“The Taxidermist” by Jermaine Kudiabor.

The first thing you noticed about the room was its dreariness. The dark curtains responsible for the gloom also incensed the study with the smell of mothballs. Large, with an ornate dining table at the center, its meagre light came from a lamp placed in a corner. There were volumes on philosophy, anatomy, and medicine in a bookshelf, as well as several books on paleontology and the breeding of dermestid beetles.

The owner of the house was having dinner by himself. Once in a while his thin face would peer across the dining table into the darkness. As is the case with people who don’t have to live with anyone, his thoughts ended up being spoken aloud.

“The weather report predicts a rainstorm darling,” the man said.

His hair was badly cut, and with his large glasses and thin features, the first thing you thought of was a mangy rat. His long fingers had the pruny look of being immersed in water for too long.  They had seen many years of work, but the nails were well-formed and still gave his hands the graceful look of either a pianist or the precision of a surgeon, which was closer to the truth, but not quite.

“I might have to spray the place soon.” He said, scowling at the telltale holes of bug infestation in the table. “They should stay in the basement, where they’re meant to be.”

His voice turned ugly as he continued “You should have stayed here with me. Together.  Like we were meant to be. I know we had problems, but that was no excuse. Why did you leave me my love?” He paused, eyes questioning the darkness before him, but he was andwered with only silence.

“Fine,” He spat. “Sulk then, you’ve always been ungrateful like that.”

“I cleaned out the basement today – I’ll need more room. They keep growing and reproducing faster and faster, so now they’re always hungry…  If I don’t keep them busy they might bring the whole house down on us!” he said, raising his hands dramatically.

If he was expecting a reaction, he was disappointed. He shrugged, then continued eating, rambling on between mouthfuls. Thunder rumbled in the distance, a promise of rain to come. The man nodded his head. At least the weather people on GTV weren’t totally useless.  He finished his meal then glanced a two-week old newspaper. He just glanced at tbe screaming headline about an explosion at a gas filling station which had caused several deaths, then on to the financial and sports section. He finally ended up reading a missing persons report on a Juliette Asante. The man carefully read the article again, then nonchalantly put it aside.

He abruptly got out of the chair, wiping his mouth with the napkin as he did so. He walked towards the darkness and stood before a seated skeleton. It was a work of art, and the bones had been lovingly polished. There was none of the brittleness you got when you stripped the flesh off with bleach or other chemicals. The carpet bugs he raised ate away all the flesh, yet kept most of the tougher connective tissue intact, which made piecing the skeleton back so much easier. Even at this close distance it gleamed dimly with a pseudo life of its own, a purity, the man decided, it had neither owned nor deserved when alive.

The man placed a kiss on the grinning skull.

“I’ll be back as soon as I can dear, but don’t worry if I keep too long,” he whispered.

For a second he thought the remains of his fiancee shrugged indifferently, but it was only caused by a gust of wind stealing through the drapes. Flashes of lightning made the skeleton look on in crazy derision as the man left the room.

**************************

Linda hadn’t made any money tonight and she was wet. The only thing she could look forward to were beatings from Stone and bawling from her baby. The short mini skirt and tight hugging jacket was not exactly the right apparel for the rainstorm. It had hours ago, and it didn’t look like it was letting up anytime soon.

A black Mercedes slowed to a stop right in front of the bus stop where she was huddled. The door opened and a finger beckoned her inside.  Things where starting to look up. The man behind the wheel looked very skinny, with very large glasses. Probably the type bullied by his wife, she sneered.

“I’m the only one up tonight so it’s gonna cost you big boy” , she snapped.

The man just stared at her, till she started getting nervous. Would he say no? She was willing to bargain really, if only to show Stone it wasn’t her fault business was bad tonight. The man finally smiled and said, “Do you know you have an exquisite bone structure?”

She heaved a mental sigh of relief.

“You’re not bad looking yourself”, she lied.

The man’s smile widened into a grin, and he started up the car. Linda relaxed in the seat, safe from the cold and rain, and flicked off of a strange looking bug which had clambered onto her jacket. Tonight might not be so bad after all.

