Persia Blues: “Here and Now” flash fiction

When I did the Kickstarter campaign for volume 1 of Persia Blues, one of the reward levels was an original piece of flash fiction by me, handwritten inside the published book. When all was said and done, 11 people earned the reward.

Interesting factoid: in today’s world of technology, where we’re used to typing the vast majority of our correspondences, it’s a bit of a shock when you hand write a 300 word story 11 times and realize there are muscles in your hand you haven’t exercised in that capacity in a long, long time.

Anyway, I wanted to share the story with the rest of you out there. It’s about our lead protagonist, Minoo Shirazi, a young Iranian woman living in Shiraz.

Art by Brent Bowman

Art by Brent Bowman

“Here and Now”

by Dara Naraghi

Minoo placed a sugar cube between her lips and sipped her tea through it, savoring the aroma wafting off the hot beverage. The coffee house was packed, mostly with her fellow university students. The venue advertised its free wifi and homemade fresh pastries, but the younger crowd mainly came to socialize with the opposite sex, in the relatively private atmosphere of the shop, away from the prying eyes of the morality police.

Her laptop screen was lit up with multiple windows – news sites from outside Iran, her favorite gaming cheat site, an online political forum – but Minoo’s attention was focused elsewhere. A group of four young men sat a few tables away, drinking tea, smoking a hookah, and discussing the latest trends in structural design. She knew the oldest one, Reza. He was an architectural student, like her.

And she had quite the crush on him.

Not that she could do anything about it. Not under the strict Islamic laws governing public behavior. And not with an overprotective father at home.

But today, none of that mattered. True, her life was what it was, with all its unfairness and limitations. But she had decided that morning, rather uncharacteristically, to try and focus on the positive. On the here-and-now.

And so, Reza, with his jet-black hair and hazel eyes, with his perfect amount of facial stubble, and his crooked, yet handsome smile…Reza was her here-and-now. She would sit in the back of the coffee shop and steal furtive glances at him, and listen to his passionate advocacy for sustainable architecture. And she would let her mind wander, and fantasize about him, and her, and what if…what if…

For today, at least, no law or tradition or morality police could take that away from her.

Dial B For Brimstone

This piece of flash fiction is actually my very first professionally published story. It was selected as one of three winning entries (from 407 submissions) in a “short, short story” contest held by my hometown newspaper, The Columbus Dispatch. They called them “Noveleenies,” and I think they had to be under 400 words. My story was published in the Sunday edition on May 13, 2001.

Art students from the Columbus College of Art and Design were selected to produce mock book covers for the stories. Here’s the one for my story, by artist Genevieve L Wood (I think this is her website, but I’m basing that solely on the mention of CCAD in her bio):

0513nva01ar

The final layout in the paper:

newspaper-scan

Aside from publication in the paper, I think we were also supposed to receive a copy of The Best American Short Stories 2001 anthology, but I never got mine. Yep, stiffed by a newspaper on my very first published work 😉

Anyway, here’s my story:

Dial B for Brimstone

“Thank you for calling the Hades Hotline,” the lifeless recording announced. “This automated service is brought to you by Corruption, the new fragrance by Calvin Klein. Corruption. Entice mortals into premarital sex. If you know the extension of your party, please enter it now.”

The old woman’s bony, wrinkled finger impatiently punched in a three-digit number.

“We’re sorry, that extension is no longer valid. Please select from the following options: To check on the status of your soul, press (1). For real-time quotes on pestilence, famine, war and death, press (2). To listen to the latest ‘N Sync single, press (3). If you are a Fox executive looking to develop a new show, press (4). To search our patented Covet Thy Neighbor’s Wife database, please have your ZIP code handy and press (5). If you are a telemarketer looking for a listing of families currently sitting down to dinner, press (6). If you live in California…”

After two dozen menu options, 18 minutes on hold, and several threats of disembowelment directed at an obtuse customer service representative, the old woman’s call was finally transferred to its destination. In a cluttered, unassuming office, buried under piles of legal forms, a phone emitted discordant rings. Without looking away from his computer screen, a rotund middle-aged man with a graying goatee picked up the receiver.

“Hello? Mom? Ah jeez, I thought I asked you not to call me at work.”

“Don’t you take that tone with me, young man! What, is The Prince of Darkness so busy with his career that he can’t even take the time to talk to his own mother? And why doesn’t your old number work anymore?

“They just installed a new voice mail system and I…”

“Couldn’t be bothered to tell your poor mother the new extension, is that it? And another thing…”

With a resigned sigh, The Dark One switched his call to the speakerphone and turned the volume down. Adjusting his reading glasses, he focused his weary eyes once again on the flickering computer monitor before him and continued with his e-mail.

