Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Mid-Week Flash Challenge - Week 226 - The Darkening


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This story is for Miranda Kate's weekly flash challenge. She posts an image as an inspirational prompt for writing a story. This is from Miranda's post:
This week's picture prompt is from Italian photographer Sergio Pessolano. This is a salt flat in Bolivia - Salar de Uyuni. Sergio calls this 'Just Salt'. He also suggests that the viewer scroll up and down fast. You should see light/shadow changing, depending on the gamma value of your monitor. 

Here's a link to the prompt image. Sometimes the story makes more sense if you see the prompt image. Or it might not make any sense whether you see it or not. I'll leave that to you. Please note that anyone can join in with a story up to 750 words. Another short one this week. Mine has 356 words for those who are counting.


The Darkening

Marnik lived on the salt flats. He wandered across them, leading his tribe from oasis to oasis, hunting the lizards and small animals that could make a home there, too. They would dig them from their burrows under the salt, drying their flesh beneath the sun. It was a simple life, and the days seldom varied from one to the next.

He had seen the change in the sky a few sun-cycles ago. He didn't understand the meaning at first. He had heard the stories, of course, but had not been alive during the time of the last darkening. When more than a wisp of a cloud hovered in the air, he should have realized what was coming. But the omen was dismissed. Some thought the darkening was nothing more than an old tale told at evening camp to pass the time. Marnik didn't want to believe it, either. 

Now, the clouds were thickening. If the legend was true, water would soon fall from the sky. It was said to happen with every generation, but no one in the tribe remembered it. Perhaps something had changed. It didn't matter now. If the sky-water came before they could reach the great hill, the flats would be covered in brine. It might only be ankle deep, but it would soften, then dissolve, their sandals. The skin on their feet would be next. There would be no place to lay a mat to sleep, no way to dig for food. The water in the oases would go bad.

They marched as fast as they could, guessing the direction as they went. The stars that once guided them had faded. As the morning haze subsided, there was a cheer when the great hill was spotted in the distance. Marnik's people were confused when he did not cheer, too.

Marnik had spent his life guiding the tribe and knew how to judge the deceptive distances through the dancing heat. He understood how long it would take for his tribe to reach the great hill. And the drop of water he felt on his face told him they were already too late.



© 2021 K. R. Smith All rights reserved

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Don't Tell Me What To Do


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But you can give me a hint.


The word "Vote" on a white background. Photo by Cyrus Crossan on Unsplash.
Photo by Cyrus Crossan on Unsplash

I've posted a Twitter poll asking what people would like me to write. At the moment the choices are quite broad: 
  • Poetry/Haiku
  • Fiction
  • Non-fiction
  • Just please stop
If I get enough responses, I'll put out a new poll to ask about genre or format, depending on what folks are interested in. I'm doing this because I'm not sure what sort of writing people might like to see from me and, of what I've done, what do they like.

It doesn’t mean I’ll write exactly what the poll respondents want. If it’s fiction or poetry, I still have to have the idea appear in my brain. And if it’s non-fiction, it has to be something I find interesting. I don’t do political stuff. If that’s what you want, you can find plenty of that on the internet without me adding my two cents. Perhaps folks might prefer I hang up my typewriter altogether! It’s a valid opinion.

So, if you're interested, here's a link to the poll: My Twitter Poll

And if you don't do Twitter, you can  always leave a comment here!


© 2021 K. R. Smith All rights reserved

Thursday, November 4, 2021

Mid-Week Flash Challenge - Week 224


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Flash fiction lightning streak image


This story is for Miranda Kate's weekly flash challenge. She posts an image as an inspirational prompt for writing a story. This is from Miranda's post: This week's photo prompt was taken by Jonathan Steele, an American photographer. He calls it Winter Train. He says: Essex Steam Train passing through Deep River Ct during a snowstorm. (that's Essex in Connecticut in the US).

Here's a link to the prompt image. Please note that anyone can join in with a story up to 750 words. Mine has 351 words for those who are counting, a bit on the short side.


