These 10 SFF Magazines Will Change The Way You Look At Fiction

Short Fiction is where novels have their beginnings. Or endings. Depending on how you look at it. Some authors make short stories of what might have been a novel that never got off the ground. Others thrust forth from single ideas given room to play. They come in all shapes (and ironically) sizes, but they are, at their heart, authors’ playgrounds. Novels are where the public acclaim lies, but short stories are where true progress in the genre is made.

Of course, nowadays one can’t even call them products of magazines. Some are, certainly, but there are podcasts and anthologies and e-zines—modernity has really diversified its portfolio on the fiction telling front. Some are paid. Some aren’t. Some are cobbled together by the resources of universities, others independently operated, and still others funded through advertisements, donations or Kickstarter.

Regardless of their roots, here follows a list of 10 personal favorites as a reader. Please note, they are in no particular order, nor does their presence here reduce, in any way, the standing of any other magazines.

  1. The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction

If I didn’t have the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction on here, you couldn’t take me seriously. An absolute beast of a magazine, this market’s story has been running since 1949, with hundreds of pages between its covers. Nowadays F&SF is perhaps best known for giving us Stephen King’s Gunslinger tales and the classic for schools everywhere, Flowers for Algernon, by Daniel Keyes. This magazine (digest, really) is the unshaken epitome of a fiction short story publisher, with stories that range drastically in length and topic, genre and style.

I have been reading F&SF since high school and I have never regretted the decision.

  1. Daily Science Fiction

These fellows have a simple but effective model: give them your e-mail, they’ll send you a story every weekday, generally in the wee hours of the morning. Nothing longer than 1,500 words and, despite the name, they have a pretty diverse collection of both sci-fi and fantasy works. It makes for a great way to start your morning, getting you settled in outer space before the 9-5 grinds you back into that desk.

Sorry. I’m a little bitter. That desk is contained within a cubicle.

  1. Strange Horizons

Strange Horizons is a weekly magazine, and more than short stories, it comes to the table full of fiction, poetry, essays and reviews. They offer a comprehensive collection of goodies that covers pretty effectively the state of modern sci-fi and fantasy. If I want industry news or a breakdown of perspective relevant to issues facing genre writers and readers alike, this is my go-to.

  1. Beneath Ceaseless Skies

Literary adventure fantasy. What does that mean? Secondary worlds, with the story focus on the journey, the struggle, and the beautiful, enticing prose. Tolkien’s works would soar here, if they weren’t so bloody long in the first place. Despite the fairly specific focus, too, the magazine’s authors manage to find a rather eclectic approach to the voyage. Fellowships optional.

  1. Clarkesworld

Like the Magazine for Fantasy and Science Fiction, Clarkesworld is on pretty much every list. That’s because it delivers consistently. Also like the aforementioned, it takes in stories from across the speculative board (although the bulk of its material do tend toward harder sci-fi roots), and at greatly varying lengths. Small novels are not uncommon in its pages (novellas) and the website also hosts a delightful amount of podcasts for those who have things to do and places to be.

  1. Lightspeed

Lightspeed holds a special place in my heart. I remember when it first came out. It was just a few months before I graduated from college. I’m not ashamed to say I’ve been trying to get published there ever since, but given the talent crammed between its pages, it’s certainly an uphill battle. Begun as the sci-fi counterpart to the simply named Fantasy Magazine, it eventually absorbed its sister and today ranges across the speculative plains (though horror is still relegated to Editor John Joseph Adams’ other magazine: Nightmare). Selected stories are made into free podcasts.

Also notable for its recent production of “Destroy Science Fiction” anthologies, which have highlighted the plights of gender, sexual orientation, minorities and, more generally, DIVERSITY issues in the realms of fantasy and sci-fi. I couldn’t begin to list the number of awards this magazine has won.

  1. Apex

Normally, I’m not a big fan of contemporary fantasy. Apex seriously makes me reconsider that notion. While open to sci-fi and fantasy alike, they do seem to have more than their fair share of contemporary, and the one thing linking it all together is the superb writing. A monthly magazine, Apex kindly puts up more than half of each issue for free on their website.

