Tag Archives: Short Stories

Review: Henshin


Writer and Artist – Ken Nimura


Henshin is a collection of loosely connected short manga tales dealing with a sort of change. In reality few of the stories rise to the overriding theme of the book, and many are downright awful.

Three of the stories revolve around the author surrogate’s obsession with cats and his desire to own one. He leaves out food for a mysterious neighbor cat, and is rewarded with knocked over pots and deposits of kitty poop. In one tale the taste of a stew he is preparing is improved by these deposits, turning it into a curry. There’s some attempt to relate this improvement to the coffee beans that go through civets, but personally I think this is just gross. Fart monsters as superheroes are also apparently a thing, though the ending to that story was at least funny.

A tale in which a man is delighted that he is able to communicate with a French person to obtain a hammer is ruined by the “twist” ending. The author seems to favor the dark or sinister forces ending in a lot of these tales. A tale about summer watermelon ends with a moral that suicide is something you should do alone. The aforementioned hammer tale ends with a man being beaten to death. And the bookend stories about a troubled kid staying with her uncle throw in mysterious Yakuza elements (in fluffy suits) with little explanation. A manic-pixie-dream-girl story is ruined by the main character’s crass jokes, inability to consume alcohol, and concluding moral that he should drink in the middle of work.

All that said, there are a couple of stories I liked. The story in which the author bikes through his town in order to string together narratives is actually pretty good, especially when he repeatedly comes up with concepts for stories already written. There’s a cute wordless tale about a girl enjoying the best things of summer even in the dead of winter. And a drunken crass tale of two men commiserating over a divorce, ends with a lifelong tale of friendship and baseball. A tale about foreigners living in Japan is imaginative and amusing when frustration manifests as twenty foot monsters.

The artwork varies from tale to tale, but all of it has a rough sketchy quality. Some character expressions are almost indecipherable (I swear an editor character looked like a cyclops).

All in all, you might find a story or two you like in here, but it’s probably not worth wading through all the muck.

(2.5 Stars | A couple of nice tales toward the end, but mostly forgettable)

* I received a free ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.


Filed under Book Reviews, Books + Publishing

The Sky Below (Chapter Five)

In this chapter of The Sky Below a nurse tries to help the people in front of her and a lawyer makes the tough call. If you haven’t read chapters 1-4, don’t worry. You can download an eBook of the whole novella up to this point, or download individual chapters from this page.

Like what you’re reading or have a question about the physics of all of this? Be sure to post them in the comments!



Kammie was beginning to wonder if she was the only nurse still alive on the floor. She could hear the groans of maybe half a dozen patients, but nobody answered them except her. She’d gotten Margie stabilized for the moment, and with Grace’s help Kammie had been able to lay her out on one of the couches in the visitor’s lounge. After crying on Kammie’s shoulder for a couple of minutes, Grace had pulled herself together enough to actually be of some use, not that Kammie could be picky.

Kammie’s brain had given up trying to provide a wider context for what was going on, choosing instead to focus only on what was in front of her. Kammie felt a familiar tension at the base of her skull, a combination of sleep deprivation, stress and too much caffeine. Still, she was happy to find that several of the nearby vending machines had spilled their contents all over the ceiling. She grabbed a couple of diet sodas and tossed one to Grace before resuming her crawl to the next room.

‘There’s no such thing as too much caffeine,’ she thought to herself.

A rumble from behind her grabbed her attention and Grace blushed as she twisted the cap back on the bottle. “Must’ve been the building settling.”

Kammie’s smile lasted for the briefest of moments, vanishing completely as she opened the door to room five. A cheap hospital bed, like the ones used for patients receiving in-home care, weighs about 450 pounds. In a hospital like this one, the average bed could weigh upwards of 700 pounds. With the head tilted up and the railings raised, a patient might be trapped if the bed fell on top of them, but they wouldn’t be crushed. But if one of the railings was lowered, or if the bed tilted to the side as it fell, then even a fall of only a few feet could be deadly.

The depression in the back of the old woman’s skull indicated it had at least been quick. Grace had been hot on Kammie’s heels, eager to help in any way she could, but Kammie held out a hand to stop her before she could get to the door. Kammie did a five-second sweep of the room with her eyes to check for any visitors or nurses, and upon finding none, silently close the door and started toward room six.

