Free Flash – Where They Belong

Something a little different for you today. Below is a piece of flash fiction called “Where They Belong.” I sold it to DarkFuse Magazine a few years ago, and since the rights to the story have returned to me and it’s no longer available to read online, I thought I’d post it here. I’ll add it to my list of free-to-read stores on the blog too

Anyway, I’ve always liked this one. I hope you do too.


Where They Belong

by Aeryn Rudel

Daddy always says to put things where they belong. Toys have to go back in the chest. Milk has to go back in the fridge. Dead people have to go in the ground.

The gun is heavy, and I have to carry it with both hands. I had to figure out how to work it, how to make the round part pop out so I could put in the bullets. Before all the bad things happened, Daddy said I was too little to shoot. He said it would knock me down. I hope I am big enough now.

I carry the gun into the family room where Mommy is lying in front of the TV. I don’t want to look at her because I might cry again. I can’t cry. I need to be a big boy so I can help Daddy. There is blood all over the carpet, and there are pieces of Mommy missing, the pieces Daddy ate. I walk past her into the kitchen without looking.

Anna is on the floor in the kitchen. She was so little that she couldn’t even run when Daddy grabbed her. It doesn’t bother me to look at her, though. I’m sad, but I didn’t love Anna the same way I loved Mommy.

The basement door is next to the fridge, and it is open a little. I can hear Daddy in the basement. It sounds like he is moving things, heavy things, throwing them. I push open the door and look down the stairs. I don’t like the dark, and I switch on the light. I have to stand on my tippy toes to do it. I’m scared Daddy might come up the stairs when the light goes on, but he doesn’t. He is still moving around down there, making loud noises. It sounds like he is crying or breathing hard.

I walk down the stairs. I try to be very quiet because I don’t want Daddy to hear me yet. At the bottom, Daddy is trying to grab Sylvester, our cat, but he is way back under the water heater and Daddy can’t reach him.

“Daddy,” I yell.

Daddy turns around. He looks sick. His skin is gray, and his eyes are yellow. There is blood on his face and on his shirt. I know that blood is not his, and it makes my stomach hurt. He opens his mouth and yells or growls, like a monster. He doesn’t say any words. I don’t think he can say words anymore. I move up the stairs backwards.

“Come on, Daddy. Come out of the basement. Come be with Mommy.”

Daddy follows me up the stairs and into the kitchen. I back up against the counter and hold out the gun with both hands. I aim it at Daddy. He walks toward me. His mouth is open and black stuff runs out of it. He reaches for me.

I pull the trigger. The gun jumps in my hand and makes the loudest sound I have ever heard. The bullet hits Daddy in the head and makes a big hole. Blood and yellow stuff, like oatmeal, splashes the wall behind him, and he stops walking. He stands there looking at me, but I don’t think he sees me anymore. Then he falls down and stops moving.

I think it’s okay to cry now.

#

It was easy to pick up Anna, but Mommy and Daddy were too heavy to move. I tried, but I couldn’t get them outside. I got blood on my new shirt. It was one of my shirts for second grade. Mommy would be so mad if she knew, even though there’s probably no school anymore.

I found the shovel in the garage. Digging was hard, and it took me a long time to make a hole in the backyard because I had to dig through the grass. I put Anna in the hole, and then I felt bad she had to be in there by herself. I got Mommy’s purse and Daddy’s watch and the picture we took at Disneyland with all of us in it. I put them in the hole with Anna. Then I put the dirt in. I tried not to put it on Anna’s face at first, but I had to, and it made me feel a little better when I couldn’t see her anymore.

When I finished, I went into the front yard. I can see the city, and there is a lot of smoke. Yesterday, or maybe it was the day before, I heard sirens, but now I don’t hear anything but the wind. I wonder if other people will come to get me. I wonder if there are any other people.

I go back into the backyard and lie down on top of the dirt where the hole was. I whisper, “Goodbye, Mommy. Goodbye, Daddy. Goodbye, Anna.”

Daddy, Mommy, and Anna are where they belong now. I hope they go to heaven. I hope I go there too. I hope it is soon.

