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Memoirs of the Model Agent: How I Rescued Mr. Dimbles

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Preface

You probably know me from the ad campaigns. I’ve been the face of the Chancellorate’s Security Forces for two or three years, now. “The Model Agent,” they call me, when they use me as an example in their training modules. “See how Agent Connolly did it?” they say. “Do it like that. Do it her way.” Really they mean their way, and they twist their stories about me accordingly, but that’s fine, and mostly harmless. In the end, agents learn by experience, not in the classroom, just like anyone else.

The one thing I don’t like about being the smiling model on the front of their textbooks is that I tend to get painted as some kind of hero. I was a good agent, but I’m not a hero. Not that kind of hero, anyways. Not their kind of hero. My career wasn’t nearly as glamorous as they like to paint it.

That’s why I’ve decided to share a few of the stories that haven’t been told about me before. I’m not calling anyone a liar; I’m not here to “set the records straight.” I just want to be represented on my own terms. I want to balance the scales a little, so you can see the bad with the good.

Why don’t I start near the beginning?

***

Chapter 1: How I Rescued Mr. Dimbles

It’s a tough job being an agent of the Chancellorate’s Security Forces. Aside from the numerous international threats that the CSF has to deal with, there’s plenty of domestic discontent, as well. The chancellors’ political decisions are rarely popular. We agents used to joke that the chancellors need protection from themselves as much as they do from anyone else. And beyond placing themselves in the line of fire, agents also experience the stress and aggravation of dealing with the whims, quirks, and fancies of the various chancellors, each of whom, it seems, can be uniquely exasperating.

I have my fair share of scars, both physical and psychiatric. My right leg is marked with a long burn I received blocking laser fire directed at the Northern Sub-Chancellor. My lungs are lined with scar tissue from the time I inhaled poison gas while checking the Secondary Executive Pre-Chancellor’s hotel room for traps. I have nightmares every Wednesday about the night I accidentally saw the Regal Lieutenant Chancellor in the shower. But all these wounds and difficulties have been worth it, because for all their imperfections I know that the chancellors’ regime has been far preferable to the chaos and darkness that came before.

Still, there were plenty of times where I wondered if the people I was protecting were really worth the sacrifices I made for them. In the early days I thought frequently about taking my mother’s advice to quit my job as an agent and go back to selling grapes and melons at our family’s roadside fruit stand. It took me a long time to work my way up the ladder to become the head of the Over-Chancellor’s personal bodyguards, which was where I first began to feel like I was actually making a direct difference to the security of our planet. Perseverance usually pays off.

The closest I ever came to quitting was one day back when I was a member of the entourage for the Junior Deputy Vice-Chancellor. He and his wife were nice enough people, as chancellors go. The two of them exuded a down-to-earth, homey kind of vibe that reminded me of being back on the farm. They had a little girl, a rascally two-year-old tyrant with fat cheeks and green eyes. We always referred to them as Baby, Mommy, and Daddy. To tell the truth, I’ve actually forgotten what their real names were.

Mommy and Daddy fawned over that child as if she represented every good thing that had ever taken place in the world. She had multiple closets full of toys, but there was one stuffed animal that she loved more than all the rest, a googly-eyed white bear called Mr. Dimbles. (Don’t ask me why I remember the toy’s name and not the people’s. Memories work in funny ways sometimes.)

We were out on a walk one morning, doing the rounds through downtown so Daddy and Mommy could show off Baby and get some good press release photos with John Smith and Jane Doe. There were six of us on duty, a small-sized retinue, by most chancellors’ standards. Baby was playing with Mr. Dimbles and soaking up all the cooing and “Aren’t you preciouses” that any toddler out in public is bound to attract.

It was all going pretty routinely, until a glassy-eyed man with a neck beard smiled at Baby kind of funny, leaned in close, snatched Mr. Dimbles away, and took off down the sidewalk. Baby started to wail like a police siren, and our well-oiled reflexes kicked in. I and two others, the pre-designated “Away Team,” whipped our blasters out of their holsters and tore off in pursuit, while the “Home Team” bustled Daddy, Mommy, and Baby towards the nearest shop to take cover in case of a secondary attack.

