08 May 2009


By Curtis C. Chen

The girl standing on Ellen's doorstep is drenched. She looks like a wet cat, her dyed red-and-purple hair flattened against her small head. Cold wind blows past her into the house as Ellen stands there, frozen.

"Are you Ellen Montgomery?" the girl shouts over the storm.

Somewhere behind Ellen, a tea kettle whistles.

"Ellen Montgomery!" the girl repeats, enunciating as if she thinks Ellen might have a hearing problem. "Is that you?"

"Yes!" Ellen says. "Yes, that's me."

"Can I come in, please?" the girl asks, her voice a little more respectful now.

Ellen says, "Who are you?"

The girl says, "I'm your daughter!"


Neither of them drinks her tea. Ellen's cup sits on the table, steaming away its heat, while the girl--she says her name is Theora--cradles her cup with both hands, still shivering.

Ellen shakes her head as she flips through the contents of the folder, the papers and films still curled and warm from being hidden beneath Theora's hoodie.

"Where did you get all this?" Ellen asks.

Theora shrugs. "It wasn't easy. I mean, the DNA I did first, that was easy--I just sent away for one of those heritage-testing kits from NatGeo, right? And then I knew I was adopted."

"I'm not sure what I can do for you," Ellen says.

"I just wanted to meet you," Theora says. "And warn you."

"Warn me? About what?"

Theora's face is an unreadable mask. Ellen wonders if that's a natural expression, or if the girl's been practicing for a long time.

Theora takes both hands away from her teacup. Ellen lunges forward to catch the cup before it hits the floor, but it hangs there in midair. Then it rises. Ellen watches it float up to Theora's eye level.

"That's not--" Something sparks inside Ellen's head, and she crumples to the ground, unconscious.


When Ellen wakes up, she's got a splitting headache. She sits up on the couch and sees Theora on the floor.

Ellen feels a sharp pain as she turns her head. She touches the back of her neck and feels a patchwork of bandages. Her hand comes away sticky with not-quite-dried blood.

"What did you do?" Ellen asks Theora.

The girl holds out her left hand. Her palm has been stained red by the tiny tangle of wires she's holding. Ellen can see a small bulb at the center of the mass, like a spider with too many legs.

"They lied to you," Theora says. "They can't do a permanent memory wipe. This thing was suppressing your recall. My biological father had one too."

"You met Michael?" Ellen asks. "You found him?"

"Yeah," Theora says, looking down. "I couldn't remove his implant before it--I couldn't get it out in time. I'm sorry."

Ellen feels like she should cry.

"We need to go," Theora says, standing up.

"Go where? Why?"

Theora starts to reply, but Ellen can't hear her. A vivid flood of sounds and smells and sensations is filling her head, blotting out the present with the past.


Audio: "Reunion"

Canny moviegoers will notice that I named the mother and father in this story after Ms. Page and Mr. Cera, respectively, who played similar roles in the 2007 Academy Award-winning movie Juno (Best Original Screenplay by Diablo Cody).

Music: background stems from "You Ruined Everything" by Jonathan Coulton, licensed under Creative Commons.


And So's Your Mom

I've always been more into DC Comics than Marvel. I'm a big Superman fan, and I'm still a sucker for those larger-than-life mythic archetypes.

The one thing I could never get behind was the mutant "X-gene" in the Marvel universe. I can accept that there are dormant portions of the human genome, but the same gene expressing randomly as any one of a practically infinite set of superpowers is just a little too hand-wavy and magical for me.

You know what I'm going to say, don't you? That's right: Insufficiently rigorous. I have the same problem with Heroes. I like the fact that there's family history between the characters, but I don't like people who are closely related having completely different and unrelated abilities. Part of the problem is that nobody ever bothers to explain how these abilities actually work.

But I digress. This discussion is out of scope for the story at hand anyway. I wasn't able to pack all the exposition I wanted into this week's 512 words, but I hope it still makes sense.


06 May 2009

Another Weekly Writer

Via Neil Gaiman on Twitter: For $25, you can subscribe to PETER S. BEAGLE'S 52/50 PROJECT and receive, by email, "A Brand-New Poem or Song Lyric Every Week for a Year[!]"

In case you need your memory jogged, Mr. Beagle is the author of The Last Unicorn. He just celebrated his 70th birthday on April 20th--the same date he started his 52/50 Project--and I think it's great that he's still writing and finding new ways to reach out to readers.

(Trivia: Before I started 512 Words or Fewer, I considered naming it "CKL's Weekly Reader," for symmetry with my blog, CKL's HotSheet, and as a tribute to the fine Scholastic publication which enriched my younger school days. In the end, I decided a more unique title would be better for branding and search-indexing.)


03 May 2009

Audio: Strange Love Episode 99 - Afterhours at BarCampPortland with Cami Kaos

And now for something completely different...

I was a guest on Friday night's Strange Love - Afterhours, recorded live at BarCampPortland:

The literal fireworks (which you can see on the video) start at 5:24, and I start shooting off my mouth at 6:00.

Things I would have said if I had been more on the ball:

"No, my screenplay, Sweet Valley Heist, has nothing to do with the Sweet Valley High book series. But that could also be an interesting story--how would the girls from SVH knock over a bank?"

"Yes, I've taken several voice acting classes. A great voice is no good if you don't know how to use it. Did you know that James Earl Jones used to stutter? It's true. He worked hard to get that CNN gig."

This is why I'm a writer, not an improv actor.

Thanks to Cami Kaos, Doctor Normal, and the rest of the Strange Love Live crew for putting this together!