The patient in room six had been in the bathroom when everything hit, and from the looks of him hadn’t had the chance to flush away the morning’s constitutional. This at least, was nothing new. Kammie sent Grace to the closet for a fresh gown and some towels. The man was in his fifties and kept insisting he could do it himself, despite the fact he’d probably been lying there for the better part of an hour. His right collar bone was obviously bruised or broken, as even a slight graze triggered a grimace of pain across his face.

When she’d gotten him as clean as she was able to, she sat him down in one of the chairs, figuring if gravity flipped again that the chair probably wouldn’t crush him. She pressed his skin gently asking him to rate his pain from 1-10 with each touch. The bone felt solid, but the tissue around it had been badly banged up.

“I’m afraid the best I can offer you is a sling at the moment,” Kammie said sympathetically, “Grace, can you take care of that while I check on room seven?”

Grace nodded and Kammie got back on her hands and knees, relaxing her face as soon as she was out of sight of the door. It was difficult enough to maintain a cheerful and professional demeanor after a long day without all of these added excitements. Kammie genuinely did want to help people, to care for them in some of the scariest moments of their lives. She tried to make the whole thing feel safe and comforting, like a stay at a luxury hotel where your every need and desire is met. But that level of charm takes energy, and she had very little in reserve.

This was why most of her time off was spent in silence; that and it’s a bit weird to carry on a conversation with your cat.

The thought of Alomar alone in the apartment caused a brief pang of guilt in Kammie. There was plenty of dry food, but all of the water had probably spilled out onto the floor. And it was going to be a while till Kammie could spoil her with tuna again, assuming she could even get home. On the other hand, Alomar probably had landed on her feet, unlike her master, and could be pretty resourceful when she wanted to be. Several times Kammie had to replace one of the neighbor’s fish when Alomar got the craving for raw sushi.

“Ow! Dammit!” Kammie swore as he slid her hand over something thin and sharp. She pulled back instinctively, but whatever it was had already dug in deep. In the flickering dull light she could see a thin shard of glass, maybe an inch on a side, sticking out from where it had embedded itself in the fatty part of her hand.

The muscles in her hand twitched uncontrollably, sending sharp pains down her fingers and into her wrist. She rolled over onto her side holding her hand above her head. She bit the bottom part of her lip and grabbed the shard carefully with two fingers, easing it out slowly so as not to make the cut any worse. The spasms seemed to trigger with every tiny movement, and she could feel every millimeter of the shard as it slid out. The last quarter-inch slid out quickly followed by a pulse of blood that began to run down her hand. She tossed the shard away angrily and began wrapping her hand with an ace bandage she’d found in room three.

The cut bled slowly. Somehow she’d managed to avoid the artery, but from the twitching she’d definitely done some muscular and possibly nerve damage. She looked in front of her to see dozens of tiny shards from one of the blown out ceiling lights. All things considered, Kammie was fortunate she’d only gotten stuck with one of them. Still, she was probably going to need stitches to properly close the wound, something she didn’t particularly want to do herself.

‘Where the hell are the other nurses?’

She stood tentatively, holding her throbbing hand above her chest to try to slow the bleeding. Each step was careful and deliberate, moving her past her original objective of room seven in favor of the nurses’ lounge just around the corner. Even if they’d been knocked unconscious by the fall, someone should be awake by now.

‘Maybe they just can’t get out,’ she thought.

It took an age to reach the door, and another to push up on the door handle and inch the door open. No sooner had she opened the door six inches when something tore the door out of her hand. Her face was struck by a cool breeze which kicked up the dust and debris around her in a low cloud.

The hospital had been surprisingly generous with its nursing staff. One of the few reasons Kammie spent any time in nurses’ lounge at all was the sky light and floor-to-ceiling windows which featured a great view of downtown. Glass was a funny thing. This building was built to withstand the worst tornadoes and snowy conditions with barely a scratch. But drop a half dozen chairs and a couch on that ceiling, and you’ve got yourself a big gaping hole.

