A few weeks ago I challenged everybody to write short stories in order to gather up some rejections—and acceptances. This week I’d like to share one of my own short stories—and it’s very short, only 314 words. I wrote this pretty quickly, thought about it a little, made a couple passes through it, and started sending it out. It was published in a small literary magazine a few years ago. This is the kind of thing I’m talking about, not epic novellas or intensely complex plot-twisted thrillers. Sometimes, a short story is just a moment. Like this…


“What’s this?” she said after she’d crossed right in front of him.

He didn’t really think she wanted to know the name of the movie she’d momentarily interrupted but still he said, “The Vampire Bat.”

There was, of course, no reaction, just the sound of her opening a cabinet in the kitchen then the refrigerator.

“It’s got me thinking,” he said, raising his voice a little to make sure she could hear him. “Every generation has a woman who looks just exactly like Maureen Stapleton.”

“Who drank the last Diet Coke?” she replied.

“In Maureen Stapleton’s generation, it was Jean Stapleton,” he said.

“Is this grapefruit juice still good?” she said.

He shook his head—didn’t care if she could see him or not. “I’m not happy,” he said.

“Can you get some more tomorrow?” she said. There was nothing in her voice to indicate she thought he might not.

He shook his head again. It never occurred to him to wonder if she meant he should get more Diet Coke, more grapefruit juice, or more of both.

“Did you check the voicemail when you got home?” she said.

He’d never left.

“I’m thinking of getting a PlayStation 4,” he said then something in the movie made him realize he hadn’t been paying attention. Who was Herman?

“Can you move Aiden’s dentist appointment to next Tuesday, the eighteenth?” she said.

In the movie, three men in suits walked down a staircase and met another man who told them Herman was dead.

“Poor Herman,” he said.

He couldn’t remember the last time he’d worn a suit.

“Is the car still making that weird sound?” she said, the sentence reeling itself out as she crossed back in front of the TV again.

“It’s calling out for help,” he said.

If she heard him, she gave no indication. She went up the stairs.

He said, “Poor Herman.”

—Philip Athans

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About Philip Athans

Philip Athans is the New York Times best-selling author of Annihilation and a dozen other books including The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Writing Monsters. His blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook, ( is updated every Tuesday, and you can follow him on Twitter @PhilAthans.
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  1. JL Nash says:

    Good story-I took up the challenge and i got a mini short accepted…

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