2019 Award Eligibility

It is time to begin nominating works for 2020 science fiction and fantasy awards, and that means compiling your work for consideration. This is my first time doing this kind of thing. Bummer, too, because there were a couple stories in the previous year that I would have much more confidently listed for nomination, as opposed to sort of holding them gingerly out in front of me like offerings to an angry god.

It wasn’t my most productive year in terms of short fiction – I spent a lot of my writing time working on my book, and the rest of my time being reasonably gainfully employed.

Here’s my 2019, though. I am proud of them. I have one more story forthcoming this year from Metaphorosis, which I’ll add when it’s published.

“Blueprint for the End of the World”

Askance Publishing, Winter Short Story Competition runner-up
February 2019 (read here)

We saw how it began. Fifteen of us were from that country that had broken first and pressed the button. There was a little violence, of course, a brief frenzy of retribution quickly interrupted by station security.

We’d passed over my hometown twenty minutes earlier. I wouldn’t have to watch them burn, at least. Out of the shifting cross-stitch of white vapor came the remaining shuttles, straining to reach us before the atmosphere ignited.

What was that? Who launched first? Oh. Does that really matter now?

“Last Words”

Shoreline of Infinity Issue 16
October 2019 (read here)

Her first clumsy paintings portrayed uncomplicated emotions in cheerful ochre, bright cerulean, or undiluted violet. Later, they became more sophisticated: muted reds paired with warm grays to indicate the stress of leadership; her childhood memories captured in candy-bright pinks and blues against wistful navy.

And now she lay under impassive black.

She’d have hated this.

 

 

Backup Shoes

The sea-laden wind chilled my feet, exposed in flip-flops.

“I left my heels!” I turned as if I could run back to the island venue.

“You took them off twenty minutes in,” he reminded me.

“Right.” I twirled him close to me. “So we could dance more.”

The Many Names of Kitty

(CW: pet death)

Once upon a time, a cat and her kittens were living in a blackberry bush.

The girl who would later be my sister-in-law was the one to find them. Her family found homes for all but two of the kittens, and they kept the mother as well. The cat ended up being called Mom Cat, or just Mom. I guess when the conversation usually goes “Did you feed Mom?” or “We need to clip Mom’s nails,” it’s easy to tell which maternal figure you’re referring to.

Over the four years she lived in their house, Mom Cat got fat and happy. In fact, she got too fat – she was tired of having her two kids underfoot and routinely stole their food. So, when Kevin and I got our own place in Salem in 2009, his mother made us an offer: get Mom Cat out of her house, and she would cover any and all vet bills.

IMG_4916

Well. Far be it from us to turn down a free cat.

My only condition was that we needed to give her a proper name because no way was I addressing a cat as “mom.” We settled on “Majka,” which means “mother” in Serbo-Croatian.

Yeah, that didn’t stick.

The 14-pound cat became known as Kitty and I was forever validating her name, or lack thereof, to vets. “See, it’s because she had kittens when they found her…”

She made routine appearances on my old blog chronicling the odd things she sat or slept on: our clothes, our friends’ clothes, clean laundry, the remote, IKEA parts while we were assembling furniture, letters I was writing to a friend in Spain, and…okay, you know what, just enjoy this assortment of things Kitty deemed lay-on-able:

Thanks to prescription food, she lost her resemblance to a bowling ball and started looking more like a cat. She moved with us from the Salem apartment to a Vancouver apartment to a house to another house. Her favorite place to sleep was on Kevin’s chest while he was trying to read in the evenings. When we got a dog, she immediately established that she was not to be messed with. When we added two kittens to the household, Kitty wanted nothing to do with Robot (the female) but let Rocket (the male) sidle up to her at all hours demanding a bath and a snuggle.

Whenever we had people over, she’d position herself in the exact middle of the couch and sit, eyes closed, as if she’d been sleeping there all day and couldn’t be bothered to relocate. Anyone who tried to sit near her or, heaven forbid, pet her got hissed at. Even her original family, when they visited, were greeted with snarls and pretend sleep.

Once she leapt up into a friend’s lap, and everyone in the room froze, delighted that Kitty was making a friend and afraid to ruin the moment.

Then Kitty realized she was in a stranger’s lap. She hissed at the lap’s owner and fled.

I can’t remember who first described Kitty as “boss,” but they found her ornery nature an indication of Kitty’s ability to set boundaries, advocate for herself, and demand respect. Thus Boss Kitty found new fame in her elder years as a weird sort of feline feminist icon. She’d often be found perched on an armrest or the back of the couch, determinedly ignoring you – unless you were one of the two people who lived in the house, in which case you could give her chin scratches but she’d really prefer it if you sat down so she could sleep in your lap.

