One-Hour Flash – The Mansquito Returns

Yeah, I know, a bunch of you are like, “Did he just misspell mosquito in the title of his blog post?” Nope. I typed MANsquito to introduce you to another piece of forgotten flash fiction. As with all the stories in this series, this is another bit of flash written in an hour for a writing exercise/contest. The prompt for this one, if I remember correctly, was literally a dude in a mosquito costume. The first thing that popped into my head when I saw the prompt was an original SyFy movie called MansquitoOf course, working that movie into a flash piece was a bit of a challenge, but I managed to shoehorn it in there, and “The Mansquito Returns” is the result.

Oh, and full disclosure–I’ve never actually seen Mansquito. 🙂 


The Mansquito Returns

“You ever seen that SyFy channel movie Mansquito?” Richard said and placed the tip of the crowbar under one of the boards across the warehouse window. He yanked back, and the board came loose with the screech of rusting nails.

John stood back while Richard went to work on the next board. “Yeah. I saw it. It was really stupid. Dude turns into a mosquito monster.”

“Stupid or not, it was based on a real story,” Richard said and popped a second board free. “And this warehouse is where a lot of that shit went down.”

John wrinkled his nose. He wanted to call bullshit on something so ludicrous, and Richard was just probably messing with him, but the older boy liked to make up wild and intricate stories to go along with their petty vandalism. John went along with it because it was fun and a little bit dangerous. He’d go along with it tonight too. “Come on, Richard,” he said. “Nothing like that could exist.”

Richard had worked the last board free, revealing a greasy grey window pane. The window was at the rear of the old Linotech warehouse, which had been abandoned and empty for as long as John could remember.

“What the fuck do you think Linotech was working on, man?” Richard said, whirling around, hands on his hips. “Those motherfuckers were into all kinds of crazy shit with their chemicals. Everybody knows they were experimenting on people. That’s why they got shut down.”

John nodded, embarrassed he had questioned Richard. That wasn’t part of the game. “Okay, man,” he said. “Sorry. It’s just a little crazy. I mean wouldn’t that kind of thing be on the news?”

“Oh, it was,” Richard said and grinned. “Remember all those kids that went missing like five years ago?”

Jon remembered. Six children had vanished over the space of a couple of days. He remembered because his mom wouldn’t let him go out and play for weeks.

“The Mansquito got ‘em,” Richard said. “I’ll bet their bodies are in this warehouse, and I want to see them.”

“Fine,” John said. “Can you get the window open without breaking it?” It was dark and this area of town was deserted, but the sound of breaking glass had a way of attracting attention.

“Yeah. It lifts up.” Richard wedged the crowbar under the window and put his whole body weight onto it. The window jerked up with a low shriek of splintering wood, creating a six inch gap between the bottom of the pane and the sill. “Help me with this.”

John moved up to help his friend and together they were able to push the window up another six inches or so before it jammed in the frame. It was enough space for two skinny teenagers to crawl through. Richard went first, shimmying through the gap into the stale darkness beyond the window. John went next, and the first thing he noticed on the other side was a faint acrid smell—a chemical stink.

They were on the main warehouse floor, concrete covered in years of dust and rat turds. Small windows along the wall near the ceiling let in a bit of moonlight so the place wasn’t pitch black. John could make out small mounds of stacked boxes, more than he would have expected in an abandoned warehouse.

Richard flicked on the small keychain flashlight he always carried. Its tiny beam of light illuminated the nearest mound of boxes, each with “Linotech” stenciled across it in red.

“Let’s go,” Richard said and began moving forward, the flashlight in his left hand the crowbar in his right. “I’ll bet the bodies are near the middle.”

“Did you bring any bud?” John whispered. Finding secluded places to smoke weed was the primary reason for their little B&E excursions. He didn’t know where Richard got the stuff, but Richard was sixteen, and he had access to resources John could only dream of in his thirteen-year-old world.

“Yeah,” Richard whispered back. “We’ll smoke after we look at the bodies.”

“Cool,” John said and followed behind Richard. They made their way toward the middle of the warehouse where the mounds of boxes had been stacked to create a little shelter. John was surprised to see these boxes were free of dust, and the first thing he thought when he saw them was, Cool. Somebody made a fort.

“In here,” Richard said and hurried into the makeshift fort. He moved to the back wall of boxes and stopped. Something lay on the floor.

John moved up and his breath caught in his throat. Richard was standing over three bodies. It was hard to tell much about them in the dark, and for some reason Richard was shining the light at him instead of on the ground. He thought he saw an older man, a youngish woman, and dark-haired boy about his own age. There was something black all over their faces; he guessed it must be blood. “Jesus, Richard,” he whispered. “We gotta tell somebody.”

The flashlight beam darted up and into John’s face, and he heard Richard moving toward him. The light was blinding him, and he raised his right arm to shield his eyes. He heard another sound, a low hum, and then his head exploded with pain and light. He fell, the strength gone from his limbs, and landed on his back. Something warm and wet ran down his face and he couldn’t move.