“Get Mr. Dimbles back!” screamed Mommy. “Don’t let him get away!”

The thief had Mr. Dimbles tucked under his arm like an old-fashioned football and was shoving his way through the crowd, hollering at everyone to get out of his way. I thought one of the more reckless bystanders might trip him up or tackle him as he went by, but then he pulled a blaster out from under his coat, turned it over his shoulder, and started firing at us. The agent beside me took a laser to the knee and went down.

The other two of us were just about to return the favour when Mommy’s voice pierced the air behind us. “Wait! Don’t shoot!” she shrieked. “You’ll hit Mr. Dimbles!

That made us hesitate just long enough for the guy to duck around a corner into an alleyway. We rumbled after him. When we hit the corner we were met by a hail of lasers and had to scramble back for cover. A flurry of hand signals and eye motions passed between us. We waited for a pause in the barrage and then I played the decoy, rolling across the mouth of the alley to the other side to draw the guy’s attention while my partner leaned out and returned fire, being careful not to hit the toy.

A laser grazed the thief’s shoulder. He howled and dropped his blaster, but held on to Mr. Dimbles. Then he set off running again. He had a bigger head start now, and seemed to know the maze of alleyways pretty well, but we managed to keep him in sight. He led us downhill until we broke out of the cover of the buildings and found ourselves standing at the top of the sea wall, with a 50-foot drop to the raging ocean below.

The thief was standing at the edge, huffing and puffing, holding Mr. Dimbles out through the fence, over the water, with his unwounded arm. “Stay back!” he warned us. “Any closer and the toy gets it!”

My partner whispered to me, “It’s just a toy…”

At a later point in my career, I probably would have shrugged it off, taken the shot, and let the toy fall where it may, but I was young and idealistic and, perhaps most importantly, proud. Not wanting to look foolish for having chased the guy halfway across the city already, I replied, “Baby absolutely adores that thing, and Daddy and Mommy think Baby is the centre of the universe. If we save that toy, I guarantee you it’ll be worth our while.”

My partner shrugged and allowed me to take the lead.

To the thief, I said, “Okay, you’ve got us. What happens next?”

“I have demands,” said the thief.

“What kind of demands?”

“My cousin is a political prisoner of the Chancellorate. I want his immediate release!”

“That’s very ambitious of you,” I said, “but my boss is only the Junior Deputy Vice-Chancellor, you know. He doesn’t really have that kind of authority. Maybe you should have kidnapped the Senior Deputy Vice-Chancellor’s child’s favourite toy.”

“Oh,” he said. “But I’ve already gone to the trouble of kidnapping this one. It would be a waste if I didn’t try to get something out of it, don’t you think?”

“I suppose so,” I said.

“Can you give me a minute to come up with something else?”

He still had Mr. Dimbles dangling over the edge, so I decided to play along. “Sure. Take all the thinking time you need.”

A minute or so passed, during which he wrinkled his forehead and scratched his chin but appeared to be making little progress.

“Any new ideas?” I prompted him.

“Not yet,” he said. “The original plan took a lot of thinking, you know, and now I’m under all this pressure, and my shoulder really hurts… It would be easier if I had some ice cream. I always think better when I have ice cream.”

At this point, things were going bizarrely enough that I hardly even missed a beat. “We can get you some of that,” I said.

“Really?”

“Absolutely. Just sit tight.” I used my comm. unit to relay the request, and surreptitiously added a few details of my own to the order. About five minutes later a member of the Home Team showed up with a heaping bowl of vanilla ice cream covered in chocolate syrup. I’m still not sure how they got everything together so fast. Maybe they should be writing this book.

The thief’s eyes lit up. “Chocolate syrup?” he said. “My favourite!”

I took the bowl of ice cream and offered it to him. “Eat up,” I said. “Get those brain juices flowing. I’m sure you’ll come up with some new demands to give us in no time.”

“Thank you,” he said. Then he hesitated. “Hey, wait a second. I can’t hold the toy and eat ice cream at the same time. You’re trying to trick me! It won’t work; I’m not going to put the toy down. You’re going to have to feed me the ice cream yourself.”

