3. Mortal Words

Whenever he was suffering from writer’s block Franklin would visit Immortal Words, the town’s biggest second-hand bookstore. He’d often find inspiration there, browsing among the books, and flipping through their pages. However, one day he found a shitload more inspiration than he bargained for.

“Excuse me, sir.”

He turned around to see a boy, no more than 10 years old, gaping up at him.

“Yes, mate?”

“I’m looking for the classics section, Mista.”

“The classics section?” Franklin said, scratching his head. “I didn’t know there was one.”

There were many thousands of books at Immortal Words – in fact, many hundreds of thousands. There were over 20 rooms packed with volumes old and new, both upstairs and downstairs. The owner James Morton loved books, all books, unconditionally. He loved good books and bad books, fiction and non-fiction, cult and literary, bestseller and bargain bin. In over 20 years James had never turned a book away.

“Have you tried upstairs?” Franklin suggested.

“Um, no – the fella by the desk said it was down here.”

“Oh,” Franklin said, looking about helplessly. He could see books on every conceivable subject – memoirs, and essays, and poems, and biographies, and…

“Oh, look,” he noted, on seeing the word ‘Classics’ scrawled in barely readable ink on one of the shelves. “There it is,” he pointed.

“Gee, thanks Mista!”

“One little shelf?” Franklin frowned. “That’s not much, is it? What’s the definition of a classic?” he wondered aloud.

“A book that’s stood the test of time,” the boy replied matter-of-factly, as if he’d heard that phrase many times, enunciated in exactly that way.

“Really?” Franklin grimaced. “That’s the definition – a book that’s stood the test of time?”

“Uh huh,” the boy nodded distractedly as he looked at the shelf. “Oh cool,” he squealed. “This is what I wanted!” He extracted a tatty copy of Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. “Thanks Mista,” he yelled, as he sped off to pay at the front desk.

Quizzically, Franklin bent down to look at the books. They were the same books that had been ‘classics’ when he was a boy – Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde; Pride and Prejudice; The Scarlet Letter; The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Most of them were between 100 and 200 years old, but some were a fraction older. William Shakespeare‘s works were almost four hundred years old, but the numbers plunged dramatically from there. There was only one surviving text from the middle ages – Chaucer’s The Nun’s Tale. And The Symposium by Plato was the only work older than that. Perplexingly, most of human history was simply not represented.

And that’s when he had his Eureka moment. You see – that’s when he turned around to behold the thousands of other books in store, stacked to the ceiling, spilling over from shelf to shelf, and room to room.

“Jesus Christ,” he gasped, as the realisation struck home. Before him there were two storeys and 20 rooms packed with books that were never going to stand the test of time. All of them, good or bad, loved or hated, faced oblivion before the next 100 years was up.

“You alright there, Franklin? You look a bit white.”

He turned around to see the shop’s owner James Morton staring at him in concern.

“James, I’ve had an epiphany.”

“Another one?”

“Yes, my God, James, listen,” Franklin heaved, “the notion that writing something great promises immortality, that somehow your creation will remain long after you’ve passed on, well,” Franklin bristled, “it’s a gross miscalculation! In fact,” he spat, “if it’s immortality you want you’d be better off scratching your name into a cave wall.”

“You think so?”

“Look at all these books!” Franklin exclaimed, gesticulating to the shelves crowding in all around them. “Now look at your miserable little ‘Classics’ section! Immortal words indeed!”

“Mmmm,” James conceded. “I see your point.”

“And why did these books survive? Why are these considered ‘Classics’? It’s completely random. I mean, come on – Treasure Island?” Franklin moaned. “Really?”

“I liked Treasure Island,” James objected.

“James, it’s just a piddly little yarn about pirates! How many great books from Victorian England have disappeared? Books we’ve never even heard of. Instead we have Treasure fucking Island.”

“Well, that’s no reason to be upset.”

“Oh really?” Franklin fumed. “Maybe if you’re not a writer, James! But if you’re a writer it’s bloody devastating. Deep down every one of us has been led to believe that our work will endure if we can only write a book good enough. That’s the great self-deception, perpetuated down the centuries from who the fuck knows where. The truth is, even if I could write my  masterpiece it wouldn’t have a hope in hell. Not even the so-called ‘Classics’ last long. A hundred years from now Treasure Island will have disappeared too. There are no immortal words.”

