The Three Capitalist Pigs (Excerpt)

My story, The Three Capitalist Pigs was recently published is Once Upon Another Time: Fresh Tales From The Far Side of Fantasy. I’ve included the beginning of the story below. You can download the rest–for free–by clicking on any of the hyperlinks in this post. Enjoy.

The wayward wolf wandered the enchanted forest. As the runt of the litter—abandoned by the pack—he had learned to live on his wits. He couldn’t hunt deer, that required a team, and the trolls and ogres were stiff competition for the other carnivorous forest-dwellers like himself. Though he wasn’t proud of it, the wolf sometimes scavenged amongst the humans. He had, on occasion, poached sheep from their farms, and for this, those uppity apes had labeled him “Big” and “Bad.” They made up stories to scare their young into obedience—stories that made the wolf shudder. Over time, people came to believe those tales, and he gained a reputation as a nefarious villain. Truthfully, it was the humans—those hypocritical alpha predators—who ate other species’ young. They even, ironically, made a hunter his nemesis in many of their fables.

Still, humanity wasn’t the enemy on the wolf’s mind that evening. No, the real villains were the capitalist pigs who set up shop at the edge of the forest. Those three brothers bought up land at an alarming rate, especially woodland, which contained an abundance of natural resources. Now, deforestation was becoming the most pressing issue for the residents of that enchanted woods.

The wolf, who had always had a way with words, started a petition amongst the forest’s residents. He collected signatures and filed the complaints with the proper authorities, but, alas, his pleas were ignored by the powers that be. It was almost as if the castle was still under the enchantment of the hundred-year-sleep. Truth be told, the bacon had greased the royalty by funding all their charming balls. 

To read the rest of the story, download the FREE ebook.

The Captivity of Lord Hephaestus

At night, Lord Hephaestus dreamed of flying. In his mind’s eye, he burst forth from his lair like an undead spirit rising from its cerements. His soul soared as he rose, circling with the currents high above the cliffs and mountains of his home, creating his own thermals by breathing forth fire to heat the night sky. Onward and ever upward he flew, his wide wings beating tempests that would knock even the hawks and eagles from the sky. He was lord of the heavens, of the lightning and of the fire, which he rained down on a world that, rightly, feared him, leaving a path of charred devastation in his wake. He imagined himself as the villagers must have seen him, his form silhouetted, diving, as if straight out of the moon, the embodiment of death and terror, the smoldering evil of the Weather-Maker mountain range.

He would play all night, swooping and soaring, and then, with the first rays of the new dawn, he’d awaken and realize he was still trapped in this same cage.

A dragon with clipped wings, earthbound, like a common house pet. Cruelly, they called him Lord Hephaestus: a lamed fire god, like a dragon whose wings had been cut to prevent him from flying away—a small joke created by small minds. It was patently absurd, but then again, it made about as much sense as the rest of his life in captivity among the humans.

If he had been bested by a brave hero in combat, he could have lived with that. There was a long history of such noble encounters, and though the balance of outcomes was strongly in favor of his species, there was enough of a precedent that he hardly would have been the first werm vanquished by a valorous knight. If that hero had proven worthy, and if he had been merciful enough to let his adversary live, Lord Hephaestus might have even let himself be saddled and ridden as, together, they could have accomplished great deeds and long be remembered in ballads. And, if he had not been merciful, at least the dread dragon would have been a dead dragon, free from the humiliation of his defeat and its consequences.

But that was not his fate. He had been captured by the humans’ cunning artifices, ensnared by machines that were just as soulless as their creators. There was no banter, no battle, no romance, just an underhanded nerve agent and an invisible net. His doom, it seemed, would not be sung by bards. No, his lot was to be taunted as he lived out his life in this cage, or, “artificial habitat,” as his captors called it. They spoke in euphemisms to cover their cruelty.