It also has the distinction of hosting one of my straight up favorite short stories: The Bread We Eat in Dreams, by Catherynne M. Valente. Dark fantasy, it combines demons, American history, time-lapse and nature to enchanting effect. It builds. Oh does it build.

  1. Uncanny Magazine

Behold the dreams Kickstarter can give life! The newest market on this list, Uncanny Magazine is only on its second birthday, but thanks to its space unicorns (backers) it was funded enough to become an SFWA (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America) approved market right off the bat, with a strong debut. Guided by the husband and wife duo Michael and Lynne Thomas, it features podcasts, poetry, essays and all the fantasy and sci-fi a growing reader could eat. Like its improbable birth, this magazine exists in the uncanny valley, with just the right amount of quirk to keep things engaging.

You can also read about Uncanny Magazine’s journey through Kickstarter here.

  1. Grimdark Magazine

Bless the Australians, because they’ve taken one of the most popular twists on the old school genres right now and given it room to grow. The offspring of dark and low fantasy, it’s exemplified by people like Joe Abercrombie and R. Scott Bakker…the former of which has had pieces within Grimdark’s pages. Moral ambiguity, savage heroes and gritty situations abound. If you want to feel the borders between the real world and your fantasy disappearing, this is the light to head toward.

  1. Drabblecast

Drabblecast is one of those podcasts I spoke of, a broad collection of fantasy, sci-fi, horror and downright silly that set the standard for narrative. If you’re elbows deep in another project, or otherwise engaged, but need some good background sound or something to carry you away for a bit, let the voices of the Drabblecast readers give your eyes a chance to recover. They even have Drabbles and Twabbles, which are 100 word and 100 character stories, respectively…if you really want to just machine gun through some story ideas.

What are some of your favorite magazines? There are plenty of others I could name, but I had to draw the line in the sand somewhere. Hopefully this will give you plenty of literary food for thought for a drizzly Thursday morning, though.

(And while I’m plugging stuff, let me point out that if you haven’t yet, you should definitely check out my friend Bryce David Salazar’s debut novel, She Sees Metaphors. It’s short, it’s contemporary fiction (fantasy?), and its images will devour you. You need this book badly. Go now.

In Captivity, Chats with a Mad Man: Expectations

(Welcome to the dramatic conclusion of the Internet exclusive short story, “In Captivity.” Be sure to check out Parts One, Two, Three, Four  , and Five (my goodness I can be wordy, can’t I?) if you need to catch up. Now we ask the final question: what is the difference between animal and man? Because at times, there may only be a trigger between them.

Language warning.)

Death Valley

Death Valley (Photo credit: Frank Kehren)

So.

Here it is.

It’s like—somebody’s had the destiny talk with you, yeah?

Two men sitting at a table. There’s a gun between them. One of them’s got his finger on the trigger and one of them’s fish food. They know it. You know it. It’s just a matter of time.

And here we are. Call it the lonely end. Oh I teach and I preach and I call it good—but it’s not good. It’s never good. It’s never been good.

Because nobody ever acts. I talk and I talk and what do I get? There’s nobody like me. I’m me. You’re you, and look where we are. Here, handing your life over to someone else.

But you.

But you.

People walk in false securities. Success doesn’t breed success; it breeds an inevitability of failure. We don’t learn anything from success except that something we did worked. Once. Will it work again? That’s what we think we learn, but that’s not it. It comes. It goes. And there we are, wondering, hoping that finger on the trigger will be ours, and that our bodies had the sense to move move move out of the way.

But you.

Here we are. You and I. Sitting. And there’s the pistola between us. Oh, I wonder; will they kill him when he gets away? It’s possible. But pirates, call us sensible at least. They are like me in one way: loyalty is when we can gain from the moment. If there’s no gain, there’s no sense in the loyalty. And when I’m dead, there’s no gain in you. Just a silly white boy wriggling his way upstream.

But you.

