One-Hour Flash – The God in the Lake

Time to share another bit of flash fiction that didn’t quite make the grade. I haven’t done one of these in a while, so just as a reminder, this is a story that I wrote in one hour as part of a flash fiction writing exercise. I’ve done a lot of those over the years, and many of the stories have gone on to publication. Many others have, uh, not. This is one of those. This is basically the story I wrote in an hour back in April of 2014, and though I’ve tinkered a bit here and there, it’s still pretty first draft-y.

Anyway, here’s “The God in the Lake.”


The God in the Lake

“There lies the death of gods.” Alexios drew his sword and pointed the short length of honed bronze at the lake. His blue eyes gleamed cold.

“Don’t do this, Alexios,” Hesiod said. “It won’t bring her back.” He had counselled his friend for days since they discovered the lake and that what lay within it was more than the fevered obsession of a broken man.

Alexios lowered his sword but did not return it to its scabbard. Hesiod saw the old hurt crash into him, the grief that had torn his world apart. But grief had not killed Alexios. It had done worse; it had eaten his soul and breathed hatred into the space left behind.

“I know,” Alexios said. “I’ve accepted that.”

“Then why are we here?” Hesiod gestured at the crystalline surface of the water, looming, white-capped Olympus behind it. The lake had taken ten years to find, and Hesiod had thought it no more than a myth, a place that could not exist. He’d kept the dream of the lake alive in Alexios because it was better than watching him drink himself to death or spend his life and blood on another senseless war. Now they stood before it, the doom it held a terrifying reality.

Alexios’ eyes burned with something equal parts joy and rage. “I want them to feel what I feel. I want the mighty gods of Olympus to suffer as I have suffered, and that!”—he turned and stabbed his blade at the lake — “is the only thing that can hurt them.”

He took the horn from his belt. Finding it had been as difficult as finding the lake. It was carved from something black that was not antler, wood, or stone. The symbols etched onto its surface were a tangle of angles and spikes. They were not writing–something far older than that.

“You followed me for so long, my friend,” Alexios said, his mouth trembling. There were tears in his eyes. “Will you not stand beside me while I blow this horn? Will you not join me in bringing justice to Althea?”

Althea had been Alexios’ wife, but Hesiod had loved her as well. Watching her die, wasting away, the physicians helpless to ease her pain, had been as torturous for him as it had to Alexios. He, too, had prayed to Hera, to Zeus, to any god that would listen, begging them to heal Althea or let her die swiftly. They had done neither. “There is no justice in this,” he said.

“Vengeance then,” Alexios replied.

“You may gain vengeance, but all the world will suffer for it.”

She was the world to me.” His eyes flashed, and his face twisted into something nearly as monstrous as the creature he sought to wake. “I will take the world from them.”

Alexios’ wasn’t paying close attention to him now. Hesiod could take two steps, draw his own sword, and drive the blade into his friend’s back. He could save the world from this madness. But for what? Althea would still be gone. For ten years he had been a surrogate to Alexios’ pain, nurturing it while his friend focused on reaching the lake. That pain had grown to maturity now, and it replaced everything Hesiod had been or could be. If he killed Alexios, he would be alone. He would be nothing.

Hesiod sank to the sand before his friend. “Then do it. Wake Cottus. Maybe the death of the world will suck the venom from your soul.” And the emptiness from mine.

Alexios raised the horn to his lips, drew in a deep breath, and blew. A sound like the dying screams of a thousand men rushed out in a low, blatting roar. It shook Hesiod’s teeth and raised the hairs on his arms and the back of his neck. He heard the knell of doom.

The lake’s surface boiled and writhed, and a great black shadow appeared beneath the churning foam. Alexios stumbled backward, his sword falling to the sand, and sat next to Hesiod.

“We will watch their doom,” Alexios said, his lips drawn in a mad smile. “We will die knowing she is avenged.”

The hecatoncheir broke the surface of the lake, a roiling mass of hands and heads. It blotted out the sun, the sky, and the towering mountain behind it, a monster not even the titans of old could overthrow. It would destroy the gods, but the destruction would not end there.