END

Originally published by DarkFuse Magazine, June 2016


Like a lot of my published flash fiction, this one started life as a one-hour flash fiction writing exercise. I think I got the story mostly right in that single hour, but it did take me a while to get the voice where I wanted it. It’s always challenging to write from a child’s POV (for me anyway), but I got some excellent advice from critique partners who actually have children. This story also holds the distinction of being one of my few one-and-done submissions. It was accepted and published by the first market I sent it to. That doesn’t happen a lot. 🙂

Submission Protocol: When to Withdraw

Withdrawing a story from a publisher is an oft-discussed topic in writer circles, and there are a lot of opinions on when and if you should do it. My views have evolved on this subject over the years, so I thought it might be a good time to revisit it. It should be noted that I’m specifically talking about withdrawing a story from a publisher that has been unresponsive for a considerable amount of time. There are other times when the decision to withdraw a story is much more cut and dry (sim-subs and defunct publishers, to name two).

When should you withdraw a story? Well, again, there are a lot of opinions, but here’s a checklist or series of “if this, then that” scenarios you might consider before pulling the trigger on the withdrawal letter.

Step 1: Has the publisher exceeded their stated (1) response time by a reasonable (2) period? If yes, go to step two. If no, then wait until that time has passed, then go to step two.

Step 2: Is the publisher responding to submissions on Duotrope or the Submission Grinder (3)? If yes, consider waiting until they’ve exceeded their actual (4) response time. If no, then go to step three.

Step 3: Has the publisher indicated on their website or social media they are working through submissions? (5) If yes, and the publisher has given a deadline, consider waiting until that date has passed. If no, go to step four.

Step 4: Does the publisher allow submission status queries? (6) If yes, and all criteria from the previous steps have been met, then send a submission status query and go to step five. If the publisher does not allow them, do not send one, and go to step five.

Step 5: Has the publisher responded to the submission status query (or responded in general if they don’t allow them) and resolved the submission with a rejection, an acceptance, a further consideration letter, or an update of some kind? If yes, congrats; you’re done. If no, and a reasonable amount of time has passed, then go to step six.

Step 6: Assuming the publisher has not responded to you, have they responded to any submissions on Duotrope or The Submission Grinder or left any indication on their website or social media about submissions since the first/last time you checked? If yes, it’s reasonable to wait and not entirely unreasonable to go to step seven at this point. If no, go to step seven.

Step 7: Send a withdrawal letter.

(1) The stated response time is usually in the publisher’s guidelines. For genre, I find it’s somewhere between 30 and 90 days. If the publisher does not list a stated response time, look at Duotrope or The Submission Grinder for an average response time and use that.

(2) What’s a reasonable amount of time in this situation? That’s really a gut check thing. A month past the stated response time for a query letter is reasonable, I think. Waiting a month after the submission status query to send the withdrawal letter is also reasonable. Still, this all comes down to what you are comfortable with, so take my checklist with a grain of salt and do what works for you (while still following publisher guidelines).

(3) If you don’t use Duotrope or the Submission Grinder, I’d recommend you do. If not for tracking submissions, then as a market database, and, of course, an excellent way to gauge publisher response times.

(4) The actual response time can vary dramatically from the publisher’s stated response time. It’s often longer, but there are markets that routinely have actual response times far shorter than their stated response times. Obviously, you won’t have to worry about the latter when it comes to withdrawal letters.

(5) It’s a good habit to check a publisher’s Facebook and Twitter for updates about response times. Many publishers also post a lot of great advice about submissions and writing in general.

(6) Even if a publisher allows submission status queries, they might mention a specific period of time they want authors to wait before sending one. Always check the guidelines before you send that letter.


If you do make it to step seven, what should the withdrawal letter look like? Here’s an example of one I’ve used:

Dear Editors,

I submitted my short story [story title] to [publisher name] on [date submitted]. I sent a submission status query on [date of query]. At this time, I would like to withdraw the story from consideration.

Best,

Just give the publisher the facts: story title, when you sent it, and when you sent the submission status query (if you sent one). I also think it’s a good idea to alert the publisher you’re withdrawing the story in the subject line of the email. Something like: – Submission Withdrawal – [Story Title] – [Author Name]. If the publisher assigns any kind of tracking number to the submission, you should also include that in the subject line or body of the email.

Keep the letter short, to the point, and, above all, professional. You don’t know the situation on the other end of that email, so be polite, move on, and send the story somewhere else.


