The Walk

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Dear reader, it’s time to go way back in the archives. While “The Deadliest Sword” is older by a year or so, “The Walk” stands as a marker in my growth as a writer. I wrote it sometime in high school, and it is, I think, the first story that others told me was really good. Here’s an author note about the story from a limited-run short story collection I self-published years ago:

This is the earliest work in this collection. It was almost published by Merlyn’s Pen when I was in high school. They sent me a letter saying they loved it, but that there were too many things unexplained. I made revisions and sent it back. Still, there were too many things unexplained. This was one of my problems as a young writer. I didn’t want to explain everything. I suppose I still write stories like that, if with more sophistication. There is a short book waiting to be written about Linny.

I suppose I can still be accused of not explaining as much as I should. Oh well. And the book about Linny is still in my head. Someday, maybe.

Sidetrack: It’s very strange her name’s Linny. I’d forgotten that. We named our dog Linny (who’s twelve today) but based off a different fictional character I created, Linova.

Anyway…. I’m still fond of the concepts dealt with in this story. It’s a distinct style of time travel, and I like it.

So, if you want to read vintage Nick, a story about a young man walking through time, or a tale of a precocious young girl dealing with her gift, why not try “The Walk”?

Here it is: The Walk by Nick Hayden

 

The Tale of Jade and the Chest of Light

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Author’s Note: In poetry class in college, we attempted different forms. This is a sestina. Sestinas are a pain, where you choose six words to end each of the six lines of a stanza, and these words rotate through the lines of each subsequent stanza, until you use them all in the last three lines of the poem. Also, sestinas don’t normally rhyme. I wanted mine to rhyme. And so it does. I hadn’t read this is a long time, but it still sounds good, at the very least. 


“I have a tale to tell,” I yell throughout the inn one night.
The drunken faces turn like weather vanes, their voices fade—
They know, of course, that I can tell a tale and tell it right—
And so, like kids they wait expectantly, each man and maid.
A fellow dumps his beer upon the fire to dim the light.
“This is the tale of Gold and Ruby and their sister, Jade.

“Their mom, I fear, had passed away while giving birth to Jade.
Their father, though, was then a politician, once a knight,
His splendor tarnished long ago while battling a Fade.
You know of Fades, those shadow-fiends that hide in darkness, right?
They rarely show themselves, but everything that’s dark is made
Of thoughts they think and breaths they breathe—the enemy of light.

“The kingdom and its subjects shone with scintillating light
The day the stranger came with tragedy for lovely Jade.
He came by coach, in dust, with introductions long as night.
He brought a chest of glowing beauty that would never fade.
And this aquarium of dreams he said was theirs by right
If only they could guess the stuff of which the chest was made.

“Now Gold was slim and blond and twenty-one. He had it made,
And yet he longed to have this cubic sun, this solid light,
To robe himself in heaven’s warmth. He shivered, pushed past Jade,
And grasped its surface as a lady to her war-bound knight.
A sniff, a bite, a drink, a soak…and he would never fade.
‘The whispers of the soul that are not heard are in there, right?’

“Now Ruby spoke, his voice a flaming whip. ‘That isn’t right.
The soul cannot be boxed. Inside resides the love of maids,
The wheel of fire which is desire, true sight of passion’s light!’
He too embraced the chest he wished to own, ignoring Jade.
The stranger did not answer. No one moved till day was night—
The constant war of gloom and glory stood in hands of Fades.

“Now Jade adored her brothers and abhorred the things of Fades,
But in the ghastly light the two congealed, the wrong with right:
Her brothers hated her and loved the goddess they had made.
She trembled, bright with rage, and grabbed the stranger’s cloak. ‘That light!
It’s stolen every snatch of beauty, love, and pride,” screamed Jade,
‘On which the light of life finds strength to fight the dying night!’

“The stranger then transformed to Night, embodiment of Fade.
‘You’re right in part, but gifts aren’t stolen, but are freely made.’
He took her forfeit light and left but Jealousy in Jade.”

Incidents on a Sunday Afternoon

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Bluesnap / Pixabay

Time for another story from the archives!

I almost forgot about this one. I usually write some sort of speculative fiction. If I write contemporary, it’s usual a “Vienna” story, a tale set in the fictional Midwest town of Vienna. Today’s story “Incidents on a Sunday Afternoon,” however, stands alone. Here was my write-up from year’s ago:

Life is funny. This story proves it. The vast majority of the events in this story happened to my family one Sunday afternoon. For the sake of the story, I condensed the characters to two, from the original six or seven. Ostrich eggs are awesome.

It really was a strange afternoon all those years ago, and this is one of the first times, I think, where I wrote in a lighthearted everyday life sort of way, a tact I occasionally use for my flash fictions. (See “The Best Thing In the Whole World,” for instance.)

