Tag Archives: forty-minute story

Forty Minute Story “All a girl wants is a big rock”

I’m a nice guy if you get to know me.

I know I seem hard on the outside. Well, on the inside too actually. But I like people, really I do.

It’s true that I’ve spent a lot of years doing the lone wolf thing, on the road all by myself, never staying in one place too long. But I used to have friends. I know how to be social.

Granted, all me and my mates used to do was bang into each other, but what group of guys doesn’t have a little fun rough housin’. Sure bits of us were broken from time to time but that’s life, you get a few cuts and scrapes.

But now I’m gonna die and it’s all because of a girl.

A real clingy one too. She’s been pullin’ at me ever since she first lay eyes on me. Hell, maybe even before that. I was mindin’ my own business, visiting some of my cousins when I first lay eyes on her.

She was so … blue.

Not sad mind you. But more like blue and innocent and pure. Virginal even. Unspoiled.

You can see the appeal.

But she’s a trickster. I didn’t stand a chance with her. She’s had her eye on me, and she’s been pulling me closer ever since. Already the air between us is becoming warmer. It won’t be long before she pulls me to her in one first, last, fatal embrace.

And all with him watching too.

See, she’s not as innocent as she looks. She’s brought men to her before. One in particular had such an impact on her he took a piece of her with him, and he’s been hangin’ around ever since.

Still, he did try to warn me. Not that there’s anything I could have done. And he isn’t gonna stop me, for fear that she’ll change her mind, and want him for another tumble.

That’s all women seem to want men for anyway, a little hay-howdy. Maybe kill a few spiders, or in this case lizards or giant birds or whatever the hell they are.

Wham bam and then extinction.

Earth’s a heartless bitch.

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PS. Brian, it’s been a long time coming, but I finally got this one together. Hope you enjoyed!

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Forty-Minute Story “Gray”

This is a sequel of sorts to a scene I wrote about eight months ago, itself a tangential piece relative to one of my works in progress. Before you read this scene, you may want to go back and read “Dust“. Enjoy!

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The orange sphere arced through the air on the way to its target. Cora stood watching the ball, her “fingers” still out-stretched hoping to hear the satisfying flick of “nothing but net.” All her ears were met with, however, was the capricious clank of backboard, and rubber against the gym floor.

“Pretty close from half court,” a familiar voice shouted.

The last few months had brought a degree of informality between Cora and her commanding officer. Instead of snapping into a salute, Cora ran forward to pick up the errant ball and position herself back at the center line.

“I’d like to see you do better.” Cora pulled the ball up to her chest, her elbows flying out to chest pass the ball, but dropping at the last second with a little laughter, and a softer toss.

“A throw like that and you’d put me down in rehab with you,” He joked, passing the ball casually from hand to hand.

“No thanks,” Cora said, using her flesh and blood arm to wipe the sweat from her forehead. “Been seeing too much of you as it is.”

“I notice the arm’s sill gray.”

“Yeah, what of it?”

“You know the nanites can be rearranged to realistically mimic skin. You’ve got yours looking like a prosthetic arm from twenty years ago.”

“Mimic skin, huh? Like this?” Cora flicked her wrist and within in an instant she had a flesh and blood hand, attached to a dull gray robotic arm. She flayed her fingers to examine them.

“I could never get my nails looking this nice, even with a dozen manicures. See?”

She held up her other arm for comparison.

Her commander took her hand. It was cool to the touch, but otherwise felt perfectly normal. Her fingernails scratched his hand as she pulled back suddenly, another flick restoring the cold gray appearance.

“I keep it this way because I don’t want to stand out from the other soldiers. It’s bad enough I’m one of the only ones with a private room, I don’t need anyone else prying about the special hardware you’ve grafted onto me.”

“Excuse me?”

“I’m no fool. This wasn’t just a new experimental procedure, the next generation in prosthetics or whatever line you sold me. You built me for a purpose, and I think it’s about time you told me.”

She swiped for the ball with the new arm and flung it toward the basket without looking. The ball was palmed in her iron grip as her arm stretched and arced, her eyes never breaking contact with her commander. When her hand was just above the basket she just dropped the ball, and was rewarded with the swish she’d been looking for.

“That’s why I’m here, Cora. I think it’s time for your first assignment.”

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Forty Minute Story (“Future Self”)

“John, see that bloke across the street?”

“Where?”