Thoughts on withdrawing a story? Tell me about it in the comments.

A Week of Writing: 6/4/18 to 6/10/18

Happy Monday. Another week down, another week of positive yardage, more or less.

The Novel

I’m still reading through the first draft of the novel, though I didn’t make much progress last week, mostly because I needed to focus on another project. This week, I’ll continue my read-through and start making some of the first big revisions to the book.

Short Stories

Last week I said I was going to ask my writing group to give a couple of short stories the once over, and I did. I received some really good feedback on two stories I like a lot that just weren’t quite there yet. I know what to do with them now, and hopefully once the revisions are done they’ll find a home.

Another slow week for submissions.

  • Submissions Sent: 2
  • Rejections: 0
  • Acceptances: 0
  • Publications: 0
  • Withdrawal: 1

This is the first week in a long time where I didn’t receive any rejections. I’m okay with that. I did send out two submissions, number 61 and 62 for the year. One is a brand new story on its first submission and the other is an older story I sent to a new market. I also withdrew a story after no response for many months. I’ll send that one out again this week.

Other Projects

One of the reasons I didn’t spend as much time on the novel is I finished up the D&D adventure I was writing for Goodman Games and turned it in. It had been a while since I did any game design, so it was a lot of fun to put that particular hat on again. I’ll reveal a bit more about this project as it gets closer to publication.

The Blog

Okay, last week was a good one for the ol’ blog, and I managed three posts.

6/4/18: A Week of Writing: 5/28/18 to 6/3/18

The usual weekly writing update.

6/6/18: The Final Round Form Rejection

In this post I discussed a type of higher-tier form rejection I called the final round form rejection. It’s a heart-breaker.

6/8/18: One-Hour Flash – Road to Ruin

Another piece of flash fiction jammed out in an hour. This one ties into a novel concept I’ve had kicking around for years.

Goals

Keep reading and revising the novel is goal number one. I’d also like to revise some of the short stories I mentioned above and get them out for submission.

Story Spotlight

This week’s story spotlight is the second piece I published with The ArcanistLike many of my published flash fiction stories, this one began life as part of a one-hour flash writing exercise (you can see one of the less successful results of those exercises in last week’s blog posts).

“Reunion”

 

One Hour Flash – Road to Ruin

Time for another installment of one-hour flash. For those new to these posts, these are 1,000-word stories I jammed out in an hour for a writing exercise. I go on to publish a lot of these, but the the ones that aren’t quite up to snuff for publication make excellent blog fodder.

Today’s story is a little horror tale called “Road to Ruin.”


Road to Ruin

“You ever been down this way?” Howard asked and tapped the battered metal sign with his war hammer. It hung from a sagging chain link fence and read “Road Closed.” Beyond, crumbling asphalt peeked through the overgrown weeds and stretched into the distance.

“Nope,” Raphael said. He was familiar with Paradise, officially known as Plague Sector Eight, but he’d only been hunting it a few years. The abandoned, walled city was five-hundred square miles of decaying houses and buildings, weed-choked roads, and hiding places for shamblers. “But we’re close to our quota, so it might be worth a look.”

They’d bagged two shamblers in a nearby shopping mall, but they needed one more to complete their contract. Then they could book it to the west gate, get out, and get paid. Three shamblers meant nine thousand bucks. That would keep them out of the plague sectors for a good month.

Howard nodded. “Pistols or close combat weapons?” He’d been a licensed headhunter only a three weeks, but the former beat cop had a hunter’s instincts, and his size and strength were definite assets when it came to busting shambler skulls.

“Close combat.” Raphael took his flanged mace from his belt. The medieval weapon presented an odd juxtaposition against his modern body armor and other equipment, but the ancient hand weapons were best suited for the work.

They stepped over the barricade and moved down the road, passing the rusted hulks of cars, and the skeletal remains of small houses, their roofs sunken, empty doors and windows promising darkness and death. They didn’t speak as they walked in the fading sunlight. Howard would occasionally point at one of the ruined houses, and Raphael would shake his head. Bigger was the unspoken reply. Houses were death traps, and most headhunters avoided them. Larger buildings, with room to move and swing a weapon were safer.

They walked another mile and a building appeared at the end of the road, a squat cinder-block rectangle more like a fortress than any civilian structure.