Anyway, if you want pregnant pugs, traveling relatives, and failed attempts at drilling a hole in an ostrich egg all wrapped into one story, have you come to the right place! Download the story here–>incidents-on-a-sunday-afternoon-nick-hayden

Time to Debut My New Short Story Collection

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Time for an actual author update, as opposed to a story.

Once again, it’s time for me to shuffle forth from my hermitage into the dusty autumnal light. This time, it’s to attend my first “con,” or convention, as an author. If you’re in Fort Wayne this Saturday and Sunday, stop by Fantasticon at the Grand Wayne Center where Nathan Marchand and I will be selling books. (And where I’m likely to be the most flannel person among a colorful cast of characters.)

fantasticon

I’ll have The Unremarkable Squire available, of course, as well as Bron & Calea Volume 1. It’ll also be the debut of my new short story collection, Behind the Curtain.

Behind the Curtain collects 19 stories, many available on this website, into one print edition. Together they represent some of my favorite and best short stories. Here’s the back cover:

A man trying to escape his timeless, unchanging prison…A father bent on demanding justice from the gods…A mad scientist scouring parallel worlds for riches…A child confronting the clock tower that haunts his dreams….A stranded spaceman struggling to fix a broken world…. Within the covers of this book are stories of men and women seeking that one thing just out of their grasp, searching for the realization of visions and dreams and nightmares, hoping to pull back the curtain and finally see…. Collected here are 19 short stories by Nick Hayden that examine what lies just beyond our reach, whether in outer space, another land, or just next door.

shortstry-cover

If you can’t make it to Fantasticon for a copy, Behind the Curtain is also available at Amazon.

 

 

Never Liked Fritters

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The line was too long and I didn’t like apple fritters, but I had committed to buying one anyway, so I was stuck waiting as the crowd pressed past me. It hadn’t been quite as crowded in the primitive area where I’d bought myself a wooden toy axe while I built up my courage. I fidgeted with the leather strands hanging from the handle and peeked around the old woman in front of me. She held a sackful of beef and noodle containers in one hand and an umbrella in the other, just in case.

It was one of those rare years at the Apple Festival where the temperature was just a tad biting and the wind low and the clouds heavy but dry. It was quintessential sweatshirt and cider weather, and even I was a bit giddy with autumnal melancholy. That was the only excuse I had.

The apple fritter booth was quite the operation. She was there, not in the mixing hut or by the kettles, but at the table, powdering the fritters, face covered with powdered sugar, hair hid in the Little-House-on-the-Prairie bonnet. She wore an apron and a pioneer gown and I could hear her ridiculous laugh even over the noise of the kids standing outside the booth screaming, “Get your apple fritters!” at the top of their lungs. I think her laugh could startle birds and possibly make dogs whimper, but she didn’t seem to care. I think that’s why I liked it. In high school, everyone is painfully self-conscious–but she wasn’t.

I wouldn’t be able to talk to her, of course, because she wasn’t taking money, but if she looked my way, I would wave and smile. Maybe nod. If the moment took me, I thought I might even say, “Hi.” I’d run through the different scenarios in my head.

The wind changed a few times as I waited, so I’d get a face full of smoke from the kettles now and then. I persevered. Just as I reached the table, the lady taking money said, “Miranda, I’m gonna take this extra money back, can you cashier?”

With a hearty, “Sure!” she jumped to the table and smiled at me. “How many?”

Stunned, I managed basic math: “One.”

“Coming right up. That’ll be three dollars.”

I retrieved my remaining cash. One, two…. I counted again. One, two…. After the tenderloin and the root beer and the hay maze (which I was really too old for) and the axe….

“Never mind,” I mumbled and scurried away. At the side of the booth I leaned against the straw barrier and suffered, smacking the axe against my head.

“Hey.” I think the voice tried two or three times before I heard. Miranda stood next to me, separated by a two-bale high wall. She was offering me something. “I got you a fritter.”

“You didn’t–” I croaked.

“We’ll be selling a dozen for a dollar by day’s end. This one’s on the house. Employee discount.”

I took it. She waited. I set the axe down on the straw and eyed the white-coated, deep-fried lump warily.

I took a bite. I didn’t like apple fritters. Never had. But the sugar helped. And, I had to admit, this one, at least, was pretty good. I tried to say so with my mouth full.

Miranda just laughed.

Originally published in the 4County Mall, October 3, 2016.

To Peoria, with Love

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A sonnet I wrote for my wife’s birthday years ago:

I find at times all words as lengthened shadows,
Distorted views of figures clothed in light—
As a jewel set upon a ring, its brilliance bright,
I cut my words to capture what I know.
But how to write what God has wisely wrought,
As if Eve were but a rib and nothing more
And Adam never granted by our Lord
That joy to love another as he ought?
But God did give me pen and ink to write;
More, a living blessing to enjoy my trade—
And though my word is not His own, it’ll do:
Peoria, your beauty in my sight,
Though Pain and Sin may scar, will never fade,
For it’s a hint of heaven’s own—I love you.