It didn’t really make much of a difference, but I sighed as if he’d seen through my plan, picked up the spoon, and scooped a mouthful of ice cream for him. He opened his mouth, I stuck the spoon in, and slurped it up greedily.

Within a couple of seconds his eyes started to roll back a little. I quickly stepped forward, reached through the fence, and plucked the toy out of his hand before the sedative could take full effect. He moaned and I guided him to the ground as he crumpled into unconsciousness.

While the other agents stayed to watch the thief until a squad car could arrive to haul him off, I brought Mr. Dimbles back to the scene of the crime. I found the third Away Team member sitting on the sidewalk with a bandage around his wounded knee. Daddy was standing at the door, waiting for me. I handed Mr. Dimbles to him.

“Thank you so much for excellent work, agent,” he said. “I’ll see that it does not go unrewarded.” He took the toy and stuffed it into his briefcase.

“Sir,” I said, “don’t you think Baby will want that back?”

“Oh, no, it’s fine,” he assured me. “We’ve got about a dozen of them. My wife always keeps an extra one on hand.”

I leaned around the corner and saw Mommy watching proudly as Baby sat in her stroller, playing happily with an exact copy of the toy that I had just risked my life to rescue. “But,” I sputtered, “we just…”

“Yes, well, we couldn’t have our child think we didn’t even care about her favourite companion being kidnapped, could we?” he explained. “As soon as you were out of sight we snuck another one to Agent Gudbranson and had him bring it in from the street, pretending he’d rescued it. Our darling welcomed it home like it was a wounded soldier returning from war. Isn’t she a glowing little marvel?”

I smiled woodenly and immediately began a mental draft of the wording I would use in my letter requesting a transfer to the protective detail for the Third Assistant Under-Chancellor-in-Waiting. At that point I was more than willing to take the pay cut.

END

Creative Writing: “Put Your Feet Up”

Here’s a creative writing piece I wrote over at TypeTrigger last week. I’m not sure how to classify it, exactly. It’s somewhere in between fiction and nonfiction. I just took the prompt, which was “put your feet up“, let my mind wander, and waited to see what would come out.

Enjoy!


Put Your Feet Up

Whenever I need to have a good think I lie down backwards on my bed, with my feet propped up against the wall, let the blood pour down into my brain, close my eyes, and just wander around for a while inside my head.

It’s tough slogging, I find, navigating my neuron clusters with all that blood flowing, but it’s far more interesting than going in when it’s dry, when my brain’s like a desert, with just a couple of lonely cactus-like ideas growing here and there. When my feet are up and the rivers are flowing the vegetation gets much more lively.

The first few exploring sessions I embarked on while the blood was in my head, I went in barefoot and was forced to stick to the shoreline, wondering what those big ideas were that I could see off in the distance. Lately, though, I’ve been bringing a good pair of boots along, so I’m able to go inland, where a lot of the grey matter is. Ideas grow like weeds in the grey matter, if they’re being watered well.

One time I tried building a raft and floating down one of my arterial channels. I thought it might bring me somewhere important, where I was storing a really great, unique idea, but I must’ve gotten caught in a current of some sort, because I eventually found myself floating around near the tip of my tongue. It took me hours to find my way back out.

One day I’m going to find that big idea, and then I’ll cultivate it, fertilizing and pruning and taking cuttings so I can plant more big ideas just like it in my back garden.

Until then, I’ll lie here with my feet up, and off I’ll go, exploring.

Writing Update – September 16, 2011

I mentioned in my post yesterday that I had a story published by OneFortyFiction.

Beyond that, this week has been moderately productive on the writing front. I wrote a flash fiction story called “Reclaiming the Night” and submitted it to a couple of places. It was originally a TypeTrigger story, but I fleshed it out and edited it a bit.

I also improved on a Six-Minute Story piece called “What We Left Behind” and submitted it to handful of markets.

I’m working through a difficult portion of my novel, but I’ve done 4,500 words in that so far this week, and I’d like to do a bit more tomorrow. I know the direction the story has to go from here, but I’m struggling a bit with a couple of new characters, so I have to get it all straight in my head.

Another thing I’ve been working on is a bit of a world-building collaborative project. I wrote the second story from this new world and have been doing some thinking about where to go from there. Not sure how soon I’ll be able to talk about that more, but it’s a lot of fun so far, and we’ll see where it ends up.