Still, he was a dragon lord, and, even in this situation, he was honor-bound to comport himself with dignity. He therefore indulged them in their pretenses of kindness. He did not complain when the barbecued goats they fed him where not charred enough, and he pretended to struggle to defeat their chess masters (though he would never go so far as to lose, even when facing the best thirty in the kingdom at the same time). He obliged them with a spectacular show of fire at the appointed times, and cooled his overheated belly on the bed of blue ice packs that substituted for his mound of treasure.

Over time, his indignation cooled like the fire in his belly after a satisfying hunt. His anger blunted as so many swords had against his scales. It had started when the human caretakers (when did he stop thinking about them as captors?) brought in a sphinx to live in the adjacent “habitat”. He commiserated with her about her given name—they called her Cleopatra, how unoriginal—and joked about the quality of the cuisine. With the natural pride indigenous to all dragons, he made light of his situation so as not to seem weak or unchivalrous in front of her. His efforts to buoy her spirits ended up raising his own, and in time, Lord Hephaestus and Queen Cleopatra became friends. Here, finally, was a mind to match his own, a worthy foil in debate and a delightful companion in conversation with whom he shared many common experiences.

Each night, they would challenge each other with riddles. They would wager portions of the treasures the humans had confiscated, knowing full well they would likely never get a chance to pay their debts, and then compare notes on the day’s indignities, comforting each other to sleep with soft words and gentle praise.

Often, after the sphinx had fallen asleep, Lord Hephaestus would lie awake on that mound of cold blue ice and compare his plight to that of his lady friend. If he was being honest, she had it much, much worse. There were many stories of dragons, and his crowds usually greeted him with awe (especially after a well-timed display of fire against the tempered glass of his enclosure). The children carried around stuffies and figures resembling his likeness, and though it hardly lived up to the fading memories of the piercing cries of terrified villagers or the look of ultimate resignation in a dwarf king’s eyes forced to relinquish his treasure, that tribute was, at least, something. In the world of the magical menagerie he was the star, just as he had been in the realms of myth and legend. The sphinx, on the other hand, didn’t draw large crowds, her merchandise wasn’t as popular among the young ones, and, though she possessed a regal bearing when still and blinding speed when she chose to move, her act just didn’t have the flash or sizzle of his best pyrotechnic display. Worse, she was forced to endure taunts of, “The answer is man!” hundreds of times each day, as the humans had few legends in which she featured prominently.

Seen in this light, his captivity didn’t seem that bad. He began to appreciate what he had. He took pride when one of the grandmasters told him that the royal chess team’s record had improved exponentially since its members started regularly training with the dragon; he roared back good-naturedly when children growled at him with their toy dragons; and he learned how to blow whimsical shapes in the smoke rings he expelled from his great nostrils to further entertain the masses.

In truth, it was harder than he had worked in years. Even in his youth, he would spend most of his day lounging on his treasure, and now, after years of captivity, he was beginning to grow fat and old. There was comfort here. While the blue ice packs were not very romantic, and while they certainly weren’t as pretty to look at as a mound of golden treasure, they were, in point of fact, much colder than precious metal and therefore more efficient at cooling the smoldering in his belly.

There was also friendship. Dragons were usually solitary creatures, which now that he thought of it probably contributed to their ill-tempered surliness. Had he lived out his days under The Weather Makers, he would have lived and died alone, with no one to talk to except the voices in his own ever-working brain. Here at least he had Cleopatra. She would keep him from growing bitter in his dotage. Gone were the fires of Svarog and Pele, gods whose names he would have been proud to bear in his youth, and only the maimed Hephaestus remained.

All things considered, it was almost enough to embrace these conditions for autumnal years—almost enough to not only bear it, but perhaps to enjoy it. It was almost enough to allow him to forget the affront of his captivity.

But only almost. When he fell asleep each night, Lord Hephaestus couldn’t escape the memory of flying. He couldn’t escape the dream of drafting vectors into the vortex. And when he awoke each morning, he couldn’t escape that echo of the pain he had felt when they clipped his wings. He could not escape the shame of knowing he was no longer—and would never again be—a great green wyrm wending up into the welkin.