The King’s Shield

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It’s time for another story from the archives, and this is a bigger one. Oddly enough, though it clocks it at more than 6000 words, which is about as big as my short stories get before they balloon past the 10,000 word mark, I have done little with this one.

Back when I dug up “The All-Seeing Prophet of Fortune and Love” for all y’all I introduced my high school Final Fantasy-esque story world Twilight Dawn. This story, “The King’s Shield,” takes place in the same world. Just as “The All-Seeing Prophet” was a sort of prologue written about Oscar and Otaka, two of the main characters of the RPG I was working on at the time, “The King’s Shield” was a prologue for Vitram Regol, an old knight of the Western Alliance.

It’s a story of war and a crisis of faith. The thing that remained with me most as I look back on it is the final scene, which still resonates with me.

So here it is, “The King’s Shield.” Enjoy!

Download–>The King’s Shield by Nick Hayden

 

“The jewels of heaven”

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One of my rare poems, dug up from the archive.

~~~

The jewels of heaven
Are scattered dust,
Our struggling, strutting
Tome of triumph,
A napkin note.
The sum of symphonies,
The corridor of conquest,
The ceaseless creative act of civilizations,
Is not one divine utterance—
For with a word

Light!

I am not a man,
I am a worm,
Declared the Eternal God
As he screamed
And bled
And died:
The Jewel of Heaven
Clothed in dust.

The earth his footstool,
He washed our feet.
Unclean lips, unclean people:
Our bodies: his stain-glassed sanctum.
Jesus save me—
I am Eden.

The Empty House

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Another story from the archives! This is an early story, written during my college career as a writing club challenge. Besides being based on a piece of music (if I remember correctly), I was also supposed to make it “not fantasy.” Er…not sure I managed that, except in a technical sense.

“The Empty House” is the story of a woman preparing for her father’s funeral. The woman, Susanna, resents her father for forgetting her in his final days as his mind and memories went. But while looking through his things, she discovers something….

It’s not a long story. Download and read it by clicking the link–>The Empty House by Nick Hayden

The Everlasting Bride

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Alice sat in one of the narrow stone paths that ran between the flower beds at Gene Stratton-Porter, staring at a bee busy within the center of a large pink flower. She should not have sat in the middle of the path; she wouldn’t be able to get up again. She was so, so tired, and stared at the bee without seeing it.

She should be at work. She needed the money. Money was freedom. But she couldn’t do it anymore–school and work and family, and the dark movements beneath them all she couldn’t escape. This was a peaceful corner, a place where she could breathe.

Last month, just last month, she had been at youth conference. She had known, deeply, her sin, so many sins, and known, somehow, that God loved her. That Jesus had forgiven her. And she had even glimpsed, impossibly, that it was possible to move out of the black ruts of her life–her so-called friends, her parents, her own broken nature. She had not expected it to be easy. Honestly, she thought it might be impossible. But for a day, she understood it might not be.

She should have sat on a bench, but the nearest was beneath the long, dim arbor, where the vestiges of a simple wedding were being removed. Above, the afternoon was dimming beneath wind-swept clouds.

The bee flew off. Alice looked round for something else. Nearby, a black toad sat, a dark stain among the bright flowers. She felt a keen kinship with it and reached out for it. It leapt away.

Her roving eyes looked again upon the arbor. The bride moved within, near the small table that must have served as altar. She picked up the cross there, held it beneath her arm, and took up the candle.  She was beautiful, dressed in white, but she spoke and moved with an everyday air, as if she were just a relative cleaning up, not the one just married. She seemed content, even happy, but in the most ordinary way, as if a wedding were the daily habit of life.

This struck Alice, and she could imagine this bride at home, in the kitchen, burning water in that elegant gown. And what if she did? What if she worked the drive thru, veiled, to make ends meet, as angry customers complained of wrong orders? Or walked down the aisle of Kroger’s, young child wailing, white slippers sliding across the tiles? Or wept upon a threadbare couch, red-faced after an argument with her mother, tears streaking her fine makeup? Alice saw the dress, spotless and untainted, in a thousand postures of suffering and toil and mundanity–jumping the rusted van, paying the bills, visiting the ER at half past midnight, waking up in the middle of the night, alone, with anxiety over something that she couldn’t even put into words, and rising panic…

Alice turned away, tears in her eyes. She cried, angry and ashamed at her emotion, but inside she ached, ached with some truth terrible and beautiful. The bride, even after the wedding, the bride for all the days after, still pristine and virgin and gorgeous, forever the bride, unchanging and worthy of celebration.

Alice prayed, then, in the garden as she had not since those days a month ago when she first saw how God saw her.