To: Legal

Re: the Jordan contract

Please advise if Michael is covered for a second comeback under the terms of his original contract.

In the background a shrill voice droned on over the speakerphone. “…and when are you going to find someone nice to settle down with?…”

Read my short story “Green-To-Green” online

My fellow PANEL Collective member Matt Kish has updated his blog with one of my favorite collaborations with him, an 8-page silent story called Green-To-Green. We did this story for volume 19 of the PANEL anthology, which all of us in the PANEL group collaborate on and self-publish twice a year. The theme of the book was “green,” and you can read our story on Matt’s blog here.

To whet your appetite, here’s a look at page 1:

I struggled for the longest time to come up with an idea for the book, but inspiration struck on the long drive back to Columbus from Florida last year. We had spent a week swimming and paddleboarding in the keys (Isla Morada), taking in the beautiful sights and gliding around mangrove forests, and it all came together to form the basis of this story.

If you’d like a copy of the 32-page book, which features 4 other stories under a gate-fold cover, contact me via the link in the menu bar above. $4 will get you a signed copy, with free shipping.

Flash Fiction – “The Facebook Excuse”

350 words, on the dot (if you don’t count my byline). Inspired by true events, as the kids say. Enjoy.

The Facebook Excuse – by Dara Naraghi

“How the hell does this guy ever get any work done?”

I felt compelled to elaborate on my outburst when she put her book down and looked over at me, her beautiful face framed by her reading glasses.

“It’s this writer I’m friends with on Facebook. Well, not really friends. I don’t even know him. He friended me and I accepted. I don’t even know why, I probably just–”

She cut me off with a simple raised eyebrow, as if to say ‘your point?

“So this guy posts stuff all the time. And not clever stuff. Not ‘writerly’ stuff. No, it’s the same stupid shit everyone else posts on Facebook: pictures of his cat, or what he’s watching on TV.” I turned my laptop to face her, in a desperate attempt to justify my outrage. “Look at his wall: posted 12 minutes ago, 30 minutes ago, 1 hour ago. It’s nonstop.”

Her reply was terse, but sincere. “So? Why do you care?”

I suddenly felt defensive, like a child called out on his misbehavior, trying to save face.

“I don’t,” I replied. “I’m just saying…it’s just that this guy self-publishes books and short story collections, on top of having a day job, and I don’t understand how he gets any work done when he’s on Facebook 24/7.”

She let me finish my rant, patient yet unmoved.

“Weren’t you working on your script?”

“I was. I mean, I am. I just took a little break and saw this asshole was at it again.”

“OK, I understand it’s frustrating,” she offered. “But we both know the answer’s simple: unfriend him, and direct your energy back to your own work.”

I felt my lips part, as if to argue, but instead they curled into an appreciative smile. She responded with one of her own, accented with a wink, before returning to her book.

As I went back to my writing, I tried not to think about all the time I’d wasted obsessing needlessly over some stranger.

Instead, I thought about how damn cute she looked with her reading glasses.

Flash Fiction – “Dazzle”

I’ve been having a difficult time with my Persia Blues script, so instead of beating my head against the wall I decided to take a break and try something else. So here’s some flash fiction I completed in the last hour, clocking in at 349 words, just under the 350 limit.

Dazzle – by Dara Naraghi

“How much longer?” she asked.

“Not much,” I answered, as I concentrated on painting a swirling design at the intersection of her nose, eyes, and forehead. The reflective paint mirrored the light in the room, making it hard to concentrate on the design.

She tried touching her lips again, but I gently batted her hand away. “Stop it, you’ll smear the pigment,” I said.

“Sorry, sorry. It’s just that it’s caked on pretty thick. And did you have to extend it so far out on the sides? I look like a clown. Or the Joker.”

“From the old playing cards?” I ventured.

“No, from the old Batman vids. You know, ‘The Clown Prince of Crime’?” She seemed rather disappointed when I replied with a blank stare. “Seriously? And you call yourself an anarchist cloaking artist,” she chuckled.

I ignored her jab, instead finishing the highlights on her cheekbones. “There, asymmetrical by an inch.”

She examined her face in the mirror and laughed. “Ugh, like the love child of David Bowie and a Kabuki dancer.”

I took some measure of consolation in catching the latter reference, but the former eluded me.

“What did you call this again? Dazzler?” she asked, as she tossed me her credit chip.

