Editor’s Desk

Is the short story dead?…

Ronald Ayers: Publisher-Editor
Ronald Ayers: Publisher-Editor

I’ve heard it said that one of the ways you can tell if you are crazy is when you keep doing the same thing over and over again and expect a different result.

Well, I’m as crazy as a Looney Tune Cartoon.

My craziness stems form the fact that for the third time in my life I’m attempting to launch an online publication dedicated to short story Genre fiction. My other two attempts were miserable failures. But things will be different this time. Why? Because the third time is the charm, right?

According to many media experts, the short story, and the poem are as dead as a “Night of the Walking Dead” zombie. I disagree. I think that the reports of the death of the short story have been greatly exaggerated. Like the zombie, the short story has been stumbling , and groping along trying to get a foothold in the consciousness of a public with a short attention span, and more in tune with television and internet viewing.

Some media studies report that our attention span is now measured in nano-seconds. If that’s so it would certainly follow that entertaining, short story Genre fiction like mystery, suspense and horror stories would fit into a short attention span for reading. My thinking is that young people, would be shying away from the 200,000 word novels in favor of a shorter length of work that would afford more immediate gratification.

The short story is defined as anything below 10,000 words. Some times a lot less, as little as 3,000 words. In my experience the shorter form of writing allows writers to discipline their minds, tighten their plots, and learn the craft of writing. The short story allows writers an opportunity to experiment, write outside their genres, and try something new.

A short story can be read in twenty minutes. It can be read on a smartphone without hurting your eyes, and it can be read while you’re waiting for the bus or on your lunch break. And you don’t have to invest as much in the story, so there is less risk for the reader if they don’t like it.

Undoubtedly one of the major reasons for the reported death of the short story is the demise of popular and literary magazines such as Playboy, Redbook, and Cosmopolitan. These publications paid top dollar for short stories. Professional writers could pay their bills gaining acceptance to these magazines.

An aspiring writer might turn his writing efforts to magazines such as Ellery Queen, Alfred Hitchcock, and Black Mask. The pay in these smaller magazines was not as great as the literary magazines. But, if an aspiring writer could get a short mystery story published he could boast to his friends and neighbors.

‘Look! I’m a published writer! I’ve got the byline and a check to prove it!’

So, here I go again.

I’m going to go Looney Tune, and I’m going to play God.

With Gods help, the help of aspiring writers, and willing readers I’m going to resurrect the carcass of the short story through Aegis Publishing House.

I invite you to bring me your 3,000 word short stories. Bring me your eyeballs and your desire to engage in a few moments of quiet entertainment.

WORD!

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One thought on “Editor’s Desk

  1. Thank you for asking. The following appeared in a self produced collection of short stories two years ago. I am the author and owner of copyright. Hope you enjoy this 2829 word story, The Red Glove.
    Sincerely, Crow Johnson Evans

