Flash: Losers Bracket

Losers Bracket

Paul Fowler hunkered down over his coffee at the kitchen table. Darlene had left the news running in the other room, but he did his best to tune it out. His new book had been out a week. So had Vincent McCarthy’s — the only man around who could give him a challenge for the bestseller slot. Oh, sure, there were the historic top sellers, the Clancys, the Kings, the Christies. Those would always sell. There were also the writers in other towns, other states, even other countries, but he wasn’t worried about those brackets yet. Right now, all he cared about was what was selling locally, here in Reno, Nevada.

He’d worked hard to put a lot of local color into his latest book, Silver Dollars and Change, all about werewolves being driven out of modern-day Virginia City. It had everything — a nearby setting, mockery of the tourists who came to Nevada so full of themselves, plus the magic and supernatural elements that had been selling well for decades. This book was his ticket to beating McCarthy once and for all. What did McCarthy have to offer, after all, but another trite plot about gangsters and casinos, the ’50s heyday of Vegas?

Paul was sure to win this time.

The waiting was killing him, though. He took another sip of his coffee, breathing deep, hoping the scent of hazelnut would soothe his jangling nerves. From the other room, he heard the chords of music that signaled a commercial break, almost masking the teaser for the upcoming story, “Tell-all interview with an author’s wife on why his competition is better than him!” Filthy vultures. He hoped the author had already filed for divorce.

He glanced at his laptop, open to the rankings. The only changes in the past three minutes were East Coast cities. Sherri Fugard, a member of his writer’s group, had beaten Dubowski for the Eastern Pennsylvania region — first taking her local zone of the Lehigh Valley, then beating out Philadelphia, Poconos, Berks County, and other eastern locations. Good for her. Not so good for Dubowski, but he’d had a good ride on top.

Challengers weren’t faring as well in places like Virginia, Georgia, and Florida. The readers there knew what they liked and weren’t about to change. Pretty soon, these states would follow the Carolinas into the Writer’s Monopoly Guild. Sweet for the one who came out on top — and less painful for the would-be writers out there. Paul thought maybe there should be a second tier bracket in those states, a way for new voices to be heard without head-to-head competition against the established heavies. However, that would require the agreement of the bestsellers, and they didn’t have a stake in changing the system.

Colors on the map changed as stats updated, and names filled in on brackets. Sherri had lost to Grey, the heavy-hitter from Virginia, for the Mid-Atlantic bracket, but her name had been noted. She’d probably pick up some readers from outside her state now — even a few nationally, as people tried to spot the new up-and-comers. Sherri was doing all right for herself. Maybe in a couple of years, when they both had more books under their belts and had earned national reputations, they’d even wind up in a head-to-head.

First, though, he needed to beat McCarthy. Updates had made it all the way across the Mountain Time Zone. Nevada was up next.

Words from the TV caught his attention — “And now, our guest, Darlene Fowler” — and Paul twisted around in his polished wooden chair as if he could see the screen from where he sat. That was definitely her voice. He rose to go see and almost missed the flicker of color from the corner of his eye.

Nevada flared green on the map; one of the writers had taken top honors by a margin of at least twice as many books sold. His eyes flicked to the bracket: McCarthy.

This couldn’t be happening. Paul had known the risks, of course, knew that one of them would pull ahead eventually, but he’d been certain that this book was his breakthrough. Numb, he walked into the living room to stare at his wife’s image. She had known this was coming, had to have to be on TV the same day the rankings came out.

“It was an easy matter to switch the names of his files,” Darlene was saying. “He didn’t submit the book he thought he did.”

“You made him turn in the wrong book?” The interviewer didn’t look shocked at this news, but rather eager for the sordid details.

Darlene laughed. “Something he wrote during high school. His new book — well, it will find an audience eventually.”

“Why?” Paul’s broken voice overlapped with the interviewer’s asking the same question.

“Why?” Darlene cocked her head to one side, her perfectly coiffed golden hair tilting to expose her swanlike neck. “Because with Paul, I would always be just his wife. With Vincent, I’ll be just as notorious as he is.”

He reached forward and turned the TV off. His books would sell better now. His name had been in the news — would be again, before nightfall. However, he would never write another word.

The knock on the door didn’t surprise him. The squad had probably been watching the interview, too. Nothing beat gossip about would-be bestsellers except past bestsellers. When you fell, you fell hard — and the wider the margins, the worse the penalty.

The knock came again.

“Come in,” Paul said, looking around.

The squad leader held up the warrant. “Paul Fowler, your competitor outsold you by an order of five.”