Great Expectations

K. R. Smith

When the nights are cold and the wind is still, sound can travel a long way. You can hear a branch crack under the weight of the ice a mile away. Or the cry of a fox. The whistle of a train on the other side of the valley can sound like it's right next to you. And you heard it again tonight.

You'd expected to, though, hadn't you? But you're never sure quite when. You down a glass of whisky and think, maybe not this time. And just as you start to drift off, it comes, piercing your mind with its shrill blast. So, you put on your coat and boots and walk into a frigid winter's evening.

Remember the time you decided to play it smart, to outwit them all? On that special day, one week before Christmas, you packed a little food in a sack and went down to the station and waited. It's busy, as people are traveling for the holiday. Shivering and shuddering in the snow, feet half frozen, the time dragged on until it was dark. And when you thought you'd finally broken the cycle and decided to head home? That damned whistle blew again.

Still, it's worth it all to see her, even if it's only for a moment. At least you try to convince yourself so.  Sweet and young, beautiful and smiling, she's waiting at the station. You smile back and start to run towards her. Her arms are outstretched, reaching for you as the train arrives, but you can't run fast enough, can you? There's ice and snow on the platform. No matter how many times you try, you're always just a second too late.

She screams as she slips beneath the wheels, then it's all over. In an instant, she's gone. It's all gone. There's no train, no Emily, no crowd waiting to board. It's back to the rusty tracks of a rotting station closed almost twenty years ago.

And what remains is cold silence—except for the crack of a branch or the cry of a fox—until next year.

 
© 2021 K. R. Smith All rights reserved

Friday, October 8, 2021

The First Dollar I Ever Earned


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No, I don't mean that initial greenback I was paid in a previous century. 

Partial image of a United States one-dollar bill. Photo by K. R. Smith.

I'm talking about a monetary milestone for on-line writing, Medium to be precise. While I've sold stories and poems for considerably more, breaking the dollar barrier for web content was a big thing for me.

I've been writing on Medium for a while now, mostly haiku and other poetry with a few flash fiction stories thrown in for good measure. For all my efforts, I had only earned a few pennies through the Medium Partner Program and I had just two followers. I wasn't exactly setting the world on fire. 

Then in August, Medium changed the rules. To stay in the Medium Partner Program, I needed to have 100 followers by the end of 2021. I had been on Medium since July of 2020 and had garnered only two. Doing a quick calculation, I determined it would require a bit over fifty years to reach that goal at my current pace. Although I figured this was the end of my time on Medium, I could understand their reasoning. It probably cost more than a penny to pay me that penny every month. My slow-and-steady plan was not going to cut it. 

Still, I wanted my pennies. I wasn't sure what to do. The chances of reaching 100 followers by year's end seemed slim and none. Then, two events took place, rather serendipitously. 

The first was the Medium Writer's Challenge. I'm sure the folks at Medium sent me an e-mail about it. I'm also sure I ignored it. It wasn't until writer Terri Deno mentioned she was entering that I decided to take a look. There wasn't a lot of time left in the contest, but I wrote articles for three of the four categories. I didn't get any new followers, but I did get a lot more people reading my stories and my earnings soared. By "soared" I mean that instead of pennies, I was up into nickel and dime range. All three of my contest articles had been selected for what Medium calls "further distribution." This means they promote the story to other readers. Without this, you're basically hoping someone stumbles over your writing and reads it. This limited success pushed me to write more articles and stories for Medium.

The second  event was a post by JL Matthews titled Who Needs 100 Followers? He said that if you had less than 100 followers to leave a comment on the article and he would follow back and encourage others to do the same. He was an interesting writer, so I did. 

That's when it all started to snowball. The people in the responses started to look at each other and follow other writers there. Within a few weeks, I had over 60 followers. I reviewed these and followed back almost all of them. There were a good number of interesting articles by these folks and I will need to go back and do a bit of reading!

