Free Fiction Friday: The Short, Unknowable Life of Frances Beachcomber

First published in 2004 at Pindeldyboz, “The Short, Unknowable Life of Frances Beachcomber” also began as an exercise. It’s one of my favorites, because once I left off from the prompt, I let my imagination roam, connecting images from real life (the beheaded snake) to the characters shaping in my head as I wrote.

The Short, Unknowable Life of Frances Beachcomber

Simon Beachcomber’s life had been most simple and most ordinary, and therefore, most terrible. Simple because he did not work at a stressful job that required much thinking. Simple because he and his wife, Frances Beachcomber, never quarreled, nor did they put forth undo emotions of any kind. Ordinary because he worked an eight-to-five job in an office, behind a desk, underneath a bright fluorescent light. Ordinary because each morning he drank coffee and read the business section of the paper while Mrs. Beachcomber also drank a cup of coffee and worked the crossword puzzle.

Both liked solving crossword puzzles and each evening Mr. Beachcomber would buy a second newspaper at the convenience store on the corner and solve the crossword while Mrs. Beachcomber cooked dinner. After dinner they compared answers. Most of the time they had answered the puzzle correctly.

Then Mr. Beachcomber would read at night before going to sleep. Mrs. Beachcomber, on the other hand, turned in and went to sleep right away.

Every week, every month, every year was the same.

Years, indeed, did pass and Mr. and Mrs. Beachcomber realized they were growing old together. And, Mr. Beachcomber, when he retired, had saved enough money over the years that he and Mrs. Beachcomber could live comfortably, spending their days working crossword puzzles, attending to ordinary life.

A few months after retirement, Mr. Beachcomber began to notice something missing, out of the ordinary, and it worried him greatly. He woke up one morning and realized Mrs. Beachcomber had been misplaced.

She hadn’t left. He just didn’t know where she was. He hadn’t noticed that for the past fifty years Mrs. Beachcomber had been shrinking steadily, until now she was the size of a quarter.

Mr. Beachcomber dressed, put on his favorite, though now unfashionable fedora—he had worn it every day since V-J Day—he buckled his belt, which just the day before he had to punch new holes in because it seemed he was losing weight daily, and fingered some lint in his left trouser pocket (Mrs. Beachcomber clung to his car keys as the cracked nail of his left forefinger scratched the surface of the pocket’s cloth), and he set out to search for his wife. On that first day, there was no luck. He hadn’t driven anywhere, only lumbered around the house.

There had been some excitement, though, when he hacked the head off a chicken snake that had crawled into the garden to digest a mouse. He mistook the chicken snake for a rattler and leveled the garden hoe against its neck, taking the head off in one chop. (And Mrs. Beachcomber always said the hoe wasn’t sharp enough to defend against a snake. He wished she were around to see it.)

After disposing of the snake, he went inside, laid his car keys on the dresser and took a nap. (Mrs. Beachcomber clung to the ring, her legs kicking through the vast gulf between the pocket and dresser, hollering frantically. Oh, if he’d only turn up that damn hearing aid!)

On the second day of his search he looked on his dresser where his keys lay. How odd, he thought, normally those are in my pants’ pocket. Why are they here?

Mr. Beachcomber sat on the edge of the bed, thoughtfully recollecting the actions that led to putting his keys on the dresser rather than leaving them in his pocket. He killed the snake; it could’ve been a rattler. Its head was like a rattler’s. If only Mrs. Beachcomber had been there. Now she might never know. She would have thought him brave.

What else had Mr. Beachcomber done? After killing the snake he saw fresh tomatoes on the vine and thought he’d pick them. Fresh tomatoes would please Mrs. Beachcomber, too. As Mr. Beachcomber stooped to pick each tomato his keys would slide out of his trouser pockets. So, he had them in his pocket then.

He then rubbed his left hip which was sore for some reason. Underneath his fingers he felt a small lump, what he figured was a bug bite (Mrs. Beachcomber had bitten and scratched him) and then remembered that while in the garden he had thought it was his keys that were scratching him, so he came in for a drink of water and retired to the bedroom where he decided to take the keys out of his pocket and lay them on the dresser while he napped.

The heavy key rings fell across Mrs. Beachcomber’s chest. She screamed. The rings had pinned her against the wooden dresser. Before long, her breath was crushed out.

Mr. Beachcomber stepped up from the bed. A scrim of blood and cloth seemed tangled in the key ring. He bent to investigate. There was his wife, the size of a quarter. Her limp, lifeless body.

Dead. Mrs. Beachcomber was dead. Though married to her fifty years, at that moment, looking at that tiny crushed body, Mr. Beachcomber thought he knew nothing about his wife. She was only Mrs. Beachcomber, a woman good at crossword puzzles, a simple and most ordinary thing.

