27 March 2009

"True Story"

By Curtis C. Chen

1945, August, there's this guy living in Hiroshima when the US drops the first atomic bomb. He survives. All around him, death and destruction. He decides this is it, the end of the world, and he's got to go home and see his parents one last time.

So he hops the first train he can find. Three days later, he's with his family. In Nagasaki. When we drop the second bomb.

And he survives again.

So now here's this guy, irradiated all to hell, mourning the loss of his family and friends and still thinking that it's over, the bombs are going to keep coming, it's just a matter of time until the Allies vaporize all of Japan.

But he doesn't give up. He goes out and helps. Distributing food, water, medical supplies, digging bodies out of the rubble. He tells people that he's from Hiroshima, and word gets around: This guy just survived two A-bombs. He's scarred from flying glass and debris, his skin's peeling off, and he's losing all his hair, but he's alive. Alive.

People want to see him, talk to him, touch him. It's a miracle, they say. It's a sign. We can win the war. This man is living proof.

But people keep dying. By the end of 1945, over 200,000 people have died. And this guy, the two-time survivor, he's sick as a dog. Goes into the hospital, and there, he does a lot of thinking. Most of the people he knows are dead or dying. His company's gone; the war is over; Japan surrendered. What's next for him? What can he do to make a difference, in a world where people use nuclear weapons on each other?

He's still alive, you know. Ninety years old, still living in Japan. Has nightmares every night. Takes half a bottle of pills every day. No friends, no family, just sits at home in front of the TV.

See, he decided, sixty-four years ago, lying there in that hospital bed, wondering when he was going to die, that it didn't matter. It would never matter what he did ever again, for as long as he lived. He survived two atomic bombs. He's in the history books. He's done. He could invent a time machine and he'd still be the guy who walked under two A-bombs and walked away. He could never do anything more significant than what we did to him.

Nobody remembers him now. He's a bit of trivia, something you tell at cocktail parties, and you have to say, seriously, true story, because nobody believes you. Because if it is true, it's the saddest thing you've ever heard: The man who survived two nuclear explosions and then squandered the rest of his life.

Could you deal with that? What would you do after surviving something like that? Can you even imagine?

True story.


Audio: "True Story"


Music: 'Electric Guitar 3' and 'Strings' stems from "Creepy Doll" by Jonathan Coulton, licensed under Creative Commons.

I know what you're thinking: Another monologue? Well, yes. That was the style that emerged for this particular story, and I think it works.

While recording, I pictured the narrator as that talkative guy in the airport bar waiting to board his plane. You know, the one who's already flying pretty high and feeling exceptionally friendly. Maybe he's just blathering, but maybe he actually has something interesting to say. You never know with those guys.


The Cake is a Lie

Despite the title, this week's story is a total fiction. Any resemblance to actual people--living, dead, or named Tsutomu Yamaguchi--is entirely coincidental.

I wrote this piece seven years ago, way back in 2002 (it's actually more about 9/11 than WWII). That first draft was 650 words long, and couldn't get arrested in any professional market, so into the trunk it went.

After I saw Wednesday's BBC News article about Mr. Yamaguchi, I decided to dig out the manuscript and share my little moment of serendipity. Though the BBC article was light on personal details, I sincerely hope that Mr. Yamaguchi has lived a more pleasant and fulfilling life than my hypothetical, imagined, unreal character.


26 March 2009

Quote of the Moment

"It’s easy to write long; it’s a bitch to write short."

Thank you, Mark Waid.


24 March 2009


Today on the Apex Book Company blog:
Flash fiction is generally defined as fiction under 1,000 words, though it is at times limited to less than 500 words. Do not be fooled by the short word count, however. Trying to cram enough story to satisfy into fewer words can be a challenge...

Curtis Chen (who I know from Viable Paradise XII) posts his own new fiction weekly at 512 Words or Fewer. As the title suggests, all of his stories are 512 words or fewer...

-- "Online Finds: Short Attention Span Theater"

Thanks to Sarah for the pimpage!

Her post contains some great links to various sources of flash fiction online. Twitter Fiction demonstrates an interesting new format; see also Thaumatrope for genre fiction under 140 characters.