My next step was to search for and follow writers who had similar interests. I found and followed them. Many of them followed back. And quite a few others followed me on their own. Some of these I followed back, too. I'm not on Medium to get into politics or to promote someone's personal cause du jour, so I didn't follow them all, yet I was soon above the Medium Partner Program cutoff number. I went from 2 to over 130 in a single month (I'm currently at 155). And I've learned a few things from the articles I've been able to read from my new followers (unless you're a paying member, you get three free reads per month). I think this will work out well.

Most amazing of all was that I not only earned my first dollar on Medium, but my second as well.

Chart from Medium showing I had earned $2.15 for September.

Whether or not I can continue (or perhaps increase) this earnings pace remains to be seen. But it is nice to know I have the chance. I'll have to keep writing there to keep up reader interest, but I've never had a case of writer's block in my life. So, I'll keep at it for a while and see how things go.

I don't know if Medium is where I need/want to be long-term, but now I have a reason to give it a try. Maybe in another year I'll have a better idea where to concentrate my efforts. I want to try Kindle Vella. And I continue to work on my flash fiction collection (albeit at a glacial rate). And I need to get back to doing artwork. And my guitar hasn't been picked up in how many months? 

So, yes, there's a lot going on. But it's nice to have options.


© 2021 K. R. Smith All rights reserved

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Organic Gardening


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Flash fiction lightning streak image

This story is for Miranda Kate's weekly flash challenge. She posts an image as an inspirational prompt for writing a story. This is from Miranda's post:
This week's picture prompt was a photograph taken by someone called @hasmodia on instagram. In the link to their IG page, it takes you the shot of the whole tree. It's quite extraordinary as the image has not been altered and it is exactly as they found it.  

Here's a link to the prompt image. It's been a while since I've had time to do one of these, so when the story popped into my brain, I quickly wrote it down before I was distracted by other obligations. Horror, for sure.

Please note that anyone can join in with a story up to 750 words. Mine has 659 words (not including the title) for those who are counting.


Organic Gardening

K. R. Smith

"So, tell me. What do you think?"

"Oh, Joshua, this place is amazing! I've never seen trees like this. Some of them even look like they have faces. And this glade! The moss, the flowers—it's so lovely."

"You know, Miriam, somehow I knew you would like it here. I suppose being an artist you can appreciate the forms, the shapes, the colors."

"I could spend months just drawing and painting them."

"Well, let me spread the blanket out. We can have our lunch here and enjoy their beauty. I have some bread and cheese," Joshua said, holding up a basket. "And a small bottle of wine."

With the blanket unfurled and the basket opened, the couple sat together. Joshua opened the wine and poured some for them both.

"I do apologize. I only brought paper cups. I didn't want to risk breaking glasses on our little hike."

"I'm sure they'll do."

"Not quite as romantic, though."

"I probably shouldn't drink at all," she said, taking a sip. "You know how it makes me sleepy." Miriam looked up at the branches swaying in the breeze. "Has this land always been in your family?"

"As far back as I can trace. But this particular spot is special. I try to take care of it as best I can. I only share its beauty with those who can appreciate it—and are beautiful, too."

Joshua brushed a dangling lock of coppery hair away from Miriam's face, leaned over, and kissed her.

"Perhaps you're the one who's had too much wine. You're getting a bit bold, aren't you?"

Joshua grinned and replied, "Perhaps."

"It does makes me wonder if I'm the first girl you've brought to this glade."

Joshua sighed and said, "I suppose I should be truthful. There was one other. But that was years ago. She really didn't understand this place. I don't think she could see the forest for the trees, if you know what I mean."

"I suppose. Were you in love with her?"

"I thought so. But I was young—and foolish. There was so much I didn't understand then."

"About what?"

"Oh, everything. The world, her, this land—even myself."

"But now you're all grown up?"

"Well, I'm older," Joshua laughed. "Still a bit foolish. I guess that's why I kissed you."

Miriam took another sip then licked her lips. "I didn't mind."

"Would you like more?"

Miriam blushed.

"No, I meant the wine," Joshua said, holding up the bottle.

