Story Words
Very short fiction, written on the fly, from words submitted by readers.
© 2002, 2003, 2004 Jay Lake

Saturday, June 14, 2003

King Card stood on the narrow quay, watching his newest battleship sail out into the bay. In his hand he held a freshly broken bottle of fine wine, delivered only that morning from his family's vineyards. The sweet red dripped onto the lanks at his feet, puddles pooling near his heels. No one spoke; not his brooding guards, nor the gaping mass of peasants crowding the wharf. All eyes watched the ship as its oarsmen pulled against the sea. It made good progress, facing a freshening headwind out of the east. As it neared the cresent of rock which marked an end to the island's land shelf, a small cheer went up from the crowd. But King Card stood silent. This was not the first of his ships to pass that line unscathed. He watched as it rocked over a wall of water, rising up like some beast of wood and wind, only to drop low into a liquid valley as the next swell reared. Then it rose again and settled. A call rang out across the quiet bay, and the oars slipped into the ship. In fits and starts a white sail rose as the ship turned to catch a crosswind.

"Faster, faster," whispered King Card.

Then a woman in the crowd gasped, and another cried out. Card turned his head this way and that, trying to see what had happened, searching the ship sail to keel. At first there was nothing; no sign of the Dread that Sinks. But then he saw it; a thick, membranous tentacle rife with huge suction cups. It spun out of the water, almost lazily, wrapping round the ship's middle, engulfing the pilothouse. In one smooth motion it pulled the ship under, cracking the hull in half like an eggshell.

The master of anchor, a unctuous man of middling age, knelt before the king, his nose near the puddles of wine on the quay.

"'A titan to quail a titan', you said?"King Card's voice was rough as rock.

"My liege, give me the coin to build another and I shall give you an unsinkable vessel.

It shall open that bloody beast like a gourd." "Pray that it can do all that and more," said King Card.

"For you shall be her captain."

("Pilothouse" courtesy of DavidJ, who is also the guest author of this Story Word.)

Friday, June 13, 2003
Spray Starch

In the far future in the Lunar kingdom of Collarring, the King of Collarring will need to inspire his troops. His Generalissima, Button Mary, will walk among them with her Cup of Authority, pouring starch upon their heads. The troops will be soaked and annoyed, and Button Mary will struggle to thread their morale back together, until a young cadet-officer named Plastic Pattie builds a giant atomizer out of spare linear accelerator parts and seven pounds of coffee grounds, allowing her to spray starch the troops in a gentle mist and stiffen everyone's resolve.

Thursday, June 12, 2003
Soffit Vent

Axyl strode through the semidarkness, lithe as a lynx, toward the glimmering glass safe. The Pharaoh's Eye, a peerless black diamond the size of Axyl's palm, seemed to swallow up the cone of light thrown by his electric torch. When he saw it, a deepening shadow in the already dark museum, his heart began to thud in his chest. For long had Axyl Cromber dreamed of this night and long had it eluded him. He stole a quick glance over his shoulder to check on his rope, which dangled from a high overhead soffit vent just wide enough to pass the thin thief's wiry frame. Then he unzipped his backpack, containing the tools of his trade. When he reached inside, his gloved hand encountered something soft and springy. Brown eyes stared up at him from the bag, sparkling in the spill of light. It was Mrs. Drithers, Joy Anne's favorite teddy. Axyl swallowed, the sound of it like the crinkle of a brown bag in his head. Below the bear were all the accoutrements of a young girl's sleepover; 6t jeans, a long sleep shirt, a pair of flipflops and a toothbrush. Axyl sat back on his haunches in the dark, wondering what his daughter might do with a diamond-tipped electric drill and a set of Swedish-made lockpicks.

(by guest author DavidJ)

Wednesday, June 11, 2003

Better not let one
Hit you in the chest

Tuesday, June 10, 2003

Once the black-hulled galleon had been tied off, the puissant captain strode down the gangplank to the wharf. In a voice that brooked no complaint, he said, "Off yer lazy hams, ye lubbers. Stevedores doublequick to the hold or I'll skewer the lot of ya's."

("Stevedores" courtesy of DavidJ, who is also the guest author of this Story Word.)

Monday, June 09, 2003

Many years ago in the tiger-infested land of Mpressa, nigh on to the towering Mountains of Intermediate Shade, the Coulrarch of Mpressa decreed that in order to elevate his folk from poverty (and terror of tigers) a great institute of higher learning should be founded, with a special Department of Education for the training of teachers. As the Mpressans are basically a bunch of clowns, this was not a Normal School. The University of Mpressa Education Department eventually came to be known as UniMpressED, which the tigers were.

("Unimpressed" courtesy of DavidJ.)

  I've been nominated for a Hugo Award for Best Novelette, and for the John W. Campbell, Jr. Award for Best New Writer!
Award info | Me

Read the Hugo-nominated story for free at

Q: What is this?
A: A fiction experiment. Every day, people email me words. At some random point in the day, I pick a word, write a quick story about it on the spot, and post it unedited (except for a quick typo patrol).

Q: What did that word mean?
A: Look it up:

Q: Can I send you a word?
A: You bet. Include a definition if the word is deeply obscure -- or not, if you prefer. Send it to

Q: I've got something to say about this.
A: Click over to the Story Words discussion topic.

Q: Who else is silly enough to do this? I think it's kind of neat.
A: David Jones, for one. Surf over there and check him out. Drop him an encouraging word, too. He's a brave man.
A: Jeremy Tolbert, for another, with his Microscopica project. Likewise show him some love.
A: Jason Erik Lundberg with his Mythologism blog.

Q: You're even cooler than KITT the Knight Rider car. Do you have a mailing list to announce your latest hijinks?
A: Of course I do. What kind of self-promoting, narcissistic writer would I be otherwise? Email me. Occasional mailings regarding stories appearing in print and online, weird stuff in general, and appearances of the Greek Chorus.