Flash Fiction: “Love After Death”

After almost a year, here’s a new Flash Fiction story. This is actually a short tale I wrote out by hands years ago and I figured it was good enough to share with all of you.

Enjoy.


Love After Death, by Alexander Paul Willging

Word Count: 474

“So what you’re saying is I’m a zombie.”

“No, you’re a revenant.”

“What’s the difference?”

Hal pressed his fingertips together. She remembered that he did that whenever he had to explain something. It made him look like one of her old professors from college.

“A zombie,” he said slowly, “is just a reanimated corpse. It has no free will, no real personality. A revenant, on the other hand, has the original personality and exists only to take revenge for an unjust murder. You were unjustly murdered, ergo you’re a revenant.”

Ciara frowned. “So, by that logic, you brought me back just for revenge? And you expected me to be happy about it?”

“Er…” Hal rubbed at the back of his neck. “No, I was expecting you to be, well, angry. About your murder, I mean.”

“Oh, really?” She took a step toward him, her hands slowly curling into fists. “Because right now? I’m feeling particularly angry with you.”

“Listen, it… it’s going to be all right—”

“No, it isn’t!” The howl from Ciara’s mouth was strong enough to quench the flames on every candle, shrouding the room in total darkness. “I thought you brought me back because you missed me, Hal! Because you loved me! But it’s all about you, isn’t it? It was always about you and your magic and your revenge!”

“I want revenge for what he did to you!”

“Then why didn’t you stop him before? Why bother now?”

“There wasn’t time—”

“That’s what you said when I asked you to come down to the lake with me last year.”

“I was studying the Occult!”

“And yet you know nothing about relationships!”

“Well…” Hal waved irritably at the air. “You’re right about that! But I can learn now that you’re here! Once we’ve tracked down Eric—”

Ciara raised a hand, silencing him. “But you said a revenant only lives for revenge. Once that’s done, I’ll be gone again, won’t I?”

The young mage stared back. After an uncomfortable pause, he said, “…Maybe not?”

“That’s all I needed to hear.” Ciara turned and went toward the door, nearly tripping over a stack of grimoires on her way out.

“Ciara, wait. You can’t just leave!”

“Watch me.” She tested the doorknob, but it come right off with a simple twist. Rolling her eyes, Ciara lifted her left foot and gave the door such a kick that it broke off its hinges and fell onto the floor of the next room.

Pleased with her newfound strength, she ignored the rest of Hal’s pleas and marched down the corridor toward the stairwell. While she understood what Hal was trying to do, she also knew that he couldn’t help taking the most complicated path toward his goal.

And as far as Ciara was concerned, if you wanted something done right, you had to do it yourself.


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Flash Fiction: “Rebirth Rejected”

Life and death are two sides of the same coin.  Either way, it’s rude to get in the way of people trying to make the most of it.

Rebirth Rejected, by Alexander Paul Willging

Word Count: 540

Green mist swirled up around his eyes.  It was so very dry here.  His throat was burning.  He could barely move his limbs.  Why did it hurt so much?  Being dead wasn’t supposed to hurt.

“Aha!” a deep male voice cried out, somewhere beyond the veil of mist.  “It worked!  I have usurped the power of the gods!”

That voice was irritating.  He could feel it rattle through his bones.  Who did this idiot think he was, babbling about gods when all people wanted to do was sleep—?

Wait a minute.  That was the first rational thought to pass through Sid’s head.  He blinked, scraping his eyelids over very dry eyeballs.  When he stared down at his hands, Sid realized that his hands weren’t their usual pink hue.  They’d gone gray and cold.  Rotten, even.

He was still dead.  He was undead.  And he had this bastard to blame for it.

A black diamond-tipped staff parted the green mist, giving Sid his first glimpse of the annoying kid.  The culprit was tall, lanky, and dark-haired.  Like one of the Goth kids that used to hang around the back of the high school gym.  He even had on the same tight jeans and striped shirt.  The voluminous black robe did little for what was left of his dignity.

“Harken to me, my minion!”  The kid pointed his staff at Sid’s face.  “I have brought you back from the Netherworld to bear witness!  Using the lost art of thanaturgy, I have conquered death itself—”

“Hey, kid.”  Sid grabbed the staff out of his hands and snapped it over his leg.  “Knock it off.”

The young thanaturge gaped at him.  “What?”