The blood on your hands. Can you take it? It’s the question I never asked. Never ask. I can take it. I took it. And death? It comes for all. I knew it was coming for me the first time I made a head bloom red, fishy. I grew up in it. I thrived on it. It don’t bother me none; death is an old friend. He’ll shake my hand and say shit, what took you?

But there are people. They don’t get it. When you pull the trigger they think it changes them. Well it does. But not the way they think. It’s all just meat and blood and shit, but it does change. I mean, look at dogs—you train them their whole lives on kibble and bits, and they’re the good puppy. The loyal puppy. Give them the hunt. The warm rush of the kill. And there’s no going back. They’ve had the blood-taste, and there it is—the wolf that was. The animal.

You people train yourselves to be puppies. To be something less, and yet more, than natural. Me? I just embraced the other. The real. I didn’t hide behind names and titles and so much air. I did what I did and all the rest was—someone else. Something else.

I don’t know how you got out. I don’t care. It’s good to see. I’d rather it be this than some drugged out pisspot thinking he’s better’n me, yeah? Because I’d be old then. And if I’m old it’s me doing it wrong, you know? Animals—they don’t get the years men do.

So what are you? Animal or man? It’s a thing, Americana. It’s a thing. How you say: hot mess? Ha. Yeah. That’s what I’ll be. That’s what you’ll be. It’s in your eyes, but what’s truth? Guns—they make it easy. Too easy.

Humanity’s just a hairline trigger. And—

In Captivity, Chats with a Mad Man: Sanity

(Welcome to Part 5 of the Internet exclusive short story, “In Captivity.” Be sure to check out Parts One, Two, Three, and Four  if you need to catch up. We’re winding down now. Just one more bit of wordplay after this one to go, and since today our delightful antagonist is taking us on a trip through sanity (or insanity), that’s probably for the best. Enjoy the walk. The end of the sand doesn’t necessarily mean the beginning of hope. Language warning.)

Atacama, the world's driest desert "Natio...

Atacama, the world’s driest desert “Nationalgeographic.com”. Ngm.nationalgeographic.com. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Just a little further now, fish. We’re almost there. It’s getting hotter, and that’s a good sign. And the tracks? Oh, you don’t see the tracks, but they’re there. Camels and shit and bones, I tell you. It might as well be Agrabah to you, but it’s destiny, my friend, because somewhere in there is a nice little man with a nice little fortune and he’s going to hand me dough for you. Your family? Your friends? They don’t even know you’re here. For all they know, you’re dead like all the rest—but you, you get to spend a lifetime unknown, forgotten, living as some old bag of wrinkles shoves his prick up your bag.

How’s that for fucked? Like two lives intersected at the same person but…one just keeps going, and the other—he’s stuck in neutral. Forever.

And it’s because you don’t make the choice. It’s coming, you know. All you got to ask is: which is better? Death or slavery? Now, it’s not an offer, fishy. I won’t let you die. Death is like life, you know? You take it. On your own terms, or it stretches you out good.

Sanity, you know, I hear one guy say it’s—it’s the ability to tell real from unreal. Isn’t that simple? Real and unreal. But what if you wake up one morning and everything that was real has changed? Say one morning you’re little miss priss, with a big bank account, and friends, and a little miss priss sucking your prissy prick, and then the next, bam, it’s…you’re here, and it’s all gone, and your clothes are burned up, your money don’t mean shit, your friends are dead, and your prick—well, it’s all for your own hand, buddy. And there’s this pirate. And you’ve never seen a pirate before, I mean—where’s the rum and shit, right? Where’s the boat?

That’s pretty crazy. I mean like, you tell me that, I say, you got a fucking problem in your head. That’s unreal.

Except it isn’t. You can’t pinch yourself awake. You see this little dot on the horizon getting closer and closer and you think it might be the light but it’s only shadow, and the sun’s beating you down and your skin’s breaking and all you can think is: when? WHEN? Because there IS no waking up. And inch by inch you come to think: but all these things I knew are gone, and all these new things, things that make no sense, they’re everywhere, but me…I’m still feeling all the shit.

