Fates be Damned

Fiction, Micro Flash Fiction

The swan lay down its head on Tam’s lap. A tear streamed from its eye and began to glow. Light surrounded it, transforming it into a man.

What he’d done was unforgivable. But he seemed so innocent like this.

Tam cradled his head. “No more, Zeus.”

She twisted his neck.


For all Zeus did for humanity, according to Greek myth, he did less for women. Manipulating and tricking them into sleeping with him—even raping them—Zeus did women a great injustice. Not only from his actions but from the consequences resulting. It set the idea that women were easily seduced, objects for sexual measures, and untrustworthy to be loyal.

Of course, the myth of Zeus was created by humans, and therefore only a reflection of humanity at the time, but the stories still had a life of their own. In a sense, Zeus did  exist, as a metaphor for society in Ancient Greece. To treat Zeus as merely a fictional character underplays the effect he had on humans and society and, in turn, further disservices women.

While the myth has ceased being believed as reality, the effects and similar situations have lived on through society. These have infected fiction.

Starting with the early fairy tales and fables and branching into the various genres that have emerged over the centuries, it was always the men who saved the women—that poor, helpless, hapless damsel in distress—never the other way around. Only recently have we seen fiction and fairy tale retellings that reverse the roles and have women saving the men.

But still there is the unbalanced nature of the sexes in fiction. One saving the other perpetually.

Not only does this encourage inequality, either for women or for men or otherwise, it is not relatable, realistic, or achievable. It breaks suspension of disbelief—a vital aspect of storytelling. The characters lack agency, seeming to only follow their apparent destiny or fate, stripped of will and therefore of character. They end up being little more than cardboard cut-outs for all their usefulness to the reader.

Back to Zeus, known for transforming into a swam and seducing or raping women, what if his victims had agency—a will. That, for once, the Fates weaved in no-one’s favour and each person had to be accountable for themselves and their actions. Why, they’d bring Zeus down like the fowl beast he was, like they would any fowl they planned to prepare for dinner.

As Damian Jay Clay points out in his article, Enough Agency for the Agency (which inspired this story), agency is not only the action a character takes but also the choices they make.

In this scenario, no one saves anyone. Vengeance was had. The victim turned her attacker into her victim, and the hunter became the prey. That anger, the thirst for vengeance, hate, and bloodlust are emotions readers can relate to. Chivalry (as in the actual chivalry: battle manners, not men being courteous to women), fearless courage, total faith in the metaphysical, and two-dimensional heroism are not what the average person experiences and probably never will.

And in the situation the woman was placed, the former emotions would come as naturally to the reader as it would the character.

Zeus deserved it. No sympathy was shared on his behalf. And we end up with a natural villain. She saved herself. Took agency. Became a real person. And the story’s end, subsequently, can be satisfying in its resolution. Not because of the plot but from the choices of the character.

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Great Expectations

Fiction, Micro Flash Fiction


Harry bought a copy of Pop Magazine, as he had for the past six months, and flipped through the pages.

His story wasn’t in there.

He pulled out his phone then paused. They’d only promise next month again.

Half a year, for nothing. He dumped the magazine in a bin.

As a writer pursuing mainstream publication, the frustrations of career stagnation and rejection letters are all too well known by me. Choosing to be a writer as a career is, of course, by default a difficult and frustrating endeavour. I don’t think anyone not in their write mind would willingly go through this torment and subject themselves to intellectual masochism.

Over and over and over…

But, then again, that’s what makes writers… well, writers. And this is probably how it keeps those not serious enough about writing from being writers. Cruel, I know, but it’s just an observation and speculation. The “it” I’m referring to is the figurative being of writing, created by standards and preferences that dictate the norms and trends of writing. I can’t help personifying it—that’s what I do.

And venturing into the mainstream publishing world further weeds out the writers who stick through it from those who don’t. This isn’t anything wrong, exactly. I can’t think of a single skill-set that this doesn’t happen with. That’s life. And when submitting the work you slaved over for months, maybe even years, editing and editing and rewriting and editing, only to receive a letter that thanks you then proceeds to reject that work can be soul-crushing.

More like soul-grinding.

And often we, as writers, take the rejection personally. How could they not love this perfect thing I created?! That, my friends, is the seducer called Ego, tempting you away from reality and emotional stability. And so we take rejection as an attack on our work and therefore on us. But a lot of the time with good writing, a rejection isn’t because of the work or you. Okay, it’s almost never about you. It can be because the editors had a certain theme, tone, voice, or subject matter planned for the magazine/journal and your work just doesn’t fit.