No responses from markets to report this week. I have 9 stories submitted to 19 different markets that are pending responses.

The Fuzzy Bear and the Buzzy Bee

I wrote Larissa a story over Facebook chat. Naturally, I wanted to share it with the rest of the world. It is such a happy little tale!


The Fuzzy Bear and the Buzzy Bee

Once upon a time a fuzzy bear was balancing on a tight rope, and a buzzy bee was watching him.

The buzzy bee said, “That is so silly, you silly bear! What good is it to balance when you can fly?”

“But I can’t fly,” said the fuzzy bear. “I don’t have wings, like you. I only have fuzzy hair, so balancing on this tight rope is the best I can do.”

“Well I feel very sorry for you,” said the buzzy bee, and he flew in a triple upside-down loop-around pattern to show that he meant it.

The fuzzy bear was so impressed with how good the buzzy bee was at flying that he clapped his hands in delight, but the movement made him lose his balance and he tumbled to the ground, PLOMP!

“Oh no!” said the buzzy bee. “That was all my fault. Now I am even more extra sorry!”

“It’s okay,” said the fuzzy bear. “I am so fuzzy and so roly-poly that I hardly felt it all.”

“That must be nice,” said the buzzy bee. “When I fall down it always hurts a lot! That’s why I fly all the time. I’m scared of the ground!”

“You must get very tired if you have to fly so much and never touch the ground.”

“Yes, I do, but I would rather be tired from flying than be sore from landing on the hard ground and hurting myself.”

“I know!” said the fuzzy bear. “If you need a rest, why don’t you land on top of my fuzzy head? I am very soft, and it won’t hurt you at all.”

“Okay!” agreed the buzzy bee. It carefully, gently, slowly buzzed down to where the fuzzy bear was sitting and landed on the bear’s head. “Aaaahh… It is so nice to have a rest,” it said.

The fuzzy bear was so soft that the buzzy bee fell right to sleep. Not wanting to disturb the bee, the fuzzy bear decided to have a nap, too. After all, he could practice on his tight rope any time he wanted, but it wasn’t every day that he got a chance to make a new friend.

Writing a Novel!?

You know how sometimes a story grabs hold of your mind and holds your concentration at ransom until you finally give in and start to write it down? No? Well maybe that’s just me. And it’s happening right now.

I think I've started writing a novel. Oh dear!

I had an idea for a story a long time ago, and I wrote it down in a note on my iPhone, and it fermented a bit, and finally sprouted onto an actual Word document a couple of weeks ago. (I know that was a mixed metaphor. Let’s just go with it; I like the imagery.) What I originally imagined as a short story, though, has grown legs and walked all over my imagination–hey cool, another metaphor!–and as of today I have 8,000 words written and an outline containing 23 major plot events, each of which will take up at least one chapter. If my forecast is correct, getting all the way through my outline should take at least 50,000 words. Oh dear.

What I am saying is that I’ve clearly started writing a novel. Sounds kind of crazy, but I think now is a good time for it. I need something to work towards while I’m job-hunting and making preparations to finalize and defend my Master’s thesis.

It remains to be seen how much time I’ll be able to dedicate to this in the long run, but I’m planning on giving it a shot, and we’ll see what happens. In the meantime, I’ll also be doing the aforementioned job-hunting and thesis-finalizing, along with maintaining FiftyWordStories.com and writing the occasional flash fiction or short story, so I have a pretty full plate, both creatively and otherwise.

Wish me luck!

Feel-Good Progress Update

In between working on my thesis research, writing daily updates for FiftyWordStories.com, and performing my cooking duties (like a good husband), I’ve been planning for and making progress towards releasing my second collection of flash fiction, which I’m calling Feel-Good.

My plan, at the beginning, was to release one of these every month or so, and I’m hoping I won’t be too far off that target, when all is said and done. As it stands right now, I have everything written for Feel-Good except the superhero story which I received prompts for from several lucky readers of Living and Dying. I’m hoping to get that story written sometime this weekend or next week. I have the concept mostly sorted out already.