    The Red Glove

    What did I do that was so awful? Father slapped me! I’ll never forget the look on his face—he ripped the red glove from my hand.
    * * *
    Annie’s eyes were puffy from crying. Under a mass of shiny orange curls, her face looked weary, older than a typical fourteen-year-olds in the year 2086 CE. She sniffled as she walked along the passageway, that umbilical tether that connected her sleep-nest to her parents’ quarters in New Los Angeles, a model-city space community.
    When she entered the sleep-nest, Annie reached to the wall and pressed “distance, maximum” then “view, full.” Shields over the clear bubble fell back like lotus petals; she watched the Milky Way above her bed while the tether lengthened. The tether stretched from a short walkway, tall enough for adults, to a snake-like two-hundred-meter long tube the diameter of a child’s thumb. Floating away from the city’s activity and noise, she felt isolated, alone, humiliated and safe.
    Father had never slapped her face before. It was a hard resounding smack. The sound popped in her ears—and her mother, always the reservoir of tenderness and comfort, had turned away. Why? How could a glove make them so angry?
    Three shooting stars chased each other across the night as Annie pulled the soft blanket closer. She thought back over the sequence of events.
    Hours before, she’d entertained herself in the family library—a room filled with Earth history, space science, education modules, moving images, and games. It was her favorite place to go during dust blizzards and meteor showers. Shelves and cubbyholes ran floor to ceiling, stuffed with treasures and curiosities.
    After some risky climbing, poking and prying, she’d found a box hidden on a corner shelf, behind a full collection of Shakespeare’s plays. The cinebox, old technology, still worked. As she opened the lid, a scratchy recording of an old man’s voice began while his holographic image paced the room. Inside the box was a soft red leather glove.
    In the old days on Earth, it was acceptable for humans to make garments from the bodies of other life forms, both vegetable and animal. Annie knew about it, but had never seen or felt the supple elegance of leather.
    First, she stroked the glove as she watched the old man wave his red gloved hand for emphasis as he droned on about something—something that didn’t interest her. Then, she slipped her hand inside, putting thumb and fingers in the slender tubular channels. Thrilled with the discovery and sensation, she’d run to the navigation room to show her parents the amazing glove.
    Their reaction had been a nightmare—a total, confusing nightmare that left her distraught, tucked in a floating sleep-nest. She drifted for hours, looking into space, crying, and regretting that her life would never be the same. Her parents had been disappointed in her before, but this was different.
    ***
    After what seemed like a thousand tears and sobs, Annie felt the bed move. Her parents must have given the return command. She’d have twenty minutes to watch the tether shorten and thicken to the size of a hallway, pulling her back to New Los Angeles and her father’s angry eyes. If she’d had a knife she would have severed the umbilical and drifted away forever.
    When the nest finally opened, she braced for the worst, but her parents were calm. They held their palms out in apology. Mother spoke first.
    “You are our beloved child and it saddens us both to be harsh with you. The seriousness of your action was enormous. When you are older you will understand the depth and reason in our anger.”
    Annie swallowed her fear and using an adult tone said, “How will I ever understand, if you won’t explain things to me? I am nearly grown. How can you pass up the opportunity to better prepare me for my future and the future of our people?”
    The logic and composure of her near-womanly form was astonishing; it left her parents stunned.
    Mother spoke. “How can you surrender the innocence of youth for an unknown? Would you rush the movement of the stars? Once learned, a thing cannot be unlearned.”
    Annie found the words and nerve to reply. “Are you protecting me from reality or the responsibility of my actions once I am informed?”
    They reluctantly agreed to let her hear the story.
    ***
    Sitting in the library between her only living kin, Annie noticed details: the smell of paper books, the frozen appearance of two dimensional images behind solid silicate and the brown-red color of the wood table—souvenirs of the old days on Earth. Father placed a faded proclamation and some ribbons on the table beside the red glove cinebox.
    “New Los Angeles—with five other model-city space stations—was sent to orbit in 2070 CE. That was on August 23rd, exactly fifty years after the Day of Equality.” All children knew this history and the sad fact that only two of the original five cities remained.
    Addressing her by her adult name, her father asked, “Annie of New Los Angeles, sector 9, whose ancestors lived in Washington, D.C. America on the planet Earth, how long did you interact with this cinebox?”
    “Only a few minutes maybe three or four.” She decided that it would be mature to keep her answers precise, succinct.
    “Did you recognize the human holographic image?”
    “No, Father. Should I have?”
    “Hmmm. We’ll have to start at the beginning. The man was your grandfather, my father.”
