Forgive me for not writing yesterday. It was my one-year wedding anniversary, and my wife and I went out for a romantic brunch.
I’ve been writing science fiction seriously for about four years now. Needless to say, I’ve racked up an impressive string of rejection slips from Escape Pod, Strange Horizons, Asimov’s Science Fiction, Analog Science Fiction & Fact, Fantasy & Science Fiction, and Apex, as well as minor-league publications like Daily Science Fiction and Space Squid.
This is because, quite frankly, my stories suck.
It’s natural for people to say, “Aw, don’t knock yourself, man. You don’t suck. When publishers reject a story, it’s not a critique of your talent as a writer, per se; it’s a business decision.”
I appreciate you saying that, buddy, but my stories actually do suck. Escape Pod is the only publication out of that list above that’s ever given me personalized feedback on my stories (may the sun shine eternally upon them for their kindness). And what they’ve said has been difficult to read, but true. Either the stakes of my story aren’t high enough, or the characters aren’t taking things seriously (or they’re acting out of character), or the plot goes nowhere, or the story just fails to grab the editor’s attention. It’s a simple fact: I suck as a writer.
(That’s actually why I’m considering quitting being a fiction writer, but more about that next Saturday.)
They say if you want to have a successful writer’s blog, and if you want to generate easy publicity for yourself, you should share excerpts from your writings (or even complete stories) on your blog. I realized recently that I haven’t been doing that. I have a small stable of “trunk stories” that I’d like to keep secret for the time being, but there’s nothing that says I can’t share some of my serial rejects with you. Read, weep, grimace, gnash your teeth, and have a good laugh. Then use these awful stories as a guide to create better, fresher, more well-written stories of your own.
And so, without further ado…here is the first of my sucky short sci-fi stories.
Ahead of His Time
He saw the woman bathing in the rocky pool and ducked behind a tree. Entering into a hunter’s crouch, he minded his footsteps carefully, planting his hide-shod feet onto mounds of soft fern and pliant mud, steering clear of brittle twigs and dry leaves, using the thick tree trunks for cover.
He had no name in any remembered language, but he answered to a sound very like “Delph.” He existed for three purposes, and one of them was only ten meters away from him, straightening her back and arching her neck to squeeze the water out of her waist-length brown hair.
He stalked silently to the water’s edge, waited until she approached the shore to grab a handful of moss to dry herself. Then he pounced. Her scream was stifled with the callused heel of his hand, which she could have bitten on all day and never hurt him. With his mud-crusted hands, he fumbled at the colorless rags below his waist. They came apart easily; he’d modified them specially for this purpose. The water made it easier to penetrate her.
He had his fun, one hand stuffed into her mouth, the other cantilevered beneath her back, supporting her. She struck him with fists and fingernails, but he buried his head in her neck and bit her hard enough to make her stop. From that point on it was easy.
He flung her into the water and leaped away as he heard a choking roar from the forest’s verge. The woman’s mate, dark, scruffy, stumpy, but with a fair bit of muscle–leaped into the pond and lunged at him, a ball of steaming fury. Delph didn’t like the look of the gnarled club in the opposing male’s hand. He beat a hasty retreat.
The male chased Delph to the edge of the woodland and onto the sun-washed prairie, and there gave up. Delph chuckled, air whistling between his chipped teeth. He’d roamed these woods and grasslands so long that he could outrun anything. He wasn’t even breathing heavily.
He struck out north at a leisurely pace. The sky was blue and clear of clouds. Delph’s vision was sharp and hard and clear on the heels of his recent romp. His stomach grumbled and his mouth was dry as dust. Small wonder he should be hungry after the morning he’d had.
He turned his steps toward a grove of tall trees he knew, where the hard brown fruit fell. As he approached, his heart leapt with delight: two fat nuts lay in the reddish soil at the base of the tallest tree, at least a week old. Delph flung himself down onto his backside, cracked first one, then the other with a hefty rock. He flung away the moldering meat and drank deeply of the fermented liquid. Clumsily he dug in the red sand, flinging it side to side, until he uncovered yesterday’s meat-cache, rank and smelly but still edible. Upon this feast he gorged himself. He rose to his feet, shaking, giddy, head swimming and vision dancing, and belched. Red meat and the heady liquors of the brown fruit were the second reason for his existence.
There was but one other.
The bloodlust seized him, just as it always did when he drank of the fruit. The westering sun burnt his bare head, neck, and shoulders. His back was covered with a thin swathe of cloth, pilfered from the great ruin half a day’s walk to the east. His tribe had called it a city, but Delph had laughed at them. Nothing born under the sun could live in that jumbled, skeletal maze. It had been deserted for centuries when Delph’s withered, white-haired great-grandfather had been a squalling infant. No one went near its crumbling edifices, those knife-blade walls with jagged edges, studded with empty eye sockets.
No one but Delph.
A booming, resonant howl rose from the city’s crumbling skyline, echoing over the verdant countryside. Birds and beasts fled at its repugnant echo. Men grimaced, dogs cowered, women hid their children.
But not Delph. He went to meet the wordless challenge.
He ran the whole way, arriving at the city’s ragged outskirts sweaty and panting but still energetic. He threw himself belly-down onto a faded black plate of unyielding, knobby stone and drank deeply from the gutter at its edge, flowing with last night’s storm water. He stood up, wiping his mouth as the last vestige of light vanished behind the tallest of the fractured spires.
When the last trace of crimson sunlight had left the darkening valley, the Enemy slunk from his square-holed den and onto the middle of the cracked thoroughfare, facing Delph. It was white from head to foot, its hairless skin slimy, arms and legs longer than its body, ears broad and pointed, four eye-slits cruelly shining out from its long, bony skull. Curved fangs and plate-like incisors jutted from its jaws. Translucent claws on its hands and feet scored the blacktop.
It screamed at him and charged.
A hard battle it was, and long. The night was half over before Delph, his rags freshly rent, his back and legs and chest scored by countless bloody wounds, his tongue lolling from his mouth, planted a foot on the chest of his weakening prey and drove the spear into its gullet. The creature squawked, screeched, gurgled, and lay still. Delph left the spear in its throat a moment longer, making sure of the kill; the Enemy was a born trickster. Satisfied it would breathe no more, he flung away his spear, clenched his fists, and howled a war-cry of his own to the cold stars overhead.
Eating, drinking, copulating, and killing–these were the things Delph prized, the reasons for which he continued to live. They were the true purposes of his life, and the life of every man, woman, and child born into the world. The craven tribesmen cowering in the forest refused to believe it, told pitiful tales of the past, of the half-forgotten glories and conquests of Delph’s ancestors. But Delph merely laughed and went on his way. Memory was the province of fools.
He commenced the long walk back to his nut-tree grove, tired, aching, exhilarated, and alive. There would always be meat. There would always be women. There would always be liquor. There would always be sunshine and trees and grass and cool, clear water. But most importantly, there would always be Enemies.