Flash Fiction: Invasive Species

I’ve chosen this portrait of Sheffield the Cat to illustrate the following. The reason will be clear enough later.

Again, I’m nose down on a story issue with no brain cells to spare. So this week’s blog post will be another piece of flash titled “Invasive Species.” The trigger word was “Arboreal.” I have no one to blame, really. It was my word.

 

Invasive Species

I’m watching the pitbull from a lovely old oak just across the neighbor’s fence. Nice place—plenty of green leaves to hide behind, plenty of dry leaves to build my crèche come fall. One or two limb holes where the beetles have cleared out the wood. Perfect for hiding acorns.

I think I’ll move in.

First thing’s first, though. There’s more at stake than my comfort. I show myself. The dog’s reaction is instantaneous and gratifying. Barking the tone I know means “Squirrel!” It’s a warning. Dogs know. They evolved here. They know who doesn’t belong and what to do about it. Fortunately for me, it’s a good strong fence and most of the acorns will come down on the neighbor’s side of that fence. They, on the other hand, don’t have so much as a goldfish. I know. I got a good look yesterday at their weekly supplies. Food and foot powder, mostly. One of them must have some world-class bunions, but I digress.

The barking means I can wake up the neighborhood any time I want, and they’ll blame the dog. This location is too strategic to pass up. I bark myself, but a proper bark, a squirrel’s bark. I get answered from the south, across Cedar Street. That’ll be Lukan. He’ll relay my new position to command. I should have approval by this evening. I’m one of many, spreading across the neighborhood day by day. Soon we’ll have it covered.

Tree rats, some call us. I prefer the term “Arboreal Warrior,” because that’s what we are. The indigenes think we’re natives because we’ve been here a long time. So have dolphins. Don’t get me started on those guys. Real party animals, but we don’t want the same habitat, thank the Maker. We’re persistent, but they’re wicked smart when they want to be. Fortunately for us, they just goof off in the ocean.

Now, if only the cats would do the same. I see one now, and I freeze, down close to the branch. A big gray queen, but I don’t think she saw me. Not sure which indigene family she’s with. She could be a free agent just passing through, but I’m not that lucky. Cats have been here as long as we have, and in some ways they’re doing better. They’re not trying to displace the indigenes; they’re developing a symbiotic relationship. They get fed and cared for, and all they have to do in return is look cute.

I can do cute. I just can’t resist chewing on the cables. The indigenes are way too fond of cables.

That cat could complicate things. They’re evolved hunters, and like my people with cables, they just can’t help themselves. Plus I suspect, now that they’re established, they’re not above helping the humans out.

No matter. We will prevail. We are patient. We are resourceful.

“There are a lot more of us,” I said aloud.

“Good. More for me,” said the big gray cat, grinning behind me.

Oops.

-The End-

©2020 by Richard Parks. All Rights Reserved.

Liminal Conversation

Since I’m currently torn between conflicts and thus not able to concentrate properly on any of them, I’m posting a piece of flash fiction in lieu of having anything to say. Except in a story.

The key word, in case there was any doubt, was “liminal.”

 

 

Liminal Conversation

Tisha was looking thoughtful. That was nearly always trouble. Then she looked at me, and I knew that the trouble had arrived. “Why does no one use the word ‘liminal’ in normal conversation?”

Dinner was over. Dishes were done. Tisha’s focus was almost scary, but once we were finished with the mundanities of the day, then a brilliant mind has the chance to wander, and hers could wander further than most. There had been a time when such questions left me bewildered, but that was mostly because I had been both smitten and impertinent enough to want to understand the thought process going on behind those haunting green eyes. After a few years together, I had learned to just go with it. “I imagine there are people who do, yet I’m not surprised there isn’t more of it. You have to admit, it’s a fairly obscure word.”

“But why then? It’s so useful.”

I blinked. “Well, in the esoteric sense of useful….”

She dismissed that. “Rubbish. I’m not talking Schrodinger’s Cat, here, where you need to express whether the cat is in a state neither alive nor dead, but in a transitional non-state. I mean mundane things, like a bridge. Liminal is the best description for a bridge I’ve ever heard.”

“Because it’s neither one piece of land nor another?”

“Silly. Because it is by definition the transition from one place to another. Once you set foot or wheel on a bridge, you are literally in a liminal state, neither here nor there.”

“And that state doesn’t change until you reach one side or the other?”

“Exactly. And let’s not forget its cousin subliminal, which I’ll admit does get used more often, but only because it expresses a concept that is defined by the liminal root. Liminal in that sense meaning ‘barely at the doors of perception.’ Subliminal is something a part of your brain recognizes and acts on, even if the conscious mind has no idea why.”