Hesiod heard Alexios speaking beside him. He thought his friend was praying, but Alexios simply spoke to the gods. He told them he had unleashed their doom.

The shadow of Cottus engulfed them, and Hesiod closed his eyes and covered his ears. He saw Althea’s face, her long black hair, and her soft brown eyes. He had loved her, even though she had chosen Alexios. He held on to that love and hoped it would follow him into Hades.


I rarely have a clear concept in mind when I write these one-hour flash stories. Generally, I see the prompt, and I go with the first thing that pops into my head. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. With this one, I had a very clear idea. I wanted to write a story that mixed Greek mythology with Lovecraftian cosmic horror. The hecatoncheires are certainly fitting for that kind of treatment (even if I did take some liberties with their myth), but the story just never came together. The backstory of Hesiod and Alexios needs more fleshing out as does their quest to find Cottus, and that’s a tale that needs more than a 1,000 words to tell. Still, I dig the concept, and like most of these failed experiments, there might be something worth returning to at some point.

Check out the previous installments in the One-Hour Flash series.

A Week of Writing: 10/15/18 to 10/21/18

Happy Monday, all. Here’s anther week of writing that was.

Words to Write By

This week’s quote comes from fantasy author Scott Lynch.

“I think it’s fairly common for writers to be afflicted with two simultaneous yet contradictory delusions; the burning certainty that we’re unique geniuses and the constant fear that we are witless frauds speeding towards epic failure.”

—Scott Lynch

It’s rare a quote sums up my state of mind the way this one does, especially lately. As I power through revisions on the novel, I go back and forth between thinking “I’ve really got something here” and “I’ve really written a terrible, unpublishable mess.” Like Scott Lynch says, both of these statements are delusional, which leads me to believe the truth is somewhere in the middle. That truth might look something like this” “I might have something here if I can rescue this novel from its current state as an unpublishable mess.” I think that’s pretty close to where I’m at and what I’m working toward. We’ll see in a couple of weeks. 🙂

The Novel

I’m exactly one-third of the way through the current revisions of Late Risers. Here are the big issues I addressed last week.

  1. Added new chapters to the beginning of the book that clarify the stakes in the first act and add some depth to certain character relationships.
  2. I had a few characters that were pretty samey and doing basically the same jobs, so on the advice of my critique partners I’ve ditched one and combined two others into a single character. This helps the pacing in the first act, as I lose some unneeded scenes around the excised characters.
  3. Fixed a slew of small continuity issues caught by my critique partners. These were easy to fix, but they’re the kind of thing that can pull a reader right out of the story.

This week I’ll continue through the manuscript working off the notes provided by my critique partners. The big goal is to cut or streamline more scenes from the first act that are slowing the pacing. These scenes are largely redundant and exist because I didn’t trust the reader to “get it.” I’ll also continue to fix the small continuity and voice issues throughout the manuscript. I still think I can make my deadline of the end of the month, but if I don’t, that’s okay too. I want to do this right, not just do it quickly.

Short Stories

I finished one new short story, a flash piece I’ll likely start sending out this week. I also have a couple of longer stories I started last week that I might work on when I need a break from novel revisions. As for submissions, here’s how I did.

  • Submissions Sent: 3
  • Rejections: 3
  • Acceptances: 0
  • Publications: 1
  • Shortlist: 0

The three submission last week put me at 105 for the year. Two of the rejections were fairly run-of-the-mill, but the third was from Cemetery Dance, and they had held it long enough I allowed myself to hope, just a little. Oh, well, that’s how it goes, and I’ll definitely send them something else when they open for submissions again. As for the publication, more about that in a bit.

The Blog

Two blog posts last week.

10/15/18: A Week of Writing: 10/8/18 to 10/14/18

The usual weekly writing report.

10/19/18: Replying to a Rejection: Dos and (mostly) Don’ts

Returning to a popular subject among writers, I break down the reasons you might (but mostly shouldn’t) reply to a rejection letter.

