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

Thursday, August 21, 2003
Hiatus, again

I'm teaching at the Strange Horizons workshop this weekend at the Oregon coast, and will be out of touch for several days. Watch for a new Story Word Sunday night or Monday morning.



Finial was a young man when he was touched by the gods. Their fingers were as iron, their breath sulfuric with the stinks of the lower Earth, and they reached for him the way a child reaches for a sweet, only to have it snatched by another, then a third. Each brush of divine skin robbed Finial of his years, each rush of divine breath robbed Finial of his strength, until he was left weakened and old, like some veteran of a war long forgotten. Finial's mother placed him in a corner and let him breathe out his last there, ornament and warning both to his family and friends: Never let yourself be blessed, for between a blessing and curse there is but a hair's breadth of intention.

Wednesday, August 20, 2003
Sclerotic Exiguity

The HMS Sclerotic Exiguity had drifted for days on the gelid water. The ship was scant of supplies, the crew so taken with hunger and thirst that most had forgotten even their names. Cappan, the last surviving officer, clung to the stern rail and stared into the setting sun. Even the daystar seemed diminished, cooled to nothing more than a heated stone hung in the sky by a childish God long since called in for dinner.

"What is left, sir," asked Deckhand. He gnawed on the second knuckle of his right pinkie finger, the first long since gone.

"Nothing," Cappan answered, his eyes glowing as dim as the sun. The water around the ship seemed to be setting with the sun, slowly turning to another species of stone, clear as quartz, firm as granite, the temperature of a dead man's skin.

"What will we do?"

"Nothing." The sun hit the horizon with an audible click, sending great, slow shivers across the desert in which the ship was trapped.

"What will become of us?"

"We shall back into story," whispered Cappan, who was becoming as translucent as the vanishing sea.

("Sclerotic Exiguity" courtesy of JohnC by way of JedH.)

Tuesday, August 19, 2003

Blessed are the cheesemakers, for they shall show us the whey. Far from the madness of curds, they skim wisdom from life and allow milk solids to settle. When in doubt, tryomancy.

Monday, August 18, 2003
Still Waters

Deep in the mind of World lies a quiet pool, unvisited save by blind lizards and the tiny bats that clean World's mental lint. It is flat as glass, without a ripple, and reflects nothing.

Once in a generation -- World's generations, which are to the lifetimes of men as men's generations are to the lifetimes of damselflies -- a Hero comes calling. This Hero might be a great woman of the Rat People, or a young stallion from the plains of Hyperborea, but in our generation, the Hero was a befuddled mushroom hunter from Fentress, Texas.

"What's this?" she asked, her voice echoing flat off dank walls hidden close by in the darkness.

Nothing, said World.

The mushroom hunter walked until her feet were wet, then bent to feel the pool. The still waters rippled from her tread and her hand. Each ripple sent a ripple through the mind of World.

I am yours to change, said World.

"What would I want to change?" asked the mushroom hunter.

Pestilence, famine, war, death.

The mushroom hunter thought for a while. "I don't think so."



After a while, the ripples faded with one last sigh of the still waters. World had lost their chance.

Sunday, August 17, 2003
Pruritic Uticarial Papules and Plaques of Pregnancy

Sometimes a heroic effort requires heroic recognition. A woman births a child, she gets a certificate. A woman births an idea, she gets a patent. A woman births a nation, well nothing will do but a plaque. That's where the Pruritic Uticarial Papules and Plaques of Pregnancy come into play. Nothing recognizes a star contributor like red marks and running sores on the abdomen! Ask any gravid granny of your acquaintance and learn more today.

("Pruritic Uticarial Papules and Plaques of Pregnancy" courtesy of the ever-pregnant MEL. Yes, it's a real phrase.)

  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.