About For An Additional Charge, Void Fossil, and Esprit des Lames

The Shacklebound Books anthology, Dark Stars: Sci Fi Horror Drabbles, is now available at all fine book outlets for a small pittance. There are seventy-nine stories, so you’re talking pennies apiece, and if it helps, three of those seventy-nine are mine! (At the Amazon link, you can sample the first few drabbles, including one of mine.)

When an irrevocable decision is even more irrevocable than you realized:

For An Additional Charge

When a hole in the rock might be more than just a hole in the rock:

Void Fossil

When a fragrance is more than a fragrance:

Esprits des Lames

Be revolted, disgusted, scared, and amused! Enjoy!

About Another Leg

My drabble, Another Leg, is now up as one of Flash Point SF’s Drabble Contest winners (along with co-winner K.A. Honeywell’s “Companion”). This is the first writing contest I’ve ever won, so I’m a bit chuffed about it.

I want to take a moment to break down Another Leg, which means there’s going to be some pretty complete SPOILERS here, so take a half-minute to read the story first.

Another Leg jumps right into the action, into the midst of a full-on fantasy sword fight. As they clash, the combatants sneer their bravado, hissing to one another that this is to be their ultimate and final battle. They push off, set, and commence the final charge.

So far we’re following the script for climactic sword fight scenes…

And then, we’re not.

Puppet strings? Severed? Wait, these aren’t mortal enemies?? They’re puppets? Making a break for freedom?

Hey! What was that they hissed to one another when they grappled a few lines back? Was that not saying what it appeared to be saying?

No plan ever goes exactly as planned. A string was missed, and the puppeteer countered to stop the escape. But at least one now has a chance at freedom. Take it or stay?

In this situation, though…well, puppets have certain options regarding their limbs that they do not share with the flesh-and-blood among us.

Thanks again to the editors of Flash Point SF for selecting Another Leg as a winner, and congrats also to my co-winner in brevity, K.A. Honeywell.

UPDATE: I wanted to add a quick comment about Flast Point SF’s excellent illustration for the story, as created by Kevin Pabst. I thought the presence of the vertical white lines in the background was quite clever 😉 They appear merely decorative, to supply some visual interest, but as it turns out they’re quite literal!

About Mandatory Donation

Mandatory Donation, out now at Martian Magazine, is the first story I’ve written as a direct response to an event.

When the right wing ideologues that hijacked the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade in June 2022 and stripped women of the right to control their own bodies, I was infuriated. I added my voice to the outrage, and opened my wallet to those defending a woman’s right to choose.

Mandatory Donation is a small literary effort to express some of that outrage.

While not about abortion per se–as a man I don’t feel that I could incorporate that into a story without a great deal more research and care–it does address the growing cancer that too many in power think they have the right to control other’s–especially women’s–bodies. In many states this is already manifesting as the “criminalization of pregnancy” through the use of “fetal protection” laws. Alabama’s Attorney General recently asserted (and then subsequently backed away from) the position that women in the state could be prosecuted for taking legally prescribed abortion pills.

Mandatory Donation posits yet another step in taking away one’s control of their own body, not just asserting that one no longer has the right to control what one does with their organs, but that proper lifestyle “care” of them must be taken under penalty of law; reducing a person to little more than an organ bank.

Legislating that people do not have the right to control their own bodies is not just “un-American,” it’s an affront to humanity.

Click to donate to Planned Parenthood.

And here for Alabama’s Yellowhammer Fund, an organization dedicated to abortion advocacy and reproductive justice in the southern United States.

2022 Wraps Up

I’m a slow writer. It takes me a long time to grind out a first draft. When that’s done, that’s when the fun–no, seriously, fun–starts for me: doing the editing to shape a garbage fire first draft into something that I’m first willing to show other people, and then start submitting to story markets.

Drabbles are a type of micro-fiction, i.e. very short stories. In the case of a drabble, a story that is told in exactly one hundred words. I wrote and sold my first one in 2018 to Martian Magazine. There are two characteristics of drabbles that really draw me to them. The first is…they’re short. Which means it takes me a lot less time to crank out that first draft than it does to write a short story. And second is that because they’re so short, every single word has to be carefully selected; so it’s editing nirvana for me!