There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s just business, baby.

So what do you do with a rejection when you’re unsure if it’s because of your work or because of the editors’ plans? You take it, pin it against the wall, frame it, and look at it with pride. Why? Because you tried. You did what many writers don’t. You let them see your work and they’ve seen how hard you worked on it.

Or you can toss it in a bin and write something else, or work more on that work, then send it out again. Rinse and repeat.

Intellectual masochism, as I said. Embrace it. Use it. Don’t give up just because Ego said no one liked your magnum opus. Ego can’t read editors’ minds. Remember that.


This little lecture/rant/motivational was inspired by Jayna Locke‘s Fifty Word Challenge where the prompt this week was “pop”. I encourage every writer—starting out or professional—to join in this fun but challenging initiative.

 


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Contact

Fiction, Micro Flash Fiction


James leaned over the car door. “Where’re you from?”

“Lemon-5.” Her black orb eyes glistened.

“I could drive away and leave you be.” He took a drag off his cigarette. “But where would that leave me in the pursuit of knowledge?”

He chuckled and turned his key in the ignition.

A lot of people wonder, at one time or another, about whether we’re the only sentient life in our cosmic neighbourhood. Whether we’re alone in our little corner of the known universe.

Statistically, there is bound to be other sentient life around us. Physics and math pretty much point to it. Several planets have been found potentially favourable to hosting life. Sure, mostly for basic life—microbial and probably not much more. And these planets are general in what’s called the Goldilocks zone, the area around a star where planets in orbit within are far enough away from the star but not too far, depending on the type of star.

So if there is such a possibility, and not a small one at that, why have we not yet encountered any other life—sentient or basic? Obviously, at this point, our technology is not yet advanced enough to confirm the existence of basic life even in our own solar system. Then what of sentient life? Surely there would be something sent out to space by alien lifeforms trying to communicate, to find out if they’re not alone?

That’s a good point and it’s logical. It’s what we would do, within our thinking conventions. And that, right there, is the snag. It’s what humans would do. Not necessarily what other lifeforms would. But that doesn’t really answer the question, only broadens our ability to consider.

Officially, no one knows why we haven’t made contact or observed life. We can’t know until we actually do. It’s a catch-22 situation. But we can speculate—theorise.

Consider, for a moment, the vast distance between the Earth and the sun—Sol. 149,6 million kilometres. Now, the distance between Sol and the Kuiper Belt surrounding the edge of our solar system, in where Pluto orbits, ends at 50 AU (astronomical units, where 1 AU is the distance from Sol to Earth). For further perspective, Sol’s closest solar neighbour is Proxima Centauri which is 4.24 light-years (LY) away—where 1 LY is about 63 239 AU.

That’s pretty far away.

Consider, then, that perhaps—if a sentient civilisation has been trying to contact us—they’re too far for their signals to reach us. And by the time they do—if they do—they would be long dead. Not to mention that, in this case, any contact to us would be one-way. There probably won’t be anyone around to hear our response by the time it reaches the origin location.

Or perhaps, just maybe, they have made contact already but our human tendency to discard consideration for the Other has been the reason we still wonder if we’re alone and why the universe is so quiet?

This little thought experiment (and not-so-little critique on humanity) was inspired by Jayna Locke‘s Fifty Word Challenge where the prompt this week was “lemon”. I encourage every writer—starting out or professional—to join in this fun but challenging initiative.


 


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For Them

Fiction, Micro Flash Fiction

How far would a parent go to ensure their child’s future? Given the resources and tools to secure that future, many would go to the edge of the universe and back. But what if it would cost the lives of millions?


The words ‘danger: biohazard’ illuminated the dark bunker. Another global riot alert popped up on her laptop, and she looked at her sleeping toddler.

Leaning over, she kissed the boy’s forehead. “For you.”

These children deserved a peaceful world. This one was over.

She pressed the button, releasing the virus.

It’s called the maternal instinct but the desire, and sometimes urge, to protect the child is also seen with men. Why this instinct? Biologically, it can be argued as ensuring the survival of our genetic make-up. This would make the most sense as the protection of young is something we can observe nearly consistently with most mammals. It is further evident with the hormones released that secure bonding to our offspring.

Perhaps due to the frequency, variety, and amount of hormones produced in the body from the double X chromosomes that it’s called the maternal instinct as opposed to paternal or even—more accurately—parental instinct.

Or is it a matter of socialisation, of conditioning? Realistically, it’s because of both biology and social construct.