“Dazzle,” I corrected her. “It’s an old concept, but the term’s from World War I, when they’d paint battleships with odd geometric patterns, sort of a cross between camouflage and optical illusion. The idea was to make it hard for the enemy to discern size, speed, and direction of travel.”

“And you’re sure this’ll fool the facial recognition programs?”

“No guarantees, but it should,” I said, adding “confusion, not concealment.”

“Ten million people in this city, and twenty million security cameras,” she said, shaking her head as she slipped on her jacket.

“You’re not planning on robbing a bank or anything, are you?” I asked, not really interested in her answer.

“Nah,” she offered, pulling down her knit cap. As she headed out the door, she turned and flashed me an impish smile.

“Sometimes a girl just needs her privacy, you know?”

Flash Fiction – “The Old Man’s Book”

Here’s another piece of flash fiction (stories told in 350 word or less) for your reading enjoyment.

The Old Man’s Book – by Dara Naraghi

“The old man shifted his weight on the park bench, basking in the rays of sunlight filtering down through the gangly trees. It was a rare January day in New York, with temperatures hovering around a comfortable 70 degrees. The first real break in the heat wave had brought him, and a few dozen other adventurous souls, out into the last green vestiges of Central Park.

Turning back to his book, he flipped a page on the massive hardback, his eyes dancing across the old typeface. In the background, the constant hum of the irrigation pumps, delivering precious water from the Hudson River, drowned out the chirps of a few lone birds.

A teen flopped down next to the old man, breaking his reverie. She pulled out her mobile and powered up the virtual display. A half dozen distinct feeds began playing at once, music and news and movie broadcasts simultaneously competing for attention, audio waves rolling over each other like waves whipped up by a storm.

“Holy shit, is that an actual book?” she asked, mockingly.

He sighed. “Yes.”

“Oh, wow! That’s so old timey! I mean, like, it doesn’t do anything. It’s not even wired. Come on, grandpa, get with the–”

And then she screamed.

The old man looked up to see a mutated spider, the size of his fist, crawling across the bench towards her. It was likely not poisonous, but why risk it? He lifted the massive book and brought the full weight of it down on the intruder, ending the threat with an obscene, squishy thump.

If there was a hint of gratitude in the teen’s eyes, it was lost behind twin pools of horror and disgust. She fled the bench without a word, raucous mobile in tow.

The old man bent down and wiped the back of the book on the grass, dislodging the spider carcass. He then repositioned himself on the bench, and continued reading.

Somewhere in the back of his mind, a shrill voice echoed “Like, it doesn’t do anything.”

A smile crept across his lips.”

Flash Fiction – “Be Not Proud”

The following piece of flash fiction (a short story under 350 words) was my entry into the New Scientist magazine Flash Fiction 2010 contest (the winning stories can be read here). The theme was “futures that never were.” Anyway, enjoy!

Be Not Proud – by Dara Naraghi

“Javier Sharif opened his eyes, straining against the sterile light.

A bank of Vitality-monitors greeted him. The sparse room, decorated with all the flair of a surgical ward, had been his residence at the Meadowbrook Life Extension Hospice for the past two years.

Ever since his 137th birthday.

Ever since they had tracked him down at his campsite by the Caspian Sea.

“When my time is near, don’t come looking for me if I just disappear one day,” he had instructed his family. They, in turn, had dismissed this as another of his eccentricities. Why wouldn’t he want the best care offered by modern medicine?

But Mina understood. She was the only one of his children who ever did.

“Hi dad, I brought you something.”

Mina’s voice was a pleasant surprise. The smile upon his brittle lips welcomed her, even as his voice failed him in the task.

She was holding a large, heavy, leather-bound tome. “It’s a collection of all your favorites. I hired an artisan in Sumatra to make it just for you,” Mina beamed. He had always preferred the archaic elegance of the printed word over the barren glow of a Vid-Screen.

Summoning a Helper-Bot, Mina instructed it to hold the book for reading. “Enjoy,” she said, kissing him on the forehead before turning to leave. “I love you.”

He read the entirety of the book, his bio-silica lenses never tiring, having long replaced the real ones he had lost to cataract. And on the last page, as he read the closing lines of his favorite poem, he smiled again.

“…One short sleep past, we wake eternally…”

The Helper-Bots possessed only the most basic AI, lacking the redundant patient safety algorithms of Med-Bots. He instructed his to lay the book upon his chest before dismissing it.

As the weight of the tome bore down on him, he felt his lungs gasp for air. But there was no panic, no regret. Instead, he was overcome with a feeling of warmth, of bliss, of finality.

Javier Sharif shut his eyes, welcoming the peaceful darkness.”