    He opened the box and an old man gave a ceremonial bow. Half of the library room filled with trees and blue sky. There was a canine chewing on a tree part and Grandfather—strolling around the room—began his story.
    “I am W.F. Jones-Wilson, born natural in 1980 on the planet Earth to Harold P. Jones and Amelia K. Wilson. I was raised in the Northwest part of the state of Arkansas in North America. As I record this cinebox, it is the year 2070. I am ninety years old.” Then he seemed to turn his wrinkled face and look straight into Annie’s eyes.
    “If you are seeing and hearing me, I can assume that my son survived and that the great model space community experiments were successful. My greatest hope is that you, who hear my words, are grandchildren, great-grandchildren or great-great-grandchildren or. . . well, you get the idea. If no one sees this cinebox, then all will have been lost forever.”
    As he reached down to touch the fur of the canine’s neck, he asked, “What do you wish to know?”
    The movement made Annie jump and ask her father, “Is he alive? I thought he was dead.”
    “Cineboxes are interactive. He recorded this about six months before he died and years before you were born. You can ask him anything, but he can only answer questions up to the day he made the recording. I’ll reply this time, but you can speak to him as you wish.” Then under his breath,”The less I talk to the old fool, the happier I’ll be.”
    Standing, he began, “If part of you lives on…you are celebrating. I am your son, Jacob, and I stand with your granddaughter, Annie, who needs to know your story.”
    As he looked across the forest, Grandfather frowned. He appeared to be listening to the winged things crying out, then said, ”Some stories are better left in a box. Are you sure that my telling is necessary?”
    Annie spoke without hesitation, “Grandfather, this is Annie. Please…how can I become a full person without hearing the truth?”
    “Ah, truth…” his voice trailed, “I can only promise you the story of an old man. Truth—truth is another matter.” He threw the tree part and the canine rapidly followed, put fangs in it, and returned to where the old man seated himself with a groan.
    “In the early 2000’s our Alliance of Earth Homelands was run by a group of people who had privileges, advantages not available to everyone. The system had worked (more or less) for a long time; however, when the quality of our planet’s environment began a drastic decline, the common people noticed that the rulers had traded what was not theirs—global resources—for personal wealth.” He appeared agitated, stood and walked around, passing in and out of the forest hologram, into the library and back out.
    “But even this dreadful behavior was tolerated, because every day we were assured “ETILBIO” Even Though It Looks Bad, It’s Okay. ETILBIO was the first thing we heard on waking and the last thing we heard at night. There were jingles on the media, and children sang the songs to salute the flag each morning.
    “It was the euphemistically called Art of Making War that finally tipped the balance. A few of us stopped believing ETILBIO and began comparing life in different sectors of our population. We discovered that our founding national principle—that all people are equal—had been removed from practical governance.” He paused, ”Am I including too much detail?”
    Annie urged him to continue, while her parents exchanged uneasy glances. “Good for you, Annie,” he boomed, “a chip off the old block. Where was I? Ah, yes. The privileged were doing the deciding about waging war and the unprivileged were doing the dying. Over a span of three generations, the upper echelon of leaders never put their blood kin in physical, emotional, or financial danger.
    “I was a hot-headed forty-year-old man, a dreamer…an idealist. But I wasn’t alone. Thousands of us came together to save our planet, our freedoms, and the future of mankind.”
    Annie’s dad broke in, “Are you glorifying what you did? Is this story going to be a hero’s tale, all medals and flag waving? I refuse to…”
    “Calm down, son. The child asked for truth. Give me a chance, damn it.” The old man’s scowl took a few minutes to fade, first leaving his eyebrows then his mouth. He continued. “Once it began, there was no stopping it. Like the great revolutions in antiquity, it gained a force and direction of its own.” He paused and scratched his beard. “Come to think of it, in your eyes, I am a figment of antiquity. Well, the point is that revolutions have a seductive, charismatic force. They run wild and spawn unexpected—and often undesired—results. We believed that we were absolutely right and that our motivations were Godly in the best sense of the word. Annie’s father scoffed, “Godly? Give me a break.” “On the Day of Equality, all rulers were forced to surrender family members—enough to equal all of the children of the unprivileged, lost to war.” He went pale and shook his head. “It was horrific. In one day, one turn of the Earth, our rich and poor understood each other’s losses; they viscerally felt each other’s misery. The streets ran red. Our victory was hideous.” Grandfather went silent as he recalled the violence.