I decided to spend some time this year focusing on drabbles, and ended up with about sixty. (A few started as drabbles, but the draft went so far past the hundred word limit that I opted to convert them to a flash story instead.) I may self-publish a collection at some point, but along the way I’d also submit them to story and anthology markets when I saw there was a good fit.

As a result of this prolific drabbling, fifteen of my stories–eleven drabbles and four original short stories–were published in 2022, far more than in any other year since I started writing. And there were some very nice reviews!

While Martian Magazine is the premier SF drabble publication and the majority appeared there and in anthologies produced by its publisher, Shacklebound Books, I was happy to place drabbles in other publications as well. These other markets included Sylvia, where one of my favorite drabbles, Daffodil Ghosts, appeared this last summer; and two in Julia Rios’ “Worlds of Possibility” project and podcast. I’d submitted a drabble, Fencepost, which Julia accepted, and they suggested I write a complementary story, which I was happy to do–noting also that it was my first-ever solicited story. Another favorite story, Robot Coal, is the subject of a painting I’ve commissioned by local Huntsville artist Chris Wade. I’ve seen the concept sketch, and am eager to see the completed work, hopefully early in the new year.

I was also quite delighted with the other stories of mine that appeared in 2022, some of which had been banging around for quite a while. You can check out my entire list of publications for 2022 (and prior years) on my Bibliography page.

I’m hoping everyone has a solid, successful (or at least less stressful) new year. And to the writers: Keep writing! Keep submitting!

I Won My First Writing Contest!

Received an email notifying me that my entry for Flash Point SF’s first drabble contest was selected as one of the two winners! This is the first writing contest I’ve won, so that’s another item checked off the writing bucket list!

Watch for “Another Leg” coming out in February 2023, along with co-winner K.A. Honeywell’s “Companion.”

2022 Award Eligibility Post

Wow! This was definitely my most productive year in terms of published stories!

I’d be most pleased if you’d consider these stories for any of the various SF and fantasy awards: Hugo, Nebula, etc.

Thanks for your time, and I hope you enjoy checking these out!

Short Stories and Flash

The Paleoneirologist’s Dreams“, Tree and Stone. (Science fantasy, 560 words).

Dreams persist in the bones.

Reenactment“, penumbric speculative fiction mag. (Paranormal, 3100 words)

“They’ll keep killing you until you stay dead.”

“How Do You Erase A Blank?”, Stranged Writing: A Literary Taxonomy (Literary fantasy, 240 words)

“That’s not…not…” I trailed off, eliciting a smirk.

Drabbles (exactly 100 words)

“Tell Me Your Story”, Planetside Science Fiction Drabbles. (SF)

One sun-seared ball of iron, one seething world wrapped in CO2 and sulfuric acid…

Fight Me“, Martian, The Magazine of Science Fiction Drabbles. (SF)

Static crackling around the multiverse portal stood my hair on end.

Mr. Giz“, Stupefying Stores (SF)

Three hundred pounds of robot plunked down, shaking the house.

This Tattered, Marooned Sentinel“, Martian, The Magazine of Science Fiction Drabbles. (SF)

I had a hunch: “Overlay Earth’s position on my HUD.”

Fencepost“/”Tree“, Worlds of Possibilities Patreon/Anthology, Worlds of Possibility podcast (SF, Fantasy)

“A tree,” I muttered, “is not a fencepost.”

Daffodil Ghosts“, Sylvia. (Fantasy)

My wife’s life-worn face lights up.

Robot Coal“, Martian, The Magazine of Science Fiction Drabbles. (SF)

The iron jaw grates as it fashions a broken grin.

“Metallurgist”, Wyrms: An Anthology of Dragon Drabbles. (Fantasy)

The goggled and besmocked dragon metallurgist…

Human, Right?“, Martian, The Magazine of Science Fiction Drabbles. (SF)

“You’re safe.” Green skin, three hands–a hemsi medic

Falling In Love At Verona Rupes“, Martian, The Magazine of Science Fiction Drabbles. (SF)

The minister leaps, then the groom. The wedding party plummets after them…

There’s so much good writing out there nowadays, so I thank for giving these stories your consideration! Keep reading!