"Oh, my!" Miriam giggled. "I think I misunderstood. Which means I've probably had more than enough." She paused for a moment. "Wine, that is."

"I could use something to eat."

"Yes, I think that would be a good idea." Miriam looked up into the branches again. "They almost look alive. More so than just trees, I mean. The wind makes them appear to be moving, doesn't it?"

"It does," he replied while cutting slices of bread from the loaf. "Perhaps they're as excited to see you as I am."

"You have had too much to drink, flattering me like that! I have to admit, though—this wonderful place—I could stay here forever."

"And so you shall."

Miriam looked directly at Joshua. "Did you just ask me to—"

Her sentence was cut short by the blade in Joshua's hand that had found its mark across her slender neck. As Miriam's life oozed away, he took a bite of cheese. The leaves above them shook. He walked to a tree a short distance away where a shovel and an axe where hidden, having been leaned against the far side of its trunk. He returned to Miriam with both. As he raised the axe over her body, the branches waved to-and-fro, and more than the gentle breeze could muster.

"All right, just calm down. We're all hungry here. I know it's been a long time since you were properly fertilized, but there's still work to do."



© 2021 K. R. Smith All rights reserved

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

The Business of the Arts is Rebounding


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Perhaps you've wondered how the arts are recovering from the depths of the pandemic. Or, if you've noticed a rebound, were curious as to how much it has been able to spring back.

Fortunately, the U.S. government does gather some data on this. They are collected by the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), a part of the U. S. Department of Commerce. The unfortunate part (if you're a writer or media artist) is that BEA groups arts, entertainment, spectator sports, and even gambling together. That makes it difficult to extract data for your particular area of interest.

From the BEA website:

Arts, entertainment, and recreation (71) includes performing arts, spectator sports, museums, and related activities (711AS); and amusements, gambling, and recreation industries (713). Establishments in this industry produce, organize, and promote live presentations; as well as operate facilities related to sports, recreation, amusement, gambling; and other amusement or recreation services. NAICS 711-712 are included in industry 711AS.

NAICS stands for the North American Industry Classification System which is used by U. S. Government statistical agencies to identify, track, and report activities by industry.

From the following graph, you can see that the gross output of arts, entertainment, and recreation has not yet matched pre-pandemic values, but have increased by about $100 billion since their low point and appear to be trending upwards. Nominal Gross Output* stood at $248.4 billion at the end of 1st quarter of 2021 (last date statistics are currently available). Chained dollars (orange line) are adjusted for inflation based on a base year, currently 2012.


Source: U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, [“BEA Industry Facts,”] news release (Jun 24 2021 12:00AM), https://apps.bea.gov/industry/factsheet/factsheet.cfm?IndustryId=7.


You can use their interactive tables for GDP (Gross Domestic Product) to eliminate the gambling and recreational portion, but that is about as detailed as you can get. You can see, however, that the numbers are going up since the dark days of 2020. That's a hopeful sign. You can also see that this is smaller than the amount designated as
gambling and recreational. Gambling is big business these days.


  • Source: U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, “Industry Economic Account Data: GDP by Industry,” https://apps.bea.gov/iTable/iTable.cfm (accessed [August 25, 2021]).


You can also see that the Value Added* by the arts, entertainment, and recreation industries is recovering, though not as much as one might hope.

Source: U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, [“BEA Industry Facts,”] news release (Jun 24 2021 12:00AM), https://apps.bea.gov/industry/factsheet/factsheet.cfm?IndustryId=7.


What does all this say to the small writer, artist, or poet?

It does show that the arts industry is recovering, but still has a long way to go. It is trending upwards by all measures, so things look to be getting better for those working in the arts. The numbers won't include everything, however. If you have a tiny income from the arts, it may not be reflected in the data as there are cut-offs where small businesses are not required to report. Some of this may be brought in through other channels, but it doesn't pull in all of the numbers from the gig economy. And that can be substantial.

The fact that the entire industry seems to be recovering should be looked upon as an optimistic sign. In a few months, we can check the number again to see if the trend continues.



