Seven Very Short Stories

Sto­ries in 1024 char­ac­ters or less, by Patrick Johan­neson

The Wait

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.

The Inversion

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?

The Trick

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?”

Dancing

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.

Zookeeper

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 200250 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/.