Saturday, January 30, 2010

Common Words #10: The Ossuary

Writing a novel is easy. One of the most important factors in writing a long-form work is endurance - when you've got weeks or months of solid writing ahead of you before everything is wrapped up, you've got the luxury to plan as you go and head in the general direction of the conclusion. As long as there are interesting sights for the reader along the way, you'll generally be forgiven for not taking the straight path. Besides, honestly, that can easily be boring.

Short stories are completely different. When you have a hard word limit of six thousand, you don't have the freedom to develop it as you go. There's not much room for worldbuilding in short stories, and there's definitely no opportunity for detouring. I, personally, found it rather easier to write a novel over a period of three months and two days than it's been to write short stories.

Short shorts are the absolute hardest. It takes a lot of practice to write a story with a word count in the hundreds, and to make it good. It's a category I haven't really focused on, myself - it's difficult to come up with an idea that can be crystallized and explored satisfactorily in such a small space.

But I have tried. I wrote this story, "The Ossuary," in October 2005, and I only discovered it recently while poking through my hard drive. It comes in at two hundred and ninety-nine words. I imagine it was a challenge to write; I can't remember the process.

"The Ossuary"
by Andrew Barton

The structure was rotten. Iona stepped lightly, afraid that the floor would give way beneath her. It had stood for millennia, to be sure, but she had no desire to hasten its collapse. The treasures inside were too valuable for that.

"It's like an ossuary," Iona breathed. The skins of the building had been eroded long ago, leaving only a bleached skeleton. Most of it was swept by harsh, uncompromising winds, and it was only in the protected shadows and oases that anything was left to be found.

Whoever had used the place hadn't believed in shelves or Dewey. Iona wasn't much of a librarian, and while she knew what she needed to find, the path was dark and foreboding. If she tried she could see the ancient footprints of thieves long dead, and when she did she cursed their shades.

"I'm not afraid to say it," Iona muttered. "History is more important than your stomachs."

It had been their kind that made Iona and her comrades dig in the dirt for the bones of forgotten civilizations, their kind that had denied humankind its ancient heritage. She hoped their own bones had been worn to dust long ago.

The ancients might be dust now, but their legacy was still remembered.

A wide, satisfied grin spread across her face as she pushed the debris away. The air tasted purer here, away from the once-great central hall, unbreathed for generations on end. The treasure remained, she was sure of it.

She spent what seemed like hours sorting through the books, each one embossed with alien ideographs. At last she came across it, and felt a warmth spread through her. It hadn't be a waste after all.

When she lifted the cover, just the slightest bit, the pages within dissolved to powder.


This story is distributed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 license. That means you are free to Share - to copy, distribute and transmit the work - and to Remix - to adapt the work - under the following conditions:

Attribution. You must attribute the work in the manner specified by the author or licensor (but not in any way that suggests that they endorse you or your use of the work).

Noncommercial. You may not use this work for commercial purposes.

Share Alike. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under the same or similar license to this one.

Previously on Common Words

No comments:

Post a Comment