05 November 2010

"Up in the Air"

By Curtis C. Chen

Stratton's job is to fly, chasing a thin stripe of daylight across the planet. He was born in the air, and God willing, he'll die without ever setting foot on dirt. He doesn't question these circumstances. He doesn't wonder about the world below. Stratton just flies.

His partner's name is Victoria. They met for the first time three days ago, when the air tanker refueled Stratton's bomber and a devotion crew removed the body of his previous co-pilot, Marcus.

The ceremony was dignified and short. Stratton and Victoria stood side by side watched Marcus' body fall through the open bomb bay and disappear into the clouds below.

"How did he die?" Victoria asked.

"Unknown," Stratton replied.

Victoria frowned. "That's a little worrisome, isn't it?"

Stratton shrugged. He didn't understand why Marcus had suddenly started vomiting blood and then stopped breathing. It wasn't important exactly what had killed Marcus. It was important for Stratton to get back to work. Back to flying.

Now, Victoria completes her maintenance checklist and watches Stratton from the right-hand seat as he adjusts the flight controls for some approaching weather.

"Must get pretty boring up here," she says.

"In the cockpit?" Stratton asks, confused.

"In the sky," Victoria says.

Stratton struggles to understand what she might mean. He can't imagine anything boring about living above the clouds, watching a perpetual sunset, seeing stars twinkling on the edge of night. He can't imagine a better life than the one he has.

Victoria fills the silence. "I grew up in Rookly," she says. Stratton recognizes the name of the city from the bomber's land maps. "Never thought much about the sky until I enlisted. I mean, we'd see the flights overhead, but it didn't really affect our everyday lives."

"Our work is important," Stratton says.

"Oh, I know that," Victoria says. "But it's just so far removed from everything, you know? That's why I joined up. I wanted to see the world from a different perspective." She's staring at Stratton. He can see her out of the corner of his eye. "What do you think? How does this compare to life on the ground?"

"Never been on the ground," Stratton says.

"You're kidding," Victoria says. "Come on! You must have been born on land, right?"

Stratton shakes his head. "My parents were Sky Corps. They lived on the Patrick Hayden."

"The heli-carrier?" Victoria is momentarily speechless. Then she reaches across the center console and punches Stratton in the arm. "No way! You're messing with me!"

Stratton feels his face growing hot. He hates this woman, who talks too much and asks too many questions and touches him without asking permission. He wants her to go away. He wonders if what killed Marcus in that seat will kill her soon. Stratton can only hope.

"Yes," he says, "I'm messing with you."

Victoria laughs. "You're all right, Strat."

Stratton has nothing to say. He stares straight ahead, out at the sky, and watches the sunset for as long as he can.


Photo: Sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean, May, 2009

03 November 2010

512 Book Interest Survey

Dear Reader:

Do you enjoy 512 Words or Fewer enough to want to purchase a paperback collection of my stories?

I'm thinking about making a paper edition of my first two years' worth of 512 stories, and I'd like to know if anyone would buy it. This print-on-demand (POD) book would include all my weekly flash fiction from October 2008 through September 2010--that's over 100 different stories, and more than 50,000 words of content.

I'm also taking suggestions for "special features"--for example, commentary on each story, black-and-white illustrations/photos, or other types of "liner notes." (Think of this as the DVD box set of my flash fiction.) No promises; I'm just pondering ways I can add value to this POD proposition.

Tell me what you think: Take the survey!
(Bare link: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/WYJB8QG )

I'd appreciate your input, even if it's to say that you wouldn't care to buy such a book. The 512s will continue regardless.

Survey expires at the end of November. Please respond before then!



Photo: YES, Ize WERKING! from I Can Has Cheezburger?, June, 2010