I typed up the story that I wrote on the plane and did some relatively light editing: the result is a fairly brisk 1400-word short story, straddling the line between flash fiction and a very short story. I let a few friends have a look at it, and the results so far have been similar to mine: confusion and cautious “I like it”s.
I don’t want to give anything away, but I had an interesting conversation with myself about the rules involved. Magic in fiction (done well, anyway) usually needs to have rules. They can be weird or obscure, but there needs to be something there to explain why everyone isn’t walking around capable of fireballs like nuclear weapons. In this case, I wrote this story while thinking, what are the rules for talking to the dead? What can you give them in exchange for what you want to know?
(Caution: potentially spoiler-y below, and in the comments. If you’d like to have a look at the story in question, you’re welcome to email me and ask. I may post it here eventually, but I think I’ll shop it around to a few quick turnaround markets first.)
Anyway. Maybe it’s just that I was on a trip to the Baltimore-Washington area, but I got to thinking about people who just needed to be right. You know the type: people who are eager to twist fact into fiction as long as they can say that their pre-conceived notions were right all along, to be able to reject all challenges to their view of the world and country and self. What, I asked myself, would such a person care about after death? What would he value?
I thought about that in the terminal, and started writing when I boarded the plane. The scene, in my mind, was the piece out of the middle of a longer story, just to get a feel for how a conversation like this might go. I didn’t bother to name the living character, and didn’t bother with description, both of which I figured would be worked out later. I pictured the scene as taking place in a tiny apartment kitchen with car horns honking outside, hence the original title. I forgot about the car horns, though, and then the rest didn’t come through.
The funny thing about the character of Mr. Hornsby is what a scene stealer he turned out to be. I expected the scene to be maybe 500 characters… but whenever I started to close it down, he just came up with a new objection (or maybe it was the Heineken — gotta love the free drink tickets) that I had to deal with. Dealing with his obstreperousness gave me, in the end, much more of a complete story than I expected to have, not to mention made the character much more interesting to me than originally.
And no, I won’t tell you what his password is!