Chuck Wendig: The Path Not Taken

This week’s Chuck Wendig flash fiction challenge is short and simple.  True flash fiction.  Write a story that is only five sentences long.  Here is my contribution.  Please to enjoy.


The Path Not Taken

The bass makes her fillings vibrate.  She knows he’s talking to her; she can see his lips moving.  She points to her ears then gestures futilely at the throbbing air, as if to say I can’t hear you.  He starts to lean in closer, then stands instead and leaves the club, going out alone into the night.  She continues to sip her drink, head bobbing to the beat.

Chuck Wendig: Title

This week’s Chuck Wendig flash fiction challenge is all about the seven deadly sins.  I chose sloth.  Those of you who know me will not find this a surprise.  Please to enjoy.


That’s a terrible title, but there’s not much I can do about it, is there?  If I was going to do something about it I’d have to think of a better one.  I’d have to consider options.  God help me, I’d probably have to sit up while I did it.  They say that sitting up while you think is supposed to make you more alert and stimulate your creativity.  Why, I ask, would I want to do that?

There were supposed to be a couple of additional characters in this story.  Some setting, too.  Maybe even world-building.  Not today.  I had a long day at work and I’m just not up for it.  I’m going to knock out a few hundred words then go sit on the couch and play Flow.  Or maybe Candy Crush.  Eventually I’ll turn the TV on, I guess.  “The Voice” is on tonight.  I think it’s the last night of the blind auditions.  I don’t want to miss that.  I hope I can find the remote.  I did something with it last night before I went to bed, but I don’t remember what.

I’ll need to eat at some point.  There’s hot dogs in the fridge, but I’d have to walk all the way to the kitchen to get them out and cook them.  ALL.  THE.  WAY.  To the kitchen.  How can you expect me to do that?  I’d have to find my slippers first.  I think they’re by the bed, but that’s way the heck over there (Ordinarily I’d wave a hand in the general direction of “over there” to show you where the bed is, but I’m not going to.  Like I said, it’s been a long day and I’m trying to type.  Can’t be bothered with extraneous gestures that you can’t see anyway.  This is WordPress, not YouTube.).

There’s a little black dog laying on the couch beside me as I type this.  She’s sleeping, curled up in a little ball with her paws tucked under her nose.  Every now and then she twitches and her ears give a little shake.  She’s snoring, very softly.  I know how she feels.

The couch is not far from the foot of the bed (again, the bed is “over there.”  You’ll have to continue working out for yourself what that means).  To get to bed and go to sleep later, I’m going to have to move a few feet and climb into the bed.  It’s so high, though (how about those italics?  I hope you appreciate the extra effort I put in to make that happen (and look, I just did it again!).).  My wife has the right idea.  She put a footstool on her side of the bed to use to get up.  I’d ask her to toss it over to me, but I’d have to give it back after I used it and that would probably involve bending over.  OK.  Yeah.

This story is only about 500 words long right now.  We have a thousand words to play with this week, but I don’t really feel like making the effort, even if I did just type out “a thousand” instead of writing “1,000”.  That was five extra keystrokes, not to mention this whole tangential sentence.  I have no idea where I’m finding this kind of initiative.

Like I was saying, I’m well short of the word limit for this week but I’m finished.  I mean, seriously.  I have TV to watch, maybe some hot dogs to eat, and a bed to climb into later.  That’s a lot.  I have to save my strength.  You’re lucky to be getting even 600 words out of me today.  I can’t believe I got even that many.  I’m done.  I probably won’t even bother to finish the last senten


Chuck Wendig: Snowflakes, Chapter 1

I already submitted a story for this week’s Chuck Wendig Flash Fiction challenge.  As I said in the other post, the challenge this week was to take one of ten reader-submitted first sentences and begin a story with it.  I decided to post a bonus story, because one of the reader-submitted sentences chosen for the challenge was submitted by me!