    “Since that bloody day,” Mother filled in, “all decisions have been made to benefit all Life—all peoples, the planets and all life forms. Your grandfather was one of The Two Hundred, brave and moral men and women—leaders willing to risk as much as they asked others to risk. Back then, only they could wear the red gloves. Today, we still have The Two Hundred, but not the same gloves.“
    “If you won, Grandfather, why do you describe it as hideous? Didn’t you want to overthrow the evil rulers?”
    With a sigh, Grandfather cleared his voice. “Yes, we were heroes. The Rules of Ruling were rewritten and we set about making the world a better place. We hated the greed and violence of our previous government and proclaimed that if there was a vote on sending our people to war, each of our Two Hundred leaders who voted yes would have to make devastating personal sacrifices.”
    Annie’s mother stood and tried to redirect the telling, “This is too much for her to take in all at once…”
    “No, we have gone too far to stop.” Father interrupted, “Please continue.”
    Grandfather stood tall now, in a statesmanlike pose. “A vote recommending war was costly. First, each leader who voted for war must send a child to live in the enemy country, before a weapon—if any—was launched. Second, each leader voting yes must choose between having a family member serve as a ground soldier for ten years or having one of his own fingers removed.
    “These stipulations, though apparently cruel, helped avert war. Since I’ve been—er, huh, perhaps I should say “was”—one of the Two Hundred, there have been seven war votes called.” He glanced at his gloved right hand then covered it with his bare left hand. His attention appeared to drift and he whistled to the canine.
    ”Upon election,” Mother interjected, “each of the Two Hundred was ceremoniously given a red glove. It was to be worn on the right hand for the rest of their lives. When your grandfather died, his glove was stored in the box you found. Sorry to interrupt.”
    The old man looked away, so Father picked up the story with tension in his voice, “The red gloves were at once a badge of courage and shame.”
    The old man’s attention snapped back at the word shame and he glared as Father asked, ”What did it say of a leader if he’d rather keep his fingers while his own flesh and blood went to battle or to live in enemy territory?”
    “If a man voted for war but preferred to cut off a finger than send a family member to fight,” Grandfather boomed back, “where was the honor then—as the loved ones of others died? What kind of leader would that be?”
    As he enunciated his words sharply and his neck tinged red, Father asked, “Would a man who voted no be motivated by cowardice or conscience? If you shake the hand of a leader and feel four fingers in the red glove, can you trust him or her with your life or the future of humanity?”
    To this Grandfather harrumphed and started to walk away, but Annie spoke up. “But wasn’t it okay if the majority didn’t want to fight?”
    The old man softened and returned his attention to her. “When the majority voted against war, no war was waged; however, those who had voted for war were honor bound to obey the rules. There are halls of preserved fingers in the Human Archives as proof of our votes. As gruesome as that may sound to you, it drove us to find ways to solve conflicts without war.”
    Annie ran her fingers over her bare hand, recalling the leather texture. “The glove was so soft to touch, Sir. What kind of creature was it made from?”
    Grandfather’s image froze and a synthesized voice recited the phrase “This cinebox is experiencing temporary technical difficulties. One moment please.”
    After a long glance between her parents, Annie’s father slammed the cinebox shut and answered. “The leather for the gloves came…” he swallowed, “came from the people sacrificed on the Day of Equality. The red dye and gloves themselves were meant to be a physical reminder of the responsibility and horrors of war. Many gloves held only prosthetic fingers by the time the statesmen died.
    “The revolutionaries meant well, but things went bad. Some leaders adopted children—insurance offspring—from potential enemy lands and then they began buying fingers and it all fell apart. Your grandfather pulled strings to send me to New Los Angeles before Earthlife ended.”
    ***
    Annie shuddered and closed her eyes. “That glove was made from human skin? Oh. I see.” Then slowly she pressed on, “I must know how many fingers Grandfather had left when he died?”
    Father said, “All of them. Every damn one of them.”
    “Oh, good. So Grandfather never voted in favor of war?” Annie chirped, lightened by the thought.
    Silence choked the room, except for the whir of environment stabilization equipment. Father stood and grasped the cinebox. He threw it with such force it splintered as soon as it hit the bookshelf.
    “Good riddance old fool. I wish you’d loved us as much as you loved your dog and your bloody revolution.”
    After Father left, Annie’s mother spoke softly and solemnly.
    “Dear, your father was not always an only child. He had six brothers and two sisters. He is the only one to survive. Both of his sisters and two of his brothers were sent to live in countries that were at war with us. And the other four brothers were sent to serve as foot soldiers in wars where they died. Your father has never forgiven Grandfather for dying with four fingers and a thumb intact on his right hand.”

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