Paul couldn’t catch his breath. He’d expected to have his computer confiscated, even been ready to face the compulsory retraining. Five times, though?

“May Webster have mercy on you,” the squad leader said as he raised his gun. His squad followed suit.

Paul heard the shots, and that was all.


999 words

My blog is participating in the Forward Motion Flash Friday Blog Group, a weekly flash fiction exercise. Check out the other participating blogs for more flash.

Random Friday

Did I tell you I have a new flash story coming out? “The Call” will be the e-mailed story for Daily Science Fiction on Monday, May 14. If you’re not signed up to get their e-mailed stories, this is a good time to do it. Or you can wait a week, and they’ll have it posted on their site.

Spells & Swashbucklers, an anthology of pirates and magic from Dragon Moon Press, has my short story, “Maskèd Panama.” The official launch party will be over Memorial Day weekend at Balticon, but it’s available for purchase now (paperback at Amazon) (Kindle).

I did pick a winner for the Live and Let Fly giveaway contest and e-mailed to find out what format of e-book was preferred. Nutschell, if you’re reading this, check your e-mail. If I don’t have a response by next week, I’ll pick another winner.

It’s been a month since I’ve done a post on genres, and I do intend to get back to them. Life’s just been hectic — to keep those up while doing the A to Z posts would have required a lot more pre-planning (which I’m noting for next year). I will start those again next Friday. I’ve actually been pleased to see people find my blog in search engines by looking for things like the definition of urban fantasy or what makes cozy mysteries different from hard-boiled ones. Clearly, these posts are filling a need.

The A to Z challenge was a lot of fun, and the hosts of the challenge encouraged everyone to do a reflections post. They said, “You can put up your Reflections post anytime between now and Saturday May 12th.” Mine will go up tomorrow. If you’re interested in my thoughts, what I liked, what I’d do differently, come check it out. Otherwise, feel free to go enjoy the weekend. It’s supposed to warm up about 10 degrees here and be sunny (which still leaves it cooler than California and Nevada — springlike weather here generally is for the most part in the 60s and 70s). I may even get outside to plant the flowers I bought from the fundraiser at my daughter’s daycare (begonia, portulaca, impatiens, and geranium).

Friday Flash: Chosen

Hargold the Chosen One strode up the hill to meet his destiny, wondering at the lack of a castle silhouetted against the sky. At the top of the hill, a hole led down into darkness. A sign beside it read, “This way to the dungeon.”

He’d never heard of a dungeon without a castle or a ruin atop it, but the evil within must be dank indeed to be imprisoned so far from any habitation.

The steps that led down into the hole were straight and true, the walls uneven and dry (and patently free of cobwebs), and the torches in their sconces burned with little smoke. Doubt niggled at Hargold.

The ground leveled out, and the short hallway passed through an arch (no door, he noticed, and wondered how a dungeon worked without a door) and opened into a cavernous space with a line of people — and other beings — snaking their way into the darkness. The line didn’t appear to be moving.


He snapped his attention to his left, where a woman dressed in green velvet lounged on top of a desk. Doubt stopped niggling and started shouting.

“Excuse me?”

“Name?” She waved a clipboard at him. “I need to verify who’s been called.”

“What are all these people doing here? This is my quest!” He glared at the line, trying to decide whether he had truly seen a metal woman. “I am Hargold the Chosen One.”

“Hargold, Hargold, let’s see . . . ” She ran her finger down the clipboard. “Here you are. Just sign here, please, and wait your turn at the back of the line.”

He finally decided to pay attention to the doubt. “Wait in line? But I am the Chosen One!”

“Honey, everyone here is chosen. He’s been chosen to kill his cousin. She’s chosen to look for someone who made a grave mistake, but what she finds is going to surprise her. That one there? The squid? He’s chosen to haunt a freshwater lake. You’re all special, you all have stories, and you have to wait your turn.”

Doubt or no, he would not whimper that he was chosen. Casting about for something else to say, he saw darkened niches around the edge of the cavern. The people inside them glared back at him, as annoyed as he. “What about them? Are they chosen, too?”

“They were. She threw them back, gave up on them, or otherwise rejected them. They stay on, hoping the line will vanish and their turn will come again.” She thrust the clipboard at him. “Now, sign here.”

He looked around the dungeon once more, at everyone in the unmoving line. “I think not. I may be Chosen, but I can also choose.”

As he stepped through the archway, the woman behind him laughed. “No one leaves until she decides. You’re just lucky she’s done with you already.”

His doubt left behind, Hargold mounted the steps, wondering if the baker would be willing to take a formerly Chosen One as an apprentice.

— The End —