I used the sentence myself a couple of years ago and decided to post the story I wrote back then.  It was NaNoWrMo 2014.  I decided at the last minute to participate, and on November 1st, I wrote what you are about to read.  I never wrote another word, for a number of reasons, most of which boiled down to me being lazy.

This is, in theory, the opening chapter of my NaNoWriMo novel for 2014.  I never fleshed it out any more than what appears here.  This chapter was completely pantsed, and I never did any additional worldbuilding or plotting or anything.  I may come back to it someday, because I kind of like the concept.  It’s a high fantasy story set in a near-future cyberpunk world.  I think there are definite possibilities.  Check it out, and thanks for stopping by!  I hope you like it.


Snowflakes, Chapter 1

The bald man grinned and capered madly in the alley.  The air seemed to grow colder as he whirled and pranced and his breath steamed from his nostrils as he danced like a dervish beneath the glow of a streetlamp.  Snow was falling, fat flakes showing in the light from above.  They hissed as they struck the hot neon of the sign on the back wall of the bar.  Marco looked around, struck dumb by the snow.  It was August.  He was wearing shorts. What the…?

The bald man turned around and stuck his rear end out in Marco’s direction.  He reached back with both hands and drummed a tattoo on his cheeks as he shook his hips in time with a rhythm that didn’t come close to matching his drumming.  He turned around, still grinning, and stuck out his tongue, blowing a vibrant raspberry that echoed in the alley then cut off abruptly as a pebble-filled beanbag bounced off of his forehead and fell to the ground at his feet.  Shocked, he looked down and so missed seeing the second projectile, this one a fist sized stone, that hit him on top of the head.  He slumped, unconscious, to the pavement, blood seeping from a cut in his bald scalp.

“God, El,” Marco said, “I didn’t think he was that bad a dancer.”

“Dancer my ass,” said El, pushing her ginger bangs back out of her eyes as she emerged from behind the bins she had been using as cover.  “You were taking too long.  He was drunk and you were playing with him and letting him act the fool.  I want to get this over with.  It’s cold.  Get it, and let’s go.”

Marco nodded and moved carefully forward.  He thought the guy was out cold, but it paid to be careful.  He jerked a thumb back down the alley and El nodded, moving behind him and keeping an eye out for unwary intruders.

Marco brushed snow off the pavement and knelt beside the man.  He felt for a pulse.  Out, but alive, he thought, relieved.  He put a hand inside the man’s jacket pocket.  Empty.  He checked the other pocket.  Empty as well.  Inside pocket?  Didn’t have one.  Worried now, he checked pants pockets, inside socks, anywhere he could think of.  He didn’t want to strip the fellow naked in the alley in the snow, but he didn’t really have a choice.

El saw what he was doing and jogged over, her blue ponytail swinging.  He looked up at her.  “He doesn’t have it,” he said.

“What do you mean he doesn’t have it?”

“He’s naked, El.  Unless he has it inserted somewhere, it’s not here.”

“He’s cute, but I’m not going to be checking for insertions.”

“You see what I’m saying, then,” said Marco.  “Face it.  He doesn’t have it.”

“Joaquin’s gonna be pissed.”

“Joaquin is always pissed.  Look, take some pictures here, to show that we actually did try, and let’s get out of here.  That weird snow has stopped, but it’s still kind of chilly.”

El nodded, and pulled out her cell phone.  “This is not going to be on Instagram, okay?” Marco said, as she started taking pictures.

“Hashtag duh,” she muttered under her breath.
Marco dressed the bald guy again before they left.  No reason to be disrespectful, after all.


“Who the hell is this guy?” asked Joaquin.  He held El’s phone and was pointing at the picture on the screen.

“That’s the guy,” Marco said.  “Maeready.  We tried to get the artifact, but he didn’t have it on him.  I even stripped him and searched.”  He shifted his feet uncomfortably.  “It wasn’t inserted anywhere.”

“This isn’t Maeready,” Joaquin said, shaking the phone.  “This doesn’t even look like him.  Maeready has a goatee and a blond mullet.  This guy is bald and has three snowflakes tattooed under his right eye.”

