This past fall, one of my favorite releases was 555 Vol. 2: This Head, These Limbs, put out by Carrion Blue 555. Every story in this book is 55 words a piece; every author in the book (myself, John Edward Lawson, Stephanie Wytovich, Jonathan Moon and several others) contributed 55 of them each. That might sound like meaningless literary gamesmanship, but the results are staggeringly strong. It’s a pretty impressive volume, and deserves more attention.
My contribution is a short story series called “55 Ways I’d Prefer Not to Die,” which explores just that: worst case scenarios for “the end” in over-the-top and often impossibly crazy manners. I’m proud to report it has been selected for reprint in the upcoming Year’s Best Hardcore Horror anthology (Comet Press, 2017).
Writing 55 short-shorts at such a slim word limit (55 words) is NOT as easy as it might seem. The stories went through several drafts and changes, usually trying to shave them down to just the right size, using only the best words. And though even coming up with so many story ideas was difficult, I recently realized that there were a dozen or so pieces I wrote that didn’t make the final cut for one reason or another. I’ve decided to dig those up, and share my top five picks of these with you, as a holiday bonus!
I share this raw material as a kind of teaser, in hopes that if you overlooked this excellent book, you will buy a copy (it’s only available in paperback, by the way — however, if and only if you are an HWA member, I will send you my story free for Bram Stoker Award consideration in pdf format — just email me).
A caveat: These were not included in the original story for valid reasons, and I did not keep to the 55-word count limit in what follows. Most of the drafts were long ones that had to be compressed and I see no reason to compress these now, as they are mutant step-children of the original “55 Ways I’d Prefer Not to Die” series. Close readers will recognize that a few of these are “alternate endings” to pieces in the original series. They’re not the best of the batch, but enjoy, and happy new year!
FIVE MORE WAYS I’D PREFER NOT TO DIE
Michael A. Arnzen
Some stun guns have different settings, just like those phazers out of Star Trek. But there’s several more settings than “stun” or “kill.” There’s also “boil them blind in the brain fluid” and “tickle their internal organs.” But you don’t find these in stock very often; cops like their sex toys.
The second I put down my grocery bag, I am jumped from behind, the burglar shoving a bag over my head and cinching shut the bottom around my neck like tying off a balloon. Plastic sucks in and blows away from my mouth as I struggle for breath. Wal Mart’s smiley face stares at me as I roll back and fall. The grim reaper greets me at death’s wide door.
You mess with the bull, you get the horns. Where you get the horns depends on where you mess with the bull. Now I’m gored in the groin with a squeeze bulb serving as my bladder. That’s what I get for being a rodeo clown on vacation in Pamplona.
Death by a thousand cuts, aka Lingchi, is a terrible way to be executed. First they gouge your eyes so you have to always wonder where the next slice is going to score. Then they dole out tiny cut after tiny cut bleeding you to death. It’s actually 3000 cuts, but you’ll be done counting by 1000.
I would prefer not to die of natural causes. Heart attacks, blood disease, old age…how mundane. Then there’s also the literally “natural” causes: volcanic eruptions, lightning strikes, tornadoes, tsunamis, falling boulders, animal attacks, sun explosions, black holes sucking up every planet in the galaxy, yada, yada, yada. Nature. How predictable. How pedestrian. How — hey, watch where you’re driving!
Okay, that was weird.
But still: Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
And if you like masses of microfiction, you will like 100 Jolts: Shockingly Short Stories — still in print, and available in ebook, paperback and even hardcover with bonus materials!