Dissertation Story

Toward the end of my dissertation writing, I posted a short story on Facebook each time I finished a chapter, describing my victory and advancing a simple storyline. It started in jest, but I began to really enjoy the updates–they were a perfect way to describe the relief I felt at each chapter’s close. While I was struggling through thick, academic verbiage I was imagining what the next bit would be like, the next genre I’d steal from. I’m not sure that the best reward for writing is more writing, but I had fun. Oh and if they appear out of order, it is because I didn’t write my chapters in order, and didn’t do a FB update for the introduction or chapter three. Enjoy!

Chapter Four:

Slowly our heroine drags herself free of Chapter Four’s steaming corpse, pausing for only a moment to consider the 20 photos, comic strip and 13,600 words that comprise the pustulent hulk that she has just slain. Though the journey remains long, and the rewards sparse, she soldiers on–sunny skies now, but the darkness of Chapter Six looming ever closer on the horizon. Alas.

Chapter Six:

With a grim twist of her blade, our heroine gutted the immense, serpentine corpse of Chapter 6.

First she had lost her closest companion to a tiny island in the North, then she lost her home in a fit of insanity. After an eternity of sailing dark tides on a tiny craft, she moored next to a great cave where the beast slept, its oddly pixellated head barely visible in the dim light. With easy confidence she cut off the head, “snicker-snack” but instead of expiring, the beast’s baleful green eye opened and shone with the light of a million computer terminals. The ground shuddered as the rest of the beast lurched into view. Not just a simple dragon–the beast was a hydra. The earlier hope, that this would be an easy part of the quest, was shown to be deeply, deeply foolish. 19,000 words later, she was done.

In the morning she would make sure the hydra was completely dead, but for now she was exhausted. She would continue to the tiny Northern island to retrieve her companion, then plot her course for Chapter 5. The nefarious Chapter 5 lived in the distant shadow mountains, where she would have to clamor up the slopes in the pitch dark, feeling for invisible obstacles as she went along. She had put off this journey, as the hydra was well-known, or so she had thought. Maybe this next one would be easy. Probably not. But now it was time to move on, as time was running out.

Chapter Five:

Her eyes fixed on the giant, flashing display and she cursed and bit her lip. Moving her little silver ship through the edge of the nova had, of course, been a bad idea. She was not ready for the wretched Chapter Fiveians to launch their attack, but she had no choice. After all, they were the prey.

She shoved the display out of the way and cut the blaring alarms. The Fiveians were coming in fast and her visibility was next to nothing, outside of the primitive sensing capabilities of her ship. She took a deep breath, then hit the thrusters hard, the entire craft shuddering around her. Something clanged out of place, probably the dinner that her co-pilot prepared and then forgot. Where was he, anyway? Probably headed off to a side-mission again.

Finally, she got a visual on the Fiveians. Their ship was lean and mean, better equipped with bigger guns, but she caught sight of a massive lacuna–there was virtually no literature on the subject! She aimed the guns on her little silver ship right at the sweet spot and fired, fired again and braced herself for the impact of the return fire, squinting her eyes and turning her head.

There wasn’t any. Our heroine, for once, had caught a lucky break. Chapter Five winked into nothingness in space, and she was free to journey on to her second-to-last destination: Chapter Two.

See you, Space Cowgirl.

Chapter Two:

The dark outline of the saguaro cut into the orange-pink desert skyline, oddly unmarked by the shotgun blasts that disfigured most of the proud cactuses in these parts. The heat of the day had passed, and I tipped the last drops of water out of my canteen to my lips. I had a bottle of whiskey in my pack, but that would wait until later.

The nag under my saddle was once a proud filly, chestnut hair shining, fractious and unforgiving. Her lank tail twitched toward a fly on her flank, but it was an empty reflex, and the fly went on undisturbed.

The shadow beneath the saguaro in the dim evening light was like looking into space without the stars. A figure slowly oozed out of the shadow, until a man was looking up at me, tall boots, battered hat. He spit into the dust. “I know what you came for. Let’s get ‘er done.”

I swung down from the old, faithful nag, patting her on the cheek as I retrieved the long rifle from where I’d strapped it across her shoulders. I unbuckled her saddle and let it drop to the ground, evoking only a mild nicker from the beast. With a sigh, I walked a few paces away, squaring off across from the man.

“It’s a shame, really.” He spit again. “But it has to be done.” I felt around in my heart for something, some hint of emotion like love or guilt or pain. Came up as dry as my canteen. I shouldered the gun, widened my stance, and shot, bracing my shoulder for the impact.

The horse fell heavily to the ground. The man took off his hat and wiped his brow. His familiar features were a comfort. “What was ‘er name, anyway?”

I cleared my throat. “Theory. Chapter Two.”

He gave me a terse nod, replaced his hat. “Well, she’s horsemeat now.”

Poor dead horse. It was time for the conclusions.

The Conclusion:

Battered, bruised, and alone, she approached the giant iron door. She knocked, three leaden tones that rung out in the silence. A very small window opened and a bored and slightly vacant face stared at her.

“You rung the bell?” The doorkeeper frowned.
She crossed her arms. “No, I knocked.”
“Good, the bell is out of order.”
“Whatever. I want to see the wizard.”
“He’s busy, nobody can see the wizard.”
“Look.” She pointed at her feet. “I have the shoes.”
“The ruby slippers! Well come right in!”
“Typical.”

The huge door swung open, revealing a massive throne. A purplish cloud of smoke obscured the top of the throne and suddenly she felt dizzy, nostalgic. Was she really ready?

“I AM THE GREAT WIZARD OF OZ.” A great voice thundered and flames burst from behind the throne.

Instead of being impressed by the display, she was suddenly completely unafraid. With a small shrug, she marched up to the throne and threw a folder full of paper at the seat.

“There it is. Finished. Now give me what is my due.”

“SILENCE.” The papers ruffled slightly, as if a breeze had swept through the throne room.

“STEP FORWARD.” She threw back her shoulders and thrust her chin in the air. Who cares if there was a comma splice in the abstract?

The placid face of the doorman reappeared. In a nasal voice he droned: “Congrats. You’ve got your Ph.D….NEXT!”

She was quickly shuffled out of the throne room and into the hall.

“Well, that was anticlimactic.” She looked down at the ruby slippers. “I guess there’s only one thing left to do.”

She smiled, clicked her heels three times, and disappeared.

Just like that.

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