By some accounts, the shortest story ever told was by Hemingway:
"For sale: baby shoes, never worn."
Six words is all it took. Six. I never get tired of rehashing all the possibilities, all the heartache and complexities that come along with selling baby shoes, never worn, via a Want Ad.
Recently, I submitted a story to a science fiction website, 365 Tomorrows. I had 600 words to tell a story. They ran it. It goes like this.
WHAT I WASN’T
It started with a flash.
Like the Big Bang, an explosion that swallowed everything. The pain sunk deep into my head, and then was replaced with blurry colors. There were no edges to the blobs floating before a background of gray. The pinks and the browns and the silvers and the blues shifted in silence that was so deep and perfect, like floating in a pristine ocean.
And then the silence was gone, obliterated by the sounds of a tapping keyboard and a young man talking. His name was Ben. He just broke up with his girlfriend, said he was ready to spread his wings. You know, fly a little.
“What’s wrong with her left eye?” Madeline asked.
She was the one making the keyboard rattle. A colorful blob merged into my line of sight and then—SNICK—my left eyelid slid up. More colors.
“Hand me the drops,” Ben said.
The drops were cold and slippery. They burned my eyes. I blinked the world into focus. Ben’s hair hung over his ears and he hadn’t shaved in days. His eyes were green, like the green of new growth. The white collar of his lab coat was pulled up.
He flashed a bright light in my left eye. “How’s that?” he asked. “Can you see me?”
He spoke like I was deaf or old. I was neither.
“Give me something. Sing a song, belch…something.”
“Stop badgering her,” Madeline said. “She’s not ready to talk.”
An argument ensued. I was left staring at a gray ceiling with an attached rail that encircled us with a heavy plastic curtain. I realized, not until that moment, that I couldn’t move. My body was like wet metal shavings, the table hard and cold. Madeline made the keyboard dance while Ben fiddled with a tray of medical tools.
That’s when the memories came.
I remembered Christmas and my dog and the time Simon brought flowers to work and sang and I blushed. I remembered all the little good things and the little bad things, how they hurt and how they pleased. That’s when I smiled.
“There,” Madeline said. “Give her the mirror.”
Ben stuck something in my hand. He lifted my naked arm, wrapping his hand around my dead fingers. I saw my red hair spread over my shoulders. My skin was fair and my eyes were green, like emeralds.
“Heather.” I watched my lips move. That was my name.
Madeline kept tapping the keyboard. Ben danced around the table and rubbed my hands and legs. The feeling came back with pins and needles. The sensations came in dense waves, as if my body had fallen asleep. Ben massaged my arms and shoulders and feet. I sank into the incoming tide of memories to escape the discomfort, each one a jewel that reminded me who I was.
There was sledding and the time I learned to drive and a funeral and my first kiss. I remembered my life.
Ben was rushing to the other side when he slipped. Falling, he grabbed the curtain. The metal rings pinged as the plastic ripped away. We weren’t in a small room, not like I thought. I let my head roll to the side. I saw more tables like the one beneath me. On them were nude women with red hair spilled over their shoulders and fair skin. Their eyes were closed, but I knew they were green.
“Damn it, Ben.” The keyboard clattered at high speed.
And those sweet, sweet memories went away.
Drayton, the Taker FREE