“As in just below the liminal threshold, whereas a faintly red sky near sunrise is at the liminal threshold if you recognize that it’s red.”

“You got it. Now how about a dock? A transitional state between land and sea, or rather land and ship. Completely liminal.”

“Or a shading between the colors red and pink? Neither pink nor red?”

“Absolutely liminal. Or how else would you describe the state between one breath and the next? You’re probably going to take that breath, but if you didn’t then it’s not between one breath and the next, it’s between life and death.”

“Or a bottle that just needs to lose one more bubble of air before it sinks?”

She nodded. “Really, anything of that sort. See how useful it is?”

“I do.”

Tisha was looking thoughtful again. “Do we still have that bottle of zinfandel? I could go for a glass.”

“Me too. I’ll get it.”

Three repeats of “red” and one mention of bottle. Liminal? Very useful, but subliminal? Winner, hands down.

-The End-

©2020 by Richard Parks. All Rights Reserved.

It’s a Puzzle

Every week (except this one, since the Library is being renovated) the Flash Fiction group meets and we read our pieces out loud, based around a “trigger” (word, not warning) from the previous week. Last week’s word was “comely.” Our group leader pronounced it differently than I always had, even though it’s an “archaic” word not used often these days.

I’ll also note that most of the writers’ work at these parties fits on a single page. Mine almost never do. Why? I’m too big a fan of dialogue to let that happen. So here is last week’s flash to illustrate my point, an almost completely dialogue driven, totally imaginary conversation on the correct pronunciation of “comely.”

It’s a Puzzle

She: “Thirteen down, six letters, ‘having a pleasant appearance.’”

He: “Comely.”

She: “It fits, but I believe it is pronounced with a long o.”

He: “Why in the world would you rhyme it with ‘homely’ when it’s the antonym of homely?”

She (shrugging): “Easier to remember. Besides, I think I’m right.”

He: (Pausing to Google): “It’s neither right nor wrong. Merriam-Webster says both are correct.”

She: “Rubbish. They can’t both be correct. One is right so the other has to be wrong. Ergo, you’re wrong.”

He: “Let’s not get Latin involved in a simple pronunciation dispute. Actually, now that I look at the definition again, I am wrong.”

She (Smirking the tiniest bit): “Told you.”

He: “I was only wrong when I said both are correct. There’s actually a third way to pronounce it, but it looks Swedish.”

She: “I’ll leave the Latin out if you’ll leave the darn Swedes out. It’s not a Swedish word.”

He: “I said it looked Swedish. I look Irish but I’m actually Italian on both sides.”

She: “You’re actually annoying on both sides. And there has to be a correct way to pronounce that word.”

He: “Nope. Merriam-Webster says all three are acceptable. You want to argue with Merriam or Webster?”

She: “I’ll argue with anyone I know is wrong.”

He: “Should have stopped after ‘anyone.’”

She: “Smartass. Besides, it’s not acceptable to me, no matter what Merriam or Webster say. They’re both wrong, and according to you I should say it as if it rhymes with cum-ly? That borders on obscene.”

He: “I’m saying I pronounce it as if it rhymes with ‘bumb-ly.’ You can pronounce it however your perverted little heart desires.”

She: “Did I ever say I love it when you talk dirty? Well, I lied. It’s pronounced ‘combly,’ and that’s all there is to it. As in comb your hair, if comb was an adverb and not a noun or verb.”

He: “Did I ever say I love it when you do crosswords, because it’s a relaxing hobby?”

She: “Not once did you say that within my hearing, so I guess you didn’t lie. That is where you were going with that little bit of business, wasn’t it?”

He: “More like a bit without the business. In the sense of a comedy bit.”

She: “Then that bit didn’t do the business. In the sense of being funny.”

He: “You’re never going to finish that puzzle at this rate, you know.”

She: “It’s never about the destination, it’s always about the journey. A good discussion beats a bad puzzle any day.”

He: “I thought we were arguing.”

She: “You also thought that word rhymed with bumbly, so what do you know?”

He: “Can we just move on? What’s the next clue, because I obviously need one.”

She: “When you’re right, you’re right. Fifteen across, nine letters: Unyielding or inflexible.”

He: “Obstinate.”

She: “That doesn’t sound right.”

He: “I’m staying out of this. Look it up in your Funk and Wagnalls’.”

 

-The End-

©2020 by Richard Parks. All Rights Reserved.

Slow Going

I’ve gotten slow.