“I said, knock it off.”  Sid took in his surroundings.  Except for the green mist pooling around him, it seemed domestic.  Familiar, even.  “Did you summon me in your basement?  What the hell possessed you to do that?”

“So…”  The kid backed away, fumbling for the remnants of his staff.  “So you could live again!  So that… so that I could show the world what power the Liber Mortis had—”

Sid glared at him.  “Really?  Then what’s my name?”

The thanaturge blinked.  “Uh…”

“Oh, come on!”  Sid spread his arms out, not liking the way they creaked into place.  “Don’t tell me you just randomly picked a grave to dig up?  That’s just inconsiderate!  I was at peace, you asshole!”

“But life’s… better than death…”

“You’re young, you wouldn’t understand.”  Sid turned and lurched over to the podium near the back.  In top of the podium was an ancient book.  He squinted at the text, written in faded calligraphy on withered vellum.  “Okay, how does this work… talitha koum… hocus pocus…”  He tapped his finger against the page.  “Here we go.  Restituito et dormito, excusa—”

“No!” the kid wailed.

But it was too late.  Sid closed his eyes as he felt the spark of life inside him diminish.  He was glad.  This un-death wasn’t worth it.  Not when it meant he couldn’t rest alongside Millie anymore.

The last thought to pass through his mind was to reflect that, while the kid had been stupid, he was still young.  He had a lot to learn about life—and death.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Give ‘Em Hell: “World War Z” by Max Brooks

Copyright © 2006 by Max Brooks.

“For the first time in history, we faced an enemy that was actively waging total war.  They had no limits of endurance.  They would never negotiate, never surrender.  They would fight until the very end because, unlike us, every single one of them, every second of every day, was devoted to consuming all life on Earth.  That’s the kind of enemy that was waiting for us beyond the Rockies.  That’s the kind of war we had to fight” (Brooks 230).

Despite the plethora of zombie literature, movies, and TV shows, I haven’t reviewed a lot because I haven’t really enjoyed a lot of that material, with the exception of Zombieland  and Shaun of the Dead.

Well, now I’ve finally gotten around to reading World War Z.  It’s safe to say I’ll never look at zombies the same way again.

Everyone knows what the typical Zombie Apocalypse tale is like: some virus or curse reanimates the dead, causing a worldwide breakdown of society and culture as human beings struggle to survive and fight off the ravenous undead.  But Max Brooks decided to do his homework and ask some good questions.  Questions like “How would a zombie virus spread?” “How would ordinary people react?” “How would governments react?” “Are conventional military tactics and logistics effective against the undead?” “Is there any hope for civilization in the face of such a nightmare?”

Brooks does his best to give us as realistic a view of the human response to a global zombie uprising as he can.  Through a series of fictional interviews from survivors and veterans of “World War Z,” we see it all: the emergence of the virus in China, the spread of infection through refugees and black market organs, the first attempts at containment, the breakdown of order, the despair, and the sad, bleak reconstruction efforts.

This is not a happy book, to say the least.  The only comedy is black humor, the only lighthearted moments are bittersweet, and even the ending, while optimistic, is far from resolved for the survivors.  And yet, every single page is downright fascinating.  There’s so much to learn about human behavior, be it cynical or naive, horrifying or heroic.  And every interview subject has his or her own distinctive voice.  You feel like you’re getting a global perspective on the mayhem, which makes it more than just the usual White Heroes Vs. Multicultural Zombies fare.  I’d say my favorite parts were the two accounts of the Japanese survivors, the katana-wielding otaku and the blind staff-warrior.

I suppose that I would really appreciate some of the nuances and the anti-zombie strategies if I’d read Brooks’s previous work, The Zombie Survival Guide, first.  But even so, World War Z is a fantastic horror story, war tale, apocalyptic account, and human interest story in one well-researched, well-written package.

Bibliography: Brooks, Max.  World War ZAn Oral History of the Zombie War.  New York: Crown Publishing Group, 2006.

Where Death Is Cheap And So Are The Quests: Yahtzee Croshaw’s Mogworld

Cover design by David Nestelle. Cover illustration by Matt Cavotta. Copyright © 2010 by Yahtzee Croshaw.

If you’re a gamer or you read The Escapist, then you’ve likely heard about Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw, an Englishman living in Australia who reviews video games on his online show, Zero Punctuation.  Yahtzee does five-minute reviews where he speaks really, really fast about the latest video game, usually emphasizing its negative points in the most hilarious way possible, and illustrating those points with simple and often-ironic animation.

