Blog Archives

Flash Fiction: Meet The Thunder

This is, uh, a thing. A thing I wrote. A thing that’s not really a story, thought there’s plenty of story suggested before it and around it and after it. And something, after all, happens in it. So it’s story-ish.

It felt pretty good to write it. It’s got a hefty dose of autobiography in it. S.A. Ophelia Barton, the Mad Scene (Sorry, Shakespeare. I don’t mean to imply I’m as interesting as one of The Immortal Bard’s characters. That’d be something like hubris).
It was originally posted on my Patreon page on August 10th, where it was exclusive to patrons until now.
 
Meet The Thunder
S.A. Barton
Copyright 2017
 
I came to the beach looking for Death. Not to confront it. Not to make demands. No, I hoped to be surpised. I wanted to schmooze up to Death like a fan buzzing around a minor celebrity at a party. I wanted to annoy death with my proximity until it snapped and swatted me.
In my last second on Earth, I wanted to protest that it was totally unfair that I was dying soooo unexpectedly and it wasn’t, really, my fault at all. I wanted it to be just one more indignity life had heaped upon me. Maybe I’d pass into the mysterious beyond and demand to speak to a manager. If I could screw my courage up to the sticking point as a ghost – a problematic proposition, as I had enough trouble doing that sort of thing with the benefit of a fleshly body.
It was the peak of summer on a long beach closed to tourists by main force of lack of parking and an irregular defensive picket composed of dozens, perhaps hundreds, of sun-bleached towing company signs.
It was scorching hot, the shadows driven to their cowering minimums and only just beginning to creep longer into afternoon. In the distance to the west there was a different sort of shadow on the horizon: a black and blue bruise of thunderstorms rolled down the flat waters of the Chesapeake Bay, roiling them in its wake. Flicking white snake tongues of lightning shot out one after another from the boiling edge. Some of it was over water already, but the end nearest me was still over land to the west, land separated from the sand I lived on by a strip of bay. Soon it would cross.
Hearing the approaching thunder over the laboring of my overwhelmed window air conditioner unit (the fan had developed a metallic whine after a hurricane the previous year, but it still ran), I peered out the front window of my lonely efficiency apartment to catch a glimpse of that black horizon between the three story condos across the street – giants of the spit; there was virtually nothing taller anywhere near that beach.
Already a few herald raindrops spattered the window, squeezed out of the isolated puffy white clouds the storm drove ahead of it like frightened sprinting sheep.
The clouds were speeding; the front itself would arrive in minutes; the steady drumbeat of distant thunder and the gray smudge it dragged along under it like a density of jellyfish tentacles promised a wild downpour.
Suddenly an urgency came upon me and pushed my normal morbid lassitude out. I would meet the storm and see what it brought with it, like I said above. But I wouldn’t meet it at the convenient, tiny sheltered beach out back of the aging brick block I lived it, buildings that had perhaps once given young officers on their way to Korea a place to rest their heads while they waited for their ships and planes. No. I’d head across the spit, not a long walk, across its long doubled road that looped at the end where the sand finally gave way to sea and the bridge-tunnel that reached across from the end to the land to the west, walk though the spit’s lines of little houses and cabins and weather-bleached apartment buildings.
And then I’d walk down a block to the elevated steps of the beach access that arced over the long stiff grasses and wandering vines of the single line of dune that separated beach and street. On to the beach that faced the rushing storm, into the mouth of the oncoming winds, to the place where the main force of the black steamroller in the sky would  break on this single finger of sand thrust into the bay.
I did not dress for my meeting. I undressed. Off shirt and shorts and underwear. On tiny swim trunks and flipflops. And out the door into the freshening wind.
Outside the heat still lingered, but it was leavened with less-hot, not yet cool, heavy shoves of great invisible hands of wind. The few little trees scattered about the spit, already sculpted with heavy leans away from the beaches by years of weather, danced in spurts as the invisible hands slicked them back again and again.