“The one in the white shirt buying coffee.”

“I think you’ll have to be more specific.”

“He’s right at the front of the line!”

“What kind of coffee is he drinking?”

“How should I bloody know?! He’s across the street! You see him?”

“Of course, Dave. We’ve been talking about him for the last 30 seconds. What about him?”

“That’s my new boss, Brian.”

“I didn’t know video store clerks had bosses, Dave.”

“What? Of course they do, and I haven’t worked at the rental shop for at least three months.”

“Oh smart move. I don’t know who rents movies anymore. Where d’you work now?”

“Bookstore. Anyway, Brian’s me future self.”

“I don’t know if owner of a bookshop is the best life goal, Dave.”

“No, I don’t look up to him, I mean he’s me, from the future.”

“But he’s at least two inches taller than you.”

“A man can still grow after his twenties right?”

“I suppose so. How d’you know he’s you? Has he said anything?”

“No. It’s just a sense I have. I’ve thought it since the moment I saw him.”

“Even though he doesn’t look a thing like you.”

“They have plastic surgery! Maybe I’ve been sent back for some kind of mission, to change a critical point in my life.”

“Like preventing yourself from working at a bookshop?”

“No, I’m serious. Maybe it’s a dangerous relationship, some woman takes me for half me money.”

“You haven’t had a date in six months.”

“Well time travel isn’t the most reliable is it? Maybe he got here earlier than he planned and is waiting for the time to be right. Or he’s building up trust with his younger self so that I’ll believe him when he tells me what he’s come here to do.”

“That does sound like something you’d do.”

“Look I know it sounds like I’ve been watching too much sci-fi, but it’s a sense I can’t shake.”

“Oh, I know people are here from the future. I just can’t imagine what they’d need to do with you.”

“Pardon?”

“Well it’s obvious isn’t it? Take Conan O’Brien, his future self’s been walking around for years.”

“Really? Who?”

“Donald Trump, isn’t it obvious? Why do you think they used to work at the same network?”

“Trump?”

“Think about it. Conan’s never really gotten over the whole Tonight Show thing. Sure he seems cool about it now but add another ten years and he’ll become a bitter malicious old sod. What better way to take revenge than to amass a huge fortune, and tell a bunch of celebrities they’re fired.”

“But Trump’s so much shorter than Conan?”

“Well that doesn’t matter does it? Your future self is taller. Maybe height can be whatever you choose in the future.”

“What about the hair?”

“Well if I’m not mistaken your Brian’s wearing a rug. Maybe jumping back in time causes you to lose your hair.”

“You’ve gone daft man.”

“No, I’m serious. Here’s another one. Daniel Radcliffe, y’know Harry Potter?”

“I believe I’ve heard of him.”

“Well he’s obviously John Oliver.”

“Who?”

“The summer host of The Daily Show.”

“I’d thought Jon Stewart was looking better these days.”

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Forty-Minute Story “Babel”

Blogger’s Note: The blog will be on hiatus next week, but will return April 29th.

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“So, when are we gonna start this thing or what?”

It was crowded in Brian’s dorm room. About six or seven of his fellow computer science majors and a few other casual observers had been coaxed into the room with free beer and the promise of seeing “something cool”.

“Yeah, us actual computer science engineering majors have some physics tests to fail.” Brian was a computer information science major, not an engineer like the rest of them, a fact the engineers tended to remind him of frequently. Brian let it slide as he always did, knowing that the rest of them wished they had chosen the path without all the ridiculous courses that were kicking their butt.

“I think we can begin,” Brian said, taking a sip of his own beer. “The next 10 minutes took months to generate and actually bricked the desktop you see behind you.”

Everyone took a curious swivel, then turned back to Brian.

“Fortunately the hard drive wasn’t cooked or else we’d be waiting til next semester. What you’re about to see is what I believe to be the deepest dive into the Mandelbrot set ever achieved. If we consider the classic Mandelbrot “bug” we all know and love to be roughly the size of the universe, then we will be diving deeper and smaller than the quantum particles that make up matter. We will be traveling to a place deeper than our physical laws, ladies and gentlemen.”

“I hope you set this thing to some good music,” Brent, a bearded giant already on his second beer, piped in.

Indeed Brian was grateful to Sound Tribe Sector 9 and their more than 10 minute cuts which had relieved him of having to try to cut several things together.

