We began our Short Story Unit with 6 word stories. These are the shortest of stories where the author is able to impact the emotions. The movement is based on Hemmingway’s famous six-word story:
For sale: Baby shoes. Never worn.
Our students examined a range of different genres and the conventions for some of the main groups we identified. We read short stories that offered us models and examined how these models could offer us insights into writing great short stories. We chose our genres, created our characters and experimented with how to build tension in our stories. We wrote our stories and shared them, had our peers offer constructive feedback and rewrote them until the movie of our story was running in the reader’s mind as they read it. Here are a few we would like to share with you…
JARS by Miro Salom
SCI-FI (a story that has fictional elements that are usually set in the future. It also usually includes a scientific element.)
I get out of bed, get dressed, then head outside for my morning jog. We own a tiny, itty-bitty planet so one minute into my jog it is already midday. Then another minute in and the sun has almost set. I sat and watched it before heading back into the morning and towards our cabin.
I step inside and the smell of sizzling bacon and eggs meet my nose. I shake the snow off my jacket and then walk into the house to see a large man at the stove who turns around to face me.
“Morning Joe!” Logan says, a grin growing on his face. “I got your breakfast cooking!”
“It smells wonderful.”
“I’m almost done, but could you go and check on the universes before breakfast? Thanks!”
I nod my head and walk past our living room, and past the inviting fireplace, and walk to our cellar door. I open it and walk into a room filled with jars, all glowing purple with the light of a million universes. We keep them all in jars and look after them.
On one side of the room is a row of microscopes with jar shaped holders in them. On the opposite side are blue clamps with giant gears surrounding them. Next to those is a giant, roaring furnace. The wall closest to me is covered with wooden bats. A giant net hangs beside them. Underneath those are the protective gear, painted the ugliest green possible.
I walk up to one of the jars that are due to expire soon and examine the timer projected onto the front. It reads 00:00:00:02:05. It still has two hours left, but it’s likely most life forms have already died anyway, so I grab one of the giant mallets hanging on the wall. I grab the jar and set it on the table, sitting at the side of the room. This is my favourite part of the job.
I grab the mallet and swing. The jar explodes with a bang and a flash. Purple light floods into the room and the universe inside the jar expands into the dark cellar, lighting it up. I look at it for a while before grabbing the net hanging on the opposite wall then I scoop up the universe and bring it up-stairs.
Logan was setting the table for breakfast when I walked out into the kitchen.
“You did it without me?” Logan says as soon as he sees the net, “I wanted to see it.”
“You get to do the next one.”
“Yeah right, you said that the last time.”
“I got to go and dump this in the garden, but don’t eat without me.”
“Don’t worry, I will.”
I go into the garden and turn the net over, tipping out the starry purple mist. It dissolves into the air before it hits the ground. I turn back around and head inside for breakfast.
As usual, the breakfast was incredible. After, we have to go tend to the jars. Our job is to look for defects in universes and erase them if necessary. Erasing a defected universe is a lot more dangerous than erasing one that’s about to expire. The one this morning was one that was ready to go, so it went peacefully and didn’t hurt us. But the ones that we have to destroy more forcefully can get very angry.
“I found one!” Logan said. “Come have a look.”
I walked over to where he was sitting, peering into a microscope. He moved out of the way, I looked through it. In this universe there was a dark mass that was spreading between planets, devouring species. It was quite a common disease.
“You can deal with this one,” I said, turning to talk to Logan, “I’m really not in the mood.”
“Fine, but you're doing the next one.”
He got up and walked over to one of the vises on the wall and shoved the jar in. He then walked over to the wall of ugly looking and uncomfortable protective masks hanging on the wall and grabbed two.
“You can either leave the room or put one on,” Logan said after seeing the expression on my face.
“Yeah, I know.”
He threw me one and I pulled it over my head. I hated wearing them, it was extremely itchy and unpleasant.
Logan nodded to me and I nodded back. He turned the vise and crushed the jar. Almost immediately it exploded with raw energy spilling out, trying to destroy everything it could reach. I grabbed a metal bat off the wall and tried to beat it away from the shelves and towards the burning incinerator. Logan grabbed one too and we slowly herded the rogue universe towards the fire that would be its death. Finally, we got in and Logan shut the furnace door.
“You’ve got soot on your face,” Logan said, throwing me a towel, “Clean yourself up, it’s your turn next.”
We repeat the same process over and over. Searching for the defective ones, destroying them and then looking for the defective ones again. It wasn’t a boring process but it got very tedious.
After almost two hours of doing that, Logan found something strange in one of them.
“Joe! Come take a look at this!” He yells from across the room. “This one is different.”
I look at the universe inside the jar. It has the same black mass as the rest of the defective ones.
“I don’t see anything different.”
“Look closer at this planet,” Logan says, slightly excited.