“He has so got a mullet,” said Marco.  “Look!  It’s right there!”  He pointed at the picture.

Joaquin’s jaw dropped and he squinted at Marco.  “Do you even know what a mullet is?” he asked incredulously.

There was a sudden shout from across the room, interrupting them.  “Wait!  Wait!  Dammit, Joaquin, what did you say?  He has three what?”  A tall, gangly man wearing an augmented reality visor looked over at them from the computer console they had set up in the far corner.  His haptic gloves clattered as he flexed his fingers spasmodically.

“Three snowflakes,” said Joaquin, “tattooed on his face under his right eye.  Zoom in.”  He held up the phone so the man could see it.  The man reached out with his gloved fingers and spread them, making reality expand within his visor.

“Aw shit, Marco,” he said.  “Shitshitshit.  Shit!  You stupid son of a…”  He trailed off and swatted the air in front of himself, swiping reality back into its proper place.  He put his head in his hands.

“What is it?” asked El.

“Tech, what’s going on?” Joaquin asked, his voice tight, worried.

Tech looked up.  His forehead wrinkled as his eyebrows rose inside his visor.  He shook his head and ran his hands through his spiky hair.  “I told you to send me to do this, Joaquin.  Never send a ranger and a thief to do a wizard’s job.  I should have been the one to hit Maeready and you know it”

“You’re too noticeable with the visor, Tech,” said Joaquin.  It was an old disagreement between them.  “You know how I feel about this sort of thing.  Even with holograms to hide your gear, you stick out.  I needed stealth and supposedly these two are stealthy.”

“Stealthy, yes,” said Tech, “but you also needed to send someone with intelligence.”  He shook his head and laughed bitterly.  “Instead, you settled for these two.”

“So tell me what’s going on,” said Joaquin.  “Who is this guy?  Why do you care about his tattoo?”

“I’ll show you.”  Tech wiggled his fingers as he typed on a virtual keyboard only he could see.  A holographic projector came to life in the corner, and displayed El’s picture of the unconscious man on the air between Tech and the rest of the group.

“This is the poor unfortunate soul you baited, koshed, stripped, searched, and left laying in an alley,” said Tech.

“I dressed him again before we left,” muttered Marco.

“It’s good that you did,” said Tech as his fingers continued to dance.  “Maybe we can use that to show that you didn’t really mean him any harm.”  Joaquin began to ask a question.  “Shh!” hissed Tech, waving him to silence with one hand.  “Wait for it.”  He typed and gestured for a few more seconds, then grunted in satisfaction.  “Ah, here it is.”

The projected image changed.  El’s picture shrank, moving into the upper left corner of the display and another picture, this one a detailed shot of three snowflakes that looked like the bald man’s tattoo, appeared and dominated the image.  Tech’s fingers danced some more, and the second picture shrank and moved to bottom right.  In the middle, appeared six words.  Two in English, two in Russian, two more in English.

Three Snowflakes

Три снежинки

Tri Snezhinki

 “Oh, shit.”  It might have been any of the others who said it.  In reality, it was all three, speaking in unison.

“You understand our problem?” asked Tech.

“I understand it,” said Marco quietly.

“The Snezhinki are crazy,” said El.

“Yes, they are,” said Tech.  “I’m one of the most powerful wizards I know, and those guys make me look like a first-year apprentice, and they are the very embodiment of crazy.”

“Tri Snezhiki,” said Joaquin.  “Damn, Marco, you’d think the three snowflakes tattooed on the man’s face might have been a giveaway as to who he was!”

“I was looking at his mullet,” said Marco.  “You didn’t say anything about Maeready having tattoos so I wasn’t worried about it.”

El spoke up.  “Besides, you didn’t know what they meant, either, until Tech said something.”