And that’s when that line blurs. You don’t see it anymore, because you just don’t know. If there’s no control, how do you test? Yeah. Insanity, my friend. It’s as simple as a thought. You just keep picking away at that thought until it’s all you’re left with—because you can talk yourself right out of sanity. The moment you begin to wonder if it’s real—that’s when you know you’re a goner.

Sanity…shit, talk about a dream.

But that dot? It’s no mirage. It’s YOUR dream, and it’s coming for you, night by night. Pucker up, sweety. It’s not much further now.

In Captivity, Chats with a Mad Man: Poetry

(Welcome to Part 4 of the Internet exclusive short story, “In Captivity.” Be sure to check out Parts One, Two, and Three if you need to catch up. Continuing the step outside my usual domain, into the mind of a rather crazed antagonist, it’s time to have a go at our antagonist’s outlook on life, as told through that most ancient art: poetry. Language warning.)

You don’t eat, little fish, how you supposed to escape? How you supposed to stab the crazy little man with the knife, eh? Eh? You just going to sit there and stare me to death? Play on my human sympathy, ndugu? Oh, that’s a big mistake. But this rice? It’s the tops, man. Like, MSG and sugar and shit and everything. You like milk? I love it with milk, man. Love it.

It’s funny, you know. Sometimes I sit here and stare out at all this…shit, and I think, I can almost see it from your eyes. It’s hard, you know, but I can do it. Nobody else—they don’t even try. No brains in their heads, I swear. But it makes me think.

Temple of a million years of Rameses II - Ozym...

Temple of a million years of Rameses II – Ozymandias statue, Luxor, Egypt (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This old man, once, well, he thought he was being smart. He sat me down and he says ‘Boy,’ he says, ‘It’s not enough to live. When you stand in the desert, everywhere around you you must know is the shattered visage of frowning, wrinkled cold command, and you should stand there and know that its sculptor already read the passions of men, and lo, lo you little shit, the hand that mocked them and the heart that fed—’ Oh you Americans always know it. At least, the one line. It’s like you don’t have the attention span for all the rest, but you know, it’s a poem; it’s never just one line!

Fuck it.

LOOK ON MY WORKS, YE MIGHTY, AND DESPAIR!

And you know what? Oh, I laughed. Laughed as much as you probably want to shit yourself right now. Because just like his little poem, his little lecture, there wasn’t nothing there. You can say they’re looking out at me, but there isn’t nothing.

I’m not stupid, man. Everything dies. You get that, don’t you? Everything dies. It goes away. The words, maybe they live on, but the people, they all decay. And the old man, he thought he could use that to shake me into righting myself. Well. He wanted sand and you know what? I gave it to him. Three holes to the chest and I spread him wide, stake stake stake and left him for the vultures.

Of course, he was right. All those little–what you say–hipster?…shits that babble out the nothings of its monuments tears all got the right of it. There’s nothing here. Everybody’s screwing themselves bloody trying to make themselves right, but they’re all screwed up in the HEAD. There’s nothing! They say the words but they don’t get what that means!

I kill you today, somebody cries, sure, mommy in her far away house, but tomorrow? When mommy’s dead? Ain’t nobody crying. At best you get a tombstone with a little word, and the wind, she picks it up and she wipes the name off or worms eat your corpse and you aren’t nothing. You don’t see it. You don’t hear it. What’s a name? You live until you die, and then none of it matters any more. You’re all just dust.

And you know? When I realized that, I think, is when I realized what you gotta do. It’s all about the take, fishy. About the here and the now. That’s all there is. You take and you take and everybody else is taking and taking and you screw each other bloody till somebody taps out, and life, life is just trying to make the most of life while you have it, because  there ain’t anything but. Morality? Fuck, what’sat if there ain’t nothing it beholds you to? I mean, if there’s no axe over your head, no afterlife, no spirits, nothing but the glitter and the shitter, well, fuck, what are we all doing dressing up playing Ms. Prissy?

Remember this, fishy: we are what we are. And if I’m going to teach you one lesson, it’s that. I took you, and I took this desert, because I wanted it. Not because someone told me they were mine. I took you. And you know? I took your rice too. And it was pretty fucking good.