I look closely at the planet he is pointing to. It’s a tiny planet with only one small house with a lovely looking garden.
“This is our planet! What’s it doing in there?”
“I think this is our universe. I think we live inside that jar.”
“Well, what are we going to do?”
“Well if we don’t destroy it, the virus will spread,” Logan says, slowly.
“So we have to destroy it?” I ask.
Logan nodded. He took the jar from inside the microscope and placed it in the vise. He turned it and a searing pain shot through my body. The jar smashed and my body fell to the floor pulsating with horrible, burning pain.
The universe sat there pulsating and Logan and I lay on the floor screaming. I pull myself to my feet and take hold of the wooden bat. I know that if I don’t destroy it, the virus will spread. I swing at the universe, every time I hit feels like another organ inside of me is popping. I slowly guide it towards the fire, each step closer more painful than the last. I finally force it in and my body is racked with pain. It feels like someone is stabbing me with needles and reaching inside me and bursting my organs, all while being burnt alive.
Then there was nothing.
There was something peculiar about Maria’s presence. Something ghost like, as if you might be able to look right through her. Something about the absence in her watery green eyes made you feel odd and uncomfortable. Everyone felt it, yet no one spoke it. I knew she was conscious of my stares as she glared out the windows. The bell went and everyone stood to leave, Maria stayed seated, eyes on the window.
A few weeks of having Maria in class and everyone was onto the new gossip. My friends would talk about upcoming parties at lunch but I couldn’t get her glassy eyes out of my mind. The way she acted was almost as if she was holding an imagined creature off, weird. Then I had a crazy thought, I told my friends I had lots of homework to catch up on and headed the direction to my house, once I was out of sight I doubled back to the bus stop where I saw her waiting. As I sat low at the back of the bus it never once crossed my mind how crazy this was.
I was rocked back and forward as the bus travelled through the city, the crowd slowly disappeared until it was just Maria, the bus driver and I. Further and further out of the city we travelled until the grass became thicker and longer and the houses became smaller and more sparse. The bus driver looked uneasy as he peered into the mirror at Maria and I with his aged eyes. I was squashed against the window as we turned into a narrow dirt road, slowly picking up speed until the forest on either side of us was flashing by in a blur of green. The fabric of the seat seemed to crawl with life underneath me, I reached down to pull a loose thread from the seam and before I got the chance to flick it away, my face was muffled in a large piece of fabric. I tried to fight the force but it was no use. Screaming, clawing, my vision was disappearing and i felt my consciousness escaping my control, then black.
Green eyes, green eyes was the first thing I saw when I woke up. Watery green eyes that were so pale they might not even be there. A pupil, so small like the pinpoint of a fine pen, staring straight into my soul. I can feel the cold rough bricks grabbing at my T-shirt, I look around and notice I am in an empty room, empty except for a single mellow green light hanging from the high ceiling. My arms and legs are not tied down to anything but my body is paralysed. When the green eyes loosen my eyes from my vision, my body is free again and I flex my fingers to make sure i’m still alive. I stupidly try make a run for the door, no use, the eyes are on me again and my body is frozen, I cant even blink. The body is in front of me, Maria. I try to open my mouth and scream but I can’t even breathe now, my body is slowly turning numb when all of a sudden I am swept backwards and crushed against the wall, I can scream now, but my body is pinned against the hard brick.
“You thought you were so tricky didn't you” she says in a low velvet like tone, “Following me onto the bus, all the way here. I have dealt with boys like you before, cowards. You are afraid of reality, afraid of abnormalities in the world.” Sweat started dripping down my back and through my hair,
“What are you?”, I asked in a strangled voice, “Why am I here and what are you going to do to me?”. She snickered.
“What am I? I am everything you’re afraid of, I am the protector of your small world, I am all your memories and all of your insecurities. and what am i going to do do you? Haha, only time will tell”.
That’s when she dropped her hold on my body, but only to replace it with a searing pain behind my eyes. My vision blurred and sharp streaks of light pierced into my vision. My vision is blurred and I see a mass of tall eerie figures surrounding me. They are somehow inches away from my face and miles in the distance at the same time. Cooing out words that I don't understand but somehow make me feel incredibly sick at the sound.
What is going on. Everything was a blur of colour and noise, sounds that make me want to scream and cry. During the vision I experienced things that I could never explain, everything Maria had seen. Trauma that could never be described to a human. I finally understood. Horror, deaths and spirits, everything terrible she had seen, was mine now too.
