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

Saturday, June 21, 2003
Borscht belt

In the days of the Order of Teutonic Knights, life was hard in Poland. When they weren't being ravaged by Boyars they were being pillaged by Teutons. Or vice-versa. Often, all a peasant had left to themself after all the looting and burning was their thick head and two chapped hands. Which led to some unusual fashion chic, including the borscht belt, an accessory made from beet stew. While not particularly successful in its intended role, the borscht belt produced so much unintentional slapstick that the Teutons accidentally rode their plate-mailed selves into a lake and the Boyars laughed their way to embolisms.

Friday, June 20, 2003

The jungle was alive with sound in the dawn light. Dybuk listened to the howler monkeys, chattering at him from the treetops. The smell of smoke had incensed them. He ignored their wails, and turned the brush rat on its spit, allowing the fire to crisp the exposed skin a mouth-watering bronze. Watching it was almost more than he could stand. His stomach rumbled, making him want to rip it off the spit and eat it now. But he reminded himself of a time when, in a haze of half-starved greed, he had eaten bloody caribou; and oh how he had paid for that mistake. No, it was his acumen that made Dybuk wiser than any other man in the Treeman tribe. Unlike them, Dybuk ate the jungle animals, spirit and flesh. It made him strong, swift and wise. His fruit eating brothers were puny and slow next to him.

A twig snapped and Dybuk looked over his shoulder into the dark undergrowth. Six gatherers emerged, their reaping sacks slung about their waists. Their leader, Dybuk’s brother Tlar, stepped forward out of the dark.

“Meat eater,” he whispered.

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

Thursday, June 19, 2003

Tyris thrust his sword again at the pixie -- if you could call this a pixie; it was three feet tall with stunted, buzzing wings, and a thin blue body. Atop the thing’s head were two horns, knobby as an ancient tree, and bent at odd angles. The pixie laughed, a sound like steel striking stone, and turned Tyris’s sword away with its bronze pitchfork. It was foolish to join battle with the beast, so the young prince groped behind him in the near darkness, searching for anything that might be of aid in the large, stone antechamber. He backed away until his hand met the wall...and something else. The pixie fluttered its wings, lifting off from the floor and closing the distance between them in one long bound. Its fanged teeth clicked and its purple tongue darted in and out of its maw. Tyris seized the handle behind him and pulled.

There came the sound of wooden cogs groaning and stone sliding and then Tyris was falling. He collided with the floor, his sword clattering away into the darkness. Then the square of light where he sat began to disappear. He looked up just in time to see the floor tile rotate back into place, the pixie hissing at it, but unable follow. Tyris sat in the velvety darkness, the oubliette silent around him. Well, at least he was away from that pixie.

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

Wednesday, June 18, 2003
Elbow Bend

To pipe or not to pipe, that is the plumber's question. Whether 'tis nobler to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous u-joints, or plant the elbow bend behind the wall where the homeowner will never find it. It is in pipe that we find the world, a rounded metaphor for all that flows in and out, water and waste like the breath of God flowing through the metal and PVC bellows under the skin of the world.

Tuesday, June 17, 2003

Father Cusp bent over his scraggily garden, his tonsured head reddening in the noontime sun. His hand-spade set a rhythm for the jays who sang in the bell tower. It scraped on their up trill and scratched on their down. Sometimes a mockingbird would call from the spruce in the outer bailey, his warbling song a jangle on the jays’ sweet cadence. When that happened, Father Cusp would turn his spade round and cut at the weeds creeping near his watermelon vines. It made the work go faster, pacing with the birds, varying his focus from harrowing to weeding. He let the sweat from his forehead drip onto the raw earth where it drew a speckled black pattern.

The three o’clock bus rolled to a stop at the gates. Its brakes squealed, frightening the birds to silence. Father Cusp stood and wiped the dust from his hands onto the front of his brown robes as six young men climbed off the bus, carrying their compliment of sundries. They wore jeans and buttoned shirts and worldly color. Father Cusp waved them over, and when they neared he placed the hand-spade in one young man’s palm. When the boy drew a breath to speak the Father put a thick finger on his lips, then pointed at the garden. After a moment the jays took up their song once again, and the spade set their rhythm.

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

Monday, June 16, 2003

One of the lesser known Old Testament prophets, Elision mostly practiced a go-along-to-get-along strategy with respect to various Hebrew oppressors, preferring instead to just slide on by.

Sunday, June 15, 2003

"Captain, she cannae take much more of this!"
"Hold her together a few more seconds, Chief. The fate of the Universe hangs on this."
(sigh) "I'll do mae best, sirrh."
"She's gonna blow, sir!"
"Thank you, weapons chief."(zip)
"Helm, bring her to dock."
And so the U.S.S. Enteritis successfully completes another mission at the hands of Captain Jamie T. Sperk.

  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.