Goals

Oh, you know, the usual broken record. Keep revising the novel, keep submitting and  working on short stories.

Story Spotlight

This week’s story spotlight is my story “When the Lights Go On” which recently took second place in The Arcanist’s ghost story contest. I don’t say this often, but I’m a little proud of this one. It’s one of the rare times when the idea and the story came together easily and completely. Anyway, you can check it out by clicking the title or the photo below.

“When the Lights Go On”


That was my week. How was yours?

Iron Kingdoms Fiction – Old Friends, New Blood

Hey, Iron Kingdoms readers, got something special for you today. In the past, I’ve put up stories that were published in the pages of No Quarter magazine or part of organized play for Privateer Press, but not today. Today, I present a completely new and unpublished Iron Kingdoms short-short story that has never been read by anyone outside of the Privateer Press editorial staff. That same editorial staff has given me the go-ahead to share it with you. (Thanks, Mike. Thanks, Doug.)

So let’s head to war-torn Llael for “Old Friends, New Blood.”


Old Friends, New Blood

By Aeryn Rudel

 

“Your weapons,” the guard said and pointed to a low table beside the door. He was little more than a boy, and the casual, almost bored tone of his request rankled Fyodor Goska.

“Do you think I mean to put a knife in Kovnik Ivachev?” Fyodor stepped close. “Do you think you could stop me?”

The guard stiffened, and his hand fell to the haft of his axe. For a brief moment, Fyodor toyed with letting him pull it off his belt. Then he placed one broad hand on the boy’s shoulder, laughed and unbuckled the broad belt that held his knives. “You are too serious, soldier.”

The guard relaxed. “Thank you, sir.” Fyodor heard respect now, and, he noted, the appropriate amount of fear.

He put his weapons on the table, and the guard opened the door to the kovnik’s office. Fyodor found Ivachev behind his desk, head down over some document. The room was sparsely appointed, but the few pieces of furniture looked expensive. Gregor Ivachev was the same age as Fyodor and nearly as big. He loomed behind his desk, a gray-haired warlord out of place in these clerical surroundings. “Fyodor,” he said and stood. “Good to see you, old friend.”

Fyodor nodded. “It has been a long time since we met face to face.”

“Too true, but there are certain protocols that must be followed.” Ivachev gestured to one of the chairs in front of his desk.

Fyodor moved closer but did not sit; instead, he gripped the back of the offered chair and leaned forward. The pose made the big muscles in his arms and shoulder bulge. “Protocols you have now violated.”

Ivachev frowned. “I am aware. I did so because you are my friend.”

“Is that what I am?” Fyodor said. “Maybe, once, on the streets of Korsk, when we were young.”

“I do not regret leaving the bratya,” Ivachev said. “Just as you do not regret staying. We chose different paths, but here we are, together.”

“Very well,” Fyodor said. “Speak on, friend.”

“You have done good work for us in Llael,” Ivachev began. “I am pleased with your many successes—“

“Before your office reeks of horse shit, get to the point,” Fyodor said.

The kovnik smiled. “I have spent too long among dignitaries and aristocrats.” He cleared his throat. “The incident at the docks has given some in the High Kommand reason to doubt the effectiveness of your men.”.

Fyodor laughed, short and sharp. “You mean the incident where the Khadoran military failed to inform me the insurgents were led by a warcaster? The incident where I lost eight men and my son lost a leg?”

Ivachev drew in a deep breath. “I know what happened could not be avoided, Fyodor. But some in Merywyn do not approve of the use of the bratyas to enforce our rule. They seek any excuse.”

“And I am that excuse, eh?” Fyodor said and spat. “My men and I have served you well, Gregor. You know this.”

“I do, and you must not forget we have both profited by our agreement.” Ivachev pointed one thick finger at Fyodor.

“Then how do we maintain our agreement in light of my failure?”

“That is why I called you here,” Ivachev said. “I have convinced those with doubts in the High Kommand to give you another chance, let you prove your worth. I wanted to tell you personally.”