I felt stares, I know how I look to other people, dazed and abnormal. I know a lot of things now, I know what the dead think as they are dying, I know what the newborns think as they grow. I know where the monsters hide and how the angels mock our existence. I know the spirits that peer through our windows waiting to attack innocent humans. I know that if I let my stare drop for even a second they will come rushing in to destroy life on earth. I know that Maria and I appear to be insane, though we are the only ones that can see everything. I give her frail hand a squeeze under the table as we continue to hold the evil away from the windows. Nothing is the same anymore, nothing will ever be the same. I will never be the normal boy who would stalk people like Maria and I. Too much has happened, I have seen too much to ever go back. Each day my eyes become more and more pale, too pale to go back. A pair of eyes from the back of the classroom glares into the back of my skull, he may think I cannot see him, but I can, he is curious, too curious. Something dangerous will happen tonight, I can feel it. He will be next.
Panic floods my body, consuming every inch of me, seeping into every part of my being. Like fire to a forest, adrenaline rushes through me and I know what I must do. Turning on my heel, I break into a sprint, leaving the reminiscents of the life I once lived behind me. Innocence is something I miss deeply, something I would do anything to get back. Faith, love & optimism were all gifts I once carried close to my heart. These gifts were cruelly, viciously snatched away from me, as was all I once knew.
My childhood was far from perfect, but I always had love, my family & my mother. My fondest memories now lie with her in the ground, while the beauty that was once her rots away. Before my birth, my mother had been told she couldn’t have children. This broke her heart, she had always dreamed of having a little girl, starting a family of her own. That’s why, when she fell pregnant with me, she decided to name me Hope. She had always told me that I was her greatest gift; that she believed hope was what brought me into this world. All I can do now, in the place I have found myself in, is silently pray that hope is what will continue to keep me in this world. Now, I am left alone, left with nothing but the dirt encased clothes on my back & a deep, bubbling pit of anger to rely on.
It’s strange, how the actions of one, singular selfish person can affect so many others. And this fact right here is exactly why I have to keep going. I can’t & won’t let Axel win, won’t let him do to me what he did to my mother and countless others. No matter where I run, I can’t escape him. He’s everywhere. Him with his flailing wisps of grey hair & his beady merciless green eyes. Even if he’s not here right now in body, wanted posters with his face on them, plaster the walls before me. The police don’t want him as much as he wants me, it seems. Oh how I wish they did. He’s relentless & will stop at nothing to destroy whoever comes in his path. It just so happens, that at the moment, this person is me. Turning a corner, I realise just how much more trouble I’ve gotten myself into.
There are rows & rows of beggars. “Money!” they all cry, almost in unison. I’m dragged to the ground by a pool of them; my pockets are raided for anything valuable. Luckily, even my most prized possessions would have no value to any of them. A flash of gold flies past my eyes. I turn to see who owns the gold & let out a gasp. It’s him. I run on & on, pretending that my throat is not dry & that my legs are not weak. It feels as if I’m running in circles, this man constantly on my tail as lines & lines of grimy houses go by in a blur. A marketplace filled with the scent of filth & dead meat lies only metres away. Hoping to get lost in the hustle & bustle of it all, I ease in casually. Axel has finally lost me. Without knowledge of when he’ll catch up again, I decide to keep going as if he’s still chasing me. Sure enough, within a few seconds, he is again. “Get back ‘ere little missy,” he purrs. “Nothing to worry about, It’s just me.”
Ignorance is a powerful thing, I decide, rushing ahead. I race like I’ve never raced before, sprinting as fast as I can & turning each corner without a single glance back. I can’t be sure of where I am, only vaguely aware of the similarities between this place & my hometown. Both share the grimy, withering, grey look of infinite poverty & the same cool, unforgiving air. I try my best to pay no heed to the feeling that death is creeping up on me, each second going by fastening its pace.
Axel Archer, the famous mass murderer on my tail: London’s most wanted man. He’ll stop at nothing until I’m dead. Nothing. I feel a sharp pang in my foot and looking down, realise that my shoes have broken. I pull the glass away from my foot, oozing red blood pouring out quickly. Just my luck, I mutter, just my luck.
5 Long Days Later:
Mist covers the outskirts of town, stretching as far as the eye can see. I’ve gone hungry before, but have never starved like this. With sleep deprivation creeping up on me, I have to resist the urge to collapse onto the cobblestone pavers. How easy that would be, I think to myself. The wind whips against my pale, bony face, making my ability to see worsen. I can walk no further, run no longer. Suddenly, the metallic taste of blood fills my mouth & there’s nothing left to do but surrender, to disappear into nothingness. Falling onto the cold, hard floor, I slip into a world of darkness.
My eyes peel open, taking in the scene around me. Dizziness overwhelmes me as I stand up, along with a hunger so painful, it’s hardly bearable. I rub my eyes in confusion. Moments ago I was alone. A blurred silhouette faces me & as I stride closer, I can just make out the crazy wisps of grey hair hovering above his head. A man with a malicious expression painted on his face stands before me, his yellow crooked teeth breaking into a smile. Maniacal laughter fills the air & I know it’s him. I notice a gun in his hand and gulp. He wouldn’t I think to myself. But in reality, I know the truth, he would. He lifts the gun, stroking the cold metal in his hand & points it directly at me. Slowly, his expression changes & his aim shifts slightly above me, his smile spreading wider, “I’ve waited a long time for this,” he cackles. If I turn to see what he’s about to shoot, I’ll be dead. But if I don’t… I squeeze my eyes shut tightly as he pulls the trigger. It’s now or never.
