Flash Fiction

Here’s a little something that I wrote back in the dark ages when I was an undergrad. It was some sort of assignment for my creative writing class as best I can remember. I recently resurrected it, re-wrote and edited it, and submitted it to a Flash Fiction publication. Of course, it got rejected – when I wrote it there was no such thing as formal flash fiction. Times – they do change.


Carl Carlath walked down the main street, leaving little clouds of dust after each step. His beard was as thick and curly as sheep’s wool, and his stride that of one used to walking. There was the look of ages and miles in his steel-hard eyes; the thousand light-year stare of one who had seen about all there is to see.

An A-Capellan Glyrth, as wizened and tired looking as Carl sat on his shoulder, mumbling in his ear. The Glyrth’s coat absorbed the sunlight’s red and blue, and reflected the other wavelengths, glowing in a medley of colors. Carlath strode down the street until he came to a building marked “Joe’s Bar” in flashing trideon. He walked up the steps, through the door, and up to the bar. His only words growled more than spoken were “Gimme a blaster, double!” He downed the drink quickly, turned to scowl at the rest of the patrons, walked out the door, and continued his walk down the street.

Carl Carlath was a space comber. One of those strange human birds that are constantly migrating. Like a meteor, continually moving through space until, in a sudden blaze of glory, they disappear. He was on Earth, in Papeete, Tahiti; his most recent stop and one of the few places in the universe left comparatively untouched by civilization. They even had palm thatching on many of the buildings – but that was for show – under the thatch were good, solid titanium tiles. Papeete was a space comber’s paradise; quiet, few people, plenty of bars, and a large red light district. Carl, like most of his breed, could drink an alcoholic under the table. His personal theory, a bastardized cliché, was “A bottle a day keeps the D.T.’s away.”

As Carl continued down the street toward the docks, he saw a new sail at anchor in the bay. It was a yawl, all white paint, shining brass, and three masts. Papeete was not only uncivilized; it was the only place in the galaxy where private ocean sailing was still a common practice. The giant conglomerate Interstellar Transport had monopolized all forms of transportation in every corner of the galaxy. Under the theory that a well-fed, sleeping dog will not bite, IntTrans had left the area open to yachting for some of the most successful businesspersons in the empire. Earth’s Pacific Ocean was the private playground of the rich and infamous.

P’raps,” thought Carl, “I can hitch a ride to the mainland with that little jewel of the Pacific. If I can get to the mainland, I can get to a rocket port. I’ve been too damned long on this mudball; I’m beginning to feel chained and shackled.”

Scrutinizing the harbor, he saw a small motor launch coming in toward the dock. “By Jupiter, Captain, I see you have come to greet me in person. That certainly is Salurian of you.”

The launch pulled up to the dock and Carl grabbed their landing rope and secured it to the dock cleat. A tall, heavy man climbed onto the dock and looked Carl over.

Need a job?” asked the man.

Sure enough do,” answered Carl.

What can you do?”

What needs doing?”

Navigator, sail mender, you name it. I run a three-person crew and one of them jumped ship in Sydney. Haven’t been able to find a replacement since.”

You give the orders, I follow them.”

Good! You’re hired.”

Where’re we bound?”

San Francisco.”

I accept.”

You look like a man with intestinal fortitude. This is a special boat – the ride might get interesting.”

I am – interesting rides interest me”

Tomorrow at dawn, then. The launch’ll be right here.”

Aye, Cap’n.”

Two months later Carl was in a San Francisco bar talking to an outbound crony.

So you sailed under old McInstry, eh?” asked the old space comber.

Sure as space is dark, I did; that is if you want to call it sailing,” replied Carl.

Wha’cha mean?”

Well, we sailed into a hurricane and he put up full sail!”

Put out sail?”

Yeh, he had his boat specially built out of Magferroester Crystal. Masts, bulkheads, even his sails were woven from the fiber.”

Mag Crystal! You mean the stuff from which Interliners are made?”

The very same. You couldn’t hurt that boat short of turning a deatomizer on it at full power. So, just to prove he could do it, I guess, he put out full sail and we more flew than sailed across most of the Pacific. When the storm veered toward Mexico, we tacked north to San Francisco.”

Was it rough riding?”

Rough riding – you don’t know the meaning of rough riding. It was surely an interesting trip – as McInstry said it would be. I’ve never been more interested – in staying alive, that is! I simply love hauling sail in 150 mile per hour winds with eighty-foot waves towering over me!”

Well … sounds like you can paraphrase what the ancient Oriental’s said ‘You have lived an interesting time’ … say, when are you hauling off and where?”

I got purser aboard the luxury Transtar Liner Goliath, outbound for Frobia II in the Horsehead area. Where for you?”

Cyg IV, hard freight.”

I was there about five years ago. Pretty dead.”

I know; this is my terti. I was at Shamus City before here – I need a quiet place for a while.”

I can understand that – gotta blast, see you sometime, maybe.”

Yeh – good jump!”

Same to ya.”

A lone man, old, bearded, and tired looking walked down a street in Rafschodim, Frobia II with an A-Capellan Glyrth on his shoulder and mumbling in his ear. The Glyrth’s coat absorbed the red-orange light from the red dwarf sun and glowed bright, fluorescent green. A turb-car hummed up behind him and a voice within asked, “Need a job?”

What doin’?”

Hot stuff handler – freight hauler to Ramses VIII.”

Soft bunk or crew quarters?”

You’ve done this before, haven’t you? Soft bunk.”


Now I wonder if there’s the germ of a story here – but that’ll have to be after the mysteries are done.

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