Richard loomed over him. The older boy was wearing some kind of mask; it looked like a gas-mask but the breathing hose was long and white. He had the crowbar in both hands, and he raised it above his head. “You can’t tell anyone,” Richard said. His voice was muffled and tinny through the mask. “The Mansquito doesn’t leave anyone alive.” The crowbar came down and John heard the crunch of his skull breaking before the darkness swallowed him.


I like the characters in this one, and I had a lot of fun with the voice. I think it’s a bit better than some of the other flash pieces I’ve written for these contests, but it’s still got a ways to go before I could do anything with it. Basically, it just not working as flash, and it kind of feels like the middle of a longer story to me. Maybe with more of an intro and a better resolution it could be a descent short story.

If you’d like to check out the previous installments in the One-Hour Flash series, click the links below.

  1. The Writing on the Wall
  2. Killing the Dead
  3. Madcap
  4. Keepsake

Ranks of the Rejected – Josh Hrala (The Arcanist)

Time for another installment of Ranks of the Rejected. This time I interviewed Josh Hrala, the editor at The Arcanist, a new flash fiction market that focuses on fantasy and science fiction. I’m always excited when a new flash fiction market appears on the scene, especially a paying one, and Josh and The Arcanist are off to a great start. Josh has an extensive background as a professional writer, so he’s no stranger to rejection, and now that he’s working the other side of the literary fence, he has some great advice for writers looking to publish their fiction with The Arcanist or anywhere for that matter. Check it out.


1) Give us the short and sweet on The Arcanist. The description on the label if you will.

The Arcanist is a flash fiction publication that focuses on SFF stories that are 1,000 words or shorter. Our goal is to provide a place where people can get new SFF stories every week and devour them wherever they are. Alongside these stories we pepper in non-fiction pieces about SFF authors, news, and other things related to the genres.

2) You have an impressive writing background, so what made you decide to jump the fence and try your hand at the editorial side of things?

It’s really hard to nail down an exact moment. I’d say that I’ve always wanted to be an editor, and I’ve always loved the tasks I had to do in editorial at my various staff writer positions. Even while writing 2-3 articles per day, I enjoyed working on stories written by others, developing them into working pieces, and making them the best they could be. I even enjoyed the scheduling and formatting of the pieces. There’s just something to it, you get to put everything in place and give it a final polish.

As these thoughts started to sharpen in my mind, Andie, Patrick, and I started to write together and talk about stories. All three of us love SFF in all of its forms and originally started writing short films and mini-bibles for TV shows when we could. It turned out that almost everything we made worked better as fiction than it did for film, and we’re still developing stories right now. Eventually, The Arcanist was born out of the idea that we loved doing this, and we could use our collective fiction knowledge and my editorial background to make something new.

What really excites me about being on this side of the fence is giving SFF writers a new place to publish their work, a place where they get paid, a place that looks modern, isn’t behind a paywall, and presents their work in ways that other sites don’t. What we’re trying to do with The Arcanist is bring new readers and writers into the SFF fold by publishing solid stories in a new, easy-to-access way.

We are giant craft nerds, too. We all met at Point Park University where we were a part of the creative writing program. This formal writing education made us love well-crafted literary stories. So we want to use that know-how to elevate both SFF and flash fiction because both genres take a lot of heat. SFF often gets critiqued because it involves more world-building than plot, character development, and structure while flash fiction can be viewed as too short of a medium to be taken seriously. While those can obviously be true depending on the work itself, we want to show what can happen when craft is valued more than settings and ideas while also showing that great fiction – regardless of genre – can be accomplished in very few words.

3) Why flash fiction? How did you and The Arcanist land on that story length over more traditional short stories?

When we were coming up with what we wanted The Arcanist to be, we had a few goals in mind. The first was to find a way to spread our love for well-crafted SFF content to people who may not read it otherwise. While many hardcore SFF fans love a long, epic narrative, I know a lot of people in my life who would never sit down with something that big. However, they are the same people who don’t blink an eye when it comes to reading a bunch of long articles on Facebook. This gave way to the idea that flash fiction is a great ice breaker and – if presented in on the right platform – could inspire new readers and writers to give the genres a shot.

Of course, traditional short fiction was an option – one we might revisit later alongside flash – but we wanted something smaller, something that can be read on the bus ride home. A bite-sized bit of magic that people can read anywhere.

Secondly, as I mentioned above, we love craft and believe that short form content is a great way for writers to hone – or show off – those skills. When a SFF writer is forced to stay under a certain word count, especially when it’s as tiny as 1,000 words, things get interesting fast. Characters have to be active and making choices right from the start or even the best ideas can fall flat.

In short, it makes writers question what they need to tell a story, and that can lead to some really cool things that readers will love.

4) What advice can you give writers submitting to The Arcanist? Which stories have the best chance at publication? Which stories are absolute nonstarters?

The first rule of submitting your work to us is to please, please, please read the submission guidelines. They aren’t even that hard to nail down: a SFF story that is 1,000 words or less. It’s surprising how many people just scroll down until they see the submit link and send things off without actually knowing if it’s what we want.