Kammie stared at the hole blankly for a few seconds, then picked up a length of metal framing from the ceiling, bent the end into a hook using her thigh, and pulled the door closed.

* * *

“I have half a mind to sue this place,” Claudia said as she and Bethany dug through cabinets and drawers searching for a first aid kit. “I can understand not having the materials for a splint. I mean, who’s going to break their ankle making donuts, but I can’t even find a damn band-aid!”

Jared was still hazy. He obviously had some kind of a concussion but neither Bethany nor Claudia had any idea how to deal with it other than to try and keep him awake. This proved difficult as Jared seemed to be making every effort to disconnect from reality.

“There’s got to be something out in the mall,” Bethany offered. “They should have a first aid station somewhere.”

“You’re right, though if I remember correctly it’s on the first floor, which is a couple of levels above us now.”

The elevators, assuming they were even working at this point, were glass encased prisms with no floor. The escalators were out as well, unless Bethany could piton her way up through every groove. She vaguely remembered falling off halfway across the monkey bars as a kid. There the worst possible outcome was a few splinters. Here there was no telling how far she’d keep falling if she lost her grip.

Bethany shook her head, “Even if we could get up there, there’s no way we could get Jared up in his current state. What about service stairwells?”

Claudia shrugged, “Someone on the maintenance staff might know. Me, I go in and out the front door just like you. I don’t even use the employee parking, I take the RTA.”

Absently Bethany pressed the call button on her phone, hanging up and trying again as soon as she heard the three-tone alert message.

“You’re just going to drain the battery doing that. The system’ll probably be down for hours,” Claudia offered.

Even as she pressed the call button again, Bethany knew she was right. Why hadn’t she picked up the phone in the first place? What was so important about a damn cup of coffee?

Frustrated she slammed one of the cabinets shut, the force tearing the door off of one of its hinges, leaving it swinging loosely from the other. Claudia assessed the damage with a raised eyebrow.

“Good a solution as any I guess,” she said, tearing the rest of the door away from the cabinet. She put her foot on the seat of one of the plastic chairs and slammed the board down hard against the back. The board cracked and split, and after a couple more whacks broke into two roughly even pieces.

“Hand me some of those uniforms from the back closet over there. We’ll wrap these so Jared doesn’t get tetanus, and use whatever fabric we’ve got left to tie them together.”

The splint was crude but succeeded in keeping Jared’s leg straight, though Bethany had to snap some loose shards of wood so he could put his foot down on the floor.

“He’s still not going anywhere for a little while,” Claudia said. “We might as well see what else we can…”

The sound of gunfire is distinctive. Most lower caliber hand guns don’t set off the loud boom that everyone expects. The real noise is closer to a balloon popping, which in some ways is more frightening. Gunfire sounds more innocuous than it is.

“What the hell is going on out there?” Claudia whispered angrily.

The shots were soon followed by the sound of smashed glass and angry yelling.

“C’mon,” Claudia gestured, crouching low.

With the counter above them, the front of the store offered little in the way of cover. Their only real protection was the fact that a donut shop wasn’t usually the first on anyone’s list when it came to looting.

The shouting was clearly coming from their floor. Claudia and Bethany moved slowly across the aisle and up to the corner. If they were caught, Bethany didn’t have much of a plan beyond screaming, as running back to the donut shop offered fleeting safety at best.

Bethany leaned her head around the corner, then quickly pulled it back, burying her head as close to the wall as possible.

“What do you see?”

Bethany didn’t want to answer and just kept trying to bury herself in the wall. Claudia pushed her back gently and took her own quick look before pulling back as well.

Lying half out of the store window was a young man wearing a store manager’s uniform. He had a thick mustache and was wearing a tie and a whistle like the high-school coaches in movies from the 80‘s and 90‘s. His eyes were open and glassy. Most of his forehead and temples were covered in blood from a deluge of small cuts from the window, and one or several large blows to the head. His chest was dark crimson, the material too wet with blood to show any wound.

Bethany had regained some of her composure just as Claudia was losing hers, “Did you know him?”

Claudia brushed a tear away with her hand and spoke in a whisper, “Not really. I saw him around. He usually liked Boston creams, though who doesn’t like a bit of custard?”