Silence fell between them, as they contemplated that point. As lovers of books they had each, in their own way, invested their lives in that lie. It was a lie that couldn’t be attributed to anyone in particular; and a lie that no one had ever actually examined.

“All the pain, all the effort, all the trauma – all for nothing,” Franklin groaned. “Years of bleeding all over the page for no money, or reward, or recognition. A life wasted on words that won’t even outlive my dog!”

“Are you going to stop writing then?” James Morton frowned.

“Stop writing?” Franklin turned to him. “Are you kidding? This is too good to let go. What an insight – what pathos, what tragedy! This is the story I’ve always wanted to write. This could be my Frankenstein, my Great Expectations, my Hamlet!”

“Where are you off to now then?” James asked, as Franklin scrambled to the exit.

“Home,” Franklin shouted back. “Books don’t write themselves, you know.”

2. They

Craig had been acutely aware of them his whole life. Who they were wasn’t easy to define.

They were everyone.

They were everywhere.

They’d persecuted him for as long as he could remember. When something bad happened to him they were involved. And when something good happened they were there too, lurking in the shadows, intent on ruining the moment any way they could.

They’d always hated him – even at school. They’d mocked him, and ostracised him. They’d called him a loner and a weirdo. They’d excluded him from their parties. And even when they hadn’t, they’d treated him like a bad smell. Even then they could see that he didn’t want to be one of them.

At university, it was always he who asked the hard questions. It was always he raising his hand to point out the flaws in any given theory or school of thought. They hated him for that too. He was too clever for their liking. In their eyes he had pretensions above his station. It had come as no surprise to any of them that he chose not to follow the tried and true course of finding a woman, and spawning.

If the true objective of life is procreation, as biology suggests, then he’d signally failed at life. Among living organisms, he was the least likely to ever reproduce.

Love had no allure for him. In fact, neither did status or money, for Craig was driven by something greater. He wanted to ask the great questions of his age, and interrogate the great minds of his generation. He didn’t simply want to succeed in the conventional sense, or engage in the same small struggles for material wealth and recognition that they did. He wanted to make a contribution to history, and live a life of real significance. He wanted to outshine them for all eternity.

And so he became a writer. And though he was just a humble journalist, he hoped that one day the universe would reward his efforts. One day being an outsider would pay off. One day the path less travelled would take him to a place of wonder.

If those efforts weren’t appreciated yet it was only because they didn’t like it. Given the choice, they would always opt for the status quo. They would always take the path of least resistance, the thoughtless path, the path that confirmed their vacuous views of life. To them, he was a threat, as was anything and anyone that tried to transcend the ordinary. Little wonder they were always phoning his editor to slag him off, for he could write nothing that did not raise their ire, nothing that did not offend their common sensibility, nothing that did not cause them to erupt in hot fits of outrage. ­­­­

They, Craig came to realise, were merely sheep, merely lemmings – in hopeless denial of reality. While he was engaged in the service of the truth, they were merely mindless automatons shuffling to a dirge, living meaningless lives of mental slavery.

Worse still, they were always getting in the way. At every twist and turn in the road of life, they were there, ruining everything for him. When he got to his train in the mornings, they were in front of him, taking up all the seats. And when it was raining, they crowded him on all sides, brushing him with their umbrellas. Sometimes they would soak him from head to foot as they drove past by the busload.

In a world of mediocrity, they were in their element. While he flopped around like a fish on the shore, they thrived like monsters of the deep. They may have been stupid and ignorant and dull, but this world was made for them. One of them would inevitably get the promotion that had eluded him for years. One of them would inevitably get the winning ticket, or that unexpected windfall, or be lauded employee of the month. They blissfully did exactly what was expected of them, unaware of his travails, and his dreams, and the extraordinary vision he had to offer the world.

“Excuse me.”

He turned around to behold the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. Her teeth weren’t straight, and she had freckles in all the wrong places, but there was a light in her that blinded him on the spot, even though she was one of them.

“You dropped this,” she smiled, holding his train pass.

“Er, thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

“What’s your name?” he asked awkwardly.