I walked fast. I had a rendezvous to keep. I looked up every dozen steps or so, not pausing, just glancing to see the enormous black-robes I hurried to meet, spreading its cloak wider, wider, the gray rain spilling out of its hem behind the rows of houses and surely into the bay water now, drumming the waves and pressing the fish down deep with healthy fear.
The thunder rumbled louder now; I was beginning to feel it as well as merely hear it. The lightning had grown close enough to throw faint stroboscopic shadows. Ozone gusted thick like brash cologne in a young nightclub.
I didn’t run. It didn’t seem fitting or dignified. This meeting demanded a certain gravitas, one that apparently, somehow, was not offended by showing up wearing bathing trunks too short to hang all the way down to mid-thigh.
I crossed the road, two lanes each way, clover on the median making tiny respectful bows away from the storm. There were big empty spaces between the cars; most people had sense enough to be somewhere already when a big storm met land. At least, they did when it wasn’t rush hour, and it wasn’t. The few cars that passed seemed to hunch down low over their wheels, feeling the pressure in the air.
And then up the steep stairs and along the boardwalk of the arcing beach access. The bushes and grasses beat the wooden handrails as the gusts came faster and harder, and the wind still blew strong where there had been lulls only a few minutes before. The spike tips of a yucca whistled faintly in a hard gust that pushed me sideways despite the aerodynamic nature a small body and near-total lack of clothing gave me.
Halfway across. The storm hove in close, filling the left half of the sky as I speedwalked, flipflops ThwackThwackThwacking over the boards. Ahead, shrinking shafts of sun mottled a scrum of whitecaps the front pushed ahead of it, showing them down the bay toward open ocean.
plat
An enormously obese drop of rain made a big dark star on the wooden railing worn silvery-gray by years of sun and salt.
plat platplat plat platplatplat platplat
Constellations began to draw themselves all over the wood, the parched boards drinking in cool water after their long bake in the searing sun. A faint steam struggled to rise from them, curling back down upon itself as the meteoric raindrops penetrated it.
The cool splashed on my chest, my shoulders, my bald-shaved head, runneling down through my eyebrows and beard and the waistband of my shorts.
Waking me.
Thunder growled close, and now I could feel it deep in my chest, shaking my ribs from the inside.
Lighting pealed and now the bolts were glaring bright, leaving dark lines and blots in my vision, taking my photo again and again, flash flash flash, driving thought and fear and sense and guile from my head.
I wasn’t here to meet Death after all.
I was there to be. There to see. There for what happened. Whatever that was.
Down the steps fast, slowing into the sand, I walked halfway to the water that rolled and crashed harder than bay water crashed any day except a full-on hurricane before the quiet eye rolled over.
I spread my arms to the storm that filled the sky horizon to horizon now. Behind me the very last of the white cloud and sunlight shafts fled into the distance, but I did not turn to see them. I left it behind.
And the front of the storm rolled over me with a fusillade of thunder booms like I’d been caught in God’s wild bass drum. Great ribbons of electricity stabbed the water of the bay, some so close my scalp tingled and the thunder boxed my ears like a thug. Lightning struck the beach itself and I flinched. But my feet stayed put, and I did not turn away. I stood, arms still spread, the warm water scouring my face like the battering tongue of a lion so large it might plant its feet on either side of the spit with its trees and cars and not disturb the three-story condos that rose under its belly.
Rain poured into my eyes. The world blurred, a watercolor scrubbed with a sponge. The lightning blazed all around until the watercolor was more black afterimage than gray rain and tan beach and white water.
The lightning burned jagged skeins all around. I self the hairs on my arms and legs rise despite them being slicked down with gushing rainwater. The thunder was all the sound; the broken seconds of no-thunder were deafening.
And then, suddenly, it was past. The black rolled on by behind me, still growling and booming and hissing its wrath.
And in front of me was sand. All sand, and around it curling white-topped waves. The trees still leaned and the grass and yucca and vines were thick.
There was not a house or a road or a beach access bridge over the dune. No bridge spanned the water. No cars murmured.
Tears cut through the rain on my face and I did not know if I was weeping because I was dead, or because I was alive.