In Captivity, Chats with a Mad Man: Blindsided

(Welcome to Part 3 of the Internet exclusive short story, “In Captivity.” Parts 1 and 2 can be found here and here. Continuing the step outside my usual domain, into the mind of a rather crazed antagonist, it’s time to have a little discussion of choice…Language warning.)

English: Western Sushi found at Wegmans Superm...

Sushi (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

New foot. Clean slate. Wakey, wakey, little boy.

Look at that. What you wake to. Natural thing, that. You hide it quick, like the other fish have taught you to, but for that instant I could see it—the anger, raw. Like sushi, yeah? You could cook it up, but then it just wouldn’t be sushi anymore.

Why is it you Americans are so obsessed with sushi anyways? Like it’s part of your culture or something. Hipster. Hip-hop. Hippedy-fucking-hop. Hell, if somebody said no more sushi for you, you’d probably go to war with them. Uptight little pricks you are. Somebody threatens to make things a little harder, a little less tasty for you—even if it’s something you have never owned, never have the right to own—and you go kill for it.

And that’s okay! It’s only human. It’s a damn shitty thing to do, don’t get me wrong, fish-boy. But it’s only human. We want and we want until we convince ourselves it’s need. We’re all part of the same family but that don’t mean shit when little brother steals our toys or sis takes our lunch money.

Oh, oh, oh, I know, family’s everything. You’re right! They’ll always be in our hearts, so we convince ourselves everything we do is as much for them as for us. That in making ourselves better, well, we’re only making them better too, right? Because who’s not happy to see their little brother happy? Well that’s the thing. You let them into your heart and you know what happens?

Bam. Blindsided and back-stabbed, carved open and gutted like a fish every time. They may not mean to do it, but every time, they come, prodding you with their sorries and their what do we do, what do we do? Because oh, look at that, everything’s judged on the nature of choice. CHOICE. As though any of us have a fucking choice. We’re urges bottled up inside just waiting to burst and they think some CHOICE is going to change anything?

Well, of course they do, because they hope our choice will somehow help them. Cheeky bastards.

Just like you. You thought it was quite a choice to come here, didn’t you?

In Captivity, Chats with a Mad Man: Drops in the Ocean

(Welcome to Part 2 of the Internet exclusive short story, “In Captivity.” Part 1 can be found here. Continuing the step outside my usual domain, into the mind of a rather crazed antagonist [alright, maybe it’s not THAT far outside my usual domain…a la Hollow March], we find ourselves free of our cage-homes for the moment, stretching our legs as we flesh out a bit of the topic of humanity. Please, avoid any sudden movements. Pirates read for free. Language warning.)

Empty Lake Bed, (from iDesign iPhone Wallpapers)

Empty Lake Bed, (from iDesign iPhone Wallpapers)

…Let me tell you—you don’t understand what war is. Keep moving, fish–it’s okay, we’re still good. I didn’t used to understand what it was either. It was the right bumper on a controller shaped perfectly to the needs of carpal tunnel, fueling the medical machine that led to–

What? WHAT? Am I boring you, motherfucker? Well it’s history time. So you be a good little boy and you keep those little legs moving and those little ears listening and I won’t take this gun and shove it up your…

Good. Good. You have no idea how much that pisses me off. Little pricks coming around here, thinking they own this turf. Isn’t a soul alive should dare to stick a dagger in this dirt no more, friend. If each man is an island, then you’re best calling this an archipelago. You know what that is, right? A chain of islands—dot,  dot, dot—but they’re not all lined up all pretty like some kid’s flipping drawing, no sir, they’re different, every one unique, shaped and carved to a different sort of perfection and scattered like grains of sands across the ruthlessness of the ocean.

But still they come. More drops. More islands. The chain keeps growing and I swear, sometimes, you just drop from the sky. We can’t all be fished out of the ocean, love, not like the little fish you are. Know how many times I’ve considered tossing you back in? Oh, but that wouldn’t do. Little prick, you’d probably just swim back up stream and then where would we be? Another island choking off my flow. Won’t do. Won’t do at all.

