Do You Fiction on the Web?

You should.

Editor Charlie Fish @FishCharlie publishes a lively, online short story compilation. Each day sees a new story – from fast-moving flash-fiction pieces to longer short fictions. The stories span all genres, styles and topics. Fiction on the Web is UK-based, but it features authors from around the world.

Charlie was kind enough to publish one of my favourite stories, “Nothing to Lose” and I’m hoping you will read it here, on: FICTION ON THE WEB. It touches on baseball, hockey, family and regret. Nothing, I’m afraid, about Donald or Hillary, so you might want to shout, “You’re the puppet!” a few times, just to tide yourself over.

http://www.fictionontheweb.co.uk/2016/07/nothing-to-lose-by-mitchell-toews.html

 

Copyright Mitchell Toews ©2016

Tafelberg

With Halloween approaching – I can hear the leaves crunching as it gets nearer – here is an excerpt from a 17,000-word sci-fi novella I wrote last year. (There’s more, should that be required.)

The story, “Tafelberg”, is one that I tried to write, “in the genre”. Now, to me, that sounds very writerly, but I am not exactly sure what it means. What I want to say is that it is written in the kinda breathy, urgent style of a serialized story, one with cliff-hanger chapter endings and — if it were a TV show — lots of musical stings, right before commercial breaks. I read a lot of comic books when I was a kid and I tried to channel a little of that dramatic over-the-topness.

Aaaaand, Action!:

Part 1 – Battle Weary

It was almost dawn and I shuddered with exhaustion, laying the hot, heavy torch on the sandy ground at my feet. Climbing up the nearby beacon tower, I reached the observation point. From there, I could see to the base of the cuneate rock slide below our position on the peak of Tafelberg. After attacking with mortal consequence all through the night, our enemy would stop and simply – even meekly – descend, at sunrise.

Down into that decimated landscape is where the kakkerlaks retreated.

Only the spiniest, hardiest flora remained – the omnivorous beetles had devoured everything else. Scant shade remained for their daylight retreat. By now all the plants that were left were inedible. Dry and spiked; impossible to chew even for these plate-sized eating machines that – like their plant kingdom counterparts in this arid place – wore their skeletons on the outside of their bodies. The remaining cacti – big Kadushi and Yatus, as well as smaller Pear cacti and Turk’s Cap stood defiantly on the rock strewn slope. Scraggly, leafless Acacia trees cowered dutifully, facing ever westward. They dotted the lower elevations as did partially eaten Aloe Vera plants. The largest, fleshy spears of Aloe were turning red-brown in the sun; the remnants looking like they had been attacked by a school of piranha.

If they make one more run for us this morning, we will make it, I thought.

My shoulders hurt. The rotator cuffs – ruined long ago – now seemed to enjoy the pain they inflicted; burning like embers in a dying fire. How did a Canadian club volleyball team on a winter junket to Costa Rica get involved in this supernatural, international catastrophe? 

I switched gears; thinking not of larger whys and what ifs, but concentrating rather on the immediate and the dire.

We have enough homemade napalm left and the ignition torches are fully charged. If they surge again, we’ll burn them back and then the sun will come out fully and they can go and do whatever it is they do during the day. 

I listened intently, my head to one side, but could hear no rustle. I could not hear the characteristic whisking sound – like plastic on plastic – of the roaches as they rose up, millions strong, along the side of the mountain, walking on the backs of the multitude above them. Climbing, ever climbing they came – a single-minded horde of limitless number.

“Matt!” I heard Willem shout from the next post, to the east. I climbed down, labouring a bit. I could smell the kerosene smoke on the wind as his blow torch smoldered, burning precious fuel greedily. “Dey are going down,” the thickset Dutchman said as he walked towards me. “There is a huge pile of dem on a flat spot just below Jan’s position upwind. Dey are piled up and eating something and dere’s a group – maybe thirty – iggies close to them, hissing like fury.” He stopped talking as he reached my post.

Leguaan, I thought, pronouncing it mentally in the slurring, luxurious Dutch fashion. I had learned more Dutch – curse words in particular – than I thought I ever would. Papiamentu too, and in just 15 days.

These island iguanas were tough buggers alright, no matter what you called them. The cockroaches left them alone and lately we had noticed the lizards actually killing and eating some of the giant insects. Big iguana adults – there were quite a few five-footers around now, which is something you rarely saw before the mutation – would whip their tails furiously into a swarm of bugs, killing a few. Then  a company of smaller iguanas would run in – comically bow-legged and bright-eyed – and retrieve the carcasses. There were precious few leaves left on the trees – the voracious roaches consumed those – and so the iggies were evolving; reverting to their carnivore roots. Like us, I hoped – that we few humans left on the island of Curacao, le humain, could evolve and remain on top of the food chain. I did not like our odds – they were unspeakably bad in terms of numbers – but I did like mankind’s track record. We’re good at war – even we Mennonites, if we are forced.