Her name was Cheryl. She lived in his apartment block, on the floor below him. She was also on her way to the city. And she hadn’t seen Pirates of the Caribbean 2 yet either.

A year later they were married.

They honeymooned in Bali, bought a small apartment in Ashfield, and light flooded into his life the way dawn floods into a dark, damp cave. She taught him to cook rhubarb. She educated him in Feng Shui. They cuddled up to watch Breaking Bad every Thursday. They made sweet love every Tuesday, Friday and Sunday.

And then one day, cancer took her. And in his inconsolable grief, they consoled him.

“I’m so sorry,” his landlady hugged him.

“We’re here for you, mate,” his editor told him.

And in an instant, he understood that they were doing everything they could to help him. They were paying his salary. They were baking his bread. They were growing his food, and distributing it to the supermarket down the road. In fact, they had built the road, and they had even built the supermarket. They were impossibly kind to him. They were generous beyond all reckoning. In fact, all his life they had doing things for him that he’d never even noticed.

And for the first time he could see that he’d been one of them all along.


© Copyright Ron Lawrence Anderson

Blighter’s Rock

Four months ago I announced in grand fashion that I was starting a series of flash fiction posts. I wrote a good introduction. I then wrote a good first story. And while that was effortless enough, it then stalled. It’s been four months now, and though I have some embryonic stories on paper, I am suffering from blighter’s rock.

Have no fear – there are stories coming, I promise. There are many wonderful tiny truths waiting in the wings. I just need to get over the compulsion to keep editing them in the minutest detail.

Blighter’s rock.

Every writer seems to suffer from it at some point (except maybe Steven King).

I know what the story I’m working on should say, I just can’t get past the first 300 words. In the meantime, the novel I’m writing is proceeding at pace. There are zero problems with that. My writer’s block seems to be confined to my flash fiction. I am learning to appreciate the art of flash fiction the hard way – by discovering just how challenging it can be to write the little blighters.

There are times of course when my longer works also get stuck in this manner. However, I just never expected it to occur in stories spanning less than 1,000 words. I have set very high standards for these stories – in my own mind. I have held them up to the lofty works of writers like Harlan Ellison and Robert E. Howard. However, that’s not really the problem. The problem is quite simply that I am in a mental slough. I am not sleeping well. And while I am progressing on other creative projects, I’m currently not progressing on these.

The mind is indeed a perplexing thing. And the mind of an artist is more perplexing still.

Thanks for your patience. I hope it will be rewarded with a new story soon.



1. The Piece

When Jonah came upon the artefact he didn’t have the foggiest idea what it was. It was oblong but symmetrical, and ornate in a crude sort of way. At the summit was what looked like the lid – in the form of a carved gecko figurine that slid neatly over a rectangular hole. The inside was hollow and smooth – no small engineering feat as the vessel had been crafted from a single piece of wood. What’s more, the hole at the top was small – too small for even a child’s hand. At best it might accommodate three adult fingers. So then – how did the carver get into the body of the vessel to carve it out, then file it down? The entire piece was a mystery.

Gingerly, Jonah lifted the tag.

Borneo, it read.

“It’s a gorgeous piece, innit?” declared the dealer, a weary-eyed woman who’d been on the antique circuit far too long.

“Mmmm,” Jonah replied noncommittally. “What is it?”

“I dunno,” the woman shrugged. “Maybe it’s for water, luv.”

“No,” Jonah said sceptically. “The lid’s in the wrong place. Who’d carry water that way? You’d carry it this way,” he said insistently, using his hands to illustrate the object standing portrait, rather than landscape.

“Well,” the dealer shrugged, “as I said, luv – I don’t rightly know. It’s just a lovely piece, that’s all. I fell straight in love with it.”

“But now you’re selling it?”

“Well, that’s life, innit?” The woman shrugged. “You can’t keep ’em all.”

“Well, well, well!” someone gushed, just over Jonah’s shoulder. “Now what is that? Good Lord!”

Jonah’s heart dropped. Antique hunting can be a cutthroat business. There’s always some scavenger lurking over your shoulder, ogling the thing in front of you, likely to grab it if you don’t.

He turned around wearily. The newcomer was about sixty, with a leathery complexion.

“It’s from Borneo,” said the dealer.

