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

Saturday, October 18, 2003

Tulle invented the plowe and was accused of plaigarisme by Voltaire. He remains an unsung heroe of English historie, except when he is sung by Ian Anderson, who skirts the issue of Tulle's paste.

Friday, October 17, 2003

Say the word. Let it roll off your tongue. Find the stressed syllable. Is it the third? Or-tho-EP-y. Or the second? The first? The last? Where does the word fall? How does it sound? What does it mean?

Say the word. The sounds will whisper in your ear, wafting up the secret channels inside your head from the buzzing chaos of your throat. Let it haunt your sleep, pursue your dreams, fall from the mouths of birds and dogs and echo in the rumble of distant thunder.

Orthoepy. What is right, after all?

("Orthoepy" courtesy of AnnaH)

Thursday, October 16, 2003

High among the zinc-topped newel posts of the Lower Maid's Empire there lies a forest of adornments little seen by human eyes. Certain hardy explorers venture from time to time to those forbidding precincts, usually with pinsword in one hand and threadspool in the other, dodging always the predatory dustmites and the smiting of the angels of the feather. Some few among them have returned to our civilized lands beneath the runner with fragmentary rumors of the adornments, the crowning jewel of which is said to be the archgrammacian, or 'Chancellor's Knob.'

The Lord of the Third Step has proposed sending a commission of expert academics, along with a phalanx of hunters and guardsmen, to fetch back this alleged archgrammacian, but few have taken up his call to arms. His Ugliness the Noctifex has railed against the expedition from his pulpit, claiming that the newel posts were set in their places by God as a barrier to Man, in order challenge our understanding of the Universe by limiting our perceptions. The Revanchists have counterprotested, but largely that is their ritualistic opposition to the Noctifex rather than any real support for the archgrammacianiatic expedition.

Events are expected to resolve soon with the return of the Seven Heroes from the Desert of Buttons. Quite likely that band of worthies will step forward and claim the Lord's banner, given their tendencies to wretched excess and public demonstrativeness. Whether the archgrammacian is real or merely a product of foetid, altitude-afflicted imaginations remains one of the great questions of our time.

("Archgrammacian" courtesy of AnnaH)

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

Things that have been:

1346, Siege of Calais, France

Beckwurth bound the plague bodies together: two men and a woman. The trek from Dover had been long; delayed by weather and short skirmishes. In that time the bodies had begun to smell; so much so that the grim work kept Beckwurth near vomiting. Still, he had orders. Should he refuse them, the captain would see him bound with these wretched things.

He cut the men first. With his long dagger, he sliced them just below the breastbone then down to the naval. A stench flowed up from them that was foul as rotten potatoes.

When he came to the woman – a straw poppet she was, so thin at death that her flesh was like parchment stretched over angled bone – he could not bring himself to cut her. Instead, he tied her to the bottom so the truth of his insubordination wouldn't show.

"Boy!" said the Captain as he rode up on his strong black stallion. "Have you finished?"

"Aye m'lord," said Beckwurth.

"Then load, and have Crummell fire at my command."

Crummell, a stalwart sergeant in His Majesty's service since before the Captain was suckling at a teat, helped Beckwurth load the bound bodies into the catapult basket.

When it was done, the Captain screamed, "FIRE!" and Crummell shot the plague bodies over the city walls where they would break apart on impact. In a week, maybe two, the black plague would tear down the one thing all of King Edward's might could not; their enemy's will to fight.

Things that are:

2003, Al Diwaniyah, Iraq

Muhammad set the valve to three, which provided just enough flame to keep the mixture boiling, but not so much that it would turn.

"How does this set, brother?" asked Saiyd.

"God willing, it will boil for two more hours, then it cools overnight. After that all it needs is a blasting cap or one of the triggers our brother, Khaled brought down from Mosul.

Saiyd was quiet for a moment, then said, "Can you do it, brother Mohammad?"

Mohammad didn't look at his friend, it wasn't necessary. He lifted his AK-47 and checked the action. It was fit, as was he.

"Allah is the highest. I serve Allah. These American devils have no place in our country," he said.

Saiyd kissed the younger man's cheeks, then held his face as he spoke.

"The camps trained you well, brother. I knew I could trust this task to you. The sarin gas is in a canister under the jeep's back seat. Spray it in the market square, near as many Americans and traitor Iraqi police as possible, then detonate your bomb. Rise to heaven on the flames that banish them to hell.

What will be:

2308, Tycho Advanced Programming Research Facility, Earth's Moon

Miles had crunched out several million lines of code over a year of fiddling with the program on his own time. It wasn't until the last three months, with an investor backing his research, that he acquired eight sem-sent slugs that could run code on their own once they got the basic flow of the overall scheme. In fact, the last week before full product completion was a snap. Miles took leave, but still came into the office everyday. Co-workers assumed he was being his usual cybercrank self, coming into work on his off days because he had no life outside the datarealm.

That was true, to a degree. The lab's datarealm link – a conglomerate of military and university research computers (all of them biotrons now) – was what drew Miles into the office. He hid his work under myriad informational routes and subroutines; these scratching out his electronic footprints like a branch on sand. The biotrons – essentially organic computers originally based off the human brain several decades ago – made short work of the program's final stages. Miles's slugs couldn't begin to compare. When it was done, he was alone in his office at 0011 hours. He called his contact through an anti-trace line.

"Good morning, Mr. Ashton," said Miles when the man's face appeared in perfect 3D holo above the desk.

"I trust you have good news," said Ashton, his face denoting no hint of either anticipation or worry.

"It's done."

"And you're certain this virus works?"

"Beyond certain. Translation from code to actual, living virus is nearly instantaneous. Every human in the solar system with DADAEL enhanced body parts will have this plague within hours."

"And will it kill? I don't want a lot of sick people who can still get their minds and machines running again."

"Yes sir, it will kill within forty-eight hours. I guarantee it."

"What about non-enhanced people?"

"No effect. It is one hundred percent non-communicable except through computer contact. It's just what you're organization ordered. Death to all computers and to all computer enhanced people. Anyone that has never been biotech enhanced will be safe."

"Good. I'll arrange passage for you back to earth tomorrow. Bring the program. Anyone off the planet won't be coming home without computer-assisted guidance systems."

"Send me the instructions, I'll be there."

("Dadael" and Story Word courtesy of DavidJ)

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

One of the minor Greek philosophers, Vastidites was known primarily for his advocacy of wretched excess as a path to enlightment. He held that spiritual maturity came only after a life of true dissipation. This doctrine, known eopnymously as 'vastidity,' has taken root in Hollywood, Wall Street and other well-known former bastions of moderation.

("Vastidity" courtesy of AnnaH)

Monday, October 13, 2003

Sunday, October 12, 2003

The deadman comes in his corpse cart, ringing his bell and shouting out the names the angels whispered in his ear the night before. Some angels are deceitful, some are simple, some are easily-fooled, but most know whereof they speak.

"Little Simon," the deadman shouts, and out come weeping children bearing an old man wrapped in a shroud so threadbare that it parts from the bonds of decency.

"Ellen Whiteyes!" This time two sisters hobble forth, dragging behind them a burlap sack from which a pair of hands flopped with the surprised laxity of all the newly dead.

"Carter!" There is no answer, and he thinks for a moment an errant angel told him wrong.

Then the deadman remembers he has no name, only a title and profession. With a groan for his aching back and sigh of relief, he climbs into the back with the others and sleeps the final sleep while wings rustle high overhead.

  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.