He emerges from the jungle overlooking a sudden valley and
frowns. This isn’t what he wanted to see after three weeks of hacking through vines,
subsisting on MREs and a LifeStraw.
The valley below is empty. Lush, green, vibrant with life—but
It takes him an hour to skitter to the bottom where he sits on
a boulder to soak in unoccluded sunlight. He’s so tired of being wet. He’s
decided to move to Arizona when this is over. Which is going to be sooner than expected,
given the utter lack of an ancient temple of chaos where there should be one.
After a few minutes, he sighs and glares at the valley.
Might as well look around. Even if the expedition is a bust, he’s still a
He starts at the edge of the clearing and works in tightening
circles, examining stones and plants. None of it is interesting, but he keeps
going, mind wandering. What will he tell the department? The investors? His wife?
He falls down hard halfway to the center.
Rubbing his head, he looks around frantically, but there’s
nothing. He can clearly see the rise of the jungle in front of him.
He can also see his own shadow looming over him, cast against
a wall that isn’t there.
Before he can finish the sentence, his shadow’s black hands shoot out, clutch his shoulders, and yank him through the invisible wall.
And the valley is empty once again.
This story is part of No Novel November, a daily microfiction challenge. If you'd like to know more and/or join in, click here.
I knelt before the throne with a thousand eyes heavy on my
back. The point of a sword touched my shoulders once, twice, then I rose on
shaking legs to meet the gaze of the king.
“As the lone Knight of the Flame, you have received this
kingdom’s highest honor and also its most dreaded task. Your path leads down a perilous
road to a destination from which none have returned. May you be victorious
against the dread serpent. Your kingdom is depending on you. I am depending on you. Congratulations,
The king extended his bejeweled hand. I took it with as much
strength as I dared given his advanced age, kissed the signet, and forced determination
onto my face. Beneath the crown, the king’s expression was veiled, not with the
formality of office but with odd tenderness. Pity, perhaps?
Before I could wonder further, he released my grip with
pressing fingers. The tilt of his head warned me not to question the tiny parchment
he’d left in my palm. Mind and heart racing, I tucked it into my gauntlet as I
retreated from the hall.
It wasn’t until evening, loosening my armor beside the campfire
after a hard day’s ride, that I remembered the note. It fluttered from my glove,
tossed by the wind almost into the flames. I snatched it back, myself burning
I read it once, twice, then sank on shaking legs to weep.
“Dearest Daughter, You have permission to fail. Love, Dad.”
This story is part of No Novel November, a daily microfiction challenge. If you'd like to know more and/or join in, click here.
Instead of NaNoWriMo, I’m writing one tiny story every day in November. Join me!
You’ve heard of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo, for short)? Where you write 50,000 words of a novel in one month?
This is not that.
NoNoNovember is for people who want to write some good, good fiction but don’t have the time, energy, braincycles, or (frankly) motivation to write an entire novel.
Instead, we’re writing one very short story every day in November.
You can use the official prompts or do your own thing.
You can write about anything in any genre (except poetry, sorry), as long as it’s a story—it accomplishes something and arrives somewhere—and clocks in under 250 words.
When: November 1 to November 30 Where: Private Facebook group or email How much: Nothing, nada, zero, FREE Who: YOU! And me! And everyone that wants in!
Sign up for early access to the prompt list and the ability to email me directly!
Registration closes October 31 (spoOOokyyy).
Sharing your stories is encouraged (but not required)! Post them on social media, your website, in the group, email them to me—or don’t. It’s up to you.
Participating in the Facebook group is also encouraged (but also not required)! The group is a private, safe placewhere we can share our work, frustrations, and encouragement. No critiques (unless asked for) or trolls allowed.
Signing up for the email list is optional but is encouraged since it lets me communicate with you privately, and lets you know about future Write Stuff events.
In short, this is a free, open daily writing challenge, and it’s up to you how and where and why you participate. What’s most important is that you write.
In between where you are and where you’re going is the meantime.
That indefinite span in which anything can happen —or nothing at all. The time you spend waiting to be on the other side —and how you spend it.