Bethany shook her head, “Sporting goods store, that’s surprisingly smart for a mob mentality. That place has the climbing equipment to get out of the mall and to anywhere else you might need to go. From their attitude toward the store manager I doubt they’ll be too willing to share with us, though.”

“What do we do now?” Claudia asked.

“We’ve got to get out here before those goons start sweeping the rest of this floor. Maybe the emergency exits will work.”

“But what about Jared? There’s no way we can bring him with us,” Claudia said.

Often Bethany suspected that the people around her knew the answers to their own questions, but needed her to say the answer anyway. Her parents were getting a divorce, but they looked to her to make sure they were doing it right. Grace kept fighting with nurses and doctors, but all the while she was waiting for Bethany to say it was okay to let go.

“We have to leave him, at least for now,” Bethany said. “Maybe since he’s hurt they’ll leave him alone.”

Claudia clearly wanted to object. It was part of the social contract of being an uncaring heartless pragmatist that other people get to yell at you about it, before ultimately going along with your plan. Claudia seemed too drained at the moment to care.

“You’re probably right. We can come back down and check on him once we’ve found some supplies and these gangbangers have taken off.”

It was unlikely they were ever coming back to this store again, but if it helped the fiction of their reason for leaving, then that was alright.

Bethany dialed her sister one last time. When again she heard the three-tone message, she held the power button down to turn off the phone.


All text in The Sky Below is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported license. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/ or send a letter to Creative Commons, PO Box 1866, Mountain View, CA 94042, USA.


Copyright © 2015 Ben Trube

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Filed under Writing

Massey (Part 1)

For the past month I’ve been participating in Bradbury’s 52, a writing group run by Jo Eberhardt. Each week she gives us a prompt with a person, place and object. Last week’s was a farmer, a toy and the place could be anywhere we want. I thought you guys might be interested in the result:


Lester knew that knocking in the engine was a bad sign. He’d ridden this tractor for 12 hours a day for the last ten years. In previous summers, he’d been able to keep his old Massey-Ferguson tuned up after even the slightest cough or hiccup. But even though the oil embargo had officially ended a few months ago, the price of fuel was still too high. The oil he was running through the engine was dark and gritty, blacker than the coffee his brother Jeffrey brewed. Pretty soon he’d have to strain it just so it could start resembling a liquid again.

“One more row,” he kept whispering to as he moved the throttle forward gently. “Just one more row and we can both get some shut eye.”

He wasn’t sure why he was clearing this much earth anyway. They hadn’t seen barely a quarter inch of rain all month, and the temperatures were six degrees hotter than the last summer. Between the money he’d already had to put into the tractor, and the increased price of seed he’d be lucky if he broke even, and that was only if two-thirds of his crop survived the next few months.

The big wheels on either side of him shuddered and shook, the ground to a halt as greyish blue steam began to rise from the red hot engine. Lester quickly shut the tractor off and slammed a hand down hard on the steering wheel. The rubber of the wheel had practically melted in the shape of his hands between the heat and the metal inside of the wheel, and striking it he nearly broke his hand. Since he was alone in the field he allowed himself the luxury of screaming in pain.

Jumping down a second later he kicked the big tire, which resulted in both his foot and his hand throbbing.

“Damnit!” He yelled as he kicked the tire again. Looking down the row he could see that he’d missed the edge by only twenty feet. Twenty feet the tractor could have cleared in a matter of minutes would take him hours by the sweat of his back. He contemplated the trip back to the barn to get all the necessary tools and his already aching back, shoulders, legs, and now hand and foot. He’d have to get up even earlier the next day, especially if we wanted to try to fix the tractor which was now burning oil, but right now warm food and good couple hours sleep were what he needed most.

He contemplated a final kick but thought the better of it, instead running a hand along the long since faded red paint above the engine housing. On one side his older son had scratched out the golden letters for ‘M’ and ‘E’ from Massey, a joke Lester had found amusing at the time, even though he’d had to whip the boy on principle. Somehow he continued to find an excuse as to why he never painted it back. He gave the engine a final double-pat then started the quarter mile walk back to the house.