Oh, it’s a war alright. You can practically see the natives paddling out from their islands at the boatload, spears and machetes and whatever else that not so benevolent bastard in the sky took on himself to gift our vain and varied verdicts of vengeance.

And you’re—hey. HEY. You’re looking at me. What is it shooting around up there that makes you think you can look at me? Huh? Huh? I’m the one standing here, you little stain. You think this is a snake between my legs? It could blow your head off. A BABY COULD DO IT. Just tap tap a tune out on the trigger and there you go, and if you were out here and I was in there it could be you, but walls come for a reason, little man, and you were born on the wrong end.

Or swam into it. Whatever. Don’t make me mix up my metaphors, eh? I may never get them back and then you think you know angry but you don’t. You don’t get it at all, preppy, with your pretty shirt and your iTunes world.

I’m keeping that, by the way.

But the war. Oh yeah. The war. We’re all in it. Little fish fighting for the way upstream to fuck our way into oblivion on the off chance some new upstart little shit will do things better, do things right. Or the islands, yeah—so many, but beneath that sand and dirt is volcanic churning, waiting to get out. We’re going to BURST, man, and everyone’s screaming is it you or me, you or me, and you know what I say?

I say fuck you, you little shit. Crawl back into your cage and cry, because story time’s over.

War is nature. It blindsides you and it sweeps everything else away. The war is absolute, the reasons are secondary—the reasons change, but the war is unchangeable, predetermined. Animals, all of us. Put you in my place, with this gun, and yeah, my brains’d be splattered all over these bars. Ha! Now there’s a thought. Too bad, you know?

If I was anybody else, I’d probably root for you.

[The story continues in Part 3, Blindsided]

In Captivity, Chats with a Mad Man: Hard Landing

(To get into the mindset of a crazy fellow [or at least, a different brand of crazy than I already am] can be a trying process. While characters flit to and fro in the brain, craziness is one that you may not want to spend a lot of time with–for obvious reasons. That said, over the weekend I was struck with an idea for a new segment, a series of short stories from the perspective of one of the aforementioned crazies addressing an unfortunate prisoner–though I suppose the real surprise will be that it’s something modern. Pirates may be involved…or I may have said too much.

So I give to you “In Captivity,” an internet exclusive. The following is free flow dialogue.  The images awaiting you will be what your own mind summons from its murky corners. Posting schedule for the additional chains in the story will probably be…whenever they deem it proper to pop into my head. Marvel, hiss, or shake a walker at me–but I hope you enjoy the step outside my usual domain.)

Dunes

Damn, son. And they thought I was crazy. But there’s no crazy like American crazy, lemme tell you. Whoosh. Just like that. Sea howls and the sky roars and you know what it spits out of that diarrhea-streaked fishbowl? You, like you think you’re some merman or something.

Well the desert isn’t no place for a fishy, boy. Fish boy. Yeah. I like that. You ever think of yourself like a fish, eh? Where’s the rest of your school, fish? What’s that? I can’t hear you. Let’s try again: WHERE’S THE REST OF YOUR SCHOOL, FISH? Oh, you look scared, man. I know. You think I’m crazy. I tell you lots of people think that, you smile or nod your head? Oh, but they don’t say it to my face, so you just remember that.

You want to know where the rest of your school is? Swam, swam away for the summer. That’s what you all wanted to do. Turistas, eh? It’s a funny thing when you think about it. ‘Mama, papa, I just want to be anywhere but with you for a while, and don’t you worry, it’s just me and my cock and a lot of sun. I’m responsible!’ Now that’s love. You don’t get it’s about family. It’s always about family.

And so now where’d all that crazy love get you? Here. Washed up in the middle of the fucking desert. Never saw that coming when you decided to play explorer now did you? Never saw yourself in a cage, no.

But that’s what happens. Americans. You all think the ocean is just like everything else. Manifest Destiny. Some fat old man, he says it’s sea to shining sea but some point came around, and someone else came up and they said sea to shining sea damn well best include the seas themselves and look what happens. It’s one big fucking party!