If your story meets these requirements, you’re already in a good place. However, there are some tips that will really put your story over the top.

The biggest problem we see on a craft level is that the characters in the story are often more boring than the world they inhabit. You can have a great world, but your story will be ruined by a passive character who merely walks through it and doesn’t make a choice or have any agency.

Also, make sure that you aren’t starting your story at the wrong place. This happens with monster stories quite a bit. What’s more interesting: how the monster got out or what happens when the monster is already out and the character has to deal with it? It’s the latter 99 percent of the time. If you need to write the buildup to the monster getting loose to make sure you know how it happened, that’s fine, but then the submitted story should probably take place afterwards. We get many stories that end where they actually should have started.

So, as tips go, you want your story to start at the right place, to make sure your characters are active, and make sure you aren’t relying on a witty idea to push your narrative. Ideas are cheap, execution is hard. We are all about the execution here.

5) How about a glimpse behind the scenes at The Arcanist. What does the evaluation process for a story look like?

We have two ways to submit stories. You can either email them to us or use our form, which requires you to submit a Google Doc version of your story. We HIGHLY recommend using the form, it makes it way easier on our end and we end up getting to those ones first and the inbox second.

The stories are then divided up and assigned to either me, Andie, or Patrick. We do not use slush readers, so everything that is submitted goes straight to an editor. The assigned editor reads the story and makes sure it follows the rules. If the story flat-out doesn’t work for us, it is rejected. If the first editor reads it and is on the fence, we all talk about it. If an editor really likes it, we do the same.

The on-the-fence stories and the ones individual editors want to greenlight are talked about in person, and we break them down and see if they truly work. Personally, these discussions are my favorite part because we really dig in and make a decision.

After that, it’s all about either breaking the bad news or sending acceptance letters, setting up payments and publication dates, and finally unleashing the story into the world.

6) This blog is called Rejectomancy for a reason, so let’s get to the good stuff. What are the top three reasons The Arcanist rejects a story. Be blunt, even savage if you must.

The number one reason is that you didn’t follow the rules. They are there for a reason. They are meant to challenge writers and be a bit difficult. When you write “approx. 1,000 words” we know that typically means “I went a bit over, sorry.”

The second is not knowing what your story is about. This goes back to what I said earlier about ideas and narrative. A lot of the time, we love the ideas presented in a story. We often scratch our heads and wonder how someone came up with this, which is fantastic. It’s a great feeling to have. The worst feeling to have, though, is realizing that the story is merely that concept with no narrative, action, or anything to back it up. It’s hollow, and doesn’t work on a craft level because narrative took a backseat to a clever idea, making the story more about the idea than anything else.

The third is a simple question: does anything actually happen in the story? With our 1,000-word limit, you don’t have a lot of time to flesh out a world or describe tons of scenery, you have to get to the point. There’s not enough space to have a character walk around and take things in for longer than maybe a sentence before something has to push them to action. Just because it is short doesn’t mean the story doesn’t need to have a beginning, middle, and end. The best stories we see have active characters and twists that make us look at the whole thing differently. The “turn” is one of our favorite moments, but even these can fall flat without active characters.

Also, just as note, please don’t submit your story with weird colored fonts, large sections underlined, or any other strange formatting. We read a lot, and these attempts to get our attention only hurt our eyes. I don’t know why people do this, and we won’t outright reject stories for this, but it makes us sad and gives us a headache, which doesn’t help your chances.

7) You’re a writer too, so you understand that rejection comes with the gig. Any pro tips for dealing with it? 

I’m not sure there is way to actually prepare yourself for a rejection. You have to learn early on that you can’t get your hopes up even if you think your story is gold because, let’s face it, we all think all of our own stories are gold.

If you want to get your work published, you need to wrestle with the fact that rejection is likely in your future far more often than acceptance, but you have to also understand that just because one place rejects a piece doesn’t mean it won’t work elsewhere. Make a plan, send out your story, follow all of the rules the publication asked for, and see what happens because it’s always worth it in the end. Remember that rejections are nothing personal and that every rejection is a chance to make the story better.


Josh is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Arcanist. His work has appeared on Cracked, PopSci, ScienceAlert, Geek & Sundry, ModernNotion, and others. You can get The Arcanist’s stories delivered straight to your inbox every Friday by subscribing for free here.

One-Hour Flash – Keepsake

Yet another story that began life as a one-hour flash fiction challenge/exercise and has languished unloved and forgotten on my hard drive ever since. Again, I don’t remember the prompt that generated this one, but if I know me, it probably didn’t have much to do with the story I ended up writing.  Anyway, this little ghost story is called “Keepsake,” and like the others in this series, it’s more or less the hastily scribbled tale I wrote in an hour.