In addition to being a reviewer for The Escapist, Yahtzee Croshaw can now also claim to be a novelist thanks to his recently-published fantasy novel, Mogworld.

According to Yahtzee’s press release, Mogworld is:

“…an idea I’ve been kicking around ever since those dark, unproductive three months I spent playing World of Warcraft.  It’s a bit of a cynical take on MMOs and the standard Tolkienesque ‘fantasy’ setting.”

And for the most part, he’s right.  The story is basically World of Warcraft from the point-of-view of an NPC who doesn’t know his whole world is actually one big gaming environment.

To give you an idea of the plot, try this summary on for size: Jim has been raised up as a reanimated sixty-year-old corpse to serve in a necromancer’s horde of the undead, but wants to go back to his previous non-existence.  He sets out on a quest in search of a proper death, encountering troublesome adventurers, strangely-behaving villagers, and beings from another world–specifically, our world, as two programmers attempt to work out the bugs in the AI of their new MMORPG, Mogworld, with poor Jim at the center of it.

The cast for this story is pretty great.  Jim is not so much the hero as he is the protagonist, since all he cares about is figuring out what’s going on and what to do with his current existence.  He’s accompanied on his travels by two other undead individuals: a chipper young woman named Meryl and a zealous priest named Thaddeus.  Meryl is an eternal optimist who counteracts Jim’s sarcastic cynicism, while Thaddeus is forever condemning poor Jim with such lines as:

“Be silent, venomous spittle of the Doom Serpent!”

And:

“The minions of demonkind are slippery with the foul butter of dreadful cows.”

Add on a host of minor characters ranging from the incompetent Slippery John to the psychotic Mr. Wonderful, and it’s not hard to see why Jim is so thoroughly depressed from beginning to end in this book.

If I have one issue with the story, it’s that the end wasn’t quite what I expected.  If you want a truly heroic ending, then look somewhere else.  Even so,  Mogworld is the kind of story that immerses the reader in a fantastic world just as any MMO would, the only difference being that it will make snarky comments about its world and even point out that man behind the curtain.  It’s irreverent, ironic, and at times, quite exciting.

Bibliography: Croshaw, Ben.  Mogworld.  Milwaukie: Dark Horse Books, 2010.

What The Harvest Can Hope For: Terry Pratchett’s Reaper Man

Copyright © 2002 by Terry Pratchett.

A long while back, I did a review of Mort, a novel of the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett.  Today I review Reaper Man, a story of a similar vein but (in my opinion) with a richer spirit.

Reaper Man follows from a basic premise: the Auditors of Reality have decided that Death, in its current incarnation, is not enough to make the universe nice and orderly.  So they ask Death to retire.  But when things do not die, the cycle of nature is thrown into chaos, and life starts building up everywhere, taking on the most bizarre manifestations.

There are two important storylines in the novel.  The first follows Death, now out of his proverbial job, as he tries his hand at being “ordinary” and better understanding the ways of human beings.  The second follows all the major consequences of “retiring” Death–namely, an ancient wizard named Windle Poons who is supposed to be dead and wants to help his colleagues at Unseen University figure out why he isn’t–and also figure out where all these mysterious snow globes and carts are coming from…

What’s nice about this story is that everyone, in their own way, gets to have a heroic moment or two.  Death is heroic in his new “mortal” form, and again when facing down the would-be successor to his former position as the Grim Reaper.  And then there’s the wizard Windle Poons, his new friends from Ankh-Morpork, and his “helpful” colleagues from the senior faculty of Unseen University.  They all prove their mettle (some having more mettle than others) against the sheer madness that overwhelms their city.

It’s a peculiar thing that Mr. Pratchett’s achieved when you consider that he can make the Grim Reaper–long portrayed as an enemy of mankind–into a heroic figure, someone who cares about his “harvest.”  But all his dialogue with unassuming mortals like Miss Flitworth or his effortless deeds on their behalf are endearing.  He’s really just an earnest archetypal figure trying to do his best and have a slightly better perspective of the world, which in the end is no different from what every human being strives to do.

Reaper Man is a story with a strong plot, rounded and dynamic characters, and a spirit of satire and honest heroism that makes for a fantastic read.

Bibliography: Pratchett, Terry.  Reaper Man.  New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2002.