Who am I?

I'm an Agilist, a software engineer, a gamer, an improviser, a podcaster emeritus, and a wine lover. Learn more.

Currently Consuming
  • Zeus Grants Stupid Wishes: A No-Bullshit Guide to World Mythology
    Zeus Grants Stupid Wishes: A No-Bullshit Guide to World Mythology
    by Cory O'Brien
  • The Heraldic Imagination
    The Heraldic Imagination
    by Rodney Dennys
  • The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable
    The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable
    by Patrick Lencioni
  • Tournaments: Jousts, Chivalry and Pageants in the Middle Ages
    Tournaments: Jousts, Chivalry and Pageants in the Middle Ages
    by Richard Barber, Juliet Barker
  • North Through Its Names: A Phenomenology of Medieval And Early-modern Northern England (English Surname Survey)
    North Through Its Names: A Phenomenology of Medieval And Early-modern Northern England (English Surname Survey)
    by David Postles

Paul Tevis

Entries in flash fiction (10)

Thursday
Jan122012

The Obvious Child

Has it really been a week already?

***

“Stand down, Marine. She’s just a kid.”

The flamethrower Corporal Howser was holding dipped slightly. “The Major said to sterilize the ship, sir.”

“That’s what we’re doing. Burn the bodies, wipe the data storage, and point this hulk into the sun,” the Lieutenant replied. “We’re taking the kid with us back to the Agamemnon, so the doc can take a look at her. Do you have a problem with that?”

“No, sir.”

“It sounded like you did. Major Danforth thought everyone over here was dead. Turns out that’s not the case, so we’re making adjustments. Now stand down, Corporal.”

Howser managed half a salute before turning and heading down the corridor towards the ship’s drive reactors, flamethrower at the ready. Lieutenant Mitchell turned back to the storage locker where the little blonde-haired girl huddled.

“It’s okay,” Mitchell said, holstering his sidearm as he knelt down and pulled a protein bar out of his pack. The girl couldn’t have been more than four years old. She watched him, her mouth slightly open, her eyes tracking his movements as he unwrapped the snack and offered it to her. She did not move.

“Go on, take it,” he said. “You should eat something. How long have you been in there? A few hours? Days? I bet you’re hungry.”

As he said the word “hungry,” a spindly tentacle shot out of the girl’s mouth, crossing the one-meter gap between them in the blink of an eye. The stinger at its tip pierced the back of Lieutenant Mitchell’s throat, and he began to gag. The girl collapsed forward, and he fell back into blackness.

The parasite wasted no time in hijacking his central nervous system. The five days it had spent in the girl’s body was more than enough time to adapt to human physiology. Within minutes, Mitchell’s body was up and moving about again. When Corporal Howser returned, the little girl was finishing off the protein bar the Lieutenant had given her. By the time the Marines returned to the Agamemnon, it was all over but the shouting.

Thursday
Jan052012

The People Who Dwelled In Darkness

Another story for Chuck.

I feel like this one didn’t quite come together. I’d love to take another crack it with some more time and a few thousand more words.

***

“We found their camp just across the river,” Lyssa said to her mother across the white plastic breakfast table. “They obviously weren’t expecting pursuit.”

Sandra nodded, poking her spoon at the cereal Lyssa had carefully weighed out. During her pregnancy, the Overseer was entitled to an extra half ration. The rest of the time — despite the opulence of her quarters — she ate no better than the rest of the Dwellers.

“And when you found them?” her mother asked as she lifted the spoon to her mouth. The diffuse light from the overhead fixture disguised the lines on her face, adding to the effect of pregnancy by softening her normally harsh expression even more.

“We waited until moonset and then slaughtered them in their sleep,” Lyssa replied, taking a spoonful of her own breakfast. The protein liquid tasted off.

“Good, good,” Sandra said. Her mouth puckered, and she looked at her daughter.

“I’d seen reports from Production that they’ve had a few bad batches recently,” Lyssa said.

“I’m sure it’s nothing,” her mother said, dipping her spoon into the bowl for another bite. “The occasional funny taste beats starving out in the Wild.” She chewed thoughtfully for a moment. “So?”

“We waited until sunrise, then brought the stolen food crates back to the Dwelling with us.”

“Had they eaten much?”

“About fifty daily-rations worth.”

“And there were only a dozen of the thieves?”

“They were hungry,” Lyssa said. “If they weren’t, they wouldn’t have been desperate enough to try something this bold.”