–by A. A. Rubin

This story first appeared in the March/April Issue of The Kyanite Press.

On the Flash Fiction Selections in the Comic Book School Presents: Creator Connection, Panel 1 Anthology

Comic Book School Presents: Creator Connection, Panel 1 was recently released on the Comic Book School website for free download. Not only do I have two pieces in the anthology, a comics story illustrated by Arielle Lupkin and a flash fiction story, illustrated by Mike Ponce, but I also served as the prose editor for the book. As such, I wrote an introduction for the flash fiction section, which I have posted in its entirety below.

You can download the anthology here.

Flash Fiction Editor’s Introduction: Why Are There Flash Fiction Pieces in a Comic Book Anthology?

Words and pictures have been intimately connected since human beings began telling stories. As many comics pros have been quick to point out, some of the earliest recorded stories—painted on the caves of France and Indonesia approximately 44,000 years ago, were, essentially, sequential storytelling art. To use a more modern word, comics.

But the history of words and pictures complementing each other is not exclusive to comics or sequential art. From the illuminated manuscripts of the middle ages, to the literati paintings of the Ming and Qing dynasties, to Gustave Dore’s unforgettable woodcuts for Dante’s Inferno and Coleridge’s Rime of The Ancient Mariner, images and text enhanced and illuminated each other even in the most serious literature. Some of the world’s greatest artists, such as Edouard Manet (Poe’s The Raven) and Eugene Delacroix (Goethe’s Faust) illustrated editions of some of the great literature of the 19th Century. Charles Dickens, arguably the greatest novelist ever, worked closely with illustrators on all but two of his novels.

It is only during the 20th Century that illustrated writing—at least for adults—was banished to the funny books and science fiction pulps. Why did this happen? The most common answer is that readers’ tastes, led by literary critics who felt that illustrations placed a barrier between the reader and their experience of the text, changed. A more cynical analysis suggests that as books became widely available, they were produced cheaply for the mass market. Art costs money, and pocket-sized, inexpensively-printed, paperbacks are not the best format for presenting illustrations anyway. Either way, by the second half of the 20th Century illustrated prose, with a few notable exceptions like Hunter S. Thompson’s creative non-fiction, was exceptionally rare.

These days, however, things are changing. We live in a world where illustrated literature is respectable once again. Watchmen appeared on many “Best Novels of the Last 100 Years” lists, and many younger readers are more likely to remember reading a graphic novel for class than one of their teachers confiscating a comic book which they read, surreptitiously, inside the book that they were supposed to be reading. Hollywood has mined the pages of graphic literature to create some of the most popular movies and television programs of our time, bringing the genre out of the counterculture and into the mainstream.  At the same time, ebooks (like this one) are now the least expensive form of publication, and have eliminated the cost-related concerns associated with printing illustrations. Still, with the exception of young adult literature, pictures in prose books are still not as popular as they used to be.

They are, however, making a comeback. Many literary journals print art to accompany their selections. Interest in books as art objects, which often contain fancy, illustrated book plates, have become more popular, as well.

It is into this changing landscape that Comic Book School presents the creators who completed the Flash Fiction Challenge. Inspired equally by the classics mentioned above, the old pulp magazines, and early Ray Bradbury short story collections that drew on both traditions, writers and artists from our online community were challenged to create stories that married one page of prose with a single, full-page illustration.

The results speak for themselves. From D. Alley, who like William Blake, wrote and illustrated her piece, The Rescue; to George Dawkins II and Philip Burnette, whose powerful prose and black and white illustrations for The Black Knight are reminiscent of the great 19th Century engraved bookplates; to Mike Ponce, the master of backgrounds, who, like Paul Kibdy did with Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, somehow pulled together the surreal genre mash-up with which I presented him in The Duel

In each of these stories, the marriage of art and writing enhances the reader’s experience beyond what either could do on its own. We invite you to join us on the vanguard of this revival.