That is, until you’re two hundred miles off shot, and the world’s all storms, and you’re huddled in the smell of your own piss on your knees praying oh God, oh God, for the sake of the stars and stripes and my fathers and my little semen children save me, I’m a good and faithful shit, and only when the water’s up over your head and the sun’s blotted out of your sky do you begin to finally realize real religion: if there’s a God, he’s one vindictive little shit, or he doesn’t wear a red, white and blue suit.

It’s not all about the shiny but—hey, you know, I like the shiny, so, it’s not all bad, yeah?

I think your friends probably learned that already too. When you hit the rocks, you know, you usually don’t die right away. It takes time. The blood runs out until you can’t move anymore, or the bones break and you can’t move anyway, and all you can do is take this time before the sun or the hunger kills you, wondering, just wondering: what about me? What about my life? Why did I have to be sliced open like a fish?

Wriggle, little man. It’s what fish do. And there’s only so long you can breathe out of water.

But it’s good you’re here, you know? That you let me find you. It’s good. Real good. Gives us time for lessons, see. And it gives me opportunities. There’s a lot of money in the pretty lilies, samaki. Real big. And it’s fun, you know? That’s what we’re gonna have. Real fun.

Now let’s get that gag in. It’s a long way and you stink, little fishy, and we wouldn’t want you to choke.

[The story continues in Part 2, Drops in the Ocean]

Passing Fancy

It is a simmering summer in a sweltering land. I sit, somewhere between the fire and the horizon. There is no sound but the rustle of the page.

Deep breaths. I am in the pages. The pages are in me. Drink them in. Names. Faces. Places. They wash over me and I am no longer I.

Nature breathes with me. Wind scatters pages as ashes on the pyre.

There should be anger. Deep breaths. No rage. Deep breaths. Hands once trembling, still.

Child eyes turn from the pages to the sea, the endless blocks of home on home, houses and fences and little green seas that sway in the wind, wood and bricks and the nothing of them all the little flags on the ships proclaiming to the sky: I will defy.

It is a moment of sight. Homes break, reconstitute into something more. Still no sound. I do not hold the breaths, though such fleeting time seems to earn it. The stillness. I notice it for the first time.

Yet still the wind—the caress. Rough pages, frayed by love spill against the flesh and there is a tingle of excitement.

Tiny thing, the voices say. Tiny thing in a big wild world you are alone and there is no one and nothing and this is all there is and all there will ever be. Words. Only words. There is a base between the covers, a trench beneath bare feet and sun lit dreams.

Mother may I, mother may I—where wanders fickle minds?

The child is alone, he knows, but there is no care. The stillness is in all things, the knowing and the drifting and the being all as much a part of the sound as the silence. Little boxes on the hillside—everyone’s all boxed up and the colors change and the words change but the fact doesn’t change. We don’t see. Somewhere between the ships the buoy fences blinded to the perfection of the rowing, the howl.

I will struggle, the boy says, mind drifting to the distant figures, roaring through the lands both dark and unforgiving. There are shapes. I feel them around me as the shadows of the clouds, the faces framed against the dimness of the light. They will move on. Yet they will never go.

The pen stretches long into the darkness between the posts. Waves crash against it and are consumed. Thirsting men surrender to the inky drink. Lead me away. Away, away. Passing black and white—the world, framed, in the brightness of the mind.

Do, the owl chirps. Do, do, do.

Life is in the doing.

Whoever said life is in the reading?

The tremble in the hand. It is there, always lingering. The horror and the beauty of the frame. The mind stretches further than the body can match. Do, do, do. Philosophers laugh in empty graves. Think, is the reply. Look. Breathe.

I am not breathing.

Escape. Flee. You see, you see the world and how can you ever go back I think and I am—blinking. No more wind. The moment slithers and slips away to the crinkle of the page.

It is the first moment truly seen.

Summer comes but once. It never leaves. The rest—passing strange on the road toward that stillness. One will learn to breathe again.