We are making a new language, I thought. Tafelgesprek: Dutch, English, French, Spanish, Papiamentu and German. And, before the internet died, the language of knowledge, as we frantically researched what these enormous insects were; how we might fight them; where to find our resources and how to build our weapons.

“May I tell the boys to shut down and getting some sleep before it is too hot?” Willem asked.

“Yeah. Schlope tiet (sleep time) I offered, in Plautdietsch. “They should eat and drink first, sleep until ten and then we should be able to drive down to scavenge some avgas, kerosene and water.” I replied.

It was interesting to me; Willem – a Dutch expat – could sometimes comprehend my lousy low German. My Mom would be proud. Likewise, a few Dutch phrases: Pas Op! dicht bei; g`n dach; resonated to me.

Jan, the crew chief from the next post, was coming up to us. “Is there cold beer for breakfast?” he called, his boots kicking up yellow dust as he came towards us. Another person, a slender black teenager, jogged towards us, his low-slung camo pants exposing a swath of bright green underwear.

“Hey, ti gason! (‘little boy’ in Papiamentu)” Jan called to the thin boy, “if I had SNOT green underwear, I would not show it off.”

The boy, Boosty, grinned and shook his head. “We are all out of bug sludge, but there were hardly any big ones on our side, since midnight really. Mostly just the smaller, light brown ones. I don’t think they like all the gravel over dat way – they seem to get coated with dat yellow dust and it irridates them or somethin.” He was a local boy and spoke Papiamentu, Dutch and English perfectly (almost), as well as lots of French and a little German.

“It’s true,” Willem said, his big voice bouncing off the rock wall behind me. “Dey hate da mine dust over on dat side. Dig themselves out and wriggle (he grinned – proud of the English word) and shake dey big wings and they, well they clean each utter off.”

We stared at him, blank looks on our faces. Insects that groomed one another. Every day was a new series of revelations and astounding, incomprehensible conclusions.

What’s in the mine dust that bothers them? I wondered.

~ ~ ~

Copyright Mitchell Toews ©2016

A Romp of Otters

For today’s post, here is a copy of my angsty email to Canadawrites — concerning the CBC’s Short Story Prize:

Hi!

I am a nobody from nowhere — well, literally, from Jessica Lake in Manitoba — but figuratively, I was right the first time.

As such; an n from n, I have skepticism for writing contests. I have entered quite a few as I prosecute my personal war on anonymity and have formed some impressions. If you care what an n from n believes, read on. If not, hit delete and it will not make any difference to me or the three otters in the lake in front of me.

Unrelated Question: Do three otters make a romp? Another time, perhaps.

Anyway, here in point form, is my romp:

1 – Unless a contest is starved for entries, the slightly better than average need not apply. Even though the bell curve is equally dominant in all writing contests, big contests will only select from two categories: the known (may also be, the “trending”) and the truly remarkable newbie. In that regard, big contests are really good at flushing out exceptional new voices. Way to go, CBC. This is a great thing. Seriously.

2 – Before I rush to my PayPal account and contribute to Mike Duffy’s first publically-funded pension (he has acquired several more since leaving CBC’s employ) I need to believe that (per 1, above) I am known; I am trending; or I am an exceptional but undiscovered new voice. This level of self-assessment is difficult. It is made doubly so, like a Duffy chin, by the need to also understand the field. I have some small idea of how my competitors stack up — I read a lot of stories in Canadian literary journals — but, I read them through my n from n lenses and I don’t read them all.

Being a collector of money, but no longer an efficient earner, I have to think hard about this. Besides, I already pay to support the CBC, but even the otters roll their eyes when I take the grouchy old man approach. So…disregard that last bit.

3 – The cousin factor. Right now, you, the person reading this, knows a “really good writer”. They are cousins, friends or friends of friends. Their blog and Facebook posts are brilliant; they say daring stuff; they are creative and mightily imaginative; they are unafraid. They really have a future. I am such a person to a few within my n from n spheres. But I am not that person to you or, most cogently, I am not that person to the judges. They have their own secret stars and they will remove the bushel basket not from my flame, but from that of their own brightly burning “discovery”.

So, por moi, it is the small, n from n type contests, where I can pay my dues. I’ll work the minors and when in the opinion of my readership I am ready for the big time; when I have a few more two-legged advocates and when I can claim more of a literary platform than having flipped the ball to Bergen in the low post a few times, I’ll give you a try.

allfornow,
Mitchell Toews
@mitchell_toews

 

Copyright Mitchell Toews ©2016