Keepsake

“Can we please leave?” Robert said, and set a tiny frosted glass swan back on a rickety cafeteria-style table. This particular table was loaded with tiny glass animals: glass frogs, glass ducks, glass rabbits, you name it. It was exactly the kind of useless (and worthless) junk you always found at garage sales, but despite the mountains of used Tupperware, the piles of ancient VHS tapes and CDs, his wife loved to sift through the cast-off debris of middle-class America.

Every time they drove through a residential neighborhood, Laura kept an eye out for the scribbled construction-paper signs posted on telephone poles and lampposts. To her, these signs pointed to an endless possibility of treasures waiting to be found in a nearby driveway or front lawn. To Robert, they meant standing in someone’s impromptu junkyard bored out of his mind.

“Yeah, just a sec,” Laura said from across the cement driveway of the dilapidated bungalow she’d forced him to seek out, following bright lime green signs declaring “Garrage Sale!” and “Every Thing Must Go!” She hunched over a collection of jewelry boxes, mismatched china, and other random gewgaws. He watched her reach for a small carved wooden box, but a gaunt woman in a shapeless green dress snatched it away before Laura could pick it up. “Oh, sorry,” Laura said, jerking her hand back. The woman frowned at her, then turned and walked toward the open garage. There, the proprietor of this little bazaar, a withered old man in a straw hat, sat in front of a three-legged card table, one gnarled, veiny hand resting atop a battered tin money box.

“How much for this?” asked the woman in the green dress.

The old man tilted his hat up with one finger, eying his potential customer. He said nothing for a moment, then smiled. “Sorry,” he said. “That box isn’t for you.”

“What?” the woman said, her brow furrowing. “Why not?”

“It’s not for you,” the old man repeated. “It’s for her.” He leaned forward and pointed at Laura.

“That’s bullshit,” the woman said.

The old man smiled again. “Well, here are your options. You can put that down and buy something else or put that down and get the fuck off my driveway. I don’t much care which.”

The woman’s eyes widened, and she opened he mouth to retort, but something stopped her. Maybe it was the way the old guy was staring at her, like he was hoping she might push things. She didn’t take the bait and tossed the wooden box on the card table, causing it to sway and nearly tip over. She then stalked out of the driveway.

Robert moved to stand next to his wife, and he put one hand on the small of her back and leaned close. “Can we please get the hell out of here,” he said softly. “This is got to be one of the sorriest collections of garbage you’ve dragged me to in weeks.”

Laura turned and kissed his cheek. “One more minute,” she said. “I like that box. Plus, he said it was for me.”

She approached the old man, and he picked up the wooden box from the card table and held it out for her. “It belonged to my wife. I got it in Japan during the war.”

Laura smiled and accepted the box, running her hands over the polished wood. Robert could see it actually was a pretty thing, made of teak or mahogany with an inlay of mother of pearl, a rare diamond in a pasture of manure.

Laura opened the box, and Robert, looking over her shoulder, saw it held a single faded Polaroid. He glanced over at the old man and saw he was staring at Laura, his mouth working, his eyes fixed on her hands. She reached in and picked up the photo. It showed a man and a woman seated at a table, arms around one another. They were dressed up in what looked like mid-70s dress clothes, and both looked very happy. The man in the photo was the proprietor of the garage sale, some forty years younger. The woman looked to be in her early forties, her long hair black hair lustrous, her eyes vivid green and beautiful.

“Your wife?” Laura asked, setting the picture back in the box and closing the lid.

“Yes,” he said. “That’s my pretty Amanda. You look a little like her.”

Way to sell it, dude, Robert thought. Laura was blonde, had blue eyes, and looked nothing like the woman in the photograph.

“Thanks,” Laura said. “Are you sure you want to sell the box?”

“Sell it? No, ma’am. I want you to take it.” He rose from the card table. “And the picture. Amanda would want a pretty girl like you to have it.”

“Oh, okay,” Laura said, obviously a little embarrassed. “Are you sure?”

“Take the box,” Robert whispered. “So we can leave.”

“The rest will be here when you get back,” the old man said.

Robert frowned, wondering for a second what the old man meant by that, but he was gently steering his wife toward their parked car, home free and uninterested in anything else but getting away. Minutes later they were safely in the Acura and driving away.

Laura had the box on her lap. It was open, and she was looking at the picture within. She said very little on the drive home, barely responding to his efforts at conversation. She was intent on the photo, her eyes hazy and unfocused.

When they got home, Robert was feeling guilty for being so pushy at the garage sale. He got out first, went around the car, and opened the door for his wife. She was still looking at the picture, but when the door opened, she set it back in the box and closed the lid. She turned her face up to him and smiled.

Her eyes were a vivid emerald green.


Unlike many of my one-hour flash challenge stories, I think the concept for this one is pretty solid. It needs more space, though. As it stands now, the end rushes up on you, and the reveal isn’t satisfying or even particularly well executed. Honestly, my favorite part of the story is the simple idea that garage sales are creepy; I could do something with that down the road.

If you’d like to check out the previous installments in the One-Hour Flash series, click the links below.

