No Novel November, part 2

posted | about 12 minutes to read

tags: no novel november short story

I decided it’d be best to aggregate these instead of publishing a tiny post every day. I was originally planning on posting once a week, but a bug in Hugo’s previous Markdown renderer actually held me up until a recent update - so without further ado, here’s the first half of the month, with more to come:

Day 2: hidden

I curled up as tightly as I could in the back of the wardrobe, desperately hoping that the monster wouldn’t find me. As the ground-shaking footsteps receded, I relaxed, finally exhaling.

Then I heard another creature breathing next to me, and I realized I wasn’t alone in the wardrobe after all.

Day 3: window

This particular window looked like all of the rest of the windows in the house at a casual glance. The style and framing were the same, certainly - it must have been installed at the same time. But if you looked through it for longer than just a moment, you’d notice that it looked out onto a scene very different than what the actual outdoors looked like - a desolate landscape, baking under a harsh sun, with only the ruins of suburbia visible for miles.

Once the owner noticed, she made a little money marketing it as an attraction at first, but the government quickly swooped in to study it instead. It captured the attention of the country for a week or two, and then passed into the background, like so many other things, while the forests continued to burn and the oceans kept rising.

It wasn’t for another fifty years that people finally figured it out - and by then it was too late to change what the window had shown them, as the bombs had already started falling.1

Day 4: nothing

What happens after you die?

She’d often wondered - whether there was an afterlife, or whether things just ended. Maybe the Buddhists had it right and she’d come back.

She never even considered the void that she ended up in - just endless emptiness, with nothing but her thoughts for company. Without a way to tell how much time had passed, the isolation became agonizing, and in despair, she balled up a fist - a fist? where’d that come from? - and swung it through the darkness…and revealed a swath of stars.

Realization dawned, as she tore down the darkness and began crafting her own universe.

Day 5: pickle

He went to the grocery store every week, and every week he bought a jar. Just standard dill pickles. They made a nice snack. After the first year, they started to get a little boring, and he moved up to the local artisan pickles, the ones with the big fronds of dill and garlic cloves packed in with the cucumbers. That hit the spot for a while, then it was on to the spicy pickles. And the pickled beets, and the pickled onions. Eventually, he just started making his own, searching for that perfect flavor, the one that would never get old.

It took him three years - finding the exact right vinegar, testing the salt proportions batch by batch, mixing and re-mixing soil to grow his own dill and garlic and cucumbers and peppers - but he found it, learning a lot of lessons along the way.

He knew better than to try and sell them; flavors are so intensely personal. But every so often, he’d meet someone new, and offer them a pickle, and gauge their reaction - and six months later, long after they’d said their goodbyes, a jar would show up in their mailbox. And somehow, those pickles matched up perfectly to the recipient, every single time.

Day 6: address

3353 Maple Street. The address was seared into her memory, and with good reason - she grew up there. Good food, loving parents, best friends, first loves and losses, laughing, crying, all the best and the worst of childhood. And then she was off to college, where she figured out who she was and who she wanted to be, and she graduated and moved away and hadn’t been back for years. She was scared to say anything for so long - she couldn’t even put words to why - so the loving emails back to her family became friendly ones, and the friendly ones became cordial ones, and finally the fear of losing the connection altogether overcame the fear of what they might say. It took her months - almost a year - to write the email, but finally she hit the Send button and waited, and the response came, “come back home, we want to see you, we’ll always love you”.

The house was just as she remembered it - the barely-peeling paint, the wider-than-normal front door smiling its welcome, but she still couldn’t help but be nervous. The first step out of the car and towards the house was tough, but then the door opened, and her parents were right there, their arms spread wide, and those first faltering steps turned into a run, and they held each other so tightly for what seemed like forever, and then they finally went inside, back home.2

Day 7: jump

The human was behind the gate. Why was the human behind the gate? Why was the human not petting her? She paced back and forth on the other side, staring through the wires, occasionally letting out a little mew, but all they did was glance over and then go back to staring at the screen with the moving pictures. She tried to distract herself, walking away and halfheartedly batting around a little toy mouse, but she just wanted to be with the human.

She walked back to the gate - paced a couple more times, staring up at the top of the gate, judging distances. She tensed her back legs, crouched, and leaped - clearing the gate with inches to spare. With the thud of her paws upon landing, the human looked over, surprised to see her - got up, brought a hand down to pet her - wait, no, scooping her up to hold her? - no, that wasn’t it either - she was being brought back to the gate - back to the other side?

She heard the words “stupid cat, I’m trying to work!", but didn’t understand, of course, as she prepared herself for another jump.3

Day 8: season

It was really very odd. Nobody could figure out how it started happening; it seemed to just be coming down like snow from the clouds. The scientists were completely stumped, and the spice companies’ stock prices were plummeting. The drifts were the worst, though - they’d pile up, and then the lightest breeze would send people into sneezing fits.

Of course, with the amount of cooking I did, I didn’t mind - if nothing else, being able to just go outside and let the pepper fall into my hands was convenient.