“Not, it’s not,” the old man grunted. “Not Borneo.”

“Well, where’s it from then?” The dealer frowned.

The old man bent forward to examine the object, his eyes gazing inwards as if he were flipping through a large mental encyclopaedia in search of a matching entry. “Well, I don’t have a clue,” he said eventually, “but I know it’s not from Borneo.” Then his finger flew to the carvings on the base. “Oh, look,” he noted, “spirals.”

Jonah groaned, unable to hide his annoyance. “Spirals are a universal motif. You’ll find them on artefacts from all over the world. And they all look exactly like those spirals.”

“How do you know?”

“Books,” Jonah said contemptuously. “You should try opening one some time – they’re an endless source of insight.”

“Now, look son, there’s no need to be rude.”

“Rude?” Jonah hissed. “You’re the one who interrupted.”

“Okay,” the old man grunted, chastened.

“The fact is, spirals are just spirals – whether you’re talking about African curios, Polynesian carvings or Viking amulets. They’re all just squiggles. There are only so many ways you can depict a fucking spiral.”

“Point taken.”

“Now, old man, if you don’t mind, kindly bugger off. I saw this thing first, you know.”

“My, my!” the old man noted, his eyebrows rising. “You seem to like this item.”

“Maybe,” Jonah shrugged.

The old man eyed him for a moment before turning to the dealer. “I’ll give you three hundred dollars for it.”

“What?” Jonah balked. “You fucking jackal.”

“Three fifty,” the old man grunted, ignoring Jonah.

“Four,” Jonah countered. There was no point being coy now. The battle was on.

“Four fifty.”


“Five?” The old man smiled. “Well, it’s your money son,” he chuckled, before walking off.

“Thanks, luv,” the dealer blinked at Jonah. “It’s such a lovely piece. I hope it makes you very happy.”

“Yeah yeah,” Jonah grunted, his heart now heavy with buyer’s remorse.

He carried the piece back to his apartment in Glebe and cleared a place for it on his bookshelf, shunting aside his other eclectic tribal artefacts – the Polynesian god stick, Fon fetish and cassowary headdress. And there it sat, the centrepiece of his collection, for many, many years.

However, no reference book ever shed any light on what it actually was. There was also no record of anything remotely like it having sold at auction – ever. Over the years, it plagued him incessantly that something so unique and curious could elude categorisation so completely. Sometimes he wondered if it had some religious significance. Had it sat in some shaman’s hut, or was it just a mundane household object? Was it a map of the cosmos, or merely a vessel to hold grain? He never did manage to embrace the mystery – not until decades later, as he lay dying.

“What’s that?” A man asked, just out of his vision as he lay on his bed, his life ebbing away.

“I don’t know,” a woman replied. “But what a lovely piece.”

And at once he was overcome with horror at the thought that something with such inestimable significance could be reduced to nothing more than a lovely piece, for the bland consumption of ignorant Westerners. Only then did it occur to him that this artefact had come from a world that had recently been smashed to atoms. Just one of countless worlds obliterated by a monoculture that was spreading across the planet like a dementia, gouging out great chunks of humanity’s collective consciousness without anyone even noticing. This cultural Alzheimer’s had already taken away almost everything that made the human species unique and beautiful, turning the meaningful into the meaningless, and uniting humankind in ugly and formless uniformity. There were now just a few pieces left, mysterious objects like this, sitting on mantelpieces or in museums somewhere, to suggest that anything had ever been any different.

And with that realisation Jonah’s heart suddenly stopped and he went kicking and screaming into the void.

©Copyright Ron Lawrence Anderson


Tiny truths (an introduction)


Over the next few years I plan to publish a series of 50 super short stories. The genre is known as ‘flash fiction’. My stories will be 1,000 words or less, and will come completely self-contained, with everything a good well-told tale needs – including plots, themes, conflicts and compelling three-dimensional characters.

So why a thousand words?

Well, first off – why write anything of any length? Why write haikus? Why write sonnets? Why the hell write novels or trilogies? To be frank, why is a completely arbitrary question. I have no answers to why, other than the obvious – that brevity is indeed the soul of wit, and that shorter short stories are better than longer short stories. You can read them in the time it takes to skim a newspaper, and draft them in the time it takes to have a long polemical argument on Facebook.