Joaquin conceded the point.  “I don’t speak whatever language that is,” he said, pointing at the display, “but I’ve always heard of Tri Snezhinki.  We all have, I’m sure.  But I never knew it meant anything.  I thought it was just some crazy name they came up with!  I didn’t know about the tattoos, either.”

“Well, the tattoo is not real widely known as a symbol of the Snezhinki,” said Tech, “but if you know what their name means, it makes sense.”  Seeing their confusion, he walked over and pointed at the non-English characters.  “It’s Russian.  It’s a name that represents where they come from and what they believe in.”  He pointed at the bald man’s picture.  “If that guy knows who you are, and knows where to find you, it will be getting very cold here, very soon.”  He looked at Joaquin.  “We should go.”

“But the artifact–” began Marco.

“Forget the artifact,” said Tech.  “We won’t have another chance to look for Maeready tonight if the bloody Snezhinki are looking for us.”

Joaquin nodded.  “You’re right.”  He pointed at El and Marco.  “You two screwed up.  I don’t know how.  I don’t know how you could possibly think that guy was Maeready.  Somehow, though, you did, and if we don’t get out of sight fast, we could be done for.”

“We may be able to make another search for the artifact soon,” said Tech, as he took his gloves and visor off and began to pack his gear.  “We’ll see what the Snezhinki do.  Maybe they’ll stay frosty and we’ll be able to resurface in a day or two.”

“Let’s hope,” said El.

“You better hope,” said Joaquin.  “I’ll be pissed if we lose this commission because you two don’t know what the hell a mullet is.”

Chuck Wendig: Third Time Pays For All

This week’s Chuck Wendig Flash Fiction challenge is a pretty good one.  Last week, he invited readers to comment with a submission of a sentence that could be used as the first sentence in a story.  He says he got more than 500 entries.  He selected 10 of them, and this week’s challenge is to pick one of them and use it as the launching for a story.

I have no idea how I came up with what you are about to read.  Not sure it’s even really a story.  I do think it’s one of the strangest things I’ve ever written.  Well, here it is, in all it’s…um…glory.  Yeah, that’s it.  That’s what it is.  Sure.

Third Time Pays For All

The clock struck 12:17 and all I could think is I should have called tails.

At 11:58, The Fez and I had been sitting in the floor of the living room watching Jimmy Fallon, eating stale Funyuns, and drinking Coke Zero.  Neil Gaiman was the guest, which is why we were watching.  Well, we were also hoping that Justin Timberlake would show up and do another in the series of History of Ballroom Dancing bits that he and Fallon had embarked upon last year after bringing to an end their successful string of hip-hop/polka mash-up videos.

Anyway, Timberlake hadn’t shown up and Neil Gaiman was the guest.  We couldn’t believe that someone like Neil Gaiman would go on the Tonight Show.  I mean, Fallon is funny and all, and the Roots are one hell of a house band, but this was Neil Gaiman.  Neil Gaiman is coolCool people don’t do Jimmy Fallon, I said.  They don’t usually do mainstream media at all.  The Fez thought about it and agreed with my assessment.  Then told me that he thought I should be on Jimmy Fallon, since I’m not really cool at all.  I gave him the finger.

Gaiman’s segment ended a little before midnight.  Up next was the musical guest, some guy who could play the trombone while simultaneously blowing through a kazoo stuck into his nostril.  We had already seen all of his YouTube videos so there wasn’t much need to watch any further.  We turned off the TV.

We continued to sit in the floor and start at the blank screen.  At 12:01, I said to the Fez, “What do you want to do now?”  He shrugged and ate another Funyun.

I laid down, stretching out in the floor and raised my legs into the air so I formed the shape of the letter L.  I stayed like that for a few seconds, then brought my legs down and sat back up.  As I did, a Funyun bounced off my forehead.

The Fez sniggered, like that evil cat in the cartoons back in the day.  I gave him my most withering Kiefer Sutherland glare and picked the Funyun up off the carpet, where it had landed after ricocheting off my head.  I regarded it gravely for a moment, then popped it in my mouth.  It really was stale.  No crunch whatsoever.  I pulled a face and said to the Fez, “How do you eat these things?”  He shrugged and ate another Funyun.