Notes:

* Nominal Gross Output is defined as the value of the goods and services produced by the nation’s economy. It is principally measured using industry sales or receipts, including sales to final users (GDP) and sales to other industries (intermediate inputs).

** Value Added is defined as the gross output of an industry less its intermediate inputs. It is the contribution of an industry to gross domestic product (GDP). Value added by industry can also be measured as the sum of compensation of employees, taxes on production and imports less subsidies, and gross operating surplus.



© 2021 K. R. Smith All rights reserved

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Just A Little Bit Of News


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Although I was hoping to have an update on the X6 anthology, I'm still waiting on the publisher. I have a story and a poem in this one, but I'm starting to have doubts it will see the light of day. I sent an e-mail to the editor asking if she'd heard anything about the anthology's status, but she hadn't. She did forward my e-mail to the publisher. I'm still waiting. Sadly, I have a tendency to submit stories to publishers who take forever to get a book together and finally published. Perhaps being a bit more prudent in where I send my stories might be good idea.


In the meantime, I'm working on a story for Kindle Vella, which is a serialized format that Amazon is trying out. Think of Vella as Wattpad on steroids. My tale will be a fantasy story about an orphaned girl searching for information regarding her parents. As curiosity often does, it gets her into bit of trouble when she asks an old woman for help—an old woman who some people think is a witch.

Part of this endeavor is to see if writing in a serialized format is something I can do (and like). It does have its differences from short stories or novellas. You have to keep the reader engaged at the end of each episode to bring them back for the next. 

At the moment, Amazon only has a dedicated Vella app for iOS (Apple), but you can also view Vella stories on your PC at the Vella website. And it's only for United States readers.

If you'd like to see how Vella works, you can try reading the new romance story by Terri Deno called Verses and Vows. She's just put the 6th episode out there with more to come. Disclaimer: I'm letting Terri go first to figure out all the problems when publishing on Vella so when I do it the process will be easier.

That's all I have for now. I'll try to post updates a bit more often if for no other reason than to let people know I'm still alive!


© 2021 K. R. Smith All rights reserved

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Upcoming X6 Anthology (Wait for it...)


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Note: This is a re-post of a public Patreon post concerning a story and poem I have in an upcoming anthology. There are some folks who still check for my updates here, so I thought I'd add make it easier for those who do.




Yes, that's what I've been doing for some time now. Let me explain.

If you've read my earlier post, you know I've had a story and a poem accepted for publication for quite a while now. And while the X6 anthology in which they will appear is not out yet, it is moving along. Slowly.

But the cover is now available! 

Allow me to pause here to give a woo-hoo.

WOO-HOO!

Okay, thanks.

So, without further ado, here is the cover.



Yes, this is the full cover - front, back, and spine. My name is on the fourth line where the authors are listed. I have to say, it is a step up in quality from previous Thirteen O'Clock Press / Horrified Press covers. I hope that's a good sign.

I'm not sure the stories 'defy definition' as the blurb states, however - they were just left over or didn't fit into one of the themed anthologies. That may not be a bad thing. There should be a lot of variety here, so the reader won't get tired of yet another zombie, vampire, serial killer, etc., story halfway through.

So, that's where it all stands at the moment. I'll let you know when it is available!



© 2021 K. R. Smith All rights reserved

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Standing At The Crossroads


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Like many authors and artists, I have a presence on social media. And while the term social media may be an oxymoron, it's what we have to work with. 

And so, I'm here. And there. And wondering if I should be over that way instead. 

I have a Blogger blog. You already know that, of course, because that's where this is posted. I also have a Patreon account. And I do stuff on Medium. And Twitter. I also have a website. I would think that's more than enough.

The problem is that I can't seem to figure out which one people prefer. 

