This discussion of how I came to write my short-short story “Little Helper” will be longer than the story itself.
I love short-short stories.
And in the ‘90s and ‘00s, you could actually sell “microfiction” in small press magazines and even anthologies. The pay would be pennies, maybe a buck or two, but a five or six of these might eventually pay for a Hot & Ready pizza and a six-pack of Keystone Light plus a rental of some creature feature. There are worse ways to earn a fun, boozy night in front of the boob tube.
“Little Helper” first appeared, in fact, in an anthology series, edited by G. W. Thomas, called FLASHSHOTS. G. W. - whose pulp story collections such as The Book of the Black Sun should really be far more popular than they are - ran a website/mailing list where a daily story, complete but under the length of a normal typewritten page, would be published on a web site or sent out to subscribers on a daily basis.
I was amazed at how much story could be packed into such a small space.
I mean, 100 words is nothing to write, right?
It’s five minutes, right?
One minute, for some, on a good day.
And I suppose there were a couple authors who could toss off a few dozen of these a day - According to the infallible Wikipedia, “In one famous stunt, Steve Allen made a bet with singer-songwriter Frankie Laine that he could write 50 songs a day for a week. Composing on public display in the window of Wallach's Music City, a Hollywood music store, Allen met the quota and won $1,000 from Laine. One of the songs, "Let's Go to Church Next Sunday," was recorded by both Perry Como and Margaret Whiting.”
Most of us are not Steve Allen.
Nor would we want to produce such a number of short-short stories in a single day, under normal circumstances.
And many of us agonize much, much more than five minutes over this word, that image, this comma.
While it’s true you can get paid by the word and Flashshots did indeed pay, most authors in the business of saying something.
And even that can be faked - my bet is even most of Steve Allen’s songs written during his marathon were of some nominal substance and one could even possibly find some sort of profundity in them. A million monkeys and a million typewriters, and all that.
But I only had a handful of short-shorts in me. Same with poetry. I edited a seminal H/F/SF poetry collection, but I’m not very good at writing the stuff. I need the open canvas of many, many blank pages, a space to throw word after word.
The tightness and succinctness of poetry and short-shorts are difficult and elusive to me.
Which is why I respect them and their practitioners so much.
As for the subject of the story, well, it’s a pretty much literal telling of something terrifying that actually happened to me as a kid. One of my grandfathers was a drunken, broken man and, being a kid, and naive, I loved and respected him beyond all reason, which made the terrible request he woke us with one night all the more shocking to me at the time.
This little story only adds the part about the kid in question actually carrying out the request.
I also deal with this same incident in a short kind of surreal “creative nonfiction” essay available to my Patreon fans in my ongoing STRANGER THAN NOW collection (and as a thin, tiny paperback.)
Some incidents you will revisit for the rest of your life. They loom larger some days, smaller other. You can meditate, you can grow beyond them, you can learn to forgive, empathize, sympathize, you can reduce the moment to mere words, but the memory, the terror of that moment, always remains accessible.
It’s such an odd sentiment. I don’t wish pain, terror or abuse on anyone, and I seek as little as possible in my own life, but incidents like this certainly make us so much stronger if we can rise above them.
I’m grateful what happened happened. Because it taught me so much about how not to be bitter and how to face fears.
And I’m grateful for the resulting stories and the positive reactions from readers.
And yet, if I could remove it from my history, would I?
as part of the ongoing short story collection
DREAMS ONE DREAMS DURING STORMS,
available only to members of
The Bain Insider’s Club at Patreon.