“What is that?” Howard asked, keeping his voice low.

“Looks like a barracks.” Raphael was a former Army Ranger, and he knew a military building when he saw one.

“Paradise have any military presence before the outbreak,” Howard asked.

“Not that I’m aware of.”

“What’s your call?”

Raphael studied the building. If it was a barracks, there would be plenty of room inside and not many places for shamblers to hide. The door to the building was a metal slab; mostly rust beneath peeling green paint. It looked sturdy, and they might have to force it open, which meant noise and potentially waking the dead within.

Raphael looked up at the sky and grimaced. They had maybe an hour of sunlight, enough time to make a quick kill. He didn’t want to spend the night in the plague sector.

“Let’s go,” Raphael said, making his decision. “I’ll take point.”

Howard nodded and they advanced. They reached the door, and it was held shut by a rusting padlock. Raphael considered his options, then turned to Howard. “See if you can break this thing. One blow.”

At 6’10” and 270 pounds, Howard was a mountainous human being and absurdly strong. He hefted his footman’s war hammer, a four-foot length of ash topped with a spiked head, and brought the weapon whistling down on the padlock. It shattered with a hollow clang and fell to the ground in two pieces.

Raphael pushed the door open, revealing darkness and an appalling animal stench. He recoiled and an unearthly howl rose from the inside of the barracks. His blood went cold. The sound had not come from an animal, and it sure as fuck wasn’t a sound any human could make.

“Shamblers don’t make noise,” Howard said, voicing what Raphael was thinking.

“Run,” Raphael managed to say just before the barracks door burst open and a dark shape came hurtling from the blackness.

Raphael threw himself to the ground and whatever it was passed overhead. He heard the meat and metal sound of Howard’s hammer making contact and then screaming.

Raphael rolled over and pulled his Sig P226, forgetting the mace. This was no time for stealth. Something lithe and bestial crouched on top of Howard. It had knocked him to the ground and raked at his belly like an animal. Howard screamed and tried to push the thing away.

Raphael rose to his feet and brought his pistol up. He pulled the trigger twice, and the gun’s discharge was shockingly loud. The bullets tore into the creature’s body but had little effect other than to draw its attention. Its head snapped around, a head that had maybe once been human, and sulfurous yellow eyes locked on Raphael.

He took a bead on the thing’s head, and then another gunshot sounded, this one deeper and more commanding. A geyser of blood jetted from the top of the creature’s head, and it rolled limply off Howard. The former police officer had managed to get to his Ruger Super Redhawk and there wasn’t much living or dead that could survive a .44 slug at point-blank.

Raphael hurried over to Howard who tried to get up. Loops of intestine hung from the man’s savaged belly, and Raphael pushed him back down. “Don’t; stay put.”

“Raph,” Howard said, blood running down his chin. “I’m fucked.”

Another piercing howl rose from the interior of the barracks, and Raphael shook his head and held his pistol up for Howard to see.

Howard nodded. “Do it. I don’t want to come back.”

Raphael took his friend’s hand, put the barrel of his Sig against Howard’s temple, and pulled the trigger. The gun went off, Howard jerked, then lay still.

A shape appeared in the barracks doorway.

Raphael ran.


So I kind of cheated with this one. Not that I took more than an hour to write it or that it didn’t fit the prompt. It’s just this story is based on a larger idea I’ve had for a while. I’d even outlined a novel on the basic concept and written the first couple of chapters before I back-burnered it for another project (the novel I’m working on now). These characters aren’t in the outline and the location is different, but it’s the same basic setting. Anyway, this is a vignette rather than a full story, but it might be worth fleshing out into something more substantial. (I know; I always say that, but I mean it this time!)

Want to read more of my one-hour scribbles? Check out these posts.

The Final Round Form Rejection

It’s been a while since I posted about a new type of rejection letter, mostly because I’ve already written about every type of rejection under the sun. Well, as it turns out, not quite. The rejection letter I want to talk about today is a subspecies of higher-tier form rejection that gives you a little more information about where your story ended up in the publisher’s decision process. Let’s call it the final round form rejection.

Example #1

Very sorry for the delay in getting back to you, but we just made our final decisions today. We are going to have to pass on the story, however. This is the hardest part of the job, having to decline stories that we enjoyed so much, simply because didn’t have the space to include them all. It was a real struggle choosing the final stories. I appreciate your patience, and hope to see submissions from you in the future.