As for why a thousand words specifically, well – a thousand is just a nice round number, that’s all. I like the discipline of a thousand words. But, of course, I might have chosen 981, or 1091, or 897. A straight thousand will do me just fine. The point is – I’m already writing longer literary works. I need a format that will help me get all the other ideas I have out of my system. Quite simply, flash fiction works best.

Let me say from the outset that I won’t be writing garden variety or <insert the cliche of your choice here> stories. These little stories will not be ordinary. I’m not doing this just to entertain you. Despite what you may think, I really wasn’t put on this Earth to relieve you of your daily drudgery. If my stories entertain you – I’m okay with that. But that’s not their principal purpose. My real intent  is to present you with some tiny truths about life – one tiny truth for every story. So there’ll be one profound reflection or cutting insight wrapped up in the lives of characters who inhabit no more a thousand steaming turds, or about four double-spaced pages.

I started writing fiction at the grand old age of 13. The author who first inspired me to take up my pen was Robert E. Howard – the creator of Conan. Those familiar with Howard’s work will know what a gifted storyteller he was, for even if you don’t take to his stories it’s hard to deny their power and immediacy. If ever there was a natural spinner of yarns it was young Robert Erwin Howard, who weaved together histories and myths in startling new ways. By the time he died at age 29, he had a body of work that writers twice his age would kill for – from classic short stories that established him as one of the most important pulp fiction writers in the world,  to poems with a rare  lyrical potency. It’s been close to a century since he died, and he still casts a very long shadow on the unique subculture he created almost single-handedly – the niche genre now known as ‘Swords and Sorcery’.

The other towering influence on me as a younger writer was Harlan Ellison – an absolute master of the short story. I discovered him only a year or two later, at age 14 or 15, through classic volumes such as Paingod & other delusions, and Approaching Oblivion. I wasn’t alone in thinking he was an incredible talent. This was a writer who had won more Nebula and Hugo Awards than any other. His story Repent Harlequin Said the Ticktockman (a personal favourite of mine and one of finest examples anywhere of early flash fiction) still remains one of the most reprinted stories in the English language.

Like Howard, Ellison never took to longer literary forms. While both writers wrote the occasional full-blown work, unusually they both achieved their acclaim through the short story format. In doing so, they were both purveyors of a very compact kind of truth. Somehow, these two writers were able to find some kernel of reality in every story, in spite of the fact that both wrote highly ‘speculative’ forms of  fiction – in Ellison’s case ‘Sci-Fi’, and in Howard’s case outright fantasy. Howard would access those core truths intuitively, directly from the unconscious, through the brute force of his talent. Ellison did so more consciously, and perhaps a little more artfully, through sharply constructed stories that achieved a remarkable degree of verisimilitude – stories that somehow made you question your reality, and forced you to reflect deeply about things you didn’t ever think about.

In the years since I first start reading these two great writers I’ve grown quite disdainful of fiction in general. I guess the cynicism has set in. There is just so much bad fiction around. Often I question the very point of fiction. Today non-fiction holds a much greater appeal to me, principally because  it’s so much more unself-conscious about telling the truth. At least, that’s what I sometimes tell myself. But if I have to be really honest – there’s a great deal of truth to be found in fiction, and a lot of untruth to be found in non-fiction. And the way I see it – unless we take the time to engage that fundamental contradiction, we’ll never truly understand either.

As my homage to Howard and Ellison, who’ve remained enduring influences throughout my life, these little 1,000-word stories will hopefully illustrate my conviction – that really good fiction tends to reveal the truth in some way, and doesn’t simply help readers to escape reality. That fiction can also give birth to incredible alternate realities, and truths we never even considered.

There will be a lot of hardcore truths in these stories. Some may even be what you might call ‘profound’. Some may be so challenging that you might not want to accept them as any form of truth. Of course, if you don’t,  you can at least console yourself with the fact that I didn’t waste a lot of your time, and that I was able to say what I had to say in less than a thousand words.

So please join me over the coming weeks, months, or years, or however it long it takes for me to complete 50 tiny stories – each with furnished with their own tiny truth. It should be a blast.


© Copyright Ron Lawrence Anderson