#NFFD: The Man Who Would

It’s National Flash Fiction Day today in the UK, but like any good “national” initiative (think National Novel Writing Month) it’s really become a global celebration. After a conversation on Facebook with Adam Byatt and Stacey Larner on community, schooling and litigation, I’ve chosen to publish for the first time outside 50 Stories for Pakistan “The Man Who Would”.

I stumbled on the kernel of the story when I was researching events from 1960 for my step-Mum’s birthday invitation in 2010 on wiki and stumbled across Joseph Kittinger’s record breaking sky dive. “The Man Who Would” is my (not so thinly veiled) finger point at the stupidity of litigation.

– – –

Herman watched Jack pack his parachute, suit up and calibrate the oxygen mask which would keep him alive while the retrieval pod descended to Elara’s surface. Then, and only then, Herman broached the subject.

“Jack.”

A gloved hand went up. “It’s all good, Herman. Seriously man, you don’t need to say anything.”

Herman, as Jack’s best friend and legal representative, struggled with the possibility Jack might not make it. Jack on the other hand, accepted it was an occupational hazard when leaping from perfectly functional aircraft and spaceships. Jack also understood how he came to be on a low orbiting spaceship. Each record-breaking jump invited another and another, until all the possibilities on Earth were exhausted. Elara offered the possibility to jump higher, longer and faster than ever before. No atmosphere, no clouds and next to no gravity. Nothing stood between him and the surface of Jupiter’s eighth largest moon.

“I’m not worried about the jump. It’s this.” Herman pulled the contract and covering letter from his pocket, thrusting them into Jack’s hand.

“I don’t understand?”

“Read.”

Jack shoved the folded papers back at Herman. “It’s all been said and done. Signed.”

“First World found something. It’s not going to stop you from jumping in the future… you just can’t today.”

When FirstWorld Corporation acquired Elara in a hostile takeover, Jack considered it an endnote for Herman to handle. But the new owners refused to give Jack permission to jump. The negotiations, protracted and nasty, should have forced Jack to find a new site, but he was stubborn, refusing to give in to the fear of litigation which motivated FirstWorld.

Jack snatched the contract from Herman and ripped it, until the contract became hundreds of tiny paper pieces floating about him.

“I guess you’re not concerned that FirstWorld found a potential complainant.”

“No. They what, bribed an ex girlfriend to be concerned?”

Herman shook his head. “It’s more complicated than that.”

He retrieved the photo and piece of paper from his other pocket.

Jack hesitated then took them. He read the birth certificate and then stared at the photograph.

“She never told me.”

“You think Julianna wanted you to know?”

Jack shook his head. “She said she’d never stand in the way of what I had to do. But…” He stared at the photo of the young boy.

“I’m sorry.” Herman put his hand on Jack’s shoulder. “I can let the crew know to-”

“Hold on. The contract is null and void?”

Herman nodded. “The contract is based on the fact no potential complainants existed to sue for death by misadventure or negligence.”

“So, they can’t sue for breach of contract?’

“No.”

“And can’t collect the associated 30 percent royalties?’

“No, but-”

“What’s the worst they can legally throw at me?”

“Trespass.”

Jack tucked the photograph and birth certificate inside his suit and picked up the mask.

“Jack, are you sure?”

“I want my son to know me as the man who would.”

For a bunch of other brilliant flash pieces check out Flash Flood, Jaw Breaker and the #nnfd hashtag on Twitter. A special nod of the head to J.M. Strother and the Friday Flash community, supporting flash fiction writers across the world since 2009!

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Long Listed

Yesterday I discovered my story “The Man Who Would” has been long listed for the 50 Stories for Pakistan anthology. It was a huge buzz given last week marked a return to real writing after months in the wilderness. I share the honour with my business partner Paul Anderson; my writing partner and best friend Annie Evett; several Chinese Whisperings authors: Laura Eno, Emma Newman and Benjamin Solah; and facebook writing pal Trevor  Belshaw.

I first heard about 50 Stories for Pakistan via an early morning email from Greg McQueen while staying in Melbourne for WorldCon. While I’d thrown eMergent Publishing’s support behind the project in whatever capacity Greg needed, I also wanted to contribute a story. However, I’m not one known for penning stories under 500. To be honest 1000 is a press most times. But I was dertemined. This is what happens when you hang out with awesomely talented folk like Dan Powell (who first introduced me to Greg via 100 Stories for Haiti) who inspire you to write like there’s no tomorrow.

A story shadowed me, but didn’t seem to actually solidify, a bit like the Inhuman anthology for AXP. And last week wasn’t the best week, given I had an installment to write for Choose Your Online Adventure (which ended up being two), a Write Anything article to write, a birthday invite to create (which I realised was much huger than it was AFTER I’d agreed) oh and we’d divided the start of the week between Cairns and Brisbane.

To my great relief, Thursday afternoon, I stumbled across an amazing world-record breaking story while researching the year 1960 for my StepMum’s birthday invitation. Joseph Kittinger broke the record that year for the highest, longest and fastest sky dive in history. The speed record stuck until 2005! He jumped from 102,000 feet, including free falling for 16 miles. Anyone who knows me, knows I’m terrified of heights and my days of being a speed junkie are well and truly over… but  Kittinger’s story entranced me.

On the drive to pick my son up from school “The Man Who Would” was born. It’s not so much a story about crazy off-planet sky diving, but about legal bureaucracies, corporate power and the fear of litigation which threaten to crush the big dreams of ordinary people. The title riffs from a Dr Who episode and shadows the theme of legacy inherent in the story. I was graciously assisted by Jason Coggins, who pulled my story to pieces so I could put it back together in an even better way (thus my main character Jack literally became harder and faster!), Annie who beta read and Lily Mulholland who proof read late on a Saturday night when she was shattered from a big day with her family.

I’m crossing my fingers it makes the short list. If not, it proves a few things to me which are lessons well learnt. Firstly I am able to pen something meaningful in under 500 words. Secondly, I am able to diverge from ‘weird, dark shit’ once in a while and write something uplifting, thought-provoking even! And lastly, strange things happen when you hang out on Wikipedia too long.