Here are the stories that were submitted to the Xykademiqz Short-Fiction Contest! They are listed in the order in which I received them. Please read them all and vote for your favorite in the poll below. I said there would be three; the fourth was belated, but I’m including it anyway.
To the author who didn’t leave a functioning email address: I don’t need your real-life email, but I need a functioning email address that you can check (such as xykademiqz at gmail; I probably have half a dozen addresses like that); otherwise, I cannot send you a confirmation email or any rewards you potentially get.
Ladies and gentlemen, without further ado — THE STORIES!
I sat on a stage looking at teenagers. Girls mostly, articulate high achievers, eager to please, wanting to be poised and desired.
The keynote speaker had told them how to succeed. She had shared her insights gleaned from a long career in business. A living, breathing role-model, she showed them that a successful businesswoman can be a mother of three, a wife with a lifelong marriage and more.
Now we sat on a stage for questions and discussion. One question came like a hurricane: how do you respond to discriminatory behavior in the workplace? The keynote speaker suggested taking the emotional sting out of the discussion by relying on data, and pointing out the logical arguments for diversity. I have said this too at many other similar events.
But when my turn came to take the microphone, facing all those young faces, I said something that welled up within me: the data is inside you.
As a teenager, I was taught to be pretty, polite, and pliable. As an adult, I thought I needed to be strong, tough and indestructible. But, pliability is not resilience. And, more than one of my friends have shattered from too much toughness.
Looking out at those unformed faces, I said whether you have brown eyes or blue eyes, you know what you are capable of, and you know where you want to start. Look inside and accept who you are. Resilience and courage are needed before you engage. I turned to hand the microphone to the next person on stage, and found a pair of eyes swimming with tears.
Has no-one yet taught you resilience?
Author bio: Roseicapilla is a mathematician, female and a professor to boot.
… AND THE SILVER SPOON
by Big boy blue
“But how is that useful?”. My mum is a mental health counselor and I sometimes wonder if she worries about mine. I accidently yawned as we discussed dads new garden project; she fussed about my sleep schedule; I explained about my proposal deadline; and she asked out of politeness or concern. I love my research, so glossed over the finer technical points to relay the core of the idea, the potential intellectual impacts, and the importance of this to my career.
“But how is that useful?”. The class is medium sized and as such an improvement from last year. This particular student is definitely focused on life and career after college, but he is brighter than most to ask even this question. The challenge, of course, is that the curriculum is theoretically heavy and central to admission in our upper level program. None of these reasons are inherently motivational so I proceed to the, at this point, rehearsed, tirade about industrial applications, examples where the field had an impact, and even try to sneak in a little passion for mastering the theory just for the love of it. Secretly, I look forward to the inevitable transformation that always happen when one or two of them will TA this material next year.
“But how is that useful?”. As a kid, academia was this fairy tale life where you got to be the smartest person on a subject, make great discoveries and win a Nobel prize. As undergrads we solved toy-problems in teams, with hard deadlines and shared excitement when finished. If my proposal is funded I’ll be hiring grad students and postdocs to work on their own sub-projects and I’ll be given an office in which to apply for more funding.
Author bio: Big boy blue is a STEM postdoc in an existential crisis.
I asked the “barista”, “Why does the small iced coffee cost more than the regular coffee for the same amount”.
“Well it’s brewed separately.”
“We brew them at separate times.”
“Yes but then the regular coffee is also brewed separately.”
“Um, well it’s also the cost of refrigeration.”
“Which I presume costs more than keeping the hot coffee hot?”
“Well we both have to heat it first and then cool it down.”
“I see, then by that logic, your ‘cold-brewed’ coffee should be even cheaper, since it is never heated up, yet that costs even more.”
“Well that one is brewed separately, too.”
“Separately from the hot coffee and the iced coffee?”
“And that’s why it costs more.”
“Yes, they are all brewed separately”.
“I’ll have an espresso.”
Author bio: Ballpoint is an occasional writer and full time coffee drinker. She hails from a small city near you.
ALMOST COST ME MY ACADEMIC LIFE
by Distinguished Professor
I had and still have the terrible habit of chewing on papers and napkins. They just taste really good to me and sometimes I cannot resist. More than 20 years ago, I was admitted to a graduate program in the United States from a distant country. I arrived in the JFK airport at 10 pm. An immigration officer checked all my paperwork and cleared me to enter the country. He also gave me a bunch of paperwork including a small piece of cardstock that looked more like a cheap amusement park ticket than anything else. As I was all nervous getting through the next checkpoints, I vaguely remembered chewing on the cheap small ticket and throwing it in the trash when it was all mushy and wet. In the last exit point from the airport, another officer asked me to show her my I-94 document, which she could not find in my documents. She showed me a sample and I did not have the guts to tell her that I chewed on it. I was interrogated for an hour before being issued another I-94 and being allowed in the United States. Here I am many years later an American citizen and a distinguished academic and you are the first people to whom I am sharing this story. I am a lot more careful now and double check the papers!