  1. The Writing on the Wall
  2. Killing the Dead
  3. Madcap

AFSG (Always Follow the Submission Guidelines)

Recently, I committed the nigh-unforgivable writerly sin of failing to follow the submission guidelines. I will pause a moment to soak in your righteous and fully justified finger-wagging.

Ouch.

Okay, my particular sin was submitting a story that did not meet the word count requirements. This particular market wanted stories with a minimum length of 2,000 words, and I sent in a story that was a tad below that. They were gracious enough to let me resubmit the story after I revised it to fit their guidelines, but the shame of making such a mistake will haunt me. Like, seriously. I pride myself on following the guidelines, and I felt like such an asshole for missing one so glaringly obvious.

So, let’s call this post a PSA, a reminder to always, always, always double check the submission guidelines, even for the no-brainer stuff like story length. It can be easy to focus only on the maximum length for a story because, generally, the minimum doesn’t come into play. I did a quick bit of research on Duotrope and found that of the twenty-four pro and semi-pro horror markets, more than half had word count ranges for short stories between 1,000 and 7,500 words. Since most of us don’t write short stories around the 1,000-word mark (that’s generally considered flash fiction), that word count minimum is rarely an issue.

BUT.

There are plenty of markets that set their word count minimum at 2,000, 2,500, even as high as 4,000. That last number is likely to jump out at you, but the other two can fade into the background if you’re not paying attention. So pay attention! Read and reread those guidelines before you hit the send button. Write the acronym AFSG (always follow the submission guidelines) on a post-it note and put it on your computer (I clearly need to).

Okay, make me feel better about my little blunder. Tell me about a time you missed something in the submission guidelines (please).

One-Hour Flash – Madcap

Here’s another flash piece I wrote as part of a one-hour flash challenge/exercise. This time, I actually have the prompt the story was written for (I was the one who posted it in this case).

(Exciting, huh?)

This story, “Madcap,” is part of a loosely connected series of stories about an organization called the Bureau of Fae Affairs or BFA for short. The idea came to me in one of these one-hour challenges, and I occasionally return to it in that scenario. Anyway, it’s an urban fantasy concept in which a very public government agency has to deal with an influx of fairytale creatures into our reality. The BFA both polices and eliminates dangerous fae while helping those that wish to live here peacefully integrate into our reality. There’s no denying the “Men in Black” feel of it, the differences being a focus on mythological creatures rather than aliens (obviously) and more emphasis on the work the agency does to integrate the newcomers into human life. (This story is not a great example of the latter.)

I’ve got like five or six of these stories floating around as flash pieces (one published), which all originated during one-hour flash challenges. I’ve also completed one longer tale, but I haven’t done much with any of it. “Madcap” is pretty typical of where I end up with this idea when I try and fit it into flash.


Madcap

 

“You the guy from the Jotun division?” The big guy leaning against the trunk of an aging Ford Crown Victoria asked as Simmons walked out of the woods. He looked to be in his mid-forties, and his thick brown hair was graying at the temples. He was built like an NFL linebacker, though, an easy two-fifty, and most of it muscle. He wore a black tactical rig over a Kevlar vest, faded jeans, and black work boots. A pair of cheap sunglasses perched on his crooked nose. His tactical harness bore the letters BFA in white reflective paint.

Simmons nodded. “Yep. That’s me,” he said and shrugged to settle his own tactical gear on his shoulders. His vest, too, had BFA written across it. “How’d you get way up here in that?” Simmons pointed to the faded blue Crown Vic. They were at least ten miles into the woods, and he’d had to park his Wrangler on the toll road a mile back. How this guy had managed to get his Ford POS this deep into the woods was a mystery.

“I’m Fitzgerald,” the big guy said, ignoring Simmons’ question. He pushed away from the trunk of his car and extended his hand. Simmons shook it and tried not to wince as his hand was swallowed and squeezed by Fitzgerald’s oversized mitt. “I’m surprised the bureau could spare one of you guys,” he said with a chuckle. “I hear Sigrid is teething.”

Simmons shook his head and sighed. “That she is.” His current position in the BFA—the good ol’ Bureau of Fae Affairs—was part of a team whose entire duty was to care for a twelve-ton Jotun baby. Jotun, or frost giants, were just one of the many fairytale creatures that had come spilling into the world when trans-dimensional portals had quite unexpectedly opened up around the globe a decade ago. The BFA had formed shortly thereafter, a government agency tasked with ensuring that peaceful giants, ogres, goblins, elves, and other fantastical creatures were dealt with and integrated into the human world if they so chose. Unfortunately, not all were peaceful. In fact, a lot weren’t.

Simmons smiled. “I’m not gonna lie. I was glad for the temporary assignment. Our little darlin’ has wrecked three cranes and two fire trucks since those teeth started coming in. It’s a goddamned emergency every day.”

Fitzgerald grinned. “I wish I could say this’ll be easier,” he said and pointed to the object of their mission—a hole bordered by rotting boards in the side of a small hill.

“Is that a mine?” Simmons asked.

“It was. Probably gold prospectors. It’s full of gnomes now.”

