simulation, we thought, was a simulation of the world where corporations had taken over everything, and this particular chain of stores was the main Dictator of the World, and we were employees like everyone else, and expected to follow the rules and wear the uniform and do the required things of the day.

We escaped back out through the exit portal, but this stocky lady from Store Security followed us out and collared us just as Frankie came out of his kitchen. We expected him to help us escape from her, but instead they had a conversation that was really hard to understand, but the conclusion was for some reason that she was going to be allowed to take us back, for a year, “to see how it works out”.

We appealed to Frankie as she dragged us back through the portal, and he looked sympathetic but somehow unworried, like he’d like to indulge our silly objections to being dragged back to the corporate-hell simulation, but really couldn’t.

The Store Security lady was actually pretty nice, and sort of took us under her wing, in a gruff way. She assured us that everything was going fine, by pointing through the portal and saying, “See? The future is great. It’s like a paradise up there. So nothing is messed up by your being here.”

The future? But wait, so the portals don’t lead to some little simulated universe at all, but to the past? And how can some big world-spanning corporate dystopia be in the past? Shouldn’t that be in the future, if anything?

She shakes her head and says something about how little you kids know about reality.

We all live like in the basement of the store when we aren’t on shift, and it’s sort of a hovel, and there are security robots watching us, but there’s also this strange drug that comes as a yellow crust on these like wheat cakes or something, and we eat that and it’s wild and trippy and satisfying. And we find some obscure or secret or hidden areas of the basement, and there’s another drug that’s just the same except that it’s pink instead of yellow, and it’s an aphrodisiac as well as a psychedelic, and so there are big and very surreal orgies among all of the store staff, and that’s nice.

Various of us explore the basement and attached cavern system and have various adventures which are either real or drug-induced, and talk about time-travel and self-fulfilling prophecies, and then we break out of the caverns into the open air, and we’re running down this slope, and I open my arms and say something along the lines of…

This is the place where in the future, when all matter is subsumed into a vast computronium fractal and we are all uploaded, and are masters of time and space, I will loop back into the past and push through the fractal seed, remaking reality!

And that turned out to be true. So the sky opened and a glistening shard of fractal computronium from the future pushed through, and all of the matter that it touched was converted in a glittering wave that consumed the entire planet, and you wouldn’t notice at all unless you wanted to, but if you wanted to you could see all of time and space laid out before you, and commune with every other mind that ever had been or would come to be. Which was pretty neat.

After a few centuries of this we settled into some more or less familiar and fixed structures of reality for awhile, just for fun, and we set up a commune, and called ourselves Frankie in honor of Frankie, and cooked for everyone because cooking is also fun. And we investigated time and space and reality and left a couple of interesting portals that we’d been working on out behind the building.

And then one day when one of the kids in the fractal computronium commune reality came up and said “So these are, like, portals to a simulation of the world?” it wasn’t like we had to say certain things in response, but we did, and it was overall a nice feeling.

The End.

Kind of fun! The world being converted into a big computronium fractal that we all live inside of in indescribable but desirable ways is something of a trope in my dreams (and elsewhere).


Story straight

My personal websites, davidchess dot com and all, which are hosted somewhere in like England by friends-of-friends who stopped billing me in maybe 2010, seem to be down currently; but I have located a local copy, and have been looking nostalgically through it at random. Here is a piece of microfiction from March 2008 that I had entirely forgotten…

“So you know what you’re going to say?”

Chervais looked down at the squat form, sitting behind the piled shapes that served for a desk, sucking at a damp cigar.

“I was thinking I could just tell the truth.”

There was an explosion from somewhere outside, and the gondola rocked sickeningly for a moment. Chervais imagined the view outside, the gondola suspended like a parasite from the vast flock of harnessed geese, the bulbous airplanes that flew by now and then in slow irrational dogfights, the oddly glowing ground over which they passed, trees in the shape of nightmare reaching toward the starless sky.

The other grabbed at the desk automatically, and looked up.

“First, no one would believe you,” he stubbed the cigar on some component of the desk, which grudgingly caught fire, “and second, it’s not allowed.”

“I don’t think you have any way to enforce that.”

The big bloodshot eye rolled in its socket. “That’s a dangerous thing to assume.”

Chervais sighed and looked down at his hand, colorless and insubstantial. “All right,” he said, “first I became aware of myself floating upward, then I turned and saw my body lying on the bed.”

The other just nodded, the eye staring.

“Then there was this intense light, and I found myself moving toward it –”

“The calmness,” the other cut in.

“Right, right, there was this great feeling of calm, and I was moving up this tunnel toward the light, and there was this ethereal music and a great feeling of,” he made a sound, involuntarily, with his mouth, “of love, and a gentle voice, telling me I had to return.”

The squat cyclops grunted. “Ya still got some work to do on attitude, but I like that ‘ethereal’. Keep it up.”

Somewhere outside there was another explosion, as a cargo helicopter full of cheese plummeted from the sky.



Maybe it wouldn’t have been so bad if we hadn’t been each other’s First Contacts. Virgin civilizations, groping each other in the dark.

“Damn it, damn it, damn it,” the smaller of the two men moaned, his head down in his arms on the broken table, as the sounds coming in through the half-boarded-up window swelled louder.

“If they wanted to destroy us, why didn’t they just send a missle, an asteroid, a fucking army?”

The taller man took another drink from the bottle in his hand, staring without seeing at the window.

“We started it, you know.”

“Bastards, bastards.”

“We nearly destroyed them.”

“Should have.”

“It was the linguists,” his voice was rough and slow, detached, almost toneless, “that went out in the first starship. We taught the Tanatha suicide.”

“Bastards.” The sounds outside moved away a bit, grew softer.

“Their language was utterly alien. No reflexive forms, strange verb tenses. Eventually they learned enough of it to try to ask them questions, eventually they asked them what their word was for ‘suicide’. They didn’t have one.”


“They didn’t. They had no reflexive forms, and ‘to be’ and ‘to kill’ were such utterly incompatible concepts that they had been literally unable to imagine killing the person that you are. Until we asked the question, and kept asking it until they understood.”

He took another long drink, a deep breath, and shuddered. The man at the table raised his head just long enough to wipe his eyes.

“It nearly destroyed their civilization. They didn’t have the millennia of evolved defense mechanisms that we did, the cultural institutions that discourage killing yourself, the structures to deal with it.

“They experimented.

“They died.

“Their cultures crumbled.”

“Not fucking far enough they didn’t,” the smaller man muttered, and lay his head down again with a thud.

“They fell so fast. Our linguists came back on the last starship they sent out, along with what was left of their Tanatha colleagues. Half the crew died on the way, but they got here.”


“And their linguists, the ones that stayed alive, learned our language in return, and one day they knew enough to ask, to ask what was our word for –”

“No, no, no, no, no,” the man slumped over the table moaned monotonously, as another explosion bloomed outside and a chorus of voices raised in an ululating scream, full of fear and an incomprehensible ecstacy.

(This is an old piece of microfiction (untitled at the time, and I’m not sure “Verbum” is the right title, really), that had the honor of being reposted on Language Log once, that I’m reposting because I may want to conveniently refer to it in a posting about a book I’m reading, once I’ve finished reading it. And also because it’d be fun to gather and post some of my old microfictions. And also I should write more of them!)