Daniel knew that look on his father’s face before he even had to say anything. And his father never said much, at least not to him. His mother knew the look also, and wordlessly spooned out a bowl of the soup she’d kept on boil for God knows how long. His father accepted the bowl graciously, then sat down beside Daniel and his older brother Jimmy. Their mother brought each of them bowls then, making sure they each had a generous helping of the scarce vegetables inside. Her bowl was mostly broth but she always said that was where the real flavor was anyway.

Daniel’s father said a quiet grace then turned to Daniel. “How many times have I told you not to play with your toys at the dinner table. Honestly, you’re old enough that you should be out in the field working with me.”

Daniel’s mother put a soft hand on her husband’s shoulder. “I let him play on the table. The pieces are small, and can get lost in the floorboards if he plays down there. Besides I think he has something to show you.”

“Well?” Lester said, looking his son up and down. “What’ve you got for us Daniel?”

The young boy pulled the object from under the table where he’d hidden it. “It’s not finished yet.”

The object was a small rectangular block of red with grey contoured and jutting out from underneath. A half circle of smaller black bricks were attached around a larger red center piece at the back. Even in this half finished state, Lester recognized the shape of his familiar tractor.

“I know you’ve been having trouble with your tractor lately, and I thought maybe I could build you a new one.”

Jimmy chimed in from across the table, “There’s no way he’d be able to ride in something that small, stupid. That thing could barely haul a potato.”

“I know that,” Daniel said defensively. “I just don’t have enough bricks for a bigger one yet, but I thought I could at least learn by building a smaller one.”

“I think that’s very nice,” Daniel’s mother said, “Don’t you think so, Lester?”

Lester picked up the toy roughly with one hand, and examined the front of it. He looked at it sideways for a minute, then down the front. “You’ve got the front grill all wrong, and the tires at least two sizes too big.”

He put the Lego tractor down on its side, the half finished wheel spinning uselessly in the air. Daniel grabbed it quickly, and swept the rest of his bricks into a box he’d been keeping by the table. Before his mother could say anything, Daniel had taken the tractor and the bricks and was running up the stairs to his bedroom.

Without a word Lester slid Daniel’s bowl over to his place, drained the last of his bowl, then started work on the second bowl.

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Filed under Short Stories

Keep it short

The last few years has seen a rise in the popularity of short stories, and a rise in famous authors writing them, at least according to The Telegraph. One of the reasons speculated for this is the advent of electronic readers, and shorter times for reading. A short story allows you to make a brief examination of a character, an idea, or even a mood, and then let’s you get back to what you were doing.

I have a mixed relationship with short stories. I tend to think in novels whenever I have an idea. I like to go into all the depth I can, living with characters to their inevitable end, and through all the machinations of plot and life. That said, I do love writing a good forty minute story when the mood strikes me.

Short stories can kind of seem like an obligation for the aspiring writer. Publishers aren’t as willing to take a chance on your 100K word tome, but they might throw you 4000 words in a magazine. It’s the proving ground for writers. But it’s more than that in the hands of the right writer. Ray Bradbury was a master of the form, each story almost a poem in the way in set the scene and drew you in.

And short stories can often be seen as an obligation to the reader too. Honestly where did you read most of the short stories you’ve ever read: in school (unless you’re like me and gobbled up every Asimov robot story)? It’s a form we don’t take as seriously. It’s not something you can have on your shelf to impress others, and it doesn’t carry the same sense of accomplishment as wading your way through something heavy like Dune or The Lord Of The Rings.

I understand the whole “not having enough time” thing. For me instead of short stories, I’ve turned to graphic novels for my quick read on the go. But attention span is a factor in whatever you are writing. You want to be able to keep your reader engaged, while at the same time acknowledging their schedule.

Actually, you know what? Never mind. As a writer you want to draw your reader in so deep that they gobble up all of your book before they realize they’ve been spending hours. We don’t want to craft novels you can read in snippets. We want to take you for a ride and not let you go until you’ve reached the destination.

But if we keep the chapters short maybe we can have it both ways.

What do you think? Read any good short stories lately?


Filed under Writing, Writing Goals