But just how much do other reasons for parental instinct factor into the individual’s reasoning to protect their children, either consciously or subconsciously? Say, for instance, the concept of immortality. Arguably, the need to immortalise oneself is a common feature among people, and it translating into assuring the survival of offspring plays in both the point of ensuring genetics are carried down and the social aspect of lineage.

What if immortalising oneself through reproduction is a stronger need than the two factors the idea stems from? To what length, then, would a parent go to guarantee their child’s survival and future?

This was a short, short science-fiction story that explored the idea of ego misinterpreted as the parental instinct.

 

 


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Practice

Fiction, Micro Flash Fiction


As her brush splashed across the canvas in hard strokes, it smeared the paint into new shades. She stepped back, inspecting her poor re-creation.

Not good enough. Nothing like the original.

Chewing the wooden handle of the brush, she reached for the palette once more.

With practice, it could be.

Any creative knows the process of practice and the striving to (near enough) perfection as we each define it. Some of us have the ideal of perfection placed on a higher scale, while others recognise the flaw of such an ideal and lower that scale. As an artist and a writer, I can say I fall into either at times. There are days when my idea of “good enough” rests in that perfect ideal, and other days when “good is enough” is in itself close to perfection.

Finding the balance between those two extremes is as much a challenge and skill to master as the creative work itself. And frustration comes easy when the balance is fleeting. But the key to both skills—and this is something we know yet often forget—is practice. Like any skill, applying effort to understanding and developing it is necessary. This applies to the skill of balance particularly.

I reached a burn-out not too long ago when I failed to practice the balance of the extremes. And my crafts suffered for it. I dare say the lack of practice has noticeably regressed the progresses I had made in my crafts, and now it’s time to compensate for time and effort lost. To catch up to where I would have been now.

And I believe this practice of balance applies to any aspect of life. Slow down when needed, progress when needed, and re-evaluate where “good enough” and “perfection” meet. But always, and always, practice.

And this is my motivational for the day. It is good enough, for me.

 

 


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The Lesson

Fiction, Micro Flash Fiction


Janny deserved a broken arm. All I did was try to show her the hole—the one hidden in the grass. I barely touched her. She just fell and something cracked.

Mom made me apologise, and I did.

But I warned Janny. Now she’ll know not to take my stuff.

The Lesson is a story born from a childhood memory in an encounter between me and my step-sister. As siblings are wont to do, they invade privacy and take belongings. Only as an adult did I realise she did it to try form a relationship with me and looked up to me (I’m the eldest of the litter). But as a kid, I didn’t understand her behaviour. This, naturally, turned into a relationship of distrust and resentment.

It wasn’t pretty.

So I took the memory of the time she didn’t notice a hole in the ground that was covered with veld grass. We were playing in a public park while my step-mom was getting groceries. My step-sister broke her arm when she fell. I remember thinking it was karma, so I won’t lie and pretend I was innocent.

Then I thought about indulging my younger self on the what-ifs and what would happen if I thought of being malevolent and having caused her arm to break. I probably wouldn’t. We didn’t dare do that stuff to each other… because consequences. But for the sake of character, I had to really get into that mindset and change myself into this new and sinister person.

The biggest take-away from this is that kids are evil.

 

 


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War of the Third Worlds

Fiction, Micro Flash Fiction


Blood runs through the soil as Jacob lowers, steadying his rifle on the ground. Grains fly into the air with each breath. Rooinekke race up the adjacent hill toward his brothers on the other side. Enemy in cross-hairs. Contracting his finger, he pauses.

This isn’t the way to defeat hate.

Usually, I let the story speak for itself (and generate intrigue for when I post the longer versions), but this time some extra information feels required. A couple of centuries ago in Southern Africa—a British colony, and present day South Africa and Swaziland—a war for independence broke out. Not once, but twice between two factions occupying Southern Africa.

These were the Boer wars. They were wars waged by the Boer—Afrikaans citizens of the colony—against the British. English troops were called the “rooinekke”, translating to “red necks”, due to the sunburn the British troops suffered under the African sun. The word became a derogatory term for those who spoke English in South Africa.

The wars left a hateful taste on South Africans toward the British for many years after the Anglo-Boer War (the second Boer war). With all the social issues and atrocities on-going at the time and the time after—such as slavery and Apartheid—the hatred and discrimination of English-speakers died but remains lingering. While the story is based on the Boer Wars, it’s not about them alone. It’s focused on all manners of hatred between peoples and the resulting violence unnecessarily committed due to the irrational.

This isn’t the way to defeat hate.

 


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