“Yes, I suppose so,” her mother said. “I don’t know why you must always go on these dangerous missions yourself. You could just as easily send one of the Culled to oversee the business.”

“They would just as likely join those thieves as hunt them down,” Lyssa said, pushing the empty bowl away from her. “Most of them would think they have as good a chance in the Wild as they do here.”

“Nonsense. So long as the Culled continue to pull their weight in the Dwelling, they’ll continue to have a place,” Sandra said, and Lyssa heard the voice of the Overseer return.

Two days before, Lyssa had overseen the Reclamation of twenty-six Culled men who had been declared a Drain on Resources. She did not share her mother’s optimism about the Culled’s loyalty.

“I go because I need to see all parts of our society,” Lyssa said. “If you wish me to succeed you as Overseer, I need to understand the whole, not just pleasant parts that Dwellers see every day.”

“The beasts of the Wild are hardly part of ‘our society,’” her mother said. “They have no laws or rules to speak of.”

“We are defined by how we treat others.”

There was silence for a time as the Overseer pushed her still half-empty bowl away and sipped her tea.

“Have you picked a Stud yet?” she asked at last, placing her hand instinctively on her swelling belly. Her daughter’s was lean and taught.

“No.”

“I know, it can be so hard to choose between good options,” her mother said, smiling. “Which ones have you tried out?”

***

When they lay spent and naked under the canopy of trees, their bodies glistening in the waning crescent of the moon, their breath coming smoothly again, Lyssa finally spoke.

“You told them how to get inside, didn’t you?”

Her dark-eyed, bronzed-skin lover did not reply. Instead, she rolled to face away from Lyssa, pulling the edge of the blanket over to cover herself.

“I was worried you were with them, Moira,” she continued.

“And if I had been?” Moira said over her shoulder. “If you had found me with them? Would you have killed me as casually as you did them?”

“Of course not. How could you think that, after all of the clothing and medical supplies I’ve smuggled out for your band?” Lyssa said, reaching a hand out to stroke Moira’s bare back. “That’s why I had to lead them, to make sure nothing happened to you.”

The Wild girl did not respond to Lyssa’s touch. “What would you have done if it had been me?”

There was silence for a time between them. At last, Lyssa rolled off the blanket, stood, and began to dress.

“It’s time for me to bear a child,” Lyssa said when she was clothed again.

This time Moira rolled toward Lyssa, still clutching the blanket around her.

“What?”

“If I don’t, the Arbiters will declare me a Drain on Resources.”

“They would murder the Overseer’s daughter for not bearing children?”

“It’s not murder. It’s maintaining the balance. If we don’t breed, humanity will die out. And there’s only so much food to go around.”

“Which is why you murder nine boys out of ten before they are a month old,” Moira said, turning away. The shadow of a tree branch cast a jagged shadow across her back.

“How many bulls does one herd need?”

“You’ll need to practice your moo-ing, then.”

***

“It is the judgment of the Arbiters that you are a Drain on the Resources of the Dwelling,” Sandra said. “You will be taken to Production for immediate Reclamation.”

Lyssa bowed her head. “I submit to the judgment of the Arbiters,” she said. “And now, you will yourselves be judged.”

She touched the button on the transmitter she had concealed within her jumpsuit, and the first of the bombs exploded, shattering the ceiling of the cavernous central hall of the Dwelling and tearing hole in its side. Sunlight streamed in, dazzling the crowd as it began to panic. The second detonated a moment later, bringing the remainder of the supports down, and creating a cascade of structural failures that quickly spread throughout the complex.

***

Two days later, when her band of Wildlings scavenged the remains of the Dwelling, Moira found Lyssa’s body lying face down, not from the corpse of her mother. When she turned it over, she found a smile on her dead lover’s face.

Friday
Dec232011

Sjdbeck Farm

Here’s another piece of flash fiction for one of Chuck’s challenges. The initial inspiration for this one is picture number #26 on this list, but once I got going, a number of other muses appeared.

When the fall of civilization came, as he knew it would, Gustav Sjdbeck was ready for it.

“We shall go to America,” Gustav’s father, Carl, said to him on the eve of his seventeenth birthday. Gustav’s mother had died in the night before, and within two months the guns of August would bring death to peace in Europe as well. Although he knew that Sweden would largely be spared the horrors of the coming Great War, they were still too close for the elder Sjdbeck’s taste. So he and his only son packed their belongings, left the town of Linköping where their family had lived in the shadow of the Linköpings domkyrka — of the great cathedral of the town — for twelve generations, and sailed for a new world.

“This is a good place,” said Carl, when he and Gustav finally arrived in Lindström, Minnesota, not far from the Wisconsin border. Gustav had fallen in love with Chicago, City of the Big Shoulders, with its tool-making and its playing with railroads, but Chisago County was good farming country and more to Carl’s tastes. Linköping was small enough that you could live in the town but still be part of the country; the same was not true of Chicago. So as Europe tore itself to pieces, father and son set to work building a new life on the sprawling acreage they came to call Sjdbeck Farm. Carl’s head for systems and organization kept things running smoothly, and his insight into the turning of the seasons spared them from disasters that nearly wiped out their neighbors. Gustav’s knack for tinkering annoyed his father at first, but Carl came around, as Gustav found ways to automate and mechanize tasks so that he could do with three men what took other farmers ten. By the mid-twenties, Sjdbeck Farm was the envy of its neighbors, and the two men prospered.

“There are things you should know about,” said Carl, as he lay dying. His son was nearing forty now with three children of his own, and he was close to seventy. Europe was the brink of another war, the bitter fruit of the vengeful settlement of the last one. Carl would not live to see its conclusion, and he feared that his son would not either. In the deep of winter, by candlelight, he told his son those things he had kept hidden, those notions Gustav had speculated about and dismissed as fairytale nonsense. He told his son how it was he knew about those things unseen and events yet to come, about those who knew how to read movements of the stars and the listen to the secrets of the animals. And he told his son about those few who knew how to do more than just observe, who even now flocked to secret orders that gathered under the banner of the crooked cross. He foresaw what was coming, and with this last breath he told his son to prepare for it.

“It has happened,” said Gustav one morning in July. He saw it in the death of the bees in the orchard, heard it whispered in the voice of the brook, felt it in the suddenly cold wind from the north. He called his tall three daughters to him — his Norns he now called them — and told them that they time they had prepared for was at hand. They nodded gravely and set about their tasks. They retrieved the rifles and shotguns from their hidden cache and distributed them to the family members and farmhands, directing them to their appointed places to secure the entrances to the farm. They checked on the stockpiles of food and fuel and hoped it was enough to last through the awful great winter that was coming. Gustav walked slowly his workshop and unlocked the door, the mechanism moving soundlessly and effortlessly he turned the key in the lock. In front were a pair of Allis-Chalmers Model E tractors, though close inspection would reveal subtle changes in the engine and loader, and anyone who used the machine would notice that it ran quieter and smoother than normal but seemed to have more power. Behind them was a trio of what had begun life as John Deere Model GM, with their larger engine blocks and six-speed transmission. There was no mistaking the changes to these; the flamethrowers were the least ostentatious additions. Further back in the workshop were the machines that were entirely Gustav’s design, more Panzer than tractor. They would see use in the coming weeks, of that he was sure. The mad Swede walked to the nearest ten-wheeler, started the engine, and drove it out of the workshop to help his daughters distribute arms and ammunition.

Ragnarök would be the death of the gods, but it would not be death of Sjdbeck Farm.

Friday
Dec092011

An Affliction of Alliteration

Here’s another piece of fiction I wrote for one of Chuck’s challenges.

The Five Four O’clock Flashers of the Great Garden
Or, The Elector and the Exhibitionists

When Augustus the Strong, Elector of Saxony, King of Poland, and Grand Duke of Lithuania, ordered a copy of the Aphrodite Kallipygos for the Great Garden of the city of Dresden, he could not have anticipated what would transpire.

As a young man, Augustus had visited the court of the Sun King, and when he became Elector of Saxony (after his older brother died without issue), he resolved to make Dresden as full of splendor as Versailles was. Augustus was every bit the absolute ruler as Louis XIV, and he spared no expense to make his seat of government a wonder to behold. The Great Garden was the centerpiece of his works. It lay just beyond the old city walls, its landscape bedecked with statuary and sculpture. When he had seen the Aphrodite Kallipygos in Rome, he knew that a copy must be his.