Author bio: Distinguished Professor is an academic at an R1 with a large research group.
Ready to vote? Please cast a vote for your favorite story among the four!
Eh…I’m not a huge fan of microfiction. I want more non-fiction posts! 🙂
Ha ha. I’m also not a huge fan of microfiction, because I want longer fiction posts! (Congrats to all — they were fun to read!)
My story was not a fiction and actually happened but I like real discussion instead of such stories as well.
Didn’t have time to enter something, but I leave this here for everyone’s enjoyment (I still need to come up with a title). Congrats to all the writers!
I remember we were out of coffee.
It’s three days before the grant deadline and everyone has reverted to savages. Well, it’s a CS department, so most were near-feral to begin.
“I did it!”
Oh no. It’s too early and I’m too under-caffeinated to deal with this. I make some polite grunting noises in acknowledgement. As he goes on about his “revolutionary advancement” I mentally review my to-do list. I have less than an hour to prep for lecture and feel guilty for neglecting my students. But teaching doesn’t get tenure.
He’s even more animated than usual when the timer goes off and he drains half the pot I just made into his giant mug. I wonder if it’s the caffeine or just old people’s circadian rhythm that makes him so energetic in the morning.
“It starts when you have children” my mother explained. I ignored her barb even though it was about as subtle as sledgehammer.
AI. Jeez. I suppress an eye roll. It’s a subject for internet crackpots, millionaire silicon valley types, and the tenured. And Smith is emeritus so he might as well be all three.
I feel the caffeine kick in. I make the usual excuses and head back to my office before he can ask me to help with his manuscript.
Two weeks later and I see him in the hall.
He’s frantically shoving papers into his bag and nearly drops a pile of books. Could he be any more of a stereotype? I don’t even remember what I said to him or how he managed to free up his hand when he grabbed my elbow and leaned in. “It escaped!” He’s even more frantic and wild eyed than usual. Maybe he finally went senile.
“You left your door…” He’s down the stairwell before I can finish my sentence. When I get to his office to shut the door, I find two IT guys huddled over his computer. Two! I can’t get one to respond to my email within 48 hours when Jonas’s student crashes the cluster (again).
I stick my thumb out. “What was that all about?”
“Smith’s computer has been taken over by a bot. It’s been spamming people with giant attachments since 4am.”
“It’s crawling with malware. This guy has been on too many porn sites. And that’s coming from me!”
“I’m surprised he can even get it up to enjoy it anymore.”
They chuckle. I’m glad to see that the newly mandated diversity training has been so effective. I smile congenially and leave. Back at my desk, I open an editor and add another “incident” to the file I hope I never need.
It’s been three weeks since I last saw Smith. I think. Time has gotten fuzzy. “He didn’t even need a big paper” I mutter aloud, and then chide myself silently for forgetting where I am. I burrow deeper into the refuse under the shelter of the overpass. I wait for the drones to pass.
This is a really interesting format. I’m not used to microfiction, but I think I like it! And it might be something I have time for. 🙂
That said, now I’m worried that Distinguished Prof had severe undiagnosed iron deficiency.
Technically, microfiction would be under 100 words (there are markets taking 50- and 100-word stories, or exactly 53 words, or just 140 characters, or just 6 words, etc.). Flash fiction is generally under 1000 words. Our contest was for short-ish flash, but not really microfiction.
There are many places that publish good flash fiction, too many to list. These two provide a new flash every workday: Daily Science Fiction (speculative fiction) and Everyday Fiction (general fiction). For daily microfiction, check out 50-Word Stories (2 stories per day) or 101 Words.
Dear prof, Thanks for your concern. No it is not iron deficiency. Rather it is a bad habit developed over many years. As a result, I like my coffee in a paper cup much more than in a mug (mainly because of the paper taste).
I am not trying to derail the sweet discussions over milli-fictions (micro was up to 100 words). However, I think my condition has to do mainly with my love for the bitter taste. Now if you call that strange, let me share these two links with you:
For the latter, I hope that “p implies q” does not mean “q implies p” because I don’t think I qualify for the latter.
I can’t believe 7 people actually considered a creative output of mine and liked it better than 3 other well written pieces! Thanks for doing this xyk, it was a very interesting experience and something that would be really fun to get better at.
anon, sorry for the delay in replying. This one is great fun! I wish you’d entered it in the contest! Academia + sci-fi = what’s not to like?
But, in all seriousness, if you feel you ever want to publish it or parts of it or anywhere, let me know so I can pull it down, as most magazines don’t allow even prior postings on blogs or social media. I think the story has potential; some more editing and it could be excellent!
If you still want a suggestion of a title, how about “Emeritus”? Or “It Escaped”? Or “No Coffee for the Near-Feral.” (I have a string of ever-sillier ideas, but maybe I should stop. 🙂 )
Nice work! Thanks for sharing with us!