Science fiction, fantasy, dark fantasy, speculative fiction and a touch of horror, this collection plays with just about every genre it can lay its hands on. C.M. Simpson explores new worlds, new settings and lets loose some ideas that just needed to be gotten out of her head.
If short stories are your thing—and the shorter the better—you can find tiny tales from a wide variety of genres in 365 Days of Flash Fiction.
Some of them have been produced in answer to challenges put out by other writers, like the tale of Hasken’s choice:
This was written in response to Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge set on 30 August 2013. I had no title, no idea what the story would be, but I randomly rolled my setting and was given “a penal colony set up by space-faring elves”. This is what came out. It was posted on my blog on 2 September 2013.
The first guard doubled over at 1800 hours. Dusk. According to one movie, ‘magic hour’. None of the inmates had heard of the movie, let alone seen it. If they had, they would have recognized old history – an entire species wiped out by the ingenuity of man. No wonder the elves had been angry.
The dragons had been a trap – an elven trap, vengeance on the human race, any race who dug so far into the world for nothing more than mineral wealth. In truth, it had probably been a trap meant for the dwarves, the world-eating hives of kesteringus, or the Venusian mole men who murdered creatures of fire and acid whenever they could.
Knives in the gut, Hasken thought, seeing the figure topple as he set another seedling firmly into its pot. Poor bastard.
Hasken had not approved of the idea, and the others had exiled him to the potting sheds. No one liked the sheds; they were death traps for most months of the year, but this month Hasken was lucky. He wasn’t dealing with spike-throwing anthrogens, head-biting kalloskathies, or symbiotically-linked carnivores. This month, he was dealing with sap-covered, thorn-encrusted, stink-oozing floriskanths. Nothing a good pair of protective gloves and a gas mask couldn’t deal with. Piece of cake by comparison.
The second guard fell off her hadrosaur at 1805. The hadrosaur stood, staring out at the horizon, while its rider curled into a ball, groaning at its feet. Hasken caught his glove on the thorns, swore as he carefully disentangled his fingers from the grasping points, ungluing the glove from binding sap. A cuff over the back of his head reminded Hasken cursing was forbidden.
Hasken apologized, crooning gently. Some of the other inmates were deliberately cruel, earning exile from the potting sheds. Most avoided the duty where they could. Hasken was one of the few who relished it. He waited for the guard behind him to move on. The guard did not.
Looking up, Hasken saw the guard staring out through the fence at the hadrosaur. Hasken supposed he should do something about that, but didn’t. He hadn’t agreed with the plan. It was stupid and cruel; it sickened him and he wanted no part in it. Not even the small one being offered. He followed the guard’s gaze, gasping as though just noticing the beast and its fallen rider.
The guard moved like lightening, slapping a hand on the emergency alarm, and jamming a long-barreled pistol against Hasken’s head.
“The skanth,” Hasken said, locking himself in place, resisting the urge to sweep the pistol away and jam the thorny sap-coated seedling into the guard’s gut. He’d been accused of murder, had indeed committed it, and had never regretted it. The death wasn’t why he’d been imprisoned.
The dead man hadn’t been able to admit sabotaging the air processor, and Hasken was only half-way through repairing it when the ship’s security team caught him. Half fixed, half broken – it all looked the same to the captain, especially when the dead man had been meant to be in the life support area, and Hasken had not.
Why was he there?
A deterioration in air quality and change in the sound from the engines pumping the air, whenever that technician was on shift.
How had he noticed that?
The fact he’d been carrying his own testing equipment had only been held against him. The fact his room shared a wall with the plant equipment, ignored. What had he hoped to gain blackmailing the shipping line?
In the end, Hasken had been jailed for murder and sabotage. He’d been hoping to reach Earth, put some of his theories into practice, regrow something on the wastes, replant… Bad luck to have found an elf-hating saboteur on the cruise line for which he’d gathered a fare. Bad luck to be implicated in one of the most serious of space-lane crimes.
“Finish it, but slowly.”
Once the guard had stepped back, and was dividing his attention between watching the door, watching Hasken and watching the hadrosaur beyond the fence. Hasken set the floriskanth seedling in its pot, tamped down the earth, and disentangled his fingers before setting the pot beside the others. When he was finished, he placed his hands on his thighs and stayed, kneeling on the floor.
At 18:16, the third guard crumbled, releasing his grip on the shock chains keeping his velociraptors in check. Screams rose from the prisoners harvesting tubers two enclosures over. The elf guard swore. At 18:17 he groaned, and dropped to his knees, keeping the pistol aimed at Hasken’s head by sheer force of will.
At 18:18, Hasken watched and made his move as the pistol wavered. He rose, turning as he gained his feet, avoiding the first dart. The guard did not get to fire a second; Hasken kicked the gun from his hand, while reaching behind a row of floriskanth seedlings and potting tools.
“Here’s something I prepared earlier,” he muttered, pulling out the tuber he’d stashed there earlier. It was the only antidote he knew.
The guard had curled in on himself, by the time Hasken reached his side. Pulling the elf into his lap and locking him against his chest with his forearms, Hasken tilted the elf’s head back, relieved when the guard’s mouth opened in a groan. With a grunt of effort, Hasken twisted the tuber so that it broke, crushing the fibers at its core and releasing a mixture of seed-encrusted pulp held together in mucous-like sap.
Any runnier, and he’d have failed but, by the time the raptors had quelled the uprising in the field, and reinforcements had taken back the buildings where inmates were still struggling with locking mechanisms biometrically attuned elsewhere ,Hasken had guided the oozing mess between his captor’s lips. Not a single prisoner made it past the inner fences, but only one guard survived.
Hasken had sworn he would never again be caught with a dead body on his hands.