Advertisements

Lesson learned

I think I learned a beginning writer’s lesson: Always read the submission guidelines thoroughly.

I submitted a short story Friday morning and about an hour later received a message that I hadn’t formatted my submission correctly. I was frustrated not only by the message, but by the complicated process of editing the submission so it would conform to the publication’s format.

Part of the frustration I felt was that the manuscript I submitted was already set up in a normally acceptable format from William Shunn. The requested format wasn’t too much of a deviation — an elimination of all references to the author’s name, supposedly for a more objective consideration of the story. But, then reading the guidelines further, the editor mentions not to use Courier. Times New Roman was preferred.

This seemed very absurd, overly picky. But I changed the font.

After resubmitting, my frustration subsided. I kept thinking about students I’ve had in the past who couldn’t get formatting. I was feeling like those students must have. And I wonder, too, if not submitting the story correctly had something to do with the quick rejection — received today.

Did it reflect on my professionalism not submitting correctly?

— Todd

Last Chance for ‘Arc of the Cosmos’

This is the last week you will be able to get the first edition of my short story ebook The Arc of the Cosmos. It’s only $1.99. Justarcofthecosmoscovertg (1) click the link for literary pleasure.

And don’t worry, there will be a new edition in the future.

Also, for those of you who have bought an edition, thank you for the support. And, buy another copy.

Best,

Todd

 

 

 

‘About Jake’ published at Bewildering Stories

Good morning readers. I’ve been saving this one up for more than a month. My first piece of speculative fiction, “About Jake,” to be published is up at Bewildering Stories.brown_marble

Although, it’s a non-paying market, I’m proud of this piece, given that it’s a first. Also, the editors at Bewildering Stories worked with me, suggesting rewrites that pretty much required major surgery on the piece. The practice of it was well worth the challenge of the rewrite. Their suggestions made me sharpen the focus on the story, especially the ending, which caused me no end of fits.

For the editorial assistance alone, I will recommend this market to other writers.

Also, want to thank the crew at North Texas Speculative Fiction Workshop for the critiques that helped me see through the rewrites.

Well, that’s enough chit-chat for now. Until next time, thanks for reading. Hope you enjoy the story.

Creating Short Fiction


In rereading Damon Knight’s Creating Short Fiction: The Classic Guide to Writing Short Fiction, he provides one of his annotated short stories, “Semper Fi,” for study. In the annotations, Knight mentions his third paragraph marks the moment where the action really begins in the story.

Is this a pretty good measure of when to begin action in the short story, or is it just another arbitrary point in a story?

How soon in a story should the action begin?

Asimov’s, August 2015

In between reading the books stacked on my to-read pile, I like to catch up with magazines, especially short fiction to study and absorb as a writer myself. One of my favorites is Asimov’s Science Fiction, and I just finished the August 2015 issue.Asimovs-Science-Fiction-August-2015

One of the things in this issue that caught my attention was James Patrick Kelly‘s regular “On the Net” column in which he writes about the joys of getting your first acceptance, noting how he had run across a post by new writer Kelly Robson, “who announced that she had sold her first story to this magazine.” His piece is one of those that gives hope, as well as insight, to all of new writers waiting to do happy dances for first or second or fifth acceptances from Asimov’s or any other magazine willing to take your fiction.

That piece talks about the importance of market analysis, reading the stories and persistence, the faith writers have through hard work their stories will get accepted. I would say it’s a must-read piece for new writers.

As for newbie Kelly Robson’s story “Two-Year Man,” it’s definitely worthy of placement with such established writers as Kristine Kathryn Rusch, whose time travel story “The First Step” is a heart-wrencher about an absent father coming to terms with missing out on his son’s life.

Robson’s story is set in a near-future, Eastern-Europeanish-bleak Vienna and concerns itself with a couple picking out the best of thrown away children and hoping to keep their relationship together.

Review: The Flicker Men by Ted Kosmatka

Until I read his The Flicker Men, I had only known of Ted Kosmatka through his short fiction in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction and Asimov’s. Now that I’ve read The Flicker Men, I’m glad I’ve met Ted in long form.

This SF-thriller drops faith and science into the pit with the now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t universe of quantum physics wherein a washed out scientist, Eric Argus, replicates a double-slit experiment that lights up some alternate realities and potentially threatens the universe. At the same time, the experiment gains the attention of nefarious forces that include a televangelist bent on using Argus’s work to prove souls exist and what I would say were pan-dimensional beings. These forces pursue Argus and attempt to destroy his work and him before the whole of reality runs completely amok, if it hasn’t already.

Kosmatka’s style — his driving short sentences — hammers narrative forward. And he’s such a crafty storyteller, he’s able blend a complicated field of science into the narrative without relying heavily on infodumps.