24 May 2013

The Last of the 512s

Three months from now, on Friday, August 23rd, 2013, I will publish my 256th and final piece of flash fiction on this site.

On that day, it will have been nearly five years since I started this project. I could continue, but I feel I've accomplished what I set out to do with this project. (And yes, I could continue until the full five years is up--going to 260 stories--but these are all arbitrary numbers, and I prefer powers of two. It's, like, thematic and shit.)

I've demonstrated to myself that I can produce on a regular deadline, and with fairly consistent quality. I can generate new ideas nearly on demand and turn them into stories, or scenes, or at least writing exercises. It's time to move on to bigger, better, possibly salable things. This has been fun and productive, but it's not the endgame.

However, that last piece won't quite be the end of 512 Words or Fewer. I'm going to put together that "best of" collection I was talking about, years ago; my discerning, well-read wife DeeAnn will help me edit the book, and we'll publish it no later than my 40th birthday, on October 1st of this year. It's a happy coincidence of milestones, and I'm going to take it.

So stay tuned for the last of my 512s, to be posted on this blog over the next lucky-thirteen weeks. I can't promise they'll be any better than previous installments, but they will be new.


"Who Died?"

By Curtis C. Chen

If you tell me, I can bring him back. Or her. Whoever it was. Tell me.

Oh, no. Stop. I'm sorry, I wasn't clear. It has to be your first. Yes, the very first. Your first experience with death. It may not have been a human; perhaps it was a pet, a goldfish or dog or—no? All right. But it must be your first.

I'll know if you're lying. It only works if you tell the truth. It has to be the first. The first death which made it clear to you that death is real, permanent, pervasive, inescapable. Your first. That's the only one I can bring back.

That doesn't mean it has to be someone who was close to you. That's the other thing everybody gets wrong. It's not the first person who died and affected you in some deep, traumatic, emotional way. No. It's simply your first death, the one that exposed the reality of dying to you.

Yes, they do often coincide, and those stories are as horrible as they are pedestrian; the young child who loses a parent, we've all heard that one, haven't we? But the good news is, I can do something about it. I can bring that parent back. If that was your first death.

Well, of course there's a price. Isn't there always? That's how this works. The price, in this case, is your memory.

Oh, not your entire memory. Heavens, no! That would be unspeakably cruel. I only take that single memory, of your first encounter with death. That moment of revelation, when you understood that the Reaper was whispering around every corner, waiting for each of us at the end.

I take that memory, and you get your dearly departed back.

Of course, there will be certain side effects. That knowledge of death, of what it does and how it affects us, has informed every decision you've ever made since you acquired it. You would have been a very different person without it. And once I take that memory, you will be different.

Not different in any noticeable way; not at first. You'll still be you, with the same personality, the same fears and foibles as always. But you'll not have the same understanding of death any longer. You'll have to go through that experience again. You'll have to relive your first death.

Maybe it will be easier this time, better; maybe it'll be worse. Who can say? Some actually desire that opportunity, that second chance to grasp the ineffable.

But in any case, you'll have your dead back. That's the important thing, for most; they're willing to sacrifice to save that person. They're willing to plunge themselves into the unknown for the guarantee of seeing their long-lost loved one, alive again.

Oh, I can't tell you what happened to any of the others. Also part of the bargain, I'm afraid. You don't get to play the odds. You must decide with only the information I've given you.

Have you decided? Excellent.

So, tell me: who died?


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