In between buying the guitar and playing the solo is hours of skin-splitting practice. In between first kiss and Golden Anniversary is days of tears, silence, and change.
In between the call and the answer is the waiting.
The meantime is waking up early and going to bed late, shopping and cooking and eating and doing the dishes, going to work and going to school, balancing the bank account and wondering where the money will come from, returning library books and buying birthday presents, doubting that you heard the call at all because the meantime is
And you tell yourself to hang on just a little longer. That one day the meantime will be over,
but it won’t.
Because the meantime is always now.
Because once you pass through this meantime you begin another one. Because you’re always in between—a series of overlapping meantimes, always ending, always starting, always hoping, always moving, even when you think you’re standing still.
In between your first breath and your last is your life, each moment a meantime.
It happened like magic, like lightning.
First she was there, then she wasn’t. It happened so fast I thought I’d
Until it happened again.
A guy in line for
coffee, gone as if he’d never been standing two feet in front of me, glued to
his phone. The barista didn’t miss a beat.
The elderly couple who
got on the A-train but never got off.
I stopped looking to
other bystanders for help after a dozen or so. All I ever got in return for my
panicked asking if they’d seen what I’d seen was incredulous glares and a
breathalyser test. I’d trawl social media and every news outlet worth reading
after each one, but there was nothing to find. No missing persons alerts. No
investigations. It was like nothing ever happened. The fabric of the universe
puckered briefly around the hole created by a person’s disappearance, then
tightened to create a seamless swathe of new reality. Erased. Forgotten.
No one noticed and no
one was interested—not even conspiracy theorist message boards.
For a little while.
It’s amazing what you
get used to. The first year was hard—a series of barf-inducing shocks—but after
that, I only noticed because I felt obligated to.
After that first girl
blinked out of existence, I wrote down as much as I could remember about her,
hoping I’d see her again and confirm my suspicion that it was a mirage, a side
effect of overindulging the night before. But I didn’t. When the second one
happened, I was sure I was nuts. I scrawled pages and pages in my journal
trying to connect the dots of my past to reveal what my parents had done to me
that would lead to such insanity. Three makes a pattern, though, and I eventually
realized that I wasn’t suffering from sudden-onset prosopagnosia (thanks,
WebMD). I was compiling evidence. With each successive event, I dutifully
logged the abductee’s physical description, location, activity, and other
pertinent details in a notebook I carried everywhere. If this was real, the
world needed a record of whatever it turned out to be—proof that these humans
once existed, even if it was flimsy at best.
But aside from that? Not
much changed. I got up, went to work, had lunch, messed around online, went
home, ate dinner, binged Netflix, went to bed too late, got up in the morning
and did it all again. Just like before.
Don’t judge me. What
else was I supposed to do? I’m not a quantum physicist or an investigative
journalist. I don’t even believe in aliens. I’m an accountant. A normal guy who
tried to warn people about the disappearances but got laughed out of offices,
chat rooms, and bars. A guy whose best friend ghosted him because his apartment
was covered in blurry photos and increasingly illegible sticky notes.
I’m not a hero.
Five years in is when things started getting bad. The city had lost over half its population, and it showed. Restaurants closed with linens and cutlery laid out for evening service. Students showed up to classes with no teachers. Trash pickup stopped. Power outages started. But despite the inconvenience and the growing stink, those that remained continued as if nothing had changed. Each person that disappeared was smoothed over by time and space leaving not even a memory behind. The barista still smiled and asked about my tropical fish, and I still grinned back and told her they were a pain in the ass but too expensive to flush down the toilet. At night, I went back to my rent-free apartment (thanks, disappeared landlord) and pored through my journals by candlelight, speculating about what had happened to these missing people—now numbering in the millions, maybe billions.
And when it would be my
It’s weird to have FOMO
about what amounts to an extinction-level event. I had no idea what had
happened to everyone, but my theories ran the gamut from “actually abducted by
aliens and getting a serious probing” to “slow-motion rapture” and everywhere
in between. None of them were something I wanted to participate in.