Day 9: blanket

When they were growing up, it was like armor - they’d stay in bed, wrapping themself in the blanket when they were sad or scared. It became enough of an attachment that they kept it with them as they moved out into their first apartment. Before their first job interview, they brought the blanket with them, sitting in the car waiting to go in and holding it tight. But it was starting to fray; the small holes and wear of age were taking their toll. It still provided the same comfort, but much more snuggling and it wouldn’t even be recognizable - no amount of sewing could save it. They made the decision to keep it as long as they could - folding it up and keeping it on a shelf was hard at first, but eventually just knowing it was there brought the comfort they needed, and instead of snuggling it, they could just look over at it and smile.4

Day 10: delicious

It took a decade and a half, but they finally did it - developed the perfect food. Low-cost, nutritionally balanced, easily preserved, made from algae. The problem was, unfortunately, it was….bland. Didn’t taste like anything at all, almost - just this faint taste reminiscent of saltine crackers.

Of course, given the potential implications for the world’s climate and for global food availability, there was a bit of a rush to get it pushed out, so the decision was made to push forward anyway.

Fortunately, they also engaged a small army of chefs for the rollout, and the range of recipes released was simply staggering. Without that, they probably wouldn’t have gotten far at all.

Day 11: farmhouse

She couldn’t have put it into words, but she did love that old house. Sagging floors, bowed windows, but it still had a roof and four walls, and that was all she needed.

The fields had started to encroach on it, and vines had started to move up the exterior, but she didn’t mind.

After all, the more that nature reclaimed it, the closer the little field mice would be, and the easier it would be for her to hunt for her kittens.

Day 12: test

“Wait, seriously?

I couldn’t believe what he was telling me. This was the first thought experiment I’d ever actually put myself through, and now I was actually faced with it.

“Yep. It’s worked in animals, but you’d be the first person to actually try it.”

“But the funding for this level of nanotech must have been…”

“Massive, yes. We’re still not sure who even funded it.”

“…Why me?”

“Look, you’ve been my friend for as long back as I can remember. Given what you’ve had to go through, I thought, heck, it’s worth fast-tracking, and if it actually works, who’s going to know?”

That was good enough for me, and I slammed my hand down on the button5.

Day 13: envy

He always seemed to have it all, to know how to move effortlessly through life. Always a smile on his face, straight-A student through college, right away into a fast-track management career - and he still took the time to help me when I was going through a hard time. We stayed in touch after that, monthly phone calls, even, just to catch up and chat. Finally I asked him why - why, when he’s got what he has, why he would bother to keep an eye out for me.

When he broke down in tears I was shocked. Finally the words came - that he saw my openness with my problems, something I’d never valued, something I saw as burdensome for him - as a sign of strength. He said he wished he could have been that open with anyone in his life before.

Of course I was willing to listen.6

Day 14: jewel

He had come to the museum so many times, just to admire the way that the sapphire’s facets threw off the light into every corner of its case. He’d never seen anything so beautiful - from the first time he visited and it caught his eye, he knew he’d be back again.

This time, though, there were no lights - no people to obstruct his view, to tell him to move on. Just him, and the gem, and the case.

He had planned - well, not a heist - although it might as well have been. Dodging the security cameras, disabling the electronic tripwires with mirrors, even learning how to spoof the seismic sensors. He couldn’t have said why he had done what he did - he just knew he had to.

He cut into the case with the rotating saw, and gently removed the glass - finally getting to see the sapphire with nothing else in the way.

His mouth had started to hang open a little bit as he stared - focusing closer and closer, the finer details coming into view. Finally, he reached out his hand - slowly, so slowly - not even aware he was doing it.

At the last moment, the details he could finally see clicked into place in his mind - those oddly cut facets making up a face - a hungry face? - but it was too late by then. His hand came into contact with the gem, and in the blink of an eye he was gone.

The gem looked just a little bit bigger the next day - not enough for anyone to be sure, and even when they measured it, it matched the last value in the computer. Eventually, the museum ended up chalking the case damage up to vandalism - after all, nothing was stolen.7

Day 15: guess

“Plane tickets?”


“Peanut brittle?”


“A tiny horse?”

That one just got a laugh in response, but I was seriously running out of ideas. I was getting sick of staring at the box without being able to tell what was in it, and their obvious glee at my discomfort was really starting to grate - I wasn’t sure how I was going to last another whole month until they’d let me open it.

Maybe I was taking “you’ll just have to guess” too seriously.

I realize that it’s nearing the end of the month and this is only the first half done, but I have actually been doing a surprisingly good job of keeping up with this stuff. In part, I just didn’t want to drag this post out too long - and honestly, I meant to publish with less, but I ended up having to wait as I detailed above. Second half of the month will come out soon.

  1. I thought about making this more hopeful - something about people actually taking it as a warning and watching the image change - but I couldn’t make it work in my head, so you get serious negativity instead. ↩︎

  2. I thought about it a bit and decided I actually like leaving what actually happened unexplained. Read into it however you’d like! ↩︎

  3. okay this is relatively tightly based on a true story but it’s fun to write from the cat’s perspective ↩︎

  4. This was not nearly what I hoped it would be. I think I would have had to expand it a whole lot to really explore what I wanted to. Can’t win them all. ↩︎

  5. Yes, I have talked about this specific button before; no, I absolutely could not help myself. Also, look at that, almost 2 weeks before I couldn’t stop myself from writing something explicitly trans-themed, that is significantly more restraint than I thought I’d have going into this. ↩︎

  6. I was not happy with this one. I had a number of other concepts but none of them wanted to flow. At some point you just have to go with what your brain is willing to give you - the writing is the point, anyway. ↩︎

  7. The word count on this got a little out of hand but I was having fun - the ending was not originally concepted but as I wrote it just seemed like it would be a fun direction to take it, and it was. ↩︎