“I have been underboss for twenty years,” Fyodor said, shaking his head. “I took that position and maintained it by proving myself, again and again, to my men, to rival bratyas, and to you, Gregor. What more must I prove?”

“To me? Nothing,” Ivachev said. “To those who doubt, you must kill someone.”

Fyodor shrugged. “The blades of my bratya are red and wet.”

“What of your own blades?”

For a moment, Fyodor could not speak. The question struck him like a hammer blow. His vision swam with images of closing his fingers around Ivachev’s throat and squeezing the life from him. “You dare . . .” was all he could manage, but his glare would have loosened the bowels of most men.

Ivachev was not most men, and he held Fyodor’s murderous gaze, unflinching, and slid a folder across his desk. “Kill this man. By your own hand. No one will doubt you again.”

Fyodor sucked in a great gulp of air and took a tight rein on his anger—it would not serve him here. He picked up the folder but did not look at its contents. “It will be done,” he said, his voice flat and measured.

Ivachev nodded. “I am sorry it has come to this. I wish it were otherwise.”

“I am sorry too, old friend.”

***

It had been some time since he stalked a target on his own. It felt good to worry about nothing but himself and his quarry.

The man he would kill this night thought himself invulnerable in his grand house along the river, his station shielding him from harm like a suit of Man-O-War armor. Fyodor would prove him wrong.

Only one guard patrolled the grounds, making a slow circuit around the outer wall. Fyodor watched him from the shadows, waiting for the right moment. It came soon enough. The guard stopped, set his rifle against the wall, and unbuckled his pants. The splash of urine against the stone covered Fyodor’s approach. He clamped one hand around the man’s mouth, wrenched his head back, and slashed his throat. The blood emptied in steaming gouts, and Fyodor pushed the body into the shadows at the base of the wall. Then he leaped, grasped the top of the ten-foot barrier with one hand, and pulled himself up and over. He dropped to the cobblestones on the other side in a tight, controlled roll, then crossed the courtyard to the house.

Fyodor made his way to the rear of the building and found a servant’s entrance. Unguarded. Beyond lay a short hallway, leading to an antechamber and a broad stairway.

He climbed the stairs, both long knives in hand. At the top stretched another hallway, this one with many doors to the left and right. He ignored them. The door at the end of the hall was his destination. Warm yellow light spilled from beneath it, and he heard voices beyond.

He flipped one of his blades over into a throwing grip and kicked open the door. His hand flashed down, the knife spinning from it on a lethal arc. The weapon struck one target with a dull thud as he stepped into the room and he surged  toward the other.

Ivachev stared in horror, his mouth a round O of surprise. The boy who had stood guard outside his office the other morning lay on the floor before the kovnik, Fyodor’s knife buried to the hilt in his chest. The boy’s eyes were wide, terrified, and he tried in vain to pull the knife from his heart.

Ivachev had a pistol at his belt, but he’d been too long away from the streets of Korsk, and the lessons it taught, one of which was a knife is always quicker than a gun in close quarters. The gun came up, too slow, and Fyodor smashed it aside. He lashed out with a heavy boot, and kicked Ivachev’s feet out from under him. The kovnik crashed to the floor, and Fyodor followed him down, planting a knee in Ivachev’s chest, pinning him. He put a knife at the kovnik’s throat.

The boy had stopped moving and lay still in a wide pool of scarlet.

“Why?” Ivachev said.

“More than a leg,” Fyodor whispered. “But we pay our blood debts in full and then some, do we not? It was your information that cost me so dear.” He leaned down, pushing his face inches from Ivachev’s. “Your information that caused some to lose faith in you.”

Ivachev opened his mouth to say something, but Fyodor had finished talking. He opened his old friend’s throat with a quick sawing cut, then held him down while he bled out.

When it was over, Fyodor retrieved his blade from the body of young Marcus Ivachev, then returned to the corpse of his father and wiped his blades clean on Ivachev’s uniform. “You were right about one thing, Kovnik. I did have to kill a man.”

A Week of Writing: 9/10/18 to 9/16/18

A day late and a dollar short, as they say, but here’s my writing week that was.