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Briefly,On Brevity.

chickenbrevity

 

Every word counts. That’s the myth, I believe, of flash fiction. It’s a literal truth, surely, when one is given only so many words to make a flash. But that’s often the extent of the advice flash fiction writers get about working with brevity: make every word count. As if such a thing were possible.

So what does it (really) mean to work with brevity? I won’t keep repeating this warning, but here it is one more time: of course, all that follows are my subjective ideas about writing, and are in no way meant to represent the all of writing.

Imagine an opening sentence, like this one:

The bullet not meant for the driver of the car missed him, instead hitting the passenger next to him. (19 words)

Brevity might impose itself on this sentence first by looking at “less wordy” ways of expressing the same idea. For example, driver of the car might become the car’s driver. Two words recovered! The him after missed him might not be needed. Another word! So that leaves us with this:

The bullet not meant for the car’s driver missed, instead hitting the passenger next to him. (16 words)

In a world where every word is trying to matter and literally counts, then implication becomes another tool of the writer working with brevity. Does driver imply car? Does passenger imply next to him? If so, we now have this:

The bullet not meant for the driver missed, instead hitting the passenger. (13 words)

What about not meant for the driver modifying bullet? Is there a word that captures that sense? What about this:

The stray bullet missed the driver, instead hitting the passenger. (10 words)

But is brevity only about cutting things to the barest essentials? I think it’s also about adding “weight” to the words, to see how much information, theme, backstory, character (and so on) each word might carry. The who of this story might be more clearly defined by this addition.

The stray bullet missed the driver, instead hitting his wife. (10 words)

Notice how the his implies the driver’s gender and relationship (husband). Why did the bullet miss? I always think having a character be somehow responsible for the action adds interest and tension. How might the husband be responsible in some way? What if he had ducked at the sound of gunshot? How might brevity help get that information into that sentence? What word might capture that movement: Duck? Dodge? Evade? Is the husband someone who dodges things in general? Maybe. But missed the dodging driver sounds odd and unclear to me. Maybe the sentence needs to be changed so the driver is doing the action.

The driver ducked, the stray bullet instead hitting his wife. (10 words)

Does it make sense why he ducked? Does that need to be made clear?

At the sound of the gunshots, the driver ducked, the stray bullet instead hitting his wife. (16 words)

or

The driver heard gunshots, ducked, the stray bullet instead hitting his wife. (12 words)

Does that second sentence kind of capture the husband’s progression, so that the sentence itself hears it, ducks, and then veers elsewhere? Maybe. The original sentence clocked in at 19 words. What might we do with those other 7 words?

The driver heard gunshots, ducked, the stray bullet instead hitting his wife. Reflex, he said, in the ambulance. To leave me uncovered, she said. (24 words)

Oh, no. Five words over the original 19! That won’t do.

The driver heard gunshots, ducked, the stray bullet just missing his wife’s heart. Reflex, he said, in the ambulance. To leave me uncovered, she countered. (25 words).

Oh, fudge. Now six words too many.

The driver heard gunshots, ducked, the bullet barely missing his wife’s heart. Reflex, he said, in the ambulance. To dodge, she countered. (22 words).

Getting there. Now three words too many.

He heard gunshots, ducked, the bullet barely missing his wife’s heart. Reflex, he said, in the car dialing 911. To dodge, she countered. (23 words).

The driver heard gunshots, ducked, the bullet barely missing his wife’s heart. Reflex, he said, awaiting help. To dodge, she countered. (21 words)

Wait! If this is the first line, maybe the title can help out in some way. What if the title were “While Driving”?

He heard shots, ducked, the bullet barely missing Sara’s heart. Reflex, he said, awaiting help. To dodge, she countered. (19 words)

So what is brevity exactly? I don’t know. It’s about getting words to count more than they might in other less-compressed forms. It has something to do with being aware of needless words and the power of implication. It’s about adding weight to words by making each one carry a number of important things within the story. The above opening might incite a story in which the man’s reflexive desire to “dodge” keeps leading to that shot (of Cupid?) missing his wife’s heart, and this incident brings that conflict to the surface. His reflex runs counter to what the wife imagines love should be; he should reflexively protect her, not duck out of the way.

*This post was written by Randall Brown and culled from flashfiction.net. It can be read here:

http://flashfiction.net/2013/01/flash-fiction-craft-so-what-is-brevity.php