Sunday, August 27, 2006


House of Sternberg

I don't write flash fiction. I find it too restrictive and for the most part, few markets want anything under a thousand words. Most of the flash fiction I write is done out of boredom, mostly as a limbering exercise before the real writing begins.

Still, that doesn't mean that there isn't a place for extremely short work and perhaps we should drop the phrase "flash fiction" here and now and adopt the old term "short shorts". The master of that form was, of course, Frederick Brown. Still, I've read shorts by Bradbury, Asimov, and even H.P. Lovecraft. Maybe some of the shorts are over a thousand words, but not by much.

Anyway, below is another of my "short shorts". Under five hundred words.

DARK HORSE by stewart sternberg

"Are you ready to live up to your part of the bargain?"

The voice took the newly elected President of the United States by surprise. He sucked in his breath and slowly turned around. Eyes red-rimmed, mouth a pale line of concern, he studied the visitor from a lawyer’s perspective.

"I didn't think to see you so soon," said the President. "I've only been sworn in for forty-eight hours."

"I'm sorry," Satan said with a self-conscious grin.

The Devil looked around the oval office and made some appreciative sounds with tongue against his cheek. "You may find this hard to believe, but you’re my first president, at least of the United States.”
The Chief Executive raised an eyebrow and scoffed.
“Oh, I've had tons of elected officials,” said Satan. “I’ve had clergy by the gross, and so many CEO's that I quite frankly had to stop dealing in them. But you...I don't know why I waited so long."

The president's shoulders sagged in shame. Satan shook his head and leaned forward. When he spoke again, his voice was as soothing as money. "Now, now, let's try and cheer up. You're making me feel bad, and this is a time when we should both be celebrating. Heavens, it could be worse, the independents could have won. Think of the gridlock."

The president experienced a fleeting moment of courage, something rare for a man so skilled at politics. It took him a second to recognize it.

"What if I won't do what you ask?" he said.

Satan studied him and then shook his head. "Oh, you'll live up to the bargain. I've had enough sense to take out an insurance policy. The Vice President would look very nice behind that desk."

The President tried to summon a rejoinder, but only sputtered.

Satan looked disappointed. "Now, let's finish this."

The president nodded gravely and turned to the piece of paper he knew he would find waiting for him on his desk. He read through it twice, sadly unable to find any loopholes, and reluctantly scribbled his name at the bottom. Satan immediately snatched the document and read it through with delight.

"I can't tell you how good this feels," cried Satan, real tears squeezing from the corners of his eyes.
"That piece of paper won't do you any good," said the President. "A Presidential Pardon is only good inside the boundaries of the United States."

Satan grinned. "Perhaps, but it's a start, Mr. President. Let's hope it's the beginning of a trend."

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