This is one of those rejection you might think is a personal rejection at first blush, but on further review, I think it’s a form rejection. It’s a good form rejection, as all of these final round form rejections are.

Example #2

Thanks so much for letting us consider your story [story title]. While it made it to the final round of consideration, I’m afraid that we chose not to accept it. We had a lot of submissions and there were difficult decisions to be made. Best of luck placing it elsewhere.

This is very clearly a form rejection, but, like the others, the editor lets you know you got real, real close to publication.

Example #3

Thank you again for allowing us to consider your story, but it’s not a match for [anthology].

Your story made it to the final round. It was ranked among the best of the best. We had thousands of submissions from writers all over the world. Even some of our favorites, like your story, didn’t make it through.

Most of the time we don’t move forward with a story because it’s similar to another story in a different word slot. We’re striving for a diversity of sub-genres, writing styles and plot lines, in addition to stories of different lengths.

So that’s the bad news: Your story wasn’t selected for [anthology]. The good news is that there will be many more opportunities to submit to [publisher] in the future. Even though your work was not selected, you are a talented writer. We hope you will consider submitting to our future editions. 

So, I’ll admit, this one fooled me at first, and I thought it was a personal rejection. It isn’t; another writer pointed out that he had received the same rejection. Still, it is a final round form rejection.

Okay, you’ve seen the examples, now let’s talk about what makes these final round form rejections different than your typical higher tier form rejection.

  1. Further Consideration. Final round form rejections are usually preceded by a further consideration letter. Most publishers that use a multi-round decision process are good about letting you know your story has made it past the first round and they’re holding it until they make a decision. With anthologies, its usually a shortlist letter rather than a further consideration letter, but it amounts to the same thing.
  2. Longer wait. Because you’re dealing with a multi-round reading process, and often a ton of other submissions, the wait between the further consideration and the final decision can be longer than usual. In my examples, the first rejection came after 77 days against an average response time of 23 days for the publisher; the second rejection came after 81 days against and average of 10 days; and the final rejection came a 310 days against an average of 269 days.
  3. Closer than usual. With a standard higher-tier form rejection, it’s unclear how close your story made it to publication, and, honestly, with most markets you’d probably get a personal rejection if you got really close. That’s where the final round form rejection is a little different. Despite being a form rejection, you know your story almost made it to publication.
  4. Heart-Breaker. There’s no way around it. The final round form rejection is more disappointing than the typical rejection. It’s hard not to get your hopes up when you receive a further consideration letter and wait a long time for the final decision. Then, to find out you got this close to an acceptance but didn’t make the final cut, well, I won’t lie; that stings a bit. Still, it’s important to remember your story did make it to the final round and beat out hundreds, maybe thousands of other submissions. In other words, you probably have a marketable story on your hands. Case in point, two of the three stories in my examples here went on to acceptances.

Have any thoughts on the final round form rejection? Tell me about them in the comments.

A Week of Writing: 5/28/18 to 6/3/18

New month, new week, more writing and whatnot.

The Novel

I’m about 20,000 words into my first read-through of my horror novel, Late Risers. I let it sit for almost three weeks before I jumped in, and, as expected, my reactions range from “this is pretty good” to “this is objectively terrible.” That’s about par for the course, I think. It should be noted that what I’m doing in this read-through is fixing the problems that are so obvious they can be seen from space. The more nuanced issues, which I’m likely blind to at this point, will be left to skilled and gracious critique partners.

The question I ask myself a lot lately is did I write a good book? Here’s my honest answer. I think I wrote something that could become a good book after a liberal dose of literary elbow grease. I’m satisfied with that and more than willing to put in the work.

Short Stories

I finished a new flash piece this week, another one born of the one-hour flash challenge. It’s a horror/comedy mashup, and I really dig it. It’ll be going out for submission this week. I also had two short stories come back to me after a number of rejections. I really like both stories, and they received good feedback, but they’re not landing, so my writing group is giving them the once over before I send them out again.

A very, very slow week for submissions.

