Cold Feet: A Seven-Sentence Short Story

Well, I did it again: led the Seven-Sentence Short Story workshop (created by science fiction and fantasy author James van Pelt) at a writing conference, this time, Wordbridge in Lethbridge, Alberta.

Here’s the story I wrote this morning. I had not the slightest idea what I would write until I began it, so this is very much an example of “pantsing,” as opposed to “plotting.” (Oddly enough, shortly after I’m writing this, I’ll be taking part in a panel on that very topic.)

The illustration above was AI-generated, by Microsoft Bing’s CoPilot. The prompt was along the lines of, “Create a 1950s science fiction-style upright rocketship with an open cargo hatch and a ramp leading down to a blackened concrete surface, with a futuristic city in the background and robots in front.” Something like that!

Are you seated comfortably? Let’s begin.

Introduce what the main character wants and the first action he/she takes to accomplish that goal.

Parador stood at the gate of the spaceport and stared at the towering spire of the starship Antilles Redux, the only ship in port and his only hope, and dashed onto the blackened duracrete of the landing field for the enticingly open hatchway that, he hoped, would gain him access to the ship and freedom from the Governor’s trackerbots, even then click-clacking their way down the alley along which he had just fled.

    The results of the action the character takes in sentence #1 has to make the situation worse. The character should be further from the goal now.

    He had barely made it a dozen metres before he tripped over something—he didn’t know what—and thudded hard to the pavement, knocking his breath from his body, leaving him stunned and unable to move for an agonizing moment during which the click-clacking of the trackerbots drew alarmingly nearer.

    Based on the new situation, the character takes a second action to accomplish the goal.

    Something rolled him over; something lifted him to his feet; something lifted him off his feet; and as, at last, he drew new breath, he realized he was in the arms of a cargobot and that the thing that had tripped him had been one of its attendant dog-like runabouts, which normally scurried around scanning crate labels, and with what little voice he could muster, he shouted, “Cargobot, take me to the starship!”, in the hope that like all good bots, it was programmed to obey any human command that did not involve criminal activity or violence against another human being.

    The result of the second action the character takes, from sentence #3, is to make the situation worse. The character should be even further from the goal now.

    And so it was, but it was also clearly programmed to consider the starship off-limits to unauthorized personnel because instead of carrying him toward the inviting opening that led inside—and onto the sovereign territory of Carstair’s Folly, the planet, he knew, from which the ship had originated, where the trackerbots could not follow—it turned at right angles and headed across the landing field toward the portmaster’s office, a glass-topped tower a good half a kilometre away, the trackerbots now so close they would have been nipping at the cargobot’s heels had they any way to nip and had it any heels to be nipped.

    Based on the new situation, the character takes a third and final action to accomplish the goal.

    That clearly was no good, so Parador twisted around in the cargobot’s outstretched upper arms, reached for the almost comically small sphere that served as its head and sensing device, gave it the special twist that he had learned, in his years as a port worker, would unplug and detach it, and then, with all his strength, threw it toward the starship, in the hope its programming for self-preservation would override every other command and cause the cargobot to turn and run after its bouncing, rolling brain.

    The third action either accomplishes the character’s goal, fails to accomplish the goal, or there is an unusual but oddly satisfying different result of the last action.

    Much to his relief, it worked, and the cargobot skidded, turned, and dashed after its head, so suddenly the trackerbots also skidded, toppled, and crashed together with the sound of a dining room’s worth of cutlery cascading down a stone staircase—a sound Parador was familiar with, since it had spelled the end of his shortlived career working with a high-end catering company, and Parador seized his moment, leaped from the cargobot’s arms as it slowed and bent to retrieve its brain, dashed the remaining twenty metres to the loading ramp, and ran up into the welcoming confines of the Antilles Redux’s cargo hold just ahead of the recovered trackerbots.

    The denouement. This sentence wraps up the story. It could tell the reader how the character felt about the results, or provide a moral, or tell how the character’s life continued on.

    Or not so welcoming: because inside the cargo hold, he found, not only the expected collection of crates and barrels, but none other than Governor Carlsbad von Henneberg himself, whose trackerbots he had been fleeing, and at his side, his daughter, Aliana von Henneberg, whom he had also been fleeing, and at his other side, the captain of the Antilles Redux—someone who, Parador knew all too well, was licensed to perform marriages, as all ship’s captains were; and so, as his brief dreams of escape crashed to the deck plates all around him, he took a deep breath, summoned a smile, and said, “Sorry I’m late—I hope you didn’t think I was getting cold feet.”

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