I had been posting to Patreon for a while with little success when I started up Medium. That seemed to be taking off like gangbusters. So, I concentrated my efforts there. Of course, the traffic promptly dried up. In the meantime, Patreon started drawing a (tiny) crowd even though I hadn't posted there for some time. Seeing that, I posted more on Patreon. Within days, of course, there was a slight uptick on my Blogger blog as Patreon visits waned. It makes no sense to me. Perhaps there's some weird quantum entanglement thing going on. Not that there are ever many visitors to my humble blog. But the increase was enough to notice. Unfortunately, it didn't last.

In addition, I have a website. Now I know it isn't a very exciting website, but I thought it might gather a few visits. As of the last time I checked, only four places on Earth registered as having visitors to my site. One was where I live. I expected that as I look at the site to see if updates went as planned. One of the other three was Wuhan, China, which is somewhat disturbing....

As for my Blogger blog, I can't say I've drawn a lot of interest based on the numbers I see. I have posted a few stories here lately. I want to keep the blog active as I try to figure out where I want to focus my social media efforts. I know it needs a refresh at minimum or, perhaps, a complete redesign. While I have tried to simplify the layout, neither of those other tasks are going to be completed in the near future (too much other stuff going on right now).

To summarize, there is a whole lot of mediocre going on here. If you have a suggestion as to which direction to take, pass it on!



The photo on this page is by Javier Allegue Barros on Unsplash.


© 2021 K. R. Smith All rights reserved 

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Northern Enlightenments


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Flash fiction lightning streak image

This story is for Miranda Kate's weekly flash challenge. She posts an image as an inspirational prompt for writing a story. This is from Miranda's post: This image is from a Bookings.com website, advertising a holiday home called Bø Huset in Bø, Sortland in the Vesterålen Region of Norway - Fjords country. The holiday house is hosted by Michelle Edelman, who I am assuming (until she responds to my email) is the person who took this stunning shot. 

Here's a link to the prompt image. Please note that anyone can join in with a story up to 750 words. Mine has 602 words for those who are counting.


Northern Enlightenments

K. R. Smith

It was cold, perhaps the coldest night of the year. The sky was clear. The air was still. That was good—at least for Jake. With no wind, he could hear footsteps a long way off. 

Jake had followed the tracks before and knew where to be for a good shot. He nestled in as best he could behind a fallen tree to hide his presence. His rifle rested in the crook of a branch. Everything was in place. 

It was difficult to keep his breathing under control. The frigid air, the excitement, even his thoughts worked against him. One well-placed shot would bring fame and fortune. Most of all, it would bring respect. The doubters, the ones who had laughed, would be silenced. Jake knew his job and he did it well. It was only a matter of time—if he could a steady hand.

It seemed an eternity until his eyes spotted movement among the trees. He turned on his night-vision goggles. The heat signature was clear. This was not a bear or a moose; it walked on two legs.

Soon the target was close enough to see using the dim light of the stars and the auroras that slithered above. Jake strained to keep the quarry in sight among the brush. Then, it stopped. Had he been spotted?

He watched through the scope of his rifle, trying to breath slowly. The sight line was not clear; he couldn't risk a shot. 

The target began to move again, making its way to a small knoll. It couldn't be more perfect. Instead of standing, however, the target sat down, mostly obscured by brush. Jake cussed quietly under his breath and waited. 

After a while, all movement stopped. In the dim light, he couldn't tell what was going on. Was what he saw really the target or had his prey somehow eluded him again? Jake turned the night-vision goggles on again. The image was just a blob; there was nothing identifiable at which to aim. The target was there, but huddled too close to the ground.

Jake waited for a while longer, but the situation remained unchanged. He knew he had to make a move.

As slowly as possible, he got his legs under him, eventually reaching a kneeling position. He was in luck; the prey was facing slightly away from him. Jake prayed his target's peripheral vision wasn't very good. He raised his rifle, centering the crosshairs on the body. 

With his finger hovering over the trigger, he was puzzled that his target seemed to sit motionless, the head tilted back. It made no sense. Why?

