Stories in 1024 characters or less, by Patrick Johanneson
She planted the seed and waited. After a while rain came down from the sky, pelting her skin, chilling her. She shivered but didn’t leave, not yet.
The sun came out, warming the soil, driving the cold from her bones. She waited. Clouds scudded by overhead, in a hurry for some reason. The moon rose, stars wheeled, and then the sun rose again.
She didn’t just wait, of course. She prayed, she sang, she read the old stories, the myths and the legends. On the seventh day she snoozed under a cloudless sky, waking only briefly when a dragonfly happened to touch down on her nose. She observed its cathedral-window wings, irridescent with refracted sunlight, and drowsed once more after it left her.
Rain, sun, moon, stars: she endured them all. The seedling broke the soil with a questing green curlicue, looking for all the world like a question mark in the Old Tongue. She sat on it and waited more: days, months, decades.
A boy came along and asked her why she’d climbed to the top of the tree.
“I didn’t,” she said.
Eating Everything There Ever Was
It started with a local hot-dog eating contest. Lou Verbain took first place, and moved on to the provincials, where he placed second. But the first-place contestant bowed out when his stomach ruptured, and Lou was on to the nationals. At internationals he placed a distant third to a whip-thin Japanese girl.
Lou wasn’t about to take that lying down, so he went into hard-core training. He ate all the hot dogs in town, then in the province, and eventually he caused a continent-wide shortage in meat-ish products.
He moved on. Hamburgers, pies, cookies, anything he could stuff down his gullet. He grew and grew, too, expanding like a weed, like a balloon. It was surreal.
The day he started eating cars was probably the point of no return. He started small, with a rusted-out Datsun, but by week’s end he was devouring Hummers and limos.
At some point hydrogen fusion started up in his stomach, but he didn’t notice.
Long story short, now he’s a black hole, Verbain X-1, and the Universe is slowly falling into him.
They shot me at dawn for my sins, gave me a pauper’s grave and a bunch of wildflowers plucked from the riverbank. They regretted it, so they told me, wished I was still alive. I listened from my black home beneath the dirt. What else was I to do?
What else, indeed.
When the sky split and the world everted, I thought it was perhaps the Last Trump, the Apocalypse of St. John come to take me home. It was an apocalypse, but not the second coming of the Messiah. No, nothing but missiles of proton-fusing power, wiping the living away, freeing the dead from our bonds, loosing us upon a world transformed.
In my yard a tree grows that weeps blood, and my lawn, which I cut with a black iron scythe, is made of souls. This is a queer new world I have been granted, and I intend to enjoy it.
I only wish my wife had been killed, before the bombs fell, so that she too could enjoy this black-sun utopia, where no one’s pulse races because no one has a pulse. But nothing is perfect, is it, eh?
Would you fancy some tea?
“You want to see a trick?”
Her eyes narrowed. “What kind?”
“Like nothing you’ve ever seen,” he said, and took a swig straight from the bottle. Red wine stained his teeth. “Promise.”
“All right.” She leaned back in the chair as he stood up, crossed to the centre of the room, and did some kind of odd shoulder-shrugging warmup dance. He’d left the bottle on the table, and she took it, wrapped her lips around it, and chugged what remained of the wine. She had a buzz going and wasn’t about to lose it.
Without prelude, without screaming, without any warning whatsoever, he burst into flames. In perfect silence he burned, staring into her soul with those intense grey eyes he had.
She dropped the bottle. It shattered, green shards everywhere. She wanted to scream but couldn’t. She stared as he was consumed.
There was a pile of ash and a black spot on the hardwood, and no other evidence he’d ever existed.
The door opened and he walked in. She leapt from the recliner, embraced him, and said, “How’d you do it?”
On a hilltop at sunset, they danced one last time. High clouds burned crimson and chromium, and she sang to him:
o this is the guillotine, and this is the knife
this is for murder, this is for life
He whirled her like a dervish, spinning her about and about, watching her dark hair mask her face like a funeral veil.
so come, hangman, tie up your noose
my lover is here, waiting for you
He dipped her low, kissed her carmine lips, then lifted her into the sky. She laughed with delight, and he couldn’t remember the last time she’d sounded so happy.
we dance on the hill, we prance through the heath
we eat, drink and are merry, till we’re all out of breath
And the music ended, and the first stars appeared in the eastern firmament. He bowed to her, both of them dripping sweat from their hair. Her smile was inscrutable.
“It’s time, isn’t it,” he said.
“It is,” she said. “Time to wake up.”
He woke, and the bed was empty, and once more he was a widower.
He put on his ring and faced the day.
The sky opened up like a mouth and swallowed me whole. I passed through its throat, a black-shadowed and flexible tube that smelled of esters and monomers, and fell into a room as wide as all the sky, suffused with misty pink light.
I wasn’t alone. If only! But there were three others that I could see, and countless others that I could sense.
The thing nearest me—I hesitate to call it a person, though of course it was—sibilated and grunted in my direction. I didn’t understand its tongue, of course. But I understood it nonetheless, via some eldritch technology that our hosts had instilled in the room. Where are you from?
“Earth, of course,” I said.
Indeed. Did you know that in my tongue, my world’s name is Earth too?
I considered. “Sol three, then.”
Ah. It waved a tentacle, and a small window appeared. A yellow sun appeared therein, receding. Sol, I trust?
“Yes,” I said, and choked back a sob as I watched my sun dwindle and finally disappear.
You get used to it, it said. Eventually.
The End of All Things
First we assaulted death with pills and targeted radiation, and then with nanites, gene therapy, and anti-ablative cladding woven into human flesh. Next came imprinted lightwaves that held the mind, the record of a human, railed against by the Catholics and the Protestants and the Muslims as a slight against the soul. Shinto ancestor worship became a tangible thing: venerating lacquered cubes of hardwood that contained quantum records of great-grandfathers.
Soon we left Earth behind, a crowded homestead, and made our way outward. We molded worlds to our liking, and then, later, wrote our consciousness into the foamy black of spacetime. After a large but finite number of eons, we left the Galaxy behind, a crowded homestead, and ventured further.
We left identity behind, merged ourselves with the godhead, and wrote poems on the surfaces of stars, sang songs to the iron cores of supernovae.
And now it’s all unspooling, the stars all gone dark a trillion years ago, and we think to ourself, we had a good run.
Ficlets.com was a website where authors could write very short stories—1024 characters or less. 1024 characters works out to about 200–250 words. All content on the site was licensed through a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike license. Authors were encouraged to add on to each others’ stories by writing sequels and prequels.
Patrick Johanneson made it a personal challenge to try and compose complete stories within the 1024-character constraint. He didn’t always manage it. These seven micro-stories are his favourites from his collection of 44 ficlets.
In January 2009, Ficlets.com was shut down by its parent company. All existing ficlets—45,000 of them—were archived to a new site, http://ficlets.ficly.com/.