One day, I walked into
the corner café to find it empty. The barista had vanished. I stood among the
dusty tables blinking at where she had been for the past five years in defiance
of the cosmic weirdness happening around her. I hadn’t realized until that
moment how much of a fixture she’d become in my life. While everyone else
phased out of existence, she was always right there.
I turned in a slow circle,
scanning the street outside through the huge windows. Trash was piled so high
it leaned on parked cars covered in tickets. Storefronts were long since gated.
Nothing moved except a newspaper caught in the breeze. Time spooled out in a
long, unbroken thread as I strained my eyes for any sign of human life. But
there was none.
Panic rising, I fished
my phone from my pocket and opened my contacts list. It had taken me a while to
notice the entries being erased, but it had started happening faster and
faster, whittling five hundred names down to dozens in a rapid purge of
That morning, I’d had ten contacts left. Now, there were none.
That’s when I broke.
You’d think it would have happened earlier. When I realized I wasn’t insane and this was really happening, for instance, or when my brother disappeared in the middle of a family dinner and everyone kept eating. There were thousands of reasons to utterly lose it practically every day. But I never did. Because I knew—absolutely knew—that there would be an answer. That the disappearing would stop or somebody smarter than me would fix it. That one day every missing person would pop back into existence and we could laugh about it (after a while). I’d held on to the unwavering belief that this too, would pass.
But as I sank to the floor of the abandoned coffee shop, the tears finally flowed, pooling around my face as laid my head on the ground.
All gone. All of them. Gone. Everyone. Except me.
It was dark when I woke up. My eyes were gritty from crying, and my legs were numb from passing out in child’s pose. I rolled over, blinking away the blur and willing my feet to move. I lifted a heavy arm to check the time on my phone, but the battery had died. I wondered how long it would be until the world’s power went out permanently. How long until I lost my grip on sanity, alone without the Internet?
A rattle from the door behind me startled a yelp from my throat. I cursed the pins and needles in my legs as I wrestled my body underneath a table to hide. I balled up and held my breath, eyes straining against the darkness to see who—or what—was coming. I tried not to imagine how many tentacles, arms, and eyes they would have.
Old-fashioned bells jangled as the door opened. “Hello?” said a round shadow. “Is someone in here?”
The shadow reached out and flicked a switch. The overhead lighting snapped on, flooding the room and blinding me. It was only for a second, but when I could see again, a pair of legs stood inches from my hiding spot.
“Matt? Is that you? Why are you on the floor?”
The voice was human, too, I realized. And familiar.
Curiosity overrode self-preservation. I risked peeking out from the safety of the table and looked up into the concerned face of Amy, the barista.
I shot up on wobbly legs
to throw my arms around her in an embrace usually reserved for life preservers.
She laughed awkwardly, “Hey! Okay! Good to see you, too,” and patted my back.
I let her go, then stood
back to marvel at her existence. “You didn’t disappear,” I observed. I knew it
was stupid—I’d had this same conversation with her a hundred times over the years
with no result—but I said it anyway.
Instead of her usual eye
roll, though, this time she smiled and said, “I did.” Then she gestured at the
early-morning customers trickling into the café. “We all did.”
Within minutes, I was
surrounded by people. Real human beings with purses and Bluetooth and hangovers
and BO. People that had slipped out of my life one by one without a trace. They
were all staring at me. I stared right back.
I tried to ask all my
pent-up questions at once—what happened, where are we, did we die, is this a
dream or an alternate dimension or the darkest timeline—but nothing came out. Tears
of relief choked off the words.
I had made it. After
years of wondering and worrying, I was finally here. I didn’t know where “here”
was, but I didn’t care. All that mattered was that I wasn’t the last person on
Earth anymore. That I didn’t have to spend the rest of my life going slowly
insane asking why not me. I was with people again, and that meant I was home.
Amy touched my arm
lightly, her eyes sparkling with an excitement I didn’t understand.
“We’ve been waiting for
you,” she said. “Now we can get started.”