I first became aware of the flash fiction form called the ‘mini-saga’ in the mid 1980s. They were invented by the author Brian Aldiss (1925-2017). The British newspaper, The Daily Telegraph, held annual competitions for the public and the winners were published in the newspaper and also in a series of anthologies.
I submitted a few mini-sagas on a number of occasions but never won. I never even made it as a runner-up. All I can remember of those early pieces of mine was that one of them involved a submarine that somehow was turned upside down while it was diving and went the wrong way through the atmosphere and ended up in outer space.
A mini-saga consists of a story told in precisely fifty words. They aren’t easy to do well, but they get easier with practice (like everything else). The title should have an upper limit of fifteen characters, but this rule is not such a strict one. Because there are so few words to work with, the title is often an essential part of the story.
About twenty years ago I wrote a mini-saga that I was pleased with. It was translated into Portuguese and printed on a T-shirt. For many years I regarded this as my only successful mini-saga. Later I wrote another, not as good, and then forgot all about the form.
But when I was staying in Sri Lanka earlier this year, I read Brian Aldiss’ book, 50×50, fifty mini-sagas in total, a very short collection, and I wondered if I might do something similar. But I decided to write 500 instead of 50. This turned out to be perhaps too much to chew on, but I had already bitten it off, and so I persisted and intend to keep persisting.
My book of 500 mini-sagas will be published when it is finished. So far I have written 216. Some are obviously better than others. I am pleased to now present a short selection from this project in progress.
The army is on the move, crossing borders and conquering new lands, and the key to their success is mobility. They never stop for meals but eat as they go along. They wear armour specially adapted to hold the curries, pickles, bread, cheese, rice and puddings they enjoy. Plate armour.
A Gift for the Cyclops
Odysseus: Here’s a birