Category Archives: Short Stories

40 minute stories, social writing experiments, and longer original pieces.

The Fractal Man (Axiom)

The third iteration (part) of my serial short story will be posted on Wednesday. For today as I sit here in my church listening to some live killer sax (from Molto Cappriccio) and waiting for 147 Windows 7 updates to install, I thought I’d give you a little background for this story, and to reassure some of you that most of it is fictional.

As with a lot of things here on the Blog, this short story is an experiment, a little bit of a departure from my regular genre to write a more introspective piece. My mom said this is a very “English major-y” story. I’m not sure what that means, but as a writer I like to think I can write any sort of genre, hopefully still with my own voice.

This much is true about the story you are reading, whenever I look at trees I see fractals.

It doesn’t quite rise to the level of affliction as with my character, but it is definitely a change in the way I perceive reality. Apparently spending a year and a half in deep study of the subject (and if we’re honest fairly continuous interest afterward) can cause the way you look at the world can change. I don’t know if this is permanent and it isn’t the same for every tree. We visited Jekyll Island for vacation a few weeks ago. There the trees are palm with Spanish moss growing all over them. Though I know they can be modeled with fractals, I haven’t yet studied the method deep enough, and it was somewhat calming to just see trees and not fractals.

I do sill love fractals, I wouldn’t be contemplating writing a second volume about them if I didn’t, but it is fascinating to observe how what you put in your head shapes you. If I had spent the last two years deep in revision in Dark Mater, or writing the next two Surrealities, no doubt my view point would be very different.

Another inspiration for this story is the book The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat, a book containing narrative case studies of various mental afflictions. I found this book deeply fascinating, particularly the ways in which the patients perceive reality, or unreality, when certain parts of the brain are damaged.

As for why I’m writing this story there are a couple of additional reasons. I was a little geared up to write a story this weekend for the NYC Midnight contest, and though I sadly didn’t make it to the second round (though friend of the blog Jo Eberhardt did and hopefully her latest story went well), I wanted to have a place to spend that energy. And as far as process goes, this story is being written on the fly, in much the same fashion as Denied the Stars last year. I know where the story is going, and most of the component parts in the middle (I didn’t avoid going to Vegas just because I’ve never been there in real life, though this be madness and yet there is a method in it). Oh and I know trees aren’t dead in the winter, they lie dormant, but to my character they appear dead. Foreshadowing, or setting a tone ;). Each iteration is written the day before it is posted, usually in about in an hour.

So be sure to check out the first and second iterations before Wednesday. Hopefully you’ve enjoyed the story thus far, and where it is going. Feedback is definitely appreciated. I post stories like this here to learn what works and what doesn’t, so feel free to say anything. And feel free to ask any questions I haven’t covered here. You never know I might answer 😉

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The Fractal Man (Second Iteration)

I had to get out of here. At least for a little while. I needed to leave them behind.

I thought about the plain states, flyover country to most people, but potential sanity for me. all those flat spaces you can see for miles without a tree or a shrub in sight. But nature, even in its most passive of forms is not a friend of my affliction. The whole natural world is fractal, from the veins in leaves, to the patterns in blades of grass. The voices might be shouting quieter in the heartland, but they would still reach me.

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I needed the most unnatural, most human place I could find.

Where else but Las Vegas?

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Out in the middle of that desert, amidst the flashing lights, the gambling, the decadence is the very antithesis of the natural. You don’t go to Vegas to be one with nature. You go to drink, to gamble, to eat beyond gluttony, to consume shows that titillate and amaze, and to leave everything you do in that desert.

I wake every morning and check to see if my chest or my arm is hurting. Some times I tell myself it’s just the way I’m sleeping. Sometimes I think it’s a muscle cramp, or repetitive stress. Sometimes I think it signals the coming heart attack.

But somehow I know it’s fibromyalgia. I can’t say why, but the way the pain feels, the way it travels through my nervous system, seems to be the physical embodiment of what I see every day on my drive. My pain is fractal.

Then again I could just be kidding myself. I don’t eat that well. I live a stressful life. I have a detailed oriented, stressful and sedentary job. I smoke. Just because I’m young doesn’t mean I’m not dying.

I need to get out of here.

Talking to my boss to get time off is surprisingly easy. As passionate, as driven, as important as I feel, I know I am just one interchangeable part in a large machine. I can spend my entire day browsing the net, or listening to the radio and barely writing ten lines of code and I will feel invaluable, and I’ve never been given any sign to the contrary. Sometimes I try to motivate myself out of a sense of professionalism, of knowing that if I ever lost this job I would have to raise my standards. But somehow I can never bring myself to do this.

I decide to fly to Vegas, not only so that I can spend more time there, but because the thought of a cross country drive taxes my ability to cope. I can survive the thirty minutes it takes to get home each day, but 12 hours for multiple days? And the unfamiliarity of the country side only causes the images to jump out at me all the quicker. I am bombarded by new stimuli. A plane is safer. If I fly in coach with the window shade pulled down. Even the flyover states look different from the sky.

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I spend most of the flight asleep with a mask over my eyes, and headphones in my ears. I don’t want to talk to anybody. I don’t want to take in anything new. I want to step off this plane and find myself in the middle of sin city. And after four hours I do step off the plane. I walk to the end of a long narrow hallway, and my eyes refocus as real sunlight hits them again.

Except it is not real sunlight, but light tinged with gray, and the same endless winter that has trapped me for months.

I am standing in the same terminal from which I departed. My plane flew for hours and I never left.

What the hell is going on?

To be continued

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The Fractal Man (First Iteration)

If I leave for work early enough, I don’t see them.

I can drive in total darkness, and though I know they are all around me, somehow I can keep my mind calm. I take back roads and places were lights are never on, but inevitably that means I am only surrounded by more of them.

The time change has been playing hell with my plans. Not only has it negatively affected my sleep schedule, but now the sun rises and I can’t even step outside my house before I see one.

Trees, dead trees. They’re everywhere you look.

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It doesn’t snow much where I live. With snow the pattern is blurred, the image less sharp. My mind can float between long patches of white and it never tries to land. Of course I know that each snowflake is one too, but it’s the trees that haunt me. The trees that demand my attention.

The sky is perpetual gray. It should have been spring weeks ago, but all we seem to have is winter. Every day it’s cold and my windshield is covered with a diffusion limited aggregate which I quickly try to dissolve with my heater. Then I drive and there’s L-system’s everywhere.

I don’t see the math. As good as I am, I’m a programmer after all, I don’t have the RAM to look at a tree and see how it was made. But I see the pattern, see each branch split and then split again, each part similar if not identical to the part that came before.

In the spring, summer and fall the leaves hide the pattern. Sure, there are iterated function systems for leaves but they’re too chaotic to nail down. They’re focused on numbers. L-systems, however, they’re just words, letters, commands. The mind is built on an L-system. The brain is a three-dimensional Hilbert curve. The lungs, an inversion of the trees I see every morning. Maybe that’s why they steal my breath away when I look at them.

I try to focus on the road, on the wavering yellow line, the cracked pavement, the dust on my dashboard. Anything to keep my world inside the car, into the few feet directly in front of me. Of course this isn’t a very safe way to drive, but somehow I manage.

Work is calmer. Desks, cabinets, tables, chairs, cups of coffee as long as it’s kept in a thermos where the steam cannot escape. It’s all so human, so Euclidean, so simple. Nothing is chaotic. Each day is a repetition of the one previous. Every conversation is a variation on the same couple of phrases. Each cubicle individual but the same, arranged in grids, with calm regular hallways.

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The food is simpler too. Hamburgers in round disks. Fries in long rectangles, or tots in cylinders if the mood strikes. Anything organic has been homogenized, processed, packaged until it is comfortable for the human form to consume. Even the pi/4 radians of pizza.

I don’t like my work. I mean who does really? But it’s the only time I don’t really think about them. My building’s in an industrial park with lots of stark parking lots, and the few trees that are in the distance can only be seen from the windows of people with much better offices than mine.

But inevitably the day ends and I have one of those work places where people are actually encouraged to keep regular eight hour schedules so I can’t hide in my cubicle waiting for it to be dark again. Fortunately, there’s a bar right down the road. It’s surrounded by trees of course, but the windows are shuttered, the room kept dark for the TV’s and pool tables. I drink weak beer and wait, every now and again going outside for a cigarette to see if it’s safe to move again.

I really should quit smoking, but somehow the thought of what the habit is doing to those perfect bronchioles makes me smile, helps me to calm down. But the habit also forces me outside and outside is where they can find me.

The beer dulls the senses enough to put a haze on the world around me, further helping my efforts to stay inside the car. I don’t get drunk very easily, I’m a pretty big guy after all, but if I drink the right I amount I can dull my senses until I can get back to my house.

I sit in the living room again because I don’t have the courage to enter my office. My books are there. I could just get rid of them, after all they’re the reason any of this is happening in the first place. But knowledge isn’t something you can just package up and send out of your life. And those books call to me at night, dying to reveal their secret truths of the universe to which they have only given me a glimpse.

Instead I drown myself in the banality of reality television and game shows, eating the same frozen burrito every night for dinner. I go to bed, and I pray that my dreams are black, calm, silent.

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And this is how I spend my days, or at least that’s how it’s been for the last three years. The world is an endlessly repeating self-similar place, and I’m beginning to wonder if things will be this way forever.

To be continued

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Forty Minute Story “Teardrop”

The girl next to me is wearing earrings like the ones I bought for my love.

I suppose she’s a woman, not a girl, but it’s difficult to tell from the gray wool hat she wears indoors even though it’s a mild day. I’m trying not to notice any of her other characteristics since I am a married man after all.

The earings are a simple smooth stone, hers are azure, the same color as my love’s. It’s in the shape of a teardrop, with a plain silver border, though the border on this girl’s earing looks a touch more elaborate. I wonder if she bought them herself or if someone gave them to her, maybe a lover or even a friend. Maybe even her parents, but she seems like someone who wouldn’t wear much that they bought her.

The teardrop bulges more than my love’s earrings, almost as if it’s ready to fall. When she turns her head to the side I can almost see through the stone, like a marble. I can only see one side of her head so I guess I’m assuming she has a matching one on the other side. She may have worn only one for some kind of a fashion statement. I can’t think of what that statement might be other than ‘I lost my earring.’

I don’t know where my love’s other earring is. I remember it, lying beside her on the living room floor. It had popped loose and was lying near her shoulder when she collapsed. It’s been a long time since she fainted, and I was worried. One minute we were arguing and the next she was on the ground, her face blank and unseeing. Her eyes were dry, not even producing a single tear. I remember looking at that earring and thinking it was the tear she couldn’t shed, in those terrible seconds that felt like hours before she regained consciousness.

She smiled at me, her face so warm after being so cold. She could see the worry, the tears I wasn’t shedding, and she wanted to make me feel better. Her own feelings would take hold later, concern and worry and shock, but in that instant I was all she cared about, and she was all I cared about.

Sitting here month’s later I can’t forget that moment. I’ve bought her a couple of pairs of earrings like those since, one black and one green, but I’ve never found that blue one. It might have gotten kicked under the couch when EMT’s came. I might have picked it up and put it somewhere without remembering. Or maybe somehow it wound up with this girl, so they could remind me to not spend all my time alone in coffee shops.

Do you think it’d be weird if I leaned over and asked her for it back?

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