It was 12:06 now.  I said, “How about some Ripsdee?”  We called it Ripsdee.  When we first started playing we had called it rock-paper-scissors like everyone else.  Then we had added dynamite to the equation, and rocks-paper-scissors-dynamite didn’t roll off the tongue in quite the same way.  So we’d acronymed it RPSD and decided to pronounce it Ripsdee.

We played Ripsdee all the time.  At one time, if we were really feeling froggy, we’d play for money.  We stopped that, though, after Lou joined our group.  Lou had transformed Ripsdee into something of an improvisational art form.  The Fez said Lou didn’t play Ripsdee; he played rock-paper-scissors-dynamite-laser gun-Death Star-whatever the hell else he made up so he wouldn’t lose.  One time he threw a fist out and said it wasn’t a rock, it was a potato.  A rock, he said, was held with the fist parallel to the floor.  A potato, though, was perpendicular.

“What does a potato do?” I had asked.  I had thrown scissors.  “My scissors cut your potato into French fries!”

Lou laughed and jammed his potato fist down over the end of my fingers.  “Oh, really?  Try it now.”

The Fez was a far more traditional player than Lou.  He stuck to the three original forms.  Every now and then he might throw out some dynamite if he thought he had the element of surprise but usually, he kept to the classics.

At 12:07, we threw our first game.  We each held up a fist and pumped them three times.  I counted it off:  “One.  Two.  Three.  Shoot.”  I put out a rock.  The Fez threw paper.  He whistled in celebration and bounced another Funyun off my noggin.  I took a swig of my Coke Zero.  “Again,” I said.

Over the next six minutes we played nearly thirty rounds.  On the last one, The Fez threw his first dynamite of the night.  I threw scissors.  I cackled and cut his fuse.  I had won.

“Not bad,” The Fez said as the clock turned over to 12:14.  His voice was scratchy and his breath smelled like processed onion dust.  He held up a single admonitory finger.  “Don’t get cocky, though.”  He leaned back as he reached into his front jeans pocket and pulled out a quarter.  He held it up and showed me both sides.  Heads.  Tails.

“Best of three,” he said.  “You first.”

I took a deep breath.  I nodded, and I called it.  “Tails.”  The Fez flipped the coin.  It was heads.  He won the first flip.

“Now you,” I said.  He held out the quarter towards me.  I wiped my hands on the carpet to dry them off, then took it.  I held it up.  He called it.  “Tails.”  I flipped it.  It was heads again.  We were tied one apiece.

“This is it,” said the Fez.  “Third time pays for all.  The pressure is on.  What will you do?”  He balanced the coin on the edge of his thumb and looked at me expectantly.

I pondered.  We had called tails twice in a row, and twice in a row it had come up heads.  What did the odds favor?  A third head, or a new beginning?  I shrugged.  I was feeling lucky.  I followed my heart and called it.


The Fez flipped it.  It landed.


“You lose,” said The Fez.

We stood up.  I sighed as he drew his leg back, and kicked me right in the crotch.  The inside of my body felt like it had been set on fire.  I fell down, severely impained, and rocked back and forth, clutching myself, curling up into a tight ball.  I didn’t scream, but inside I was howling.  I knew I would be swollen and bruised by morning.

Another Funyun bounced off my body, and then The Fez decided to dump the entire bag on me as I continued to wallow in the floor.  “Maybe I should be on Jimmy Fallon,” he said.  “Then again, maybe I shouldn’t.  Cool people aren’t on Jimmy Fallon, remember?  And Fezzes are cool.”  He drained his Coke Zero and headed for the door.

“See you tomorrow, scrub,” he said, and he sniggered again.  “Better luck next time.”  The door closed behind him.

It was 12:17.

I submitted a second story for the challenge.  You can find it here.  Check it out as well!