“Let’s just watch, shall we?”

The view started with the Mandelbrot zoomed all the way out, awash in a sea of blue and purple, with fiery oranges, yellows and reds right at the border.

“We’ll be diving today into the seahorse valley, located here along the neck,” Brian said as the animation started its dive.

“I feel like this should start with ‘billions and billions of years ago’,” Brent added, chuckling loudly.

Someone in the back shushed him. The screen was filled with hundreds of tiny nodules lining the longer curved surface of the ‘neck’ of the Mandelbrot, at the end of each were several spiral bursts, and it was into one of these that the animation dived next.

“How’d you figure out where to keep going without manually adjusting,” Carol, a short girl with red hair and a high voice asked.

“The first three minutes or so is manual but the program is learning from the structures around it to get some idea of what to expect if it dives into a similar structure. As you can see, though, the Mandelbrot is unpredictable and can change radically.”

For the last few minutes they had been going from spirals, to starfish and back to spirals, all the while seeing echoes of the Mandelbrot scattered throughout the arms and swirls. Each of these Mandelbrots in turn contained a universe as complex as the one into which they were diving. It was almost like looking at the multiverse.

But now the screen resembled something out of 2001. Long bursts of color on all sides gave the effect that they were going through a tunnel, even as they were getting smaller and smaller. After about of minute of this they emerged and again their field of view widened into an interweaving spiral structure. The colors Brian had chosen gave the effect of electricity or lightning sparking from every direction as they kept going down.

At about nine minutes in the screen began to shake. The image began contracting and stretching, first slowly, then with almost distracting speed.

“What’s going on with the picture?” asked Brent.

Brian sighed, “This is where I’m reaching the limits of the floating point math generator I was using. It’s almost like the pressure we’d get from a deep sea dive, eh? We’re about to go to static in just another … ”

The screen had been violently shaking, and then it just stopped. The surrounding colors were cool and serene, and at their center…

Static colored lines, then black. The click of a hard power off indicated the abrupt shutoff of Brian’s computer. Brian resisted the instinct to power it immediately back on, but counted to ten as quickly as he could then slammed the contact down. The BIOS came up as normal, but after that all he could see was a blinking cursor.

Fortunately they were in a room full of engineers.

Within minutes the case was open and the hard drive connected to Carol’s laptop, with Brent on the ground taking a look inside the case.

“Your registry’s been erased, as well as the boot sector. Something in those last few images must have killed the system. Did you play this all the way through before showing it to us?”

“No,” Brian said, “You think that’s why the other computer kicked out as well?”

Brent nodded, “The rest of the hardware looks fine, heck there’s not even any dust build up. Carol, is there a way you can safely isolate those last few frames? Did anyone else see something weird right before it gorched?”

There were a few murmured nods, and an intense look from Carol as she scanned the drive. “There looks like something’s been hidden using a steganography algorithm.”

“You mean code hidden inside the picture?” Brian asked.

“That’s what it looks like. How well plotted is the Mandelbrot anyway?”

“It’s infinite. It’s like pi, it can never be precisely calculated and it’s infinitely complex. But a section that acts like code?”

“Hey you’re the one who’s diving deeper than anyone did before,” Carol said, “I should be able to strip out the malicious code without damaging the picture too much. Give me a minute.”

The only sounds were the whir of laptop fans, and a few more nervous sips of beer. Another engineer in the crowd, Chandra, had pulled out his laptop and was scanning the hard drive from the first computer, confirming that its registry had been wiped as well. Unlike, Carol, however he broke the connection as soon as he finished his initial scan. Re-installing an OS, and fixing a corrupted BIOS were not his idea of fun.

“Okay, I think I’ve got it, but if this bricks my machine you owe me a six pack of something better than Natty Light.”

Everyone crowded around Carol’s 13 inch screen to see…

“Is that Kevin Sorbo?” Carol asked.

Brent laughed, “Hercules, friggin Hercules is at the bottom of the Mandelbrot set. We gonna see Xena next?”

Whatever momentary awe had gripped the group had surrendered their attention, and they began to disperse back to their various dorm rooms. Even Brent left, grabbing another beer on his way out. All that was left was Carol and Brian.

“How much would the steganography have altered the image?” Brian asked tentatively.

“Difficult to say,” Carol shrugged. “It looks like it accounted for 20% of the total image size, so quite a lot.”

“So we probably didn’t see Hercules.”