Once that story has been put together, I just have to do a couple of editing passes and the formatting and cover art.

Along with the aforementioned superhero story, Feel-Good will contain several pieces of flash fiction in the 250- to 500-word range; a piece of 555 fiction (three stories written to the same title, one 500 words long, one 50 words, and one 5 words); a few lighthearted poems; and a short story about a tugboat. Everyone loves tugboats, right?

I’ve revised the estimated release date to July 18. Feel-Good will be available as a pay-what-you-want download, and also on the Kindle Store for $0.99. Information about the special offers and preorder bonuses, as well as early access for people on the Early Access List, will be available closer to the actual release.

Living and Dying Sample Story: “Mouths to Feed”

For those of you who haven’t downloaded and read Living and Dying yet, either from the TS Store or the Kindle Store, I thought I’d post one of the stories from the collection to give you a sense of what it’s like.

This story, Mouths to Feed, was originally written on TypeTrigger, based on the prompt phrase “I first knew.” After writing it on TypeTrigger, I spent a fair amount of time polishing and rewriting it before including it in Living and Dying. The end result was what you can read below.

 

Mouths to Feed

I first knew how much trouble we were in when the engine sputtered for the fourth time.

The first couple of sputters didn’t seem like a big deal. Let’s be realistic: you’re bound to get the occasional booster hiccup when you’re fourteen years into a twenty-year journey to the center of the solar system and back. But I’m a smart kid, and I know that while two can be coincidence, three is a pattern, which means four is something worth paying attention to.

So I called up the engineer. “Dad,” I said, “I think we might have a problem.” And he put down his call-it-breakfast-but-we’re-pointed-straight-at-the-sun-so-really-it’s-pretty-much-always-lunch-time, and he popped his head up into the cockpit with a relaxed, what-is-it-this-time-bud grin, and by then I’d counted eight-and-a-half sputters, and a look at the diagnostics screen made his smile disappear pretty quickly.

He entered a handful of bypass codes to shut the boosters off, which made the trip calculator go absolutely crazy with warnings and red numbers, and then, as he scrolled through the emergency maintenance manual, he started humming.

I’d never heard him hum before. The song was slow, and soft, and haunting. It made me feel like I was looking out a porthole into space, but couldn’t see any stars.

It creeped me out, so I went and found the captain, and she told me the last time she’d heard my dad humming was when he found out she was pregnant with me, which was almost ten years ago, and she bet she knew what song he was humming, too.

“Mom,” I said, “for every hour we have the boosters shut down, we’re adding a month to our trip time.”

“I know, bud,” she said.

“And with three people drawing from the supplies, we can’t afford to add on any more than about two years, or we’ll run out of rations before we arrive.”

“I know, bud,” she said.

“That means we have 24 hours to fix—”

I know,” she said. And then she climbed up into the cockpit with my dad and locked the hatch behind her.

We’d all memorized those numbers a long time ago, of course. They were one of the first things I learned as a kid, when I started to ask questions about what we were doing here, my mom, my dad, and I, tearing through space in a tin can made for two.

If I’d never shown up, there would have been a lot more margin for error with a problem like this one. The rations and the recycling system had been designed for two mouths, not three. There wasn’t supposed to have been a romance. There wasn’t supposed to have been a pregnancy. There wasn’t supposed to have been a Me.

But a Me there was. My parents had learned to cope. They’d recalculated the rations. They’d made the sacrifices they needed to make. And now we had less than two days to save ourselves from seven years of hopelessness and one year of death by dehydration.

 

That all happened about nine months ago. I don’t remember much about the frantic whirlwind that those two days became, but I do remember two failed reboosts, three emotional breakdowns, a lot of yelling, and being locked out of the sleeping quarters “overnight” at the end of it all.

Ultimately, we found a way to keep the engine burning, but our workaround means that someone has to constantly be watching to manually make the small, vital adjustments that are keeping our hopes, our faintest of hopes, alive.

I take a regular shift. I didn’t, at first, but eventually I had to, out of sheer necessity, because of my parents’ fatigue, and now I think they’ve grown to trust me.

And they should. I do a good job, even though it’s sometimes hard to concentrate when there’s a newborn around.

My dad hums all the time, now.