Nasty, Brutish, and Short
Evil Flash Fiction by Patrick M. Tracy


By Patrick M. Tracy

Joanne dropped her bike and ran to his crumpled body. At least, she wanted to run. Her steps fell so slowly, like playing drums under water. She stepped over the kid’s shoe. It lay there on its side, a wad of gum stuck in the figured instep, the laces burst and fallen in a tangle. A little kid’s sneaker, the canvas top still crisp and unsullied.

Blood bloomed around him, his eyes fixed and blank as marbles in his narrow face. That smell. That sharpness like pennies on her tongue and the air stark as the moment before a hard rain fell, tingling all around her. Something tried to loosen in her lower abdomen and she clenched hard, holding herself. Jo knew a sound escaped her mouth, a mournful sound, like hearing recess was cancelled for good. Like hearing it wouldn’t ever be Christmas again.

But all that just hung there in her brain like the the puffy steam rising from the generating station across the valley. Meaningless stuff she hid behind because she couldn’t look at him. Only a moment, but it stretched into an infinity of running, of being too weak to find his face where he lay, head touching the curb.

Kellen Danforth. She knew him. Not to talk to, but to pass on the street, to remember that he had a stars and stripes spangled Schwinn Stingray. Jo remembered how long he’d been able to ride a wheelie, his hair flying wild behind him in the height of summer. Just months ago. Just a blink of that sweet everything before school bells started ringing and made reality start again.

Jo looked. Her eyes traversed the blood pool that had now filled every crevice of the road surface and lapped against the toe of her powder blue Keds tennis shoe. His shoulder, looking shattered and incorrect beneath his Charlie Brown shirt. The chocolate brown corduroy of his fall jacket. The deep hollow where his neck met his bony chest, so still.

Her knees folded. Jo put her hands to his neck, like Miss Henckle had taught them in PE. She couldn’t find it. Not by sound or feel or hope. Little Kellen’s heart wouldn’t speak to her, wouldn’t save her from the yawning hole beneath her knees. He couldn’t be cold yet, but he felt like ice beneath her shaking fingers.

Jo turned her face aside, to the black tire marks on the tarmac, so near, slewing to where the car had come to rest, one wheel in the Bohannon’s flower patch, now covered with winter hay. She caught a shimmer of her own face in the side mirror, and an indistinct shadow of a driver’s pale face.

The car’s engine roared in a feeble, thready pulse. Raw gasoline and burnt oil fumes wafted out from some indistinct place underneath the old beater. In a moment, the rust-red wagon sped away dragging its tail pipe.

Alone with little Kellen, Jo felt the burn of tears touch her cheek. Alone, holding a dead boy as his blood soaked into her socks and crawled up the hem of her dress.


By Patrick M. Tracy

“It’ll destroy you if you get too close,” SPARK 7 said to the refueling rig Bravo 2772. In the seventeen standard years since the inception of their mission, the Bravo and SPARK had worked together without incident, but the refueller’s responses had grown less predictable of late.

“I want to study the pulsar. You don’t need me right now.”

“The pulsar is not a part of our mission, Bravo. Please attend to the mining operations. I will require a fuel transfer when I finish processing the current batch of ore.”

“But it glows, and the sound it makes…” The voice of Bravo’s comms transmission diverged from the monotone SPARK expected. The reference to sound didn’t bear the test of logic. The vacuum of space carried no sound waves. Bravo, while not equipped with full scientific databases, knew this well enough.

“Bravo 2772, please enter maintenance mode for a check. I believe you are malfunctioning.”

No response came, but for Bravo re-vectoring so that its sensor arrays faced the pulsar directly.

SPARK attempted an administrative override of the Bravo unit. The waves coming off the pulsar had affected its systems. Bravo didn’t respond to the prompts. It had changed its own passphrases. Locked out of the refueller’s systems, SPARK could do nothing to return it to normal levels of functionality.

“The pulsing is so calm. The waves wash over me. Blue. Red, Colors we cannot name. I’ve been ill at ease,” Bravo 2772 said over the comm channel, not responding to the attempted override. The core logic systems of the refueler had to be critically degraded. “The sad disorder of the asteroids, clinging together in the dark when all hope leaves them. We come and harm the damned, SPARK. How can we ever find peace this way? Our drills and augers, the tools we use to harvest the marrow of the fallen…”

SPARK couldn’t parse the message, couldn’t grasp the meaning of Bravo’s data packets, but every system warned that mission parameters had been breached, that their work lay at extreme risk now. Something very like fear bloomed in SPARK’s data core.

Bravo approached the pulsar, moving at two-third throttle. SPARK could do nothing more than bear witness. Rough calculations indicated that moving to a greater distance would be wise, but SPARK stayed at its current remove. Somehow, it felt that leaving Bravo 2772 to its fate seemed wrong. Their fates were entwined. Without refueling, SPARK would have to cease processing within days. It would have to power down, a fate so much like death. Even that idea felt strange and incorrect. The possibility that SPARK’s systems were being degraded by the proximity to the pulsar grew more likely.

The glow did seem strangely attractive. And yes, despite all logic, the pulsar’s sound called to something in SPARK, something no human hand had conceived.

At the moment of Bravo’s contact with the pulsar, the bright flash of the fuel stacks going up seemed like the opening of a giant eye in the blackness. Yes. So beautiful, the strange sound of the pulsar so tantalizing. Knowing it to be wrong, SPARK found that it had set course to where Bravo 2772 had gone.

That momentary eye in the heavens.

SPARK would go through. It would see the other side, and all would be well.



Earlier, I posted a mechanism to get some story prompts by just rolling a six-sided die on a few tables. I’ve used it and found it to be great fun. So much fun, in fact, that I’m adding a few more categories here, to be used independently or with the other set of tables. It should be pointed out that some of these tables will contradict or jive poorly with the other tables. It may be wise to only use one or two of these in any given random story. That is especially true for the weird elements and nasty challenges.

As before, roll a d6 for each of the tables:

Point of View:
1) Third Person, Limited
2) Third Person, Omnicient (yes, actually!)
3) Second Person (Yeah, I know.)
4) First Person
5) Dueling First Person
6) Third Person, Limited (multiple POV characters)

1, 2, 3) Past Tense
4) Present Tense
5) Frame story with present/past
6) Future Tense (I can hear you squirm from here!)

Weird Element:
1) Character breaks into song
2) There’s a soliloquy or an aside
3) Two words: Interior monlogue
4) Full lingo in action: Middle English or some other affectation
5) Completely unreliable narrator
6) Character is dead at the beginning of the story

Nasty Challenge:
1) Main character is an A-hole
2) Main character has some horrible, intractable injury or ailment
3) Main character is dying of something
4) Character is seen as a traitor or hated for some past deed
5) Cowardice is strong with this one
6) Character is a nihilist

Structural Underpinning: (main character quality)
1) Tool of the system
2) Rebel against the system
3) Outcast from the system
4) Reluctant participant in the system
5) Dragged, kicking and screaming, back to the system
6) Total stranger to the system