Carol shook her head, “I don’t know, what did you think you saw?”

Brian took a long swig of his beer, “I don’t want to say it out loud.” He reached over to her laptop and hit the delete key. “I might end up speaking another language.”

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Forty Minute Story (“Mandelbum”)

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“Is that a new shirt, Dave?”

“Welll … uh … yes, new to me anyway. Got it at the thrift store on Dover.”

“What’s that on the front, some kind of insect?”

“No, it’s a fractal.”

“A fraggle? I think that’s a little vintage even for you, Dave.”

“Not a fraggle, a frac-tal.”

“What sort of fractal?”

“Well if you must know it’s the Mandelbrot Set.”

“It’s got a bum.”

“No, it hasn’t!”

“Yes, that bit on your left there, it’s got a big ol’ bum, bigger than it’s head.”

“Don’t be an arse, it’s not a bum, it’s just…”

“Just what?”

“Well it’s how the whole thing works when you run it through an equation or something. It’s really complex.”

“Uh huh. Those supposed to be it’s wings?”

“What wings?”

“The little round bits on top and bottom. What kind of an insect has round wings anyway?”

“Bees I suppose … wait, they’re not wings and that’s not a bum. It’s a Mandelbrot Set!”

“What’s a Mandelbrot?”

“Not what, who! This is named for the man who discovered it, Benoit Mandelbrot.”

“Ah, French then. That explains a lot.”

“Uh … no, polish I think. And what do you mean?”

“Well, it’s rather abstract isn’t it? Maybe a sort of modern impressionist.”

“It’s a bloody math problem, not a painting!”

“Now, now, no reason to get upset. What kind of a last name is Mandelbrot anyway?”

“I think it means almond bread.”

“What’s that?”

“I dunno, bread with almonds in it or something.”

“You mean like a muffin?”

“Yes … er … no … er … I don’t know.”

“So brot is bread then, yes?”

“I think so.”

“So mandel is almond? Seems like they just switched the letters around a bit, almend maybe.”

“It’s a name like any other. Yours is Liverpool and I don’t think you’d taste good with a side of onions. And you’ve never been a good swimmer.”

“That’s true. So why’d you buy it then?”

“Buy what?”

“Your Mandelbrot shirt or whatever.”

“Honestly? I don’t know. It was either that or something called a Douady Rabbit.”

“Dowdy?”

“No, Douady, honestly are you even listening to me?”

“I like rabbits.”

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Writing a 40 Minute Story

40 minute stories are almost never written in 40 minutes.

Some of my favorites have gone from draft to publish in 25 minutes. Others I’ve thought about for days before sitting down for those crucial 40 minutes.

Since there’ve been about a dozen of them now, and hopefully many more to come, I thought I’d take the time to share some of my process.

1) Nothing wrong with a prompt – I’m not a giant fan of writing prompt books that go something like “write about your favorite Halloween memory”, but I do like to try my hand at different techniques of telling stories. I’ll try anything from telling a story entirely in dialogue, to playing with synesthesia, to writing side stories of characters from my novels. A book I’ve found useful to thumb through is The 3 AM Epiphany by Brian Kiteley. There are a number of exercises based on different perspectives, scenarios, or ways of describing scenes. They’re written generally enough that I don’t feel particularly shoved down a single path, but specific enough to get some real ideas flowing.

2) Don’t try to wrap it all up – Very few of these stories are complete in a narrative sense. They’re intended to capture a moment or a scene in the character’s life. Sometimes that scene is illustrative of the whole, and sometimes it’s just something funny that happened. Especially with some of the sci-fi oriented tales, there can be a temptation to wrap up the story in a neat bow, or to beat the reader over the head with the “meaning”. I’m just happy if you read it to the end and enjoyed it. We can search for meaning later.

3) Outline before writing – I never do this when working on my novel, and frankly I don’t do it here either, at least not in a formal sense. Lately I’ve been waking up at about 5am, driving for 40 minutes to a coffee shop near my job, and writing my posts/stories there. That 40 minute drive is a great time for me to figure out the high points of an upcoming story, the basic plot down to the specific descriptions of objects, or dialogue by characters. 40 minutes can be a tight deadline without this pre-thinking, but I try to do it at a time that’s natural for me rather than try to add it on top of my busy schedule. Forcing myself to write it down will just take time from somewhere else, (though it might not be a bad habit for the novel).

