Flash fiction: There’s only so much I can do

Author’s note: In preparation for NaNoWriMo 2009, someone put up daily prompts on one of the forums. I did them in the spirit of warm-ups, but some of them turned into stories. Here is one such, from 10/3/2009. This scene later found its way into my 2009 NaNo novel, The Reincarnations of Miss Anne.

Prompt (and title): There’s only so much I can do.

The sky overhead is grey and threatens at any moment to let loose its burden of snow.  How the clouds lose their edges in this weather—the colder the air, the looser the shape—and the sky over us is unraveling wool, the air at the ground raw and chilly.  The trains have been standing on the siding for hours now.  There’s no word from the stationmaster, and the local gendarmes are standing on the platform with another detachment of prisoners to be loaded, and there’s the usual whimpering children and distraught husbands and wives.  Noise.

There’s only so much I can do.  I’ve almost learned to tune out the noise.  It sounds like human voices, but really this is cargo.  Ticks on a manifest.  There’s another convoy behind that one, so it would be really nice if the stationmaster could come up with some rolling stock before we have them backed up the road from town.  Not good, that sort of thing.  It reflects badly on the organization.

“Have you seen my husband Anton?  He’s this tall, black hair, wearing a grey cap and an overcoat…”  well, no, I haven’t seen your bloody husband, not if he’s been minding his business, and if he hasn’t, then that’s too bad.  Too bad in any case.

I don’t answer them any more, not aloud, although there’s still an annoying voice in my head that says what I’d say if I weren’t so dedicated to efficiency.  That’s the problem with this peasant rabble.  No appreciation for efficiency or modernity or any of the virtues of progress.

“Mama! Mama! Did you see my mama?”

Look up that road, where the birch trees almost make an allee, past those blank muddy fields.  You wouldn’t think that was overpopulated, would you?  Well, it is, so says that lady from Berlin.  She explained it all to us, how there’s too many of them compared to what they produce.  See, they grow food and make shoes and so forth, but it’s all for each other.  It doesn’t serve the greater world.  It makes no contribution to the economy, see?

There’s only so much I can do, and if that bloody stationmaster had any appreciation for his part in the New Europe, he’d get us those cars forthwith.  Damned Polish backwater.  No respect.  And it’s started to snow.

(Process information: 390 words, maybe 15 min)


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3 Responses to Flash fiction: There’s only so much I can do

  1. Sue says:

    15 minutes? it took 15 minutes to write that amazing little glimpse into history? Your descriptions are so visual and the voice so – true? so impressive. by the way my Rowling thing is due in a week and in the meantime been quoting you all over the place 😀

    • epbeaumont says:

      The 15 minutes was the writing time, but the foreground was rather more extensive. I’ve been reading on the mid-century genocides for decades now, and the exercise was to make the overall pattern vivid and specific. The book that inspired this was Ally and Heim’s Architects of Annihilation.

  2. Becca says:

    Wow, such a dark feeling to this one, without saying it you bring forth a war. I can feel the detachment that makes the narrator no longer care about the ones he carries.

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