When Kevin’s family found and adopted Kitty, Kevin and I weren’t even dating yet. We ended up having her for longer than we’ve been married. She outlived our first dog and endured three moves with us. There’s the saying that cats have nine lives, but in the wake of saying goodbye to our first pet, I feel more like our pets measure our lives rather than the other way around. Kitty was an era unto herself. The years she was ours were marked by dozens of milestones: first apartment, wedding, new friends, new jobs, anniversaries, first publications, first house, second house. She led an eventful life. It was hard to see it come to an end, but she was a fixture of our first ten years together, and we’re honored to have gotten to share our house with Boss Kitty.

From Me To You

“Come on!Mags gritted her teeth and cranked the key with all her strength. Her breath puffed around her in the cold air. The Bel Air’s engine only continued to gutter.

“You know, brute force isn’t what makes it start.” Nadine was leaning against the rear fender, her cigarette’s glow flaring on the collar of her fake fur coat and her perfectly-flicked eyeliner.

“Well, it’s the only thing I know to try.” Mags got out, yanking her miniskirt down to cover as much of her legs as possible, and huddled against Nadine. Her top half was fairly warm under her wool coat, scarf, and beret, but her legs were freezing. “If we don’t freeze to death, Dad’s going to kill me.”

Nadine grinned. “What, for borrowing his car without permission and sneaking off to the Beatles concert through a foot of snow with your secret girlfriend? What’s the big deal?”

And playing hooky to drive through said snow. Don’t forget that part.” Mags sighed and reached one hand out of the warmth of her coat sleeve. “Give me a drag.”

Nadine handed over the cigarette. Mags inhaled deeply and exhaled in an anxious hiss. “Do you have money left? We could take a bus.”

Mags could barely see Nadine’s head shaking, she was so deeply burrowed into her coat. “There’s no way the buses are running in this weather,” came her muffled response. “And that still leaves your dad’s car in DC.”

Mags took another deep puff of Nadine’s cigarette and handed it back. “Well, if we don’t beat feet, I won’t be back in bed by morning and then I’ll really be in trouble. Time to get help.”

She trotted off across the slushy parking lot, wrapping her coat tighter around her shivering body. Nadine followed, humming “I Want To Hold Your Hand.” In defiance of the cold and the arena’s policies, a group of fans was still clustered near the Coliseum’s doors, their laughter echoing off the high brick walls.

Mags hopped up to sit on a nearby concrete half-wall, then swung her legs up. Nadine offered one warm hand to help her stand.

The Mags of a year ago would never have done something like this. Then again, the Mags of a year ago still hadn’t found the courage to kiss Nadine, nor would she have dared weave a web of lies to ensure they got to see the Fab Four live.

What a square that Mags was.

“Hello, everyone!” Mags threw her arms wide. Several members of the crowd looked her way. Mags ignored their giggles; she needed to focus on keeping her balance anyway. “I’ve got a cigarette and a kiss for anyone who can get my car started!”

Nadine’s indignation at having her cigarettes given away was drowned out by the whistling and hollering that ensued.

“I’ll start your engine, sweetie!”

“What brand cigarette?”

“Mags?”

The last came from a girl at the edge of the crowd: Ellie, a fellow senior and the star of the girls’ basketball team. She was sharing a plaid blanket with Nancy, another girl from their class, who was looking up at Mags dubiously.

“I can take a look,” Ellie said, grinning, “My uncle is a mechanic, and my brother and I are always helping him for kicks.”

“Righteous!” Mags hopped down from the wall with a sigh of relief. “I really thought we were going to be stranded here. You’re boss, Ellie.”

“No sweat.”

“Cigarette, as promised?” Nadine presented one with fingers shaking with cold.

“No thanks.” She sent a sidelong smile at Mags. “I don’t need the kiss, either.”

Mags glanced at Nancy, whose expression was unreadable: pride, maybe, or defiance. Mags nodded. Nancy nodded back.

They huddled around Ellie while she worked, taking turns holding the heavy flashlight Mags found in the trunk. Eventually Ellie slammed the hood.

“Did you fix it?” Mags asked excitedly.

“Whatever it is, I can’t figure it out. Sorry.”

Mags and Nadine exchanged terrified glances.

Ellie held up one grease-smudged finger. “But,” she continued, “We can tow you back home. It’ll be slow, dangerous, and probably illegal –”

“We’re in,” Mags and Nadine said together.

“Thanks, Ellie,” Mags said fervently.

“No sweat.”

“Us girls have to stick together,” Nancy added.

So Mags and Nadine huddled in the back seat of the Bel Air, keeping each other’s hands warm while they waited for Ellie, singing their favorite lyrics from that night back and forth to each other.

Photo by adrian on Unsplash