4) Keep titles simple – I’m not pretending I’m some expert on titling posts or stories (I’m still baffled by the title of the post that got freshly pressed). But with a tight deadline spending a whole lot of extra thought on the title takes away time you could be spending on the story. I’ve used a lot of one-word titles (Dust, Pool, Mowing, etc.) and they’ve worked. Even with only 600 words, there has to be one that describes the rest.

5) Let stories flow naturally – There’ve been a couple of forty-minute stories recently. There might be another one in two weeks, or two months. I very much doubt I’ll be announcing a regular schedule any time soon. These stories are probably one of the few things where I allow myself to be subject to my “muse”. Most of the time I’m a believer in discipline and writing every day, but on these I’m a little more relaxed.

6) Keep it to 40 minutes – Some of these have gone right up against the line, making them perhaps feel a little unfinished. That said, the exercise of writing under a tight constraint almost by necessity requires efficient prose, something we all have to learn whether we’re writing for 40 minutes for 40 hours. While efficiency often can come from revision, it also can come at drafting if you really want to hit your end. That’s why I’m going to keep doing a number of these during the year, as I think they will help sharpen some of the lengthier prose.

I used to hate writing short stories because I didn’t feel like they gave me enough time to say what I really wanted to say. Doing these posts from time to time, however, has shown me that was just an excuse, and that actually a short story can say as much or more about a particular idea as any story. Kinda like … poetry *shudder*.

If you write a 40 minute story I’d love to read it! Try it sometime!

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Note: I “stole” the idea for doing forty minute stories on the blog early on from my good friend Brian D. Buckley. He writes them too on occasion, and you should check them out on his blog. He obviously types a little faster than me.

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Forty-Minute Story “Dust”

The bed was wider than a hospital bed should be. She was in a private room, no curtains separating her from other patients, but no windows to the outside world. Yet somehow the light was warm and natural, as if the sunlight had trickled down into whatever deep place she had woken up in.

Of course she knew where she was, where she’d been for the last few weeks getting ready for this first moment of waking up, of trying her new arm.

She looked to her right and all she saw was a pile of grey dust.

Why they left her alone like this she didn’t quite understand. Somehow this pile of dust, these “nanites” were going to be her arm, but none of the doctors or nurses had told her how it was actually going to feel. Maybe they didn’t know. The piece she couldn’t see was the interface. It had been inserted a few days before, but she’d been asleep for that, been asleep for days recovering as they rebuilt her piece by piece.

She thought about lifting her arm an inch off the bed. Cora watched with fascination as the worthless pile began to wave and shimmer, like one of the bed-sheets in the wind. But it had no substance, no form of an arm, and it moved in ways she really didn’t think she was controlling. Even as she watched, the dust settled back into an indistinguishable lump.

Maybe moving the whole pile was unrealistic. After all, what had her real arm been but a bunch of flesh hung on a piece of bone? Her body only had to contract a few small tendons to move that bone, and everything moved with it.

Cora closed her eyes and thought of a wire hanger, like the ones she used to get with her dry cleaning. She bent out the hangar in her mind until it was straight, then bent it again in the middle where the elbow should be, and once more a few inches above her “hand.”

She opened her eyes and saw the hanger. A small portion of the dust had formed a rod that was sticking out of the stub of her body. She bent the rod this way and that and her new arm moved with her, thinner than a pencil, but still under her control.

She thought about flesh but somehow that seemed still too heavy. Instead her wire hangar became the trunk of a tree, with branches sticking out at intervals. The silvery particles were forming a crystalline-like structure, slowly beginning to cross and interleave, like the wire frame of paper-mache.

Just then the door opened and her commanding officer stepped in. It had been weeks since they’d seen each other, not since the first day of this, and Cora snapped into a salute almost by instinct. The sharp branches of her tree poked her forehead, and she thought she felt a small drop of blood forming.

“At ease, Lieutenant.”

Cora moved to put the arm back in the pile of dust but found it had dissolved on her top sheet. She leaned a little to one side to allow the nanites to fall into the pile. Her commanding officer leaned over and with the tip of his thumb brushed her lip ever so gently.

“You had a little of your arm on your mouth, Lieutenant.” The gesture was playful but also showed some of the almost fatherly concern the commander was barely trying to hide.

Cora smiled. “Yes, sir. Better than my foot.”

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