Simmons ran through all the fairy creatures he’d encountered in his five years with the BFA and came up blank. When he thought of gnomes, he saw cheap statuettes in quaint city gardens. He was in good hands, though. He’d been told Fitzgerald was a hitter, a BFA agent that dealt specifically with the nastier fairy folk in the most extreme and abrupt fashion. “You’re the hitter. I assume you can tell me all I need to know.”

Fitzgerald nodded, returned to his car, and popped the trunk. From within he withdrew two mammoth shotguns—they looked like the very deadly mating of firearm and Mac truck. “Ithaca Mag-10s,” Fitzgerald announced and tossed one of the huge shotguns to Simmons. He caught it with both hands—it was as heavy as he had suspected.

“We need these for fucking gnomes?” Simmons asked. “You could drop a rhino with these things.”

“I’d rather be hunting rhinos with BB-guns than the little bastards in that hole with these,” Fitzgerald said and grimaced. “What we have here is a particularly awful variety of gnome called a red cap. They’re called that because they like to dip their hair in the blood and entrails of their victims. They also have skin as hard as granite, claws that would give Freddy Krueger a hard-on, and, oh yeah, they can see in the dark.”

“Jesus,” Simmons said. He could actually feel the blood draining out of his face.

“Don’t worry,” Fitzgerald said and slapped Simmons on the shoulder. “They’re dumber than a box of rocks. We’re gonna bring ‘em to us.”

“How?”

Fitzgerald pulled what looked very much like a grenade from his tactical harness and smiled. “Smoker,” he said. “My own special concoction. It’s loaded with cold iron shavings. Makes their skin burn. They’ll come piling out of that hole, and then we just light ‘em up.”

“You’ve done this before, then?” Simmons said and pointed his shotgun toward the hole.

“Nope,” Fitzgerald said, pulled the pin on his grenade, wound up like a baseball pitcher, and fired the grenade at the hole. It disappeared into the dark, and the BFA hitter took a step back and put his own shotgun to his shoulder. Fiveseconds later, a muffled but still extraordinarily loud thud rolled up out of the hole followed by a cloud of greasy black smoke.

The first red cap burst from the smoke cloud at full tilt. It was small, about four feet tall, gangly limbed and gray skinned. Its face was a mashed lump from which two glittering black eyes stared hatefully outward. Its hair, brick red and dripping, streamed behind it, and it reached for both of them with long-fingered hands, each bearing six-inch talons.

Simmons squeezed the trigger, and his shotgun punched his shoulder like a kicking mule. The charging red cap’s head disappeared in a geyser of brown ichor and what looked a lot like rock dust. Its twitching body fell at his feet.

“Nice shot, Simmons!” Fitzgerald exclaimed beside him and kicked the red cap corpse away.

“Fuck me,” Simmons breathed, adrenaline still buzzing through his veins. “That’s may be the most terrifying thing I’ve ever seen.”

Fitzgerald nodded. “Unfortunately, you’re gonna get to see them in their natural habitat.”

“What?!” Simmons said, eyes wide.

“Yup. The smoke is clearing, and it only drew one of the little fuckers out. There’s always at least six in a red cap nest. We gotta got down and root ‘em out.”

Simmons shook his head. “No. No. No,” he said. “That’s madness.”

Fitzgerald shrugged. “Maybe. But it’s the job.” He slapped Simmons on the shoulder again. “Cheer up. It beats changing the diapers on a twelve-ton baby, don’t it?”


This was fun to write and it gives some info on the setting, but it doesn’t really go anywhere, and it isn’t a successful flash piece. Like many failed flash attempts, this likely works better as the beginning to a longer piece. Maybe I’ll go back and do something more substantial with the BFA or maybe I’ll just continue to produce these little 1,000-word scribbles for one-hour writing challenges when I should be writing something I can actually publish. 🙂

Submission Statement: August 2017

August, the month of my birth, was pretty uneventful, submission-wise. I spent a lot of time working on a new novel, and I finished a novelette that will be part of my first foray into self-publishing (more on that soon). Anyway, here’s the down-and-dirty for the month.

August 2017 Report Card

  • Submissions Sent: 5
  • Rejections: 6
  • Acceptances: 0
  • Publications: 1
  • Other: 0

I’m still hitting an average of one submission per week. I keep thinking I should do more, but that seems to be a comfortable pace when I’m working on big projects. Maybe I should just learn to live with it.

Rejections

Six rejections this month, and one of them is noteworthy because it represents a nigh-unforgivable brain fart.

Rejection 1: Submitted 8/2/17; Rejected 8/12/2017

Thank you for your interest in XXX.

Unfortunately, your short story has not been assessed as it does not meet our submission guidelines based on word count (it’s just a bit off the 2,000 word minimum at 1,980).

You are welcome to resubmit after reviewing the submission guidelines and ensuring your submission meets the guidelines. If you haven’t done so already, I would also suggest reading XXX to become familiar with the type of content we publish.