Please download the anthology (for free),  and to follow me on twitter, instagram, and facebook.

Some Publishing News, And Happy Birthday To Me

Today is my birthday. For one year at least, I have become the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything. What’s the best present you can give an author on his birthday? Read his work. Luckily, I have some new publishing news to report. I have work in two anthologies you can buy, and a free poem online as well.

My story “The Forgotten” is included in the Remnants shared world anthology from Kyanite Press. Remnants presents a post-apocalyptic world overrun by two different types of monsters. Each of the stories, written by a different author, takes place in the same universe. It’s a really interesting collection, and there is such diversity in the stories that, if you’re a fan of sci-fi, horror, or post-apocalyptic fiction on any stripe, there’s something in there for you.

My story, “The Forgotten” deals with a group of orphans who have banded together to fight the monsters. It’s a dark psychological tale that celebrates the power of childlike imagination even in the darkest times. Here is the opening paragraph to whet your appetite.

For the third year in a row, I have flash fiction in the Serious Flash Fiction anthology. This anthology, is one of my favorites. Each year on twitter, The editor, runs a contest to find the best tweet-length stories. Once again, my work was selected among the winners. This is one of my favorite anthologies each year, and I have discovered some of my favorite writers through this competition as well. The anthology also collects the previous years’ winning entries, so, if you buy the book, you’ll get my microflash from previous years as well.

The Serious Flash Fiction Anthology

While the previous two publications are for purchase, I also have a present for you on my birthday. My high fantasy ballad, Forthwith Flies The Mage, a long narrative, poem about a mage and his dragon battling the forces of darkness is now available for free as part of the “Healing Worlds” project from Kyanite Press. It is one my favorite pieces, and if you enjoy fantasy in the mode of JRR Tolkien or Ursula Le Guin, I know you’ll enjoy it.

Be sure to connect on facebook, twitter, and instagram, and let me know what you think in the comments.

Free Stories You Can Read While Socially Distancing

With everyone home on quarantine or practicing “social distancing,” now is a great time to get some reading done. As such, I decided to share some of my stories that are available for free at online. I’ve written a short description with the each link to help you pick which you’d like to read. Enjoy, and please stay safe out–or in–there:

Here is the story I shared in my last week’s blog. It is in the mode of Terry Pratchett or Douglas Adams. If you haven’t read it yet, please check it out: Darkness My Old Friend.

I have a short flash piece in the current issue of Mythic Picnic Tweet Story. It features the unlikely combination of Lovecraftian monsters and humor: The Kale of Cthulhu.

You can read an older comedic fantasy style story of mine, featuring a sphinx complaining about dragons in Pif magazine: The Sphinx’s Lament.

If you are in the mood for something more traditionally literary, more touching and emotional, check out this piece I wrote for The Hopper Review: In Good Hands.

If poetry is more your speed, Local Gems Press has made eight Ebooks free to read during this period of quarantine. One of them, Rhyme and PUNishment, features my poem, “In Good Hands.” My poem is on page 50.

Last year, I had 6 micro-flash pieces in issue 4 of Drabblez magazine. “The Kale of Cthulhu” was first published there, but check out the other 5 pieces as well. My stories start on page 30.

If you are missing sports, here is a story I wrote about a playground basketball player in New York City. I originally wrote it in college for an assignment to write in the voice of a character who is very different from you (a great writing exercise, which I will cover in a future blog). The story was published in Scriveners Pen, which no longer exists, but I’ve posted it on my deviant art page. While your there, check out the comics samples I’ve posted there and some other short stories as well: Sweetness.

I hope you enjoy these stories. I hope you enjoy them. Depending on how long this situation lasts, I may post more in the coming weeks.

Stay safe.

Be sure to check out the links page to read some of my published writing, and to follow me on twitter and facebook.