The Unwanted

Today’s post is a recent scribble. A new short story? A new novel? We’ll see how it develops, but know that it’s a touch of sci-fi, and one I do intend to develop further in the future. Outlines and notations are already swimming through my head, apparently moving into the same high-rise apartments as the second novel (in progress) for my Haunted Shadows trilogy…which is a little awkward. For now, though, enjoy the opening to what is presently operating under the working title, “The Unwanted”:

There was a breath of wind before the light went out of Conira. Somewhere beyond, the fires of dying stars burned into the desolation, their flickers like  a dance to someone, somewhere beneath a cloudless sky. But Conira knew only the veil of sunlight, the clouded kiss of the warming.

Before the ships, the Comuratii never knew the shape of a night’s sky–only its cold kiss. Midnight howls.

The wind swept against the frames of pillars carved against a mountain relief. Dust swirled in the roar as artificial fires drew steel to life–the wide, trackless plain, hemmed in by earthen and handmade boundaries alike. It was opaque and red against the pillars and the clouds, a reflective glimpse of color in the ink. The ship’s fires surged against it, bathed in reflections.

Tiny figures slid across the plain’s expanse, in purposed disarray.

Every night, the spaceport came to life as such, even though its walls opened to the celestial ships just ten times a year. Seamless behemoths, broiling with the heat of entry, would descend in threes–miles and miles of metal, welded and made fit to drift the black. Each came hungry, thirsty, and opened themselves to the bosom of this barren earth.

It was 407 days into the cycle, when an eleventh sojourn cracked against the stone.

The Unwanted craned his neck against the chill, and drank the scent of it. Gasoline and death. It settled over the gathered crowd like a frenzied cloud.

Most had stumbled from their homes at the noise of it. It reverberated in the mountain deeps, luring the way but curious Comuratii from their dreams of distant starlight. Most would not guess its purpose, merely stretch their wings and bask in the bizarre moment of the unscheduled. Bask in the heat of other intellects spread beyond their own fair crust.

The Unwanted stretched his long legs, and marveled at the gust of prickled wind on his back, as it slid from the cracked door. Home. He stared out the window and remembered all that had made it so, even as shadows swallowed the world. Bodies scurried down the hall of the ship. The captain swore, in his guttural tongue. But none of it diluted that moment of remembrance.

Success!

Today’s Quotes of the Week (yes, I’m aware I’ve been a bad writer and neglected these for several weeks – apologies!) are a special bunch indeed. Today, kiddies, our topic is “success.” Why Chris, you might ask, whatever prompted you to speak of success? Why, funny you ask assorted internet browsers!

All image rights copyright/reserved to artist and Wolfsinger Publications.

One of my short stories (“The Child’s Cry”) was recently picked up for publication in the November, 2011 edition of Mystic Signals. Mystic Signals is the print-only companion to fantasy e-zines Lorelei Signal and Sorcerous Signals, all products of Wolfsinger Publications, edited by author Carol Hightshoe. The news put a smile on my face the size of Texas for most the week…

The curious thing is, though, most people immediately go, “That’s great – how much did you get for it?” Allow me to preface by saying: yes, there is payment involved. However, I would like to add that such joy is not about the money. Nor, from the publishing perspective, is the money the important part to me. It’s the recognition. It’s the name on the page. It’s getting to now, when submitting other pieces, being able to come at the writing game from the perspective and title of “published author”. It’s a foot in the door, and not one that I had to make myself (e-book self-publishing and the like – don’t get me wrong though, I’m not hating! In fact, my own first novel will be joining that selection soon…).

So without further adieu, I give you a few wise words on success:

“Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” 
~Winston Churchill

“There is no point at which you can say, ‘Well, I’m successful now.  I might as well take a nap.'” 
~Carrie Fisher

“Don’t aim for success if you want it; just do what you love and believe in, and it will come naturally.” 
~David Frost

* And be sure to keep your eyes peeled for the November edition of Mystic Signals! You can order the individual issue for $12, or (and look at these savings!…oh dear, I think my voice hit car salesman pitch) $15/year for the PDF versions, $44/year for the print edition of magazines. Plus, 75% of that money goes to support your friendly authors and artists you know.  Order for some literary goodness…you know you want to…