If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time, then you’ve heard me lecture everyone about following submission guidelines to the letter. Well, sometimes that’s a do-as-I-say-and-not-as-I-do situation. How embarrassing. I mean, how hard is it to do a quick word count check, like I do FOR EVERY OTHER SUBMISSION? I am exceedingly grateful the publisher was a) very nice and professional when they pointed out my mistake and b) that I can resubmit the story. I did resubmit it, along with an apology for not following the guidelines the first time. Say it with me: ALWAYS FOLLOW THE SUBMISSION GUIDELINES.

Rejection 2: Submitted 7/29/17; Rejected 8/14/2017

Thank you for the opportunity to review your work. Unfortunately it doesn’t quite fit our needs at the time. Best of luck placing it elsewhere.

This is a simple form rejection, but I should note that it came one day after I sent a submission status query letter to the publisher. Now, I do not for a second believe that I was rejected because I sent a query. I waited the appropriate amount of time, and my letter was polite and to the point. There’s a chance the query got my story read a bit sooner, but it’s not why it was rejected. There does seem to be this fear among some writers that sending a submission status query will anger a publisher, but I think that fear is misplaced as long as you wait an appropriate amount of time and follow any submission guidelines the publisher may have about queries.

Rejection 3: Submitted 6/21/17; Rejected 8/23/2017

 

Thanks so much for entering our Flash Worlds contest. As always, we had so many great entries.

Unfortunately, “XXX” did not make it into our Top 10. However, we are happy to report that the piece did make it through several rounds of cuts and was still in consideration until the later stages of judging. As a result, we’ve given you a shout-out on our “Close But No Cigar” short list, which can be found on our Flash Worlds results page (https://themolotovcocktail.com/).

Though it didn’t place in the contest, we’d be happy to consider this piece for one of our regular issues. Feel free to resubmit through our regular submissions portal (no submission fee, of course) on Submittable. We’ve published a good number of short-listed entries that way in the past.

Thanks again for your participation, and for sending us such great work.

A close-but-no-cigar rejection from one of my favorite publishers. These guys have published a ton of my work, and I got close to another publication here. If you have a chance, you should definitely check out the winning stories for the Flash Worlds contest. There’s some really good stuff in there. I have sent this story out again, and it’ll pop up in another rejection below. 🙂

Rejection 4: Submitted 8/16/17; Rejected 8/26/2017

Thank you for submitting your story, “XXX”, to XXX. Unfortunately, we have decided not to publish it. To date, we have reviewed many strong stories that we did not take. Either the fit was wrong or we’d just taken tales with a similar theme or any of a half dozen other reasons.

Best success selling this story elsewhere.

A form rejection from a top-tier magazine that I have yet to crack. I’ve yet to even get a higher-tier form rejection from this market. That doesn’t discourage me, though. These pro markets have incredibly high standards, and they should be difficult to place a story with. I like to think I’ll eventually write something that appeals to this market and a bunch of others in the same category.

Rejection 5: Submitted 8/16/17; Rejected 8/30/2017

Thank you for considering XXX for your story, “XXX.”

Unfortunately, we have decided not to accept it. We wish you the best of luck finding a home for your story elsewhere.

Another form rejection from a pro market. I’ve gotten higher-tier rejections from this publisher in the past, but this isn’t one of those. Like the market in rejection 4, I’ll keep submitting until I crack or they do. 😉

Rejection 6: Submitted 8/30/17; Rejected 8/31/2017

Thank you for the opportunity to read “XXX.” Unfortunately, your story isn’t quite what we’re looking for right now.

In the past, we’ve provided detailed feedback on our rejections, but I’m afraid that due to time considerations, we’re no longer able to offer that service. I appreciate your interest in XXX and hope that you’ll keep us in mind in the future.

So, I shit you not, this rejection arrived as I was writing this blog post. How’s that for timing? Anyway, another form rejection from a pro market. Those of you who submit spec-fiction on a regular basis will no doubt recognize the publisher from this rejection. They’ve always had a super-quick turnaround (one day, in this case), which I appreciate, as it allows me to fire the story off to another publisher right away.

Publications

One publication in August. My flash fiction story “Cowtown” was published by The Arcanist. You can read it by clicking the link below.

Read “Cowtown” 


And that’s August. Tell me about your August in the comments.

One-Hour Flash – Killing the Dead

Here’s another flash fiction story I wrote as part of a one-hour contest. This dark urban fantasy tale is called “Killing the Dead,” and like the story from last week, “The Writing on the Wall,” it has lingered on my hard drive for quite a while. I’ve dusted it off and given it a quick polish, but it’s essentially the story I scribbled out in an hour three or four years ago. If you’d like to read the first story or learn more about these one-hour contests I’m so fond of, check out the link above.

Okay, here’s “Killing the Dead.”


Killing the Dead

Johns watched the sun dip low on the horizon, thankful for the warmth radiating though his legs from the hood of his pickup. He drew in a deep breath and ran a hand over the badge on his shirt. The stylized skull and hammer said he was a graver, an agent of the church, and one of the few people dumb enough to be outside after dark since the event of ‘18. It was crazy, dangerous work, but somebody had to deal with the dead, and it sure beat flipping burgers or working construction.

