So, the last piece of published short fiction I had out was the short story, “The Session” in Terri Windling’s anthology, The Armless Maiden and Other Tales for Childhood’s Survivors back in 1995. This doesn’t count a piece Rory and I co-wrote back in the early 90’s but which appeared in Revolution SF back in 2005. I’ve been (slowly) writing novels instead.
I had a short fiction career at one point (if one can call a career something that amounted to a)nothing even close to a living wage and b) averaging less than one published story a year.) It wasn’t totally unremarkable. I made it onto the final Hugo Ballot twice and the final Nebula Ballot once. I was (at least in my own mind) a hot young turk. All of my sales were to markets considered “professional” by SFWA. I got the odd fan letter. And I got to meet a lot of cool writers and editors.
But now I’m back at it again and I’m having a rough time. I’m not completely hopeless, I think. I sold a story to the new Tor website which helped my self-esteem a bit. But now I’m working on my latest novel and I’m writing it in chunks that I hope to market as short fiction.
And this is a tricky proposition.
Here is the start of one such tale:
The League of Justice—Thayet, Morty, Annunciata, and Scabby Sue—were trading dirt clods and verbal abuse with their mortal foes, the Fantastic Five—the three Fayette boys and their toadies, Charlotte and Randy.
The Fantastic Five—heirs of wealth and privilege—wore motorcycle helmets with plastic visors and were armed with fiberglass and surgical tubing slingshots, imported from beyond the steel curtain.
The League of Justice’s heads were protected by a collection of cracked wooden and clay bowls, and one wooden box, with eye-holes cut. Thayet wore an ancient pair of sunglasses without ear pieces, held on by rough, brown string. Morty wore an ancient pair of safety goggles. Annunciata wore a diving mask with tattered, torn rubber edges. Scabby Sue had covered the holes of her box with yellowed plastic bag glued in place with oatmeal paste.
Though only Annunciata was a Christian--Thayet was Buddhist, Morty a Jew, and Scabby Sue’s family was something called Unitarian Universalist--the League of Justice scorned their enemies’ store-bought weapons as Godless, a great irony since the Fayette’s father was big in the Church of the New Redemption and Charlotte’s father was a Bishop in the Church of Latter Day Saints.
It was the League of Justice that used the most Christian weapon, the sling of David, a leather flap and two pieces of string four feet long. They wasn’t as accurate as the “wrist rockets” but they cost next-to-nothing to make and when their clods struck home there were great lamentations in the lodges of their enemies.
The two groups fought on neutral ground, outside the city wall near the western gate, far enough away from the guards, away from windows, widows, and non-combatants. The city constables wouldn’t stir themselves unless blood was drawn. That was the reason for their protective gear.
Once before, when the eldest Fayette boy came home with a split brow, constables had called on Thayet’s father. Naturally, the Fayette boys had been mortified and both sides were anxious to avoid this adult interference in their private affairs.
Thayet saw him first, or at least something, just as the city clocker blew the triple “tut, tut, tut” of the third quarter after six in the evening. The western road wound up from the desert, climbing up a series of hills and plateaus and, normally, as travelers came up the last rise, their heads presented themselves first, rising gradually, until shoulders, arms, waists, and finally legs seemed to grow from the dusty gravel like ambulatory century plants.
This time, however, Thayet didn’t see a head. She saw something wide as the road itself, with projecting antennae and filaments and some odd sort of translucent shapes bob above the rise, then raising as it climbed the slope, tapering, but still oddly translucent, the low sun shining through and among a collection of spheres and cylinders and squares and rectangles.
A dirt clod exploded off Thayet’s salad bowl helmet, spinning it around and making her blink in the shower of dust. She turned her attention back to the matter at hand. After a coordinated barrage caused the Feeble Five to dive out of sight in the far ditch, she checked the road again.
The figure coming was a man, she could see that now, or an older boy. He wore a packframe with spreading bamboo poles sticking ten feet into the air and hanging from cross canes was a collection of wicker ware—baskets, fans, broad brimmed hats, and fish traps made from everything you could make baskets from: grasses, reeds, barks, split wood, and strips of old plastic, salvaged from the eaten places. With the sun touching the horizon, his shadow stretched across the earth and touched the city wall while he was a good quarter mile away.
He wore nothing but apache style moccasins, reaching up to his calf, tattered shorts, and a broad brimmed straw hat. He had other clothes for an unbleached cotton shirt flapped from the top of his packframe. Water bottles and a bed roll were lashed lower down, and a leather bag hung from his waist.
He was making a basket as he walked, a cylindrical hamper, working the sides up with split cattail. When he reached the end of one piece he’d take another from the leather bag hanging from his waist, coiled and moist, and thread it in among the uprights, blending it in until you couldn’t tell where the last piece ended and the new one began.
Thayet called for the cease fire as the basket man approached, watching the enemy warily. Both sides knew that the striking of noncombatants would bring the constables down upon them, but justice was not always evenhanded. The Fayettes could strike a blow and evade justice--their father was the district administrator of the Territorial Government. Such injustices had occurred in the past—it was the principle grievance that fueled their perpetual war.
Still, Tommy Fayette stood and waved, acknowledging the call. “Might as well quit,” he yelled back. “It’ll be dusk by the time he gets by.” Almost as an afterthought he asked, “Do you surrender?”
Thayet exchanged glances with Annunciata who sneered and called back across the road, “What’s that? You wish to surrender?”
This almost precipitated another exchange of courtesies, but the basket man was approaching the crossfire zone and Thayet negotiated the resumption of hostilities for the following afternoon, after the Fayettes and their cronies escaped from their respective church schools.
The basket man was passing, then, and the League of Justice looked up in awe, for the baskets were hung as far forward and back as they were side to side, giving him the appearance of an inverted wicker pyramid.
Thayet was surprised, then, when a voice called her name, a voice she knew.
The basket man tilted his head up, raising his broad hat brim, and she saw his face. “Kimball?”
He held his finger to his lips and she blinked, thinking furiously. It was Kimball, little Kimball, the public orphan, the market rat, the errand boy, but taller now, his childhood fat melted from frame and face, and when his startling blue eyes met hers, she felt something odd happen twixt heart and stomach.
He lowered his head and walked on but she heard, “The old place, when the horn blows nine.”
While I know where this is going, I’m not so sure where the short story ends.