Words to Write By

This week’s quote is from Jack London.

“You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”

– Jack London

I really dig this quote. What it says to me is I can’t sit idle until I feel like writing. I have to get on with it. I have to hit my word count or work on those revisions, even when writing is the last thing I want to do. This is especially true when I have a deadline, and editors are waiting on an outline, or a draft, or revisions. This is not to say I always hit my word count or that I write every single day of my life, but I do it enough to finish the draft in a reasonable amount of time, hit the deadline, and keep the ol’ assembly line moving.

Note, this “write no matter what” attitude doesn’t work for everyone, and I’m not selling it as the one true way, but it does works for me.

The Novel

I’ve started the second round of revisions on Late Risers. Last week that consisted of reading through all the notes from my critique partners, creating a plan of attack, and addressing some minor issues throughout the novel as a way to reacquaint myself with the story. This week I’ll write some new chapters in the beginning of the book that better establish the rules of my world and a few important character relationships. I’ll also trim roughly the same amount of words from the exiting first act, which dragged on a bit.

Short Stories

Since my focus was primarily on the novel (and some out-of-town guests), I didn’t do much of anything with short stories. In fact, I didn’t do squat.

  • Submissions Sent: 0
  • Rejections: 0
  • Acceptances: 1
  • Publications: 1
  • Shortlist: 0

I did get an acceptance last week (my 15th of the year) and one of my earlier acceptances was published. So, you know, not a terrible week on the ol’ submission front.

The Blog

I also lagged behind on blogging, and I only managed a single blog post.

9/10/18: A Week of Writing: 9/3/18 to 9/9/18

The usual weekly writing update.

Goals

Same as last week, the major goal is work on the revisions for Late Risers. Secondary to that goal is submit more short stories and get back on track with the blog.

Story Spotlight

This week’s story spotlight is “What Kind of Hero?” published last week by EllipsisZine. You can check it out by clicking the link or picture below.

“What Kind of Hero?”


That was my week. How was yours?

A Week of Writing: 7/30/18 to 8/5/18

Hey, all, it’s Monday, or, uh, Tuesday. Anyway, here’s the week that was.

Words to Write By

Another quote from Mr. King. This one comes from his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.

“I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs.”

—Stephen King

There are lots of opinions on adverbs in writerly circles, but let’s see what else Stephen King says on this subject in his book.

“With adverbs, the writer usually tells us he or she is afraid he/she isn’t expressing himself/herself clearly, that he or she is not getting the point or the picture across.”

This is what I focus on when I look for adverbs in my own work. It’s less the adverb itself and more the adverb leading to weak, unsure sentences. Whenever I find one, I ask myself two questions. 1) Am I using the adverb only because I’m afraid the reader won’t understand what I’m trying to say without it? 2) Is there a more precise verb I could use instead of verb + adverb? The answers to those questions may (and often does) lead to adverb removal and/or a revised sentence.

The prime adverb offenders in my work fall into three main categories:

  1. Useless -ly adverbs like certainly, truly, obviously, simply, and likely (plus a few others). These words rarely add value or nuance to the sentence.
  2. Positional words like back, behind, down, and over. Like the aforementioned -ly adverbs, I often don’t need these either.
  3. Hedging, imprecise words like almost, nearly, around, and often. I do keep some of these because they’re often useful (especially in dialog), but I overuse them.

The Novel

Well, the first read through and revisions are done, and I sent the manuscript off to one of my critique partners. It’s as good as I can get it right now because I’ve gone story blind. I’ve reached that point where I can’t decide what’s good and what’s not, and that’s when it’s time to get eyeballs other than your own on the work. I’m gonna take a break from Late Risers for a bit and focus on short stories and the next novel

Short Stories

I finished one short story last week, which I’ll sub to the The Molotov Cocktail’s FlashBeast contest.

A big fat goose egg for submissions last week.

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

With the push to get the novel finished and ready for my critique partners, I didn’t send any submissions. I did, however, get two shortlist letters from markets I’ve been trying to crack for a long time. I hope to hear good news on one of those soon.