Jake looked upward, just as his quarry was doing. Above him, luminous colors danced, weaving to-and-fro in a mesmerizing display. It was more magnificent than any aurora he'd ever experienced. When a huge burst of color brightened the landscape, Jake heard a murmur of approval from the brushy knoll. He watched the shimmering lights for a while, then studied his intended victim. He flipped the safety on and propped his rifle against a stump. 

He leaned back against a tuft of grass and lit a cigarette. The light startled the creature, which stood and faced him. Jake pointed to the sky. It made a grunt, shook its huge fingers towards the heavens in response, then sat back down to enjoy the glowing exhibition.

There was going to be a lot of crow to eat, for sure. The fame and fortune he'd dreamed of disappeared into the darkness. But whatever this thing was—sasquatch, yeti, bigfoot—it didn't matter; he couldn't destroy something that understood beauty.



© 2021 K. R. Smith All rights reserved

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Leveraged Buyout


Just a reminder: It’s okay to leave comments!

This story is for Miranda Kate's weekly flash challenge. This is from Miranda's post:

This week's picture prompt was taken by Austrian photographer Ernst Haas. This is New York in 1952. 

Here's a link to the prompt image.

I went sort of semi-noir with this prompt. Miranda allows or 750 words; I used 472 of them. I decided to put this one on Blogger since I haven't posted much here lately. And I used an image from Unsplash for my post.

The ending may be ambiguous for some, but I'll let the reader fill that in as they like.



Leveraged Buyout

by K. R. Smith

 

Image of man in the city wearing a fedora.

Photo by Craig Whitehead on Unsplash            

 

As far as Malcom could see, there was only one other a man on the street. He sat in a chair on the sidewalk, his hat pulled down and his collar turned up against the chill of a January wind.

"How's it going?" Malcom asked.

The man on the chair looked up enough to show his eyes, but said nothing.

"I'm a friend of Charles. Are you James?"

"Maybe," the man said while glancing up and down the street. "And what does a friend of Charles want?"

"He said you might have some merchandise I'd be interested in."

"He did, did he?"

"Yeah, I'm redecorating. Thought I'd pick up some white stuff."

"Perhaps I can be of service."

"How much?"

"Fifteen."

"Fifteen bucks? I don't need it gold-plated. I was thinking half that, or a little more, at most."

"Maybe last year. This is nineteen and fifty-two, man. New year, new price. I got a lot of business expenses to cover."

"I'll bet."

The man shrugged. "That's the price."

"Well, I ain't got that kinda dough. I don't suppose you could spot me a few bucks?"

The man in the chair just gave him a stare that said no.

"Look, I need this bad," Malcom said through clenched teeth.

"You're free to shop around if you think you can get a better price."

"Yeah, sure. The cops have everyone else hiding in the sewers."

"Maybe you got a friend that could help out."

"Right—all my friends in their lofty social circles…"

The man in the chair turned away, unconcerned.

"Yeah, thanks," Malcom replied to his silence.

He walked away, his head bowed in disturbed thought. Others he passed along the street all seemed to have the same desperate look, their eyes following him, but saying nothing. Malcom ducked into a corner doorway to escape the wind's bite, shaking from the drug missing from his veins. A man passing by stopped in front of him.

"Malcom? Is that you?"

"Shorty?"

"Yeah, man. What are you doing 'round here?"

"I was hoping to do a little shopping, but it seems prices on this side of town are a bit steep. And, let me tell you, I need some stuff bad."

"Tell me about it. I know all your nasty habits. What are they asking?"

"Fifteen."

"Whoa! That's a jump. I guess all the cops performing their due diligence has scared away most of the competition."

"What am I going to do? I can't get that kind of dough. Not right away, at least. Any suggestions?"

"Negotiate."

"My supplier wasn't interested in negotiating."

"Everything's negotiable, man. What sorta leverage ya have?"

"Leverage? Nothing—unless being almost broke counts."

"Okay, then. Just how much cash do you have?"

"Twelve-fifty, total."

Shorty smiled. "That's plenty, Mal."

"How so?"

"I can sell you a revolver for ten."



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Thursday, January 7, 2021

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