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Thursday, March 21, 2013

1000 Word Challenge

This is an exercise in response to the blog challenge. These are the rules:

Flash Fiction Challenge: Ten Words Will Give You Five

Last week’s challenge: “They Fight Crime
I’m going to a random word generator.
*does that*
There. It has chosen ten random words.
Those ten words are:
  1. Library
  2. Ethereal
  3. Dolphin
  4. Replay
  5. Undertaker
  6. Storm
  7. Envelope
  8. Cube
  9. Chisel
  10. Satellite
You will choose five of those words.
You will include those five aspects — not just as words but as actual components of the story — in your 1000-word flash fiction this week. As always: post at your blog or online space, then link back here so we can all read it. You’ve got a week. Due by Friday the 29th, noon EST.
Pick words. Write story. Go.

I chose:
Library, Ethereal, Replay, Storm, Envelope, and Satellite.

Here is what I got:

It doesn’t seem to smell bad. At least, not how I imagined it would
smell. They warned me that the city would smell like feces and burning
tires, but to be fair, it has only been like that for one afternoon. I
guess we will see when summer comes.

I put the book back on the shelf. It is interesting to see what people
will read when their choices are theoretically limited. Hard copy
books are still a *thing*, I guess. I have 3500 books on a tablet, but
I still love the feel of paper, the awareness of how far I have to go,
the thickness, the smell, and most of all: the disposability.

I look at the shelves of books and wonder how each of them got here. At
home you have two kinds of libraries: public ones where books are
ordered based on a use algorithm, or more likely, a best-seller or
reference list; and private ones, shaped by the interests and
coincidences of a person or family’s life. Books that speak to them or
mean something tend to stay, books given to you by your crazy Aunt
Martha about crocheting cat legwarmers or whatever find their way into
donation bins or sold to a used bookstore for a few pennies.

But here, there is something else, some unspoken and immaterial force
that brings these books to their shelves. Nothing is thrown away,
because someone might be interested or desperate enough to read it.

Books find their way here, to be re-read and occasionally abandoned
because someone thought they should be here. Some family member sent
it to their loved one deployed overseas, thinking they would enjoy it.
Some soldier ordered it from home, found in the trash, or traded from
a friend.

A library at a deployed site overseas is like no other library. It is
like a patchwork of care, desperation, chaos and desire. It is not
built from professional or personal love like other libraries, but by
familial love and chance.

I pull a random tome down and look at it. It has obviously been read a
dozen or more times. Stuffed in packs, crammed between the seats of an
MRAP, held under a lunch tray on the way to the table, and of course,
entertained many an hour sitting on the water-conservation crapper.

This one is an interesting find; it is one of those technology books
like Time-Life used to put out. The cover has various tech, and I see
the section on telecommunications has been earmarked several times.
Satellites are of particular interest to the folks out here in no
man’s land. The modern army is utterly dependent on eyes-in-the-sky
and it is more than just the information they provide. It provides
them with a sense of security, a modern-day JHWH, looking down at
them. Soldiers know that if they are lost, these mechanical guardians
can find them by heat, by tracker, and by radiation. That sense of
security is similar to the ethereal force that binds this library. Both provide
chaotic mixtures of unknown eyes and unknown intent, all
coming together to make the soldier feel warm, and safe.

I take my find out of the MWR and smile, no check-out, no
Dewey-Decimal system, no sentinel to make sure the book makes it back
to its assigned place. These libraries are not bound by order, they
are bound by the chaos deployed life brings. This book may not make it
back, but another one will. It doesn’t matter that no one knows
exactly what is here, because that will change on a daily basis. The
bonding agent of this library, like the one between satellites and
soldiers, like the one between men who have fought and bled with each
other, it all just plays over and over for the people here.

As I walk outside, the smell has changed. It is sharp, cool, and
overhead the sky is darkening. Heavy drops of rain begin to fall as I
make my way back to my hooch. I have my treasure, and it will see me
through the pounding torrents outside. I find myself hesitating. If I
were back in the states, I would taken this book and use it to cover my
head from the water. But here, this book means something more. In a
way, protecting this book is protecting the sanity of myself and
everyone who comes after. In the states, being rained on was an
annoyance, here, it is almost to be expected. Shielding myself from
minor natural phenomena seems, I don’t know, ironic. Here I am, in a
war zone, and I am worried about a few drops of rain. Less than a mile
from where I stand guys are sitting in muddy holes and eating cold
pre-packaged meals. The least I could do is just suck it up.

Especially when the alternative is for one of our few precious books
could be damaged.

I tuck it under my jacket and walk quickly to my room. Carefully, I
pull it out and look at it. A few drops of water have hit it and
warped the cover. In the states, it would be ruined and tossed away.

Here, it is still whole, still readable, and still valuable. I lay
down on my bunk and flip it open. There are sections on all sorts of
information technology: cameras, radios, mics, and I get to the
section on satellites. On the last page of the story a small envelope
falls into my lap.

It is sealed, stamped, and addressed to a woman in the states.
Geraldine Thomas, 675 Primrose Lane, Albequerque NM. I flip the small
package over and over in my hands, and then I remember: Sgt Thomas was
one of the supply guys who didn’t come back from a movement ten days
ago. I thank God that I didn’t let the book suffer in the downpour. It
was guarding something precious. But then, all of these books do.


  1. This was unexpectedly touching. :-)

  2. Thanks for reading it. feedback always welcome.

  3. Evocative details. A beautiful piece of writing.

  4. Shades of Tim O'Brien; a moving tale.

  5. I have to say that was unexpected. I think many people took the random words to weird places and strange worlds, but yours is a story grounded in reality, and I think it takes power from that.

    1. Thank you, I appreciate the feedback. I try to keep one foot on the ground as a general rule, but my next flash fiction is a little more "out there" so we will see.