“Kallipygos” is a Greek word that means “of the beautiful buttocks,” which may explain Augustus’ fascination with the statue. The sculpture depicts a beautiful woman (reputedly the goddess Aphrodite) lifting up her peplos — the slight garment favored by Greek women in the Classical period — to reveal her shapely backside. Augustus was well-acquainted with shapely backsides; despite his marriage at a young age to Christiane Eberhardine of Brandenburg-Bayreuth, he was known to have had at least a dozen mistresses, and though he had only one legitimate child, he was by some accounted to have fathered more than three hundred children.
This was the kind of man, then, who walked through the Great Garden in the city of Dresden, at just past four in the afternoon on Wednesday, the twenty-third day of June, in the Year of Our Lord Seventeen Hundred Twenty-Three.

Augustus was recently returned from Warsaw. Since his election to the throne of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, his rule over those lands had suffered one setback after another. Though he was greatly desirous of that realm — he had imperiled his own standing as Prince-Elector of Saxony by converting to Catholicism in order to make himself eligible for the throne — he never felt as at home in Warsaw as he did in Dresden. He had not yet visited his wife (who refused to join him in Poland) and he was that afternoon enjoying the rare opportunity for a constitutional through the Great Garden. The Elector had brought his financial ministers with him, and he was indulging in one of his most common pastimes: Haranguing them about their inability to produce more revenues to fund his beautification projects. As they walked through the garden, he continued his exhortations to find new taxes to apply that would raise the necessary money without inciting a general revolt, his words given particular emphasis by the ivory-handled cane with which he jabbed at the air. Just as he passed the fountain he had built two summers past, he noticed that his companions’ objections had suddenly ceased. As he turned to scowl at them, he discovered why.

In front of the Aphrodite Kallipygos — unveiled not three weeks earlier — stood five women. They ranged in age from the middle teens to the early geriatric. All five of them mimicked the statue’s pose: their heads turned over their right shoulders, their skirts hiked up to their waists, and their bottoms bare. For a brief moment, Augustus fell as silent as his councilors.

The moment was broken when the Elector’s cane clattered to the ground, his famously strong grip having failed him in this moment of confusion. The women’s heads swiveled toward his party, and as they saw the gathered onlookers, they scattered in every direction.

“Halt!” cried Augustus. “I command it!” But they did no such thing. His ministers were all men in their fifties, as he was, and ill-suited to give chase. The two younger guardsmen with them might have had a chance, but their pursuit was doomed by head start their quarry had over them. In a flash, they were gone.

“What is the meaning of this?” demanded Augustus. His companions shook their heads and suggested they examine the statue more closely. The perplexed company walked across the glade to where the sculpture stood, but drawing closer revealed no further clues as to the reason for the women’s behavior.

“I will get to the bottom of this,” said Augustus as the troupe returned to the palace. One of the guards snickered at this, but did so out of earshot of the Elector.

Throughout that summer, Augustus turned his city upside-down searching for the five women he saw that afternoon. Word went out for the exhibitionists to turn themselves in. It was said that they would not be punished, and that the Elector only wished an explanation of their curious gathering. When they failed to produce themselves, he offered a reward for any information that would lead to their discovery. This, too, bore no fruit. As summer turned to fall, the great man’s obsession and desperation grew. Augustus’ men were seen ransacking the homes of people alleged to be hiding the mysterious ladies. In October of that year a rumor passed through the city that Augustus the Strong, Elector of Saxony, King of Poland, Grand Duke of Lithuania, had been seen, late one night, in the Great Garden, wearing a peplos and gazing over his shoulder at his own bare bottom. Surely such talk was but slander spread by the Elector’s enemies and should not be taken seriously.

On the first day of February 1733, Augustus died in Warsaw at the age of 63, never having discovered why five women revealed their bottoms on that afternoon ten years earlier.

In February 1945, the Aphrodite Kallipygos of the Great Garden was destroyed in the Allied bombing of Dresden, its shapely behind consumed by the flames of war.

Thursday
Nov242011

A Star is Born

It’s been a few weeks, but I’ve written another piece of flash fiction, again for one of Chuck Wendig’s challenges. This one was particularly interesting to write; I used my recently acquired set of Rory’s Story Cubes to help me along.

Arturo Fuego, who in ten years would be hailed as the greatest dramatic tenor of his generation, stood in the wings with a frog in his throat.

The opera-goers had just discovered Enrico Arboles would not be performing his most famous role, having developed a severe fever an hour before. The theatre was deeply in debt and so had not cancelled the performance. Bringing in the understudy was a risk they had to take.

“The audience expects nothing of you,” his father had said over the phone. “Forget Arboles. Be Fuego.”

The orchestra started to play, and the legend began.