Nightfall was near and he hopped off the hood of the truck, stretched, and took stock of his surroundings. The graveyard was an old one, the headstones weathered and crumbling. The most recent date he could find was 1976, which meant the folks interred here had been dead for a minimum of fifty years. The chances one of the corpses would contain a roamer was thin, but, like usual, he’d claimed this particular graveyard on a hunch. Most gravers liked the newer cemeteries, where roamers were all but guaranteed. The problem there was you got paid the same for cleansing a cemetery of one roamer or fifty. Lot of young gravers didn’t survive their inaugural cleansing.

Johns went around to the bed of his truck and did a quick equipment check. He had a gallon of holy water—blessed by Father Daniels this very morning—some of which he had already poured into his super soaker. He had the axe, the maul, and the sledgehammer, plus the chainsaw if things got really out of hand.

He picked up the super-soaker. As absurd as it seemed, the giant squirt gun was the most important weapon in his arsenal. It could fire a concentrated blast of holy water up to sixty feet, and within that range it was nearly impossible to miss.

He glanced out over the graveyard, looking for a likely spot. There were plenty of headstones, but granite was tough to manipulate, and even an old roamer would have a hell of a time animating one of those. There was the ground, of course, and the newly dead usually went there. He’d faced down more than his share of dirt monsters. This cemetery was old enough that if it had a roamer, it would be experienced. If he were a betting man—and he was—a small stand of oak trees on the edge of graveyard was where he’d lay his wager.

Johns slung the super-soaker over his shoulder, grabbed the wood-axe from the bed of his truck, and started toward the trees. He pulled up just within the maximum range for the soaker and propped the axe on a nearby headstone.

Night fell completely in a few minutes, and Johns flicked on the LED light attached to his vest. He shivered in the sudden cold. Ever since the event, the temperature dropped a good twenty degrees at nightfall. Even in the middle of a Texas summer, the cold came on as soon as the stars came out. He guessed the dead liked it that way, or maybe they needed it that way. Who knew?

Minutes passed and silence settled over the graveyard. That was a good sign. Night critters that put up a racket at night—crickets, frogs, that kind of thing—went quiet when there were roamers around. He listened and was rewarded with a faint whistling that rose from the direction of the trees, a low winding keen that made the hairs on his arms and neck stand up. The telltale moan of a roamer. He’d never understood why they made so much noise, but it sure made them easier to find.

Johns moved toward the trees, soaker held up to his shoulder. The roamer appeared soon after, a faint shadow, slightly luminescent against the dark backdrop of the tree trunks. He could make out a male outline but not much else. Roamers became more indistinct as they aged, losing details until they were little more than shadows. He guessed he was looking at a century-old roamer at the least.

The roamer was lingering around the trunk of a big oak—it had chosen its medium for the night. Johns rushed forward, yelling, letting his target see and hear him. The apparition hissed in anger then disappeared into the tree. The oak shook and trembled, its branches swaying with ominous and unnatural life.

He stopped, aimed the soaker and waited. This was the dangerous part. Until the roamer completely inhabited its medium, it couldn’t be trapped, although it still controlled enough of whatever animate it had chosen to crush, gouge, or smash any unfortunate gravers nearby. Roamers, more than anything, wanted to be real again, to taste some semblance of life, and most didn’t fuck around once they’d found something to animate. This one was no different.

The trunk of the oak suddenly took on horrid life, the bark twisting and bulging as the roamer absorbed organic material and began crafting a body for itself. In this transitive state it was vulnerable, and Johns depressed the trigger on the soaker. A stream of blessed water struck the tree trunk, and the roamer within it loosed an ear-splitting howl. Its partially formed limbs reached out, wooden talons clawing at the air, then froze as the holy water did its work, locking the roamer in its transitive state and rendering it harmless until the next night fall.

Johns hefted the axe. All he had to do now was chop up the roamers body and keep a piece big enough to prove what he had. Father Daniels would say the last rights tonight at Saint Michaels, sending the roamer’s spirit on to the afterlife. Then he’d get paid.

He smiled as his first blow with the axe sent wood chips flying. Any night you helped stave off the apocalypse a little longer and put some cash in your pocket was a good one.


I had fun with this one, and if I remember correctly it was well received by the other authors in the contest (my notes say it came in third). I don’t remember the prompt, unfortunately, but it was likely a cemetery or something of that nature. The issue with this one (other than a pretty meh title) is it’s really the beginning of something longer, and I had to spend a fair amount of my 1,000 words telling the reader how this urban fantasy world worked. That didn’t leave much time for anything else, so the action is a bit rushed, and there’s not much to the main character. I do like some of the concepts I came up with, though–the gravers, the roamers, and the pseudo-post-apocalyptic urban fantasy thing–and it may be something I return to in the future for a longer story or even a novelette.