Flash Fiction: The Hitting-Stick

HittingStickCover

Base image: SIV_primates.jpg by Wikimedia Commons user Yoky under Creative Commons 3.0 (attribution). Image cropped, color manipulated, effects added, text added.

The Hitting-Stick

by S.A. Barton

copyright 2015

Once, there was a more-than-ape who struck another more-than-ape with a stick.

There was no artifice to the blow. The stick was awkward and leafy; the impact was no more than that of an ordinary more-than-ape fist. The experiment was not repeated for a long time.

But it did happen again, some years later, and more frequently as generations passed. Slowly, slowly, the more-than-apes grew into something more than more-than-apes.

Eventually, a proto-human picked up a very straight hitting-stick and stripped most of the twigs and leaves off before hitting. The blow was much harder than that of a fist. The nameless proto-human hitter smiled a toothy smile and hit again. And again.

#

Much later there was a near-human who, picking a smooth stone out of a dry wash to use in beating a good hitting-stick free from a tree, dropped that stone. By chance, that stone fell against the point of a harder stone. A broad flake leapt from the softer stone and skittered across the gravelly wash.

The near-human (he had a name, Hooruh, a grunt much like the hundred or so other grunts his people had learned to make and assign meaning to) picked the fallen stone up, and then the flake. Hooruh held the two objects, one in each hand, and moved them slowly together. The flake touched the stone. Hooruh shifted the flake to fit the divot it had leapt from.

The flake bit Hooruh’s finger. Hooruh hooted and threw both rock and flake down. He fled.

The experiment was not repeated for a long time. But eventually it was, and Hooruh’s great-times-who-knows-how-many granddaughter left the flake where it fell but took the chipped stone away with her. She used the edge around where the chip had spalled free to hack down sticks and break animal bones slightly quicker than had been possible before—until the edge blunted, which didn’t take all that long.

And similar incidents happened again, and again, more often as time and generations passed, and eventually a near-human thought to drop the soft rock on the hard one over and over to make many little flakes and many poor, jumbled edges. But still, that very rough axe could hack a hitting-stick down considerably faster than a smooth stone, and the many edges made it last a long time.

Later, yet another near-human cut meat with one of the flakes that cut her finger.

Yet another used a big flake to cut a fellow near-human.

And then a brighter one thought to jam flakes into cracks on hitting-sticks for better fellow-cutting. Another held the soft rock in his hands and pounded it on the hard rock over and over so the flaking made a crude but purposeful edge.

They were almost-human now, and soon they were more.

#

A human taught himself to knap flint into a strong, straight edge that could fell not just hitting-sticks, but smallish trees.

A human worked flint chips so broad and fine that she could cut a pig’s throat with hardly an effort—a great improvement over the old way of laboriously clubbing pigs to death.

A human fire-hardened a sapling shaved to a point with a stone axe until it could be pushed all the way through a pig—or a human, and the broad flint chip knife was soon out of fashion for hunting.

Later, a human tipped a hitting-stick with a finely worked pointed flake held on with dried pig gut, and threw it.

#

A human dropped an enormous steel egg of nuclear fire and it hatched over the heads of more than three hundred thousand humans, incinerating and concussing and radiation-poisoning a third of them to death in an instant. Then another human did it again.

#

A human pushed a gargantuan mountain out of space and it crashed into the Pacific Ocean. It made a deep hole from which magma welled, and steam and clouds and fire wreathed the humans’ world.

Later, after a very, very, very long time, a not-quite-human hit a not-quite-human with a stick. It was not clear at the time if they were less than human, or more, or simply different. But the experiment was not repeated for a long time.

#

All the humans were among the stars, preoccupied with newer hitting-sticks, and took no notice.

Alright, The Computer Voice Wasn’t So Hot. So Here I Am Reading “All Flesh Is Grass”.

Give it a listen, it’s one of my freebie stories, a real shortie — only six minutes long, under a thousand words about one possible implication of laboratory-grown meat products.

There are two other stories on my YouTube channel so far, both software-read. Now that I have broken down and gotten a bare-bones basic microphone, I’ll be posting more like this, read by me in my very own voice.

You’ll notice, I think, that my voice is just okay for this kind of thing — part by nature, part by lack of experience. Reading aloud isn’t something I’ve really done before, aside from a few kids’ books for my toddlers. I’m no Morgan Freeman.

In any event, I hope you’ll enjoy what you hear.

README

CircuitboardMorguefile23JUN2014

 The license below does NOT refer to the image above, which is a free use image from Morguefile. The license below refers ONLY to the written work below IT: the text of README by S.A. Barton.

CClicenseForReadme

In other words, if you do choose to spread this story around, distribute it in its entirety, unchanged, attributed to S.A. Barton, and include a link to this page. Thanks!

README

by S.A. Barton

“In the beginning, was the Gates…” X intoned. It was a party, they’d all had a few zots to the pleasure-reward complex. Why not preach to a random stranger?

“Why is it ‘was the Gates’, and not ‘is the Gate’, have you ever thought of that?” asked Y.

“The language has changed, duh,” X said, making a face like someone bluescreening. “It’s been like eight thousand years and a lot of translations and modernizations. But they’re all inspired by the Gates to carry the true meaning of the original.”

“How do you know that?”

“It says so in the book, of course,” X said, eyescreens translating the roll of the meat eyes underneath to rolling pixels. “The Gates gave it all to us: the touchscreen, the tablet, the brainmouse, the HUD. We crucified his AVI for it, and he forgave us and revealed the hyperdrive as his last gift. Surely you’ve heard the holy README before.”