October 14th: It was a dreary October evening and the leaves lay dead on the unattended garden beneath my peeling grey windowsill. I have just moved in to my new flat, embellished with stained carpet and peeling floral wallpaper. My kitchen sink stacked with forgotten stagnant dishes and my bedroom with clothes. I sit preparing for my new job as a night guard for “genetic pioneer” which study genetic mutation and hybridisation although seem oddly secretive about further details.
When I arrive to see old metal gates lit up by the setting sun, a small chill tickles the back of my neck. I drive closer to a fellow guard who greets me and says “what are you here for?”
I respond by saying “I have just been issued a night guard position for genetic pioneer.”
“Right, good luck. The last ones didn’t stay too long,” says the night guard and on that suspicious note the rusted gates open, scratching the pavement the whole way round.
A few hundred meters past the gates, over a sea of cement is a large rectangular building, grey and aged like a prison, and to the right of it is a smaller building marked “employees only”. The interior of the first floor of the employee building is full of old grey lockers and benches. Upstairs resides the distasteful manager, with pale and withered skin like mouldy mayonnaise sitting behind his old dusty cedar desk.
“So you must be here for your contract,” he aggressively exclaims.
“Oh yes please” I reply. And after rummaging through his filing cabinet for too long he grabs it and slams it on the desk, which I skittishly grasp and leave to go to work.
October 15th: Arriving at the grounds at 9:30PM a weird tension slinks through misty air and throughout the night, things become weirder, starting with loud electrical zapping sounds echoing across the deserted night time grounds but later I hear loud animal like roaring, screaming, scratching and crying.
October 16th: I could tell something isn't right, so I run to the manager up stairs and start telling him about the weird noises echoing from inside of the laboratory and how something is wrong. But he acts suspiciously calm and says “Have a read of your worker’s contract and you’ll understand.”
So I rush downstairs and open my rusty locker to find my contract, after reading to the bottom. In fine print it states: “Any employee’s at genetic pioneer are sworn to secrecy of the inner workings of the laboratory and company. Failed compliance may result in loss of position as a worker”.
It was at this moment I realise I have made a huge mistake, but I still need my job so I angrily throw the contract back in the locker and get to work. Still throughout the night the noise of tortured animals haunts and surrounds me and the repeating zapping and screaming overwhelms me.
October 19th: By Sunday all I can think about is the noises of tortured creatures. In sleep deprived fury I devise an insane plan to break into the lab and investigate the corruption of genetic pioneer. It is the only day I am off work and when it creeps to 11:00PM, It is time to set off into the dry and cloudy night.
After working as a night guard for the time I have, I know a bit about the security features and guards and how to avoid them, making me further prepared for when I arrive at the fence. I’m on the back edge of the grounds and a surge of adrenaline powers me as I cut the rusty fence. I stealthily run to the main building towering over me and carefully shatter the thick blacked out glass windows with a small hammer. Luckily I remained unnoticed. From there I climb inside.
The tense anaesthetic air fills my lungs and there before me is a hallway packed with small cages holding weaponised and hybridised creatures. They appeared injured with thick clotted blood covering their scales, fur or feathers. They were out of a nightmare, from a tiger hybridised with a grizzly bear to a chimpanzee, red backed spider. They each have labels that read “the test batch and hybrid.”
From the far side of the hallway a hazmat clad scientist enters, notices me and shouts “INTRUDER!”. Before I know it three more scientists arrive holding long metal electrical poles. I run faster than I have ever before into the next room filled with metal benches, test tubes, posters, with pictures of animals and sharp surgical instruments. From there I run to the next room, full of gas containers labeled ‘flammable 3’ and chemicals in jars. Through the doorway, I see an enlarged group of scientists and almost in slow motion I saw one throw the pole at me, I jumped to the side, but it hit a jar of chemicals which set on fire, fell to the ground and melted through the plastic cable attached to the gas containers.'
I dash to the next room and hide inside a locker, and before I know it I hear a loud BOOM and the scream of some dying scientists. My head goes dizzy and all I hear is ringing but when my senses return I just see blackness... I hear what sounds like hundreds of hybrids attacking scientists and each other clambering in the six floors above. And then loud overhead, choppers and sirens arriving with loud mounted machine guns firing at all escaped hybrids. in a dream like state I am rescued by the frenzied SWAT barging through the huge metal doors.
Unfortunately the SWAT team and scientists had many casualties, but fortunately I live to tell the gruesome tale in my decrepit prison cell.