Normally it shouldn’t take more than two weeks for a novelette. Here I am at a solid week and I still haven’t finished a short story. It’s not because I don’t know how the story goes, I do. It’s not because I’m not working on it, I am. Not really sure about the because, actually, but I’ve got my suspicions.

To begin at the beginning, I’m a member of a flash fiction writer’s group. I’ve been in writer’s groups before. Back in Mississippi we had a very successful writer’s group that produced several published stories and even one Nebula nomination (not me, alas). I hesitated about joining the local group simply because it was flash fiction, which I’ve never been a fan of, but I was curious about the local scene, so I finally put my misgivings aside and very glad I did. It’s a talented bunch and flash has its own challenges. When I think of flash, I think of anything under about 1500 words. Nuh-uh. Here we have 500. Max. Some groups go even shorter.

Start with a challenge word. We write whatever we want, but it has to include the challenge word for the week. Three of those week’s words resulted in new Yamada stories. In 500 words. Still wrapping my head around that one myself. Naturally enough, for each of those I had to leave a lot out and imply a lot more…which meant I naturally wanted to expand them. The first one sold to BCS last spring. Working on the second one now and have plans for the third, but here’s the thing–I am writing very slowly. Yes, now we’re back to the subject of this digression. Which there wouldn’t be room for in flash, but there you go.

I think flash has me in the habit of drafting more carefully. Fine in a rewrite, but it tends to hamper things on a first draft. First draft should be more like careening down a hillside on a bike with no brakes. Even so, I usually end up with a 6-7 hundred word draft that has to be cut to 500. So when I do the same thing on a story that would normally run in the 3000+ word range, that doesn’t work as well. It slows you down.

Now that I’m aware of the problem, I can make a conscious effort to fix it. But of course first I had to become conscious that there was a problem. Which I should have realized when it took me six months to write a novella when I’ve finished full novels in three. Or an entire week to only get two thousand words of what I think will be a 3500 word story, once I’ve put in all the stuff I had to leave out the first time.

Wisdom is uncertain. Learning is optional, but better than not.

Life, Intervening

I spent most of the day in the repair shop, getting the Yeti’s snow tires swapped for summer tires and having the alignment corrected, which required new tie-rods, and etc. The point being I didn’t have time to do a proper blog post. So in an attempt to make up for that, I’m putting up a piece of flash done for this week’s meeting. I hope you enjoy it.

 

The Professional

I’m one of those people who do what they’re born to do. Sounds ideal, right?

“’Follow your bliss” was the way mythologist Joseph Campbell put it. Yes, I thought so too, once, before time and experience kicked that notion in the ass. I learned bliss has sod all to do with it; the reality goes a lot deeper.

We’ve all heard stories of the four year old sitting at a piano for the first time and playing a complete song by ear.  That’s what it was like. Something inside me was dormant until that moment, a day I will never forget. One of my friends, Jack Thompson, came back to school after missing a week due to the death of his mother. He was still in a very bad way, and everyone was being extra nice to him, which in junior high probably made things worse. I didn’t know what else to do, so I just put a hand on his shoulder.

Just like that, he wasn’t sad anymore. His grief drained out of him like a sink when you pull the plug. It didn’t go away, though. Whatever he was feeling, I felt, and then he didn’t feel it anymore. As simple and profound as that. That very afternoon he was playing ball with the rest of us like nothing happened. I don’t claim to be the quickest mule on the track, but by the third incident I figured out what happened to the ones I touch, and to me.

It’s what I do, now. People find me. I’m not sure how, but when it’s too much for them, they come to me. Lisa was the most recent. She appeared at my door one day, unannounced, as they almost always do. Appointments are optional.

“I’m told you can help me,” she said.

I invited her in, got her a cup of tea, looked her up and down. Pretty, twenty-something, with the eyes of a whipped dog.

“It’s because—“

I stopped her. “It doesn’t matter,” I said, though I knew. That was part of my gift. Fear was holding her in a relationship she didn’t want to be in. Fear was in her posture, in her speech. We agreed on a price and I took her fear away and swallowed it.

When I was done, her face was like all the rest. Not bliss. Not joy. Not even happiness, only relief. Someone else bore the burden they could not or would not.  I want to hate them all for that, only I know two things they don’t—the fear, the grief, would always return, born anew, whatever the circumstances. I can ease their troubles but I can’t cure them, only they can do that.

Something else I learned, that first time. It was right before lunch. I was hungry when I touched Jack’s shoulder. Afterwards, I wasn’t. Maybe there’s always capacity for trouble, and I don’t really solve anything, even though I’d like to.

At least I never go hungry.

-The End-

©2019 By Richard Parks. All Rights Reserved.