“I’ve heard it,” Y said, holding a zotstick next to the autodownloader under the skin of his temple. He sucked in breath through clenched teeth and his eyescreens went spaz with bright cyan static for a few seconds. “Good shit. Dude, people made computers. Finds on Earth proved it centuries ago. I was just reading the other day divers think they’ve found the Silicon Valley. It was just a place.”

“The Silicon Valley was a spiritual paradise in which the Gates delivered his gifts to all mankind. If someone thinks they’ve found it, they’ve either fooled themselves or they’re trolling. The Gates removed it from the physical realm after we defiled it with his AVI’s blood. It’s all in the…”

“Yeah, it’s in the holy README, I know, I know,” Y said, waving the zotstick under X’s nose.

“Lol about it if you want, but there’s no way a human could build even a crude computer on his own. Not from nothing. Ever see a docu about regressed civilizations?”

“So? A planet gets cut off from galactic civilization, it degenerates. They can’t get any new…”

“Any new what, smartass?” X says with a smirk plastered across his face.

“Computers…” Y says, voice trailing off weakly. He lifts his zotstick up to his temple again. It fizzles, there’s no rush. “Shit, I’m out of zot.”

X hands his stick over; it’s still half full. “Go ahead, hit that. But now that you’re thinking, now that you realize that humans can’t have invented the computer, why don’t you sit and listen…”

 

Cover Design: Retiring the Worst

When I need a break and want to play with GIMP for a while, indulging my somewhat neglected visual-arts side, I look back over past ebook cover design adventures and pick out something to redesign.

Even though I’m sitting on two finished short stories and am making good progress on a third… technically I’m backlogged by three covers.  But never mind that.  This old cover has been bugging me for a while.  See if you can guess why:

 

EWWWWWWW.

NiceWeatherCover3

AHHHHHHH.

NiceWeatherCoverNEW

That’s so much better for so many reasons.  I’ll leave you to contemplate the difference.

I’ve just added the new cover on Smashwords, it should take anywhere from 1-3 weeks to reach the various retailers that carry my stories listed conveniently in the sidebar to the right.

As of now, I have 43 distinct titles out there and several are free.  There are more on the way; apparently I haven’t squeezed my imagination dry quite yet.  With any luck, I never will.  I like this writing thing too much to give it up.

Woo-hoo!

My short collection of flash fiction and vignettes, Visions of Odd, is #3 on the Sony Reader Store list of Science Fiction & Fantasy short stories right now.  Presumably my other 40 titles there are somewhere or other below it.  This is the first time I’ve been in the top 5 anywhere as far as I know.

Big time, here I come. 😀

 

000 Number 3 Sony 01SEP13

Another Cover Redesign: Visions of Odd

I don’t know how many more of these redesigns of old covers I’m going to do.  I’m kind of attached to the covers I did a year or year and a half ago.  I’m kind of attached to the old cover for this one.  But it’s a bit clunky, and looks a little more like… well, like an amateur did it.  As expected.  I was an amateur then.  I am a somewhat more skilled amateur now.

Still, I love the new cover (which is the one on the right of the image below, if you hadn’t guessed).  I’m happy with my work, and with my progress.

If you’d like to actually read this ebook, it costs a buck ninety-nine and can be found at any of the fine retailers listed under ‘buy my books’ to your right.  Seven stories, all flash fiction and vignettes, about 8,400 words.  I think you’ll be pleased.

VisionOldNewCompareCovers

3 From The Edge

3Cover

Edit 6/11/13: Now available from Amazon.

6/16/13:  It just went live on Kobo.

6/26/13: Time got away from me… checking now: it’s on Diesel, iTunes, Barnes & Noble, and Sony Reader Store as well.

 

New story time again.  This time, I had 2 short stories and 1 piece of flash fiction.  Together, they add up to about 6500 words.  I couldn’t see asking 99 cents for them individually, but together I think it’s a pretty reasonable deal.

The title speaks to the nature of the stories.  Each depicts a turning point in history, something that wrought or will wreak gigantic changes that will touch every life on Earth.

I think you’ll like them.  You can find 3 From The Edge at Smashwords, and I’ll update here as it becomes available from other outlets.

Have fun reading!

