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

Saturday, July 12, 2003

There are qualities which can be strained -- humor, compassion, even simple attention. There are qualities which are unstrainable -- honor, sexiness, learning. And there are qualities which are not strained, of which mercy is the greatest. From mercy we give thanks, and for mercy we give prayer.

Friday, July 11, 2003

God is in the heavens, His body composed of an infinite number of nebulae and quasars, His thoughts the very cosmic rays that infuse us all. But most interesting is His mouth, from which the Word issued forth when there was only the spirit and the waters. His lips are made of stars, which men call "astrolabes."

Thursday, July 10, 2003


I get it in my head to rob the noctilucent lady of her jacket. I want it for the status it'll give me. Move out of my dumpster and into a plastiform crate in Slinkertown, maybe. Sleep in on Wednesdays, instead of packing up my grutt and slipping out into the feral streets at the first rumblings of the autlec truck.

I plan to do it with a plastic laser pistol I found while cleaning out gutters for CityMind. Vending machines spit out the pistols for a few shekels; they're good for three shots and then they're scrap. Bangers like them, but mostly they're for dueling. My pistol is cobalt blue and sleek and cool to the touch. It has one shot left in it. A little red dot flares above the barrel when I hold it in my hand, gunspeak for "Look out, motherfuggers. This thing is loaded."

With the pistol in my pocket, I hunt the noctilucent lady down alleys as she forages for lumies; neon food wrappers, reflective paint, shattered holodiscs, fluorescing fish scales. Each lumie she finds, she fastens to her jangle jacket. When I was young and dumb, I thought her body secreted the stuff, like a snail and its shell. I thought she was special.

She isn't hard to follow, lit up like that. You can see her coming from a block away. A bright speck that grows and grows until it becomes the sun.

I wait until she's tired and looking for a hole to crash in. She settles into the doorway of a decaying concrete prefab. Yellow warning tape flutters from the busted out windows on the ground floor, and something pungent and sweet wafts out from within. My stomach knots up like a contortionist-whore at the smell of it. I have the drizzles again, and anything I eat comes right back up anyway, so I've stopped trying. It's humid here, and too warm. CityMind's confused again. I'm sweating.

Her eyes are closed when I walk up. I palm the pistol and it makes a ready squeak. The noctilucent lady opens her eyes to the last thing she'll ever see.

"Sunny," she croaks. "Did ya bring me some lumies, Sunny?"

"No." I tilt my head to the gun which is leveled at her head. No damage to the jacket this way.

"Oh." She sighs, and closes her eyes again.

When it's done, the jacket comes off easily while she's still limp. One of the hardest things I've ever done was steal the shirt from a stiff, but this one comes off smooth. The inside is lined with sweat-stained velvet. I remember this jacket, before it was covered in glowing bits of junk, before CityMind went mad and everything turned to shit. I put it on and stare at myself in a puddle of muddy water. I look like an x-ray, glowing bones and no soul.

By the time the sun rises, I've stripped every lumie off the outside of the jacket. I'm not going to be the noctilucent man.

I'm just going to be a kid, wearing his dead mother's old coat.

(Today's story word by guest author JeremyT)

Wednesday, July 09, 2003
Today Story Words is dedicated to the idea of found literature. In this case, the "Inflation Instructions" that accompanied a beach ball imprinted with a map of Mars, by dint of a simple change of title, have become a transcendent meditation on human sexuality and the ancient arts of love. Original diction and punctuation has been retained.

"How to Make Love to a Man"

1. For best results. Inflate by blowing into valve with mouth only.

2. Do not over-inflate. Do not attempt to remove every wrinkle from inflatable.

3. Where there are multiple sections inflate slowly, allowing air to seep into smaller sections.

4. Pinch valve at base with fingers and insert plug into valve opening.

5. Press closed valve into inflatable so that it is flat with the surface.

Caution: Do not inflate with air compressor or any high pressure hose at filling station. Do not jerk on valve stem.

Not a Life Saving Device

Maintenance and Deflation

1. Do not drag over sharp objects or surfaces.

2. Avoid contact with hot or sharp objects.

3. To clean, rinse in lukewarm water and air dry.

4. Warning: the inflatables must have room temperature before they are inflated because you may otherwise risk a temperature shock and can become defect.

Tuesday, July 08, 2003

Fibres fibbing about five and dime failures often fibrillate.

Monday, July 07, 2003

As the most talented maker of aromatherapies in the tri-kingdom area, my father enjoys a certain status, but he is a sadistic man. He generally feasts with the nobles who employ his nose-pleasing nostrums, leaving my brothers and I to eat crackers sprinkled with bacon-fat stolen from next door. Father taunts us by making concoctions that smell of beet-and-kidney pie, liver-and-lights stew, brain-and-tongue casserole -- and yet, when we run into the kitchen, we inevitably find that his latest dish is all smell and no substance, nothing but extracts and oils mixed in a pot. Today, before father's meeting with the warlike King from two nations down the river, my brothers and I have switched his sealed bottle of aromatic healing with a potion of our own, one made of dung and armpit extract. Becoming orphans won't improve our mealtime prospects much, but at least we won't continue smelling feasts so far beyond our prospects.

(Today's Story Word by guest author TimP.)

Sunday, July 06, 2003

Pens and pencils often breed in the dark spaces at the back of desk drawers. Sometimes they birth paperclips, sometimes they birth staples, sometimes they have a happy genetic accident and interpentrate fully to create a functional word processor. All of which is to say, leave the caps on the pens so they can practice safe lex.

  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.