  • Submissions Sent: 0
  • Rejections: 2
  • Acceptances: 0
  • Publications: 0

Yep, my first goose egg in the submissions sent column in a long time. That’s due to a combination of factors that include not having any new stories to send out and a greater focus on other projects (the novel, for example). That’ll change this week, as I have one new story and a couple of reinvigorated pieces ready for submission.

The Blog

Two blog posts last week. This week, I’m again aiming for three and some actual content beyond “Hey, look at all my submissions.”

5/30/18: A Week of Writing: 5/21/18 to 5/27/18

The usual weekly writing update.

6/1/18: Submission Statement: May 2018

My submission scorecard for the month of May.

Goals

The big goal is to continue my first read-through/revision on the novel. I’d like to get another 20,000 words or so.

Story Spotlight

This week it’s not a story, but an interview. Howard Andrew Jones, editor-in-chief of Tales from the Magician’s Skull and a very accomplished editor and writer to boot, interviewed me for his website in a series called Writer Chat. Check it out below.

Writer Chat: Aeryn Rudel


And that, friends, was my week. How was yours?

Submission Statement: May 2018

Well, May was certainly an active month, though not as successful as March and April. Here’s how I did.

May 2018 Report Card

  • Submissions Sent: 14
  • Rejections: 12
  • Acceptances: 1
  • Publications: 0
  • Other: 1

Fourteen submissions in May. That’s solid, and I’ve got sixty for the year. The acceptance gives me six total for 2018, which puts me at an even ten percent acceptance rate. Not bad, but I’d like to get somewhere in the neighborhood of fifteen percent by the end of the year. I’ve got a few stories shortlisted I’m waiting to hear about, but those could go either way.

Rejections

I won’t lie; twelve rejections is kind of a lot, but it’s to be expected with the increased submission volume. Here’s how those rejections broke down.

  • Standard Form Rejections: 6
  • Upper-Tier Form Rejections: 5
  • Personal Rejections: 1

Again, a fair amount of “good” rejections, but some of these stories just aren’t landing despite some encouraging notes. I’m gonna take a good hard look at them and see if I can’t put my finger on what might be missing. There’s really nothing new and exciting in these rejections, so instead of showing you yet another form rejection, I think an examination of how long these markets are taking to respond would be more useful.

Rejection Date Sent Date Received Days Out
Rejection 1 28-Feb-18 1-May-18 62
Rejection 2 26-Mar-18 1-May-18 36
Rejection 3 3-May-18 5-May-18 2
Rejection 4 1-May-18 9-May-18 8
Rejection 5 29-Mar-18 11-May-18 43
Rejection 6 6-May-18 13-May-18 7
Rejection 7 5-May-18 20-May-18 15
Rejection 8 11-May-18 21-May-18 10
Rejection 9 14-May-18 21-May-18 7
Rejection 10 30-Apr-18 22-May-18 22
Rejection 11 22-May-18 23-May-18 1
Rejection 12 23-May-18 24-May-18 1

Not too bad. The longest wait was 60 days, and that’s well within acceptable parameters. As you can see, there’s a fair number of single digit responses here, and that’s not uncommon for a lot of pro markets.

Other

The “other” this month was a withdrawal letter. I sent this withdrawal for what is, by far, the most common reason I’ve sent them in the last few years. The market went under and is now defunct. I sent this letter more as a professional courtesy than anything else.

Dear Editors,

I would like to withdraw my stories [story title] and [story title] from consideration at [publisher]. 

Thank you for your time.

Best,

Aeryn Rudel

Did I have to send this letter? Maybe not. The market basically disappeared, and this email bounced back with an “address not found” note. That said, I don’t know what happened on the other end of those submissions, and closing down a publication is obviously not something anyone wants to do. So it’s important to me to stay professional, wish the publisher well, and move on.

Acceptances

One acceptance this month, which broke a minor rejection streak I had going.

Acceptance: Sent 5/22/2018; Accepted 5/25/2018

Thank you for taking the time to submit your story [story title]. I’d be delighted to publish it on [publisher].

I’ve scheduled it for publication on 29 June, if this date changes I will let you know.

Thanks again for submitting your work.

This is my second publication with this particular market. The interesting thing here is that this is a form letter. Yep, form letters aren’t just for rejections. That said, you’ll often get a personal note after the initial form acceptance with requests for things like bios and author photos and/or info about the contract.


And that was my May. Tell me about yours.