Despite a slow month for submissions, I’m still at 77 for the year. Which means I need another 23 submissions over the next five months to hit my goal of 100. That should be a cinch.

The Blog

Two blog posts last week.

7/30/18: A Week of Writing: 7/23/18 to 7/29/18

The usual weekly writing update.

8/3/18: “Do Me A Favor” & Other Free Flash Fiction

Last week, I published another story with The Arcanist. This blog post features all the stories I’ve published with that market to date.

Goals

With the novel out to my critique partners, I want to turn my attention to short stories and get more submissions out. I’ve got stories that need quick revisions and then can go out again, so I’ll likely focus on those first. I’d also like to evaluate where I’m at with the next novel I want to write. I started it last year, got about 30,000 words into it, and then set it aside for Late Risers. Time to go back and assess what I’ve got with fresh eyes.

Story Spotlight

As I mentioned above, I published another story with The Arcanist last week. It’s called “Do Me a Favor” and you can check it out by clicking the link or the picture below.

“Do Me a Favor”


That was my week. How was yours?

“Do Me A Favor” & Other Free Flash Fiction

It’s great when you find a publisher who’s willing to publish your work. It’s even better when you find a publisher who’s willing to publish your work more than once. Today marks my fourth story with The Arcanist, an excellent publisher of speculative flash fiction. The story is called “Do Me A Favor,” and it’s a quirky little horror/black humor mashup. You can check out the story below, along with three other stories I’ve published with The Arcanist. 

So, uh, do me a favor and read these stories. 😉

“Do Me a Favor” – Published 8/3/18

“The Food Bank” – Published 4/6/18

“Reunion” – Published 12/1/17 

“Cowtown” – Published 8/4/17


I hope you enjoyed “Do Me a Favor” and maybe a few other stories I published with The Arcanist. If you’re a writer of speculative flash fiction, give The Arcanist a look. They pay pro rates, and they’re just generally great to work with. Submission guidelines right here.

Go for the Goal: 100 Submissions

This year I set a goal to send 100 short story submissions. It’s similar to the 100 rejections goal, but the focus is a bit different. Let me explain why I’m doing it and subjecting myself to all those rejections. 🙂

Why 100 submissions? Here are my top three reasons.

  1. Number goals motivate me. This is more about me personally than any sage advice on submissions. I’m kind of a stats nerd, and these kinds of goals, as arbitrary as they are, keep me focused and push me to keep writing, submitting, and so on. Your goal needn’t be 100 submissions if you’re not a numbers person. It could be broader. Some like submit to more pro markets, for example.
  2. It keeps me writing new stuff. In order to send out 100 submissions, you need a fair amount of material to send. So I’ve been writing a lot more short stories this year. Sure, a lot of it is flash, but I’ve been pretty consistent with a new story every week or so.
  3. It’s pushed me to diversify. I’m primarily a horror writer, but the simple fact is I run out of horror markets pretty quick. There are a lot more fantasy and sci-fi markets, generally, so I’ve been writing more in those genres, with some success. Hell, I even wrote and sold a mystery story this year. Of course, a lot of my sci-fi ends up being horror/sci-fi and my fantasy is generally dark fantasy, but, hey, it still counts.

So, how am I doing with this goal? Let’s look at some numbers.

  • Submissions: 73
  • Pending Submissions: 8
  • Unique Stories: 26
  • Acceptances: 9
  • Rejections: 55
  • Withdrawals: 2

I’m satisfied with those numbers, and I’m well on my way to hitting my goal (and then some). I’m also happy with my acceptance rate so far (about 14% based on completed submissions), though I’d always like it to be higher. As usual, there have been a fair number of short-listed stories that ended up getting rejected, and I feel confident those stories will find a home and increase my acceptance rate down the line. Out of my 100-plus submissions, I’d really like to hit 15 acceptances, and I feel like that’s doable (he says, jinxing himself).


Got any submission goals of your own? Tell me about them in the comments.