Socrates, Unafraid

I’ve just published this piece of flash fiction on Smashwords, where it makes title #35 I have published with them.  Over the next couple of weeks it will percolate through the virtual distribution pipeline to various venues, links to which I keep over to your right, in the sidebar, at the very top.  Socrates, Unafraid is short, sweet, and free.  Since it is free, I thought I would share it here as well.  If you enjoy it… well, I’ve just told you where to find the rest of my work, haven’t I?  🙂

 

 

SocratesCover

 

Socrates, Unafraid

By  S. A. Barton

Copyright 2013  S. A. Barton

The cup slips from my fingers, as it always has.  It shatters between my feet, losing itself on the marble as the fragments scatter, white on white.  For a moment, the shards persist.  Then they become faded, then translucent.  Then they are gone, and I am alone.  There is me, sitting before the garden that wreathes the edges of the portico in flowers, my chair, the table, the empty flagon.  Were I solid, the poison would churn through my guts.  I sit, regarding the nodding heads of the flowers, and imagine it burning.  Instead, unseen, it nevertheless fades into invisibility, into nothingness, as the cup has.

Did it exist?  Did the cup?  Did I?  I smack my lips at the saccharine and heavy aftertaste the poison has left as I watch yellow sulfur moths stitch unsteady paths among the dusty red of the roses.  A chime sounds, high and tinkling: once, twice, thrice.

My body is ready.  The chime has sounded each day as my body has stood ready, untouched, as thirty thousand days and thirty thousand cups have passed.

It, this body, stands among ninety-nine others; none have stirred.  I can sense so.  They stand motionless and ready in ranks, in a square, in a ruined acropolis meant to stand at the center of a new and untarnished humanity, spit out at last into the stars from the rotting, collapsing womb of a spoiled and dying Earth, a last paroxysm of the self-preservation urge of a species.

Around the ranks of these carbon-tubule humanoid frames engineered to endure eons and bear the minds of we the last teachers of Earth, arrayed against the smooth concrete walls, are honeycombed a thousand incubators.

Within them, thirty thousand days old, long turned to motes of dust, are a thousand thirty-two-cell human embryos, selected to bear the genetic diversity needed to seed a new humanity from among them.  All poisoned by the subtle traces of heavy metals and radioactives in the atmosphere, undetectable from an Earth which sent this last doomed gasp.  Perhaps there were a people here once as well, alien and yet enough like us to drown in their own waste and violence as we have.  If there were, they have left less of a trace than we have.  Only the poisons that have destroyed our final offspring remain.

I stare at the blank marble floor, contemplating the sunset not yet here that my virtuality will bring, and the sleep, the waking, and cup thirty thousand and one.

It is enough.  Finally enough.  For the first time, I answer the chime.

I have spent thirty thousand days in hiding, in grief, in a solitary despair at the fate of humanity.  I sense the others have left their bodies inactive as well, for the same reason, I assume.  I cannot imagine another.

But there are still we final hundred.  Our bodies, our fleshly human bodies, are forsaken.  But our minds, our thoughts: we are human in those.  At long last I accept that it must be enough.  It must: it is all there is.  We still might build and grow, construct new bodies and load them each with one of our hundred minds.  Time and experience will change all of us, new and old, and finally as centuries pass we will diverge, until from a hundred seeds there will be thousands and millions of us, different enough in time to be called different individuals, if sprung from the identical hundred roots.

I open my eyes; carbon laminate eyelids unshroud lenses of flawless and smooth diamond.  I look out across the ruined acropolis, the still forms of my ninety-nine inert companions, the thousand dust-shrouded incubators become tombs.

None of those things are there.  I stand, robotic limbs locked in place but warming with current, loosening, in a cylinder of industrial diamond mounted upon a modest pedestal of plain marble.  My eyes, not needing the action but driven by the appendix of a biological reflex embedded in my virtual mind, blink once, twice, thrice in surprise, diamond regarding diamond.  And my focus shifts, and I look beyond.

There is the acropolis, clean and smooth, the concrete hidden behind marble façade.  Lights, aimed into the great vault above, reflect a comfortable and warm sunlight upon the thousand incubators, standing open and doorless to display the guts from which sprang the last thousand human beings.

Of my ninety-nine companions, no sign at all.

Before me, a dozen children mill about a single adult.  One of the children reaches up and tugs at the dusty red rose of her blouse.

“The Unawakened, teacher.  His eyes opened.  Does that mean he’s not The Unawakened anymore?”

The teacher turns to me, eyes widening, mouth forming an O of surprise.  I smile, finally.

Even late, teaching is what I am for.  And there are children here after all.

 

 

 

See more from S. A. Barton:

On Twitter at http://twitter.com/tao23

And on Facebook at  http://www.facebook.com/pages/S-A-Barton/312607662122218