About Fight Me

My story, “Fight Me,” is up on the Martian Magazine website, and also appears in Martian’s Fall 2022 quarterly issue (#6).

This story came about as a reaction to “person encounters a version of themself from a parallel dimension” storylines. Frequently one or the other of these multi-dimensional twins are some kind of highly-trained, highly-competent expert, like a soldier or spy, or is filthy rich. While the other is often a hapless, or sometimes worse–on-the-skids–individual that gets taken under their wing after working some things out to establish a relationship.

That’s all fine, but what if it’s just two ordinary people, who for some reason or another find themselves seriously at odds with each other, but neither has any particular set of skills that would give one the advantage?

How’s that accountant fight going to play out?

About Mr. Giz

My 100-word story for the Stupefying Stories “Breakdown” contest, “Mr. Giz,” has been posted.

This was just a fun little story to write and I’m happy it found a place on the contest podium.

Coming up with the name “Mr. Giz ” was the part of it I worried over the most, since it had to do double duty 😸

About Fencepost and Tree

Julia Rios has published my paired drabbles, Fencepost and Tree–as bookends of the August 2022 issue of Worlds of Possibility. Worlds is initially distributed to their Patreon subscribers and the stories will appear in a subsequent Worlds of Possibility anthology.

I’d like to take a moment here to talk a bit about the development of each of the stories.


The region where I live in North Alabama has been a mix of farms, pasture, hills, and woods for decades. The portion of my property where my house lies was a cleared pasture eighty years ago, then overgrown, then cleared again about forty years ago for pasture and the house built by the previous owner, and now is partly regrown since I bought it twenty years ago (the pasture is now the front yard).

Raising cattle around here requires clearing pasture land, and then fencing it in. Fence posts are driven into the ground and barbed wire run. With the ebb and flow between pasture and woods here over the years though, sometimes when an area is cleared for pasture the cattle farmer saves themselves the effort of putting in a fence post by attaching the barbed wire strands directly to an adjacent tree. While the cattle may eventually go away, the wire fences often remain.

As the tree grows, it eventually grows over and envelopes the wire fence strands within itself. Once that’s happened, it’s going to stay there until the tree eventually dies. Trees can live for a long time like this–a constant reminder that it was once considered merely a convenient post for fencing in cattle.

Once it’s fully embedded, attempting to remove the wire will certainly do more harm than good. The best once can do is cut the strands to relieve a bit of the strain imposed on it by tautly drawn wire.

If only, I thought, something could burrow in and “feed” on that iron, breaking it down to rust. Carefully and professionally applied to just where it was needed so as not to get out of control. What a relief that would be for the trees that had to suffer this indignity! Keeping in mind that the crumbling of the strand would leave holes leading directly into the heartwood, leaving the tree vulnerable to insects or fungal infections. One should do more than just seal the holes, perhaps apply a healing salve to repair the damage? I think a tree would like that.

Shortly after submitting “Fencepost” to Julia Rios‘ call for submissions to their Worlds of Possibility project, it turned out that they liked this idea as well and accepted the story.

But that wasn’t all, as it turned out. Julia contacted me to ask if I’d consider writing a companion piece–from the tree’s point-of-view. Ohhhhh-kay. What is a tree’s POV? I thought about it for a couple days, kicked some ideas around, and then told them I’d take a crack at it.


The easy decision was that this story, another drabble, would mirror the narrative of Fencepost.

The less easy part is…how does one tell the story from a tree’s POV? How does a tree POV even manifest? One can go full–if very deliberate–sentience, like the Ents of Lord of the Rings. Or very detached, describing what’s happening to a tree from a wholly external perspective–but to me, that’s not really the POV of the tree. So I tried to find something in between. Deliberative and oblivious to the ‘fast-paced’ events happening beyond its bark; certainly not the least bit aware of technology, and also very likely unaware that something like people even exist.

One thing I wanted to try was have the visual structure, not just the narrative, of Tree also mirror that of Fencepost. So while the order of events is one-to-one, visual mirroring occurs when the oak experiences the cutting of the barbed wire strands:

Art by Andrew Turok

Snip, snap. Snip, snap.
Snip, snap. Snip, snap.

Four wire strands. Left side and right. The initial cut and the snap-off of each strand.

Then the oak undergoes experiencing the application of the FerroPhage™ nanobots and the bio-repair paste. An oak tree, as I envisioned its self-awareness, is not constituted to discern what is happening to it, it only knows what it feels within the context of…being a tree. While writing this I did some research about tree injuries, looking for additional opportunities for healing and restoration that the oak will experience, but which is not visible to us fast-paced individuals scurrying around it.

With only (and exactly) one hundred words to play with, every single word counts–typically meaning an inordinate amount of time is spent on getting exactly the right words in every sentence.

It took quite a while to get that final sentence right (all eight words of it), to be the internal complement of the externally manifested relief of the oak as it’s finally freed from sixty years of suffering.

I’m grateful to Julia Rios for their acceptance of the initially submitted drabble, Fencepost, into Worlds of Possibility and then for the suggestion to write a complementary, tree-centered, piece. It proved a nice pairing.

Also many thanks to Andrew Turok for the evocative illustrations.

Art by Andrew Turok

About This Tattered, Marooned Sentinel

My story, “This Tattered, Marooned Sentinel,” is up on the Martian Magazine website, and also appears in Martian’s Fall 2022 quarterly issue (#6).

SPOILERS from this point on! So go read the story first, it’ll take you all of thirty seconds.

Several years ago I read an article (and I regretfully do not recall its title, author, or where I read it–probably just something I stumbled across on the internet) suggesting that if we wanted to find artifacts and traces of a pre-human technological society we should look on the Moon.

Apollo 14 on the Moon. Credit: NASA

Absent the eroding forces of wind and water, the artifacts of a society sufficiently advanced to reach the Moon might still be there, especially if any were placed in a location at least somewhat sheltered from the sun and meteor impacts. Now the constant solar wind, day/night temperature extremes (250/-200F), and rain of dust and meteors will certainly degrade anything left on the surface. But absent a direct meteor strike, the process proceeds far more slowly than what earthbound structures experience from endless wind, rain, freezing, thawing, and in the longer term, glaciation and plate tectonics.

This idea gave me the opportunity to write and publish my first dinosaurs in space story 🦖🌠

One could not expect a spacesuit and body to remain intact for sixty-five million years, but, perhaps it would still somewhat hold together after all that time. Particularly where this story is set…

That the view of the Earth is just above the horizon indicates this takes place near one of the Moon’s poles. Because the Moon is tidally locked to the Earth (it always shows the same face), the Earth doesn’t appreciably move from its position in the lunar sky. Though to be accurate, because the Moon’s tilt is slightly misaligned with regard to its orbit around the Earth, there is some movement, called the lunar libration, but the Earth essentially hovers at a fixed point in the sky. The lunar polar region makes sense for Moon exploration and settlement because the permanently shadowed craters–where the sun never shines–can became a collection point for water ice. If sunlight never reaches the base of the craters it won’t warm to those 250F temperatures. The ice that collects there, brought in from passing (or colliding!) comets over hundreds of millions of years can persist for eons.

An astronaut comes across an ancient, saurian predecessor resting against the base of a corroded lunar lander leg in one of these shadowed craters, where they’ve maintained a vigil for the last sixty-five million years. Presumably a marooned saurunaut would want the last thing they see to be their home world; yet in the astronaut’s present era it’s not visible through the gap in the crater wall.

The moon is slowly receding from the earth due to tidal friction at the rate of about 1.5″ (3.8 cm) per year. That’s not much, but it adds up over centuries, millennia, and millions of years. Earth and lunar day lengths have also shifted over time, which contributes to tiny misalignments between the Earth, a marooned saurunaut, and a gap in the wall of a lunar polar crater. Rewinding the clock to where the Earth would’ve appeared sixty-five million years ago from the bottom of a lunar crater is honestly perhaps a bit of a stretch–errors will add up in the estimations of how positions and velocities evolve over time.

But even if the estimate of the projected position of the Earth at the time of the Chicxulub asteroid strike that killed the dinosaurs is off by a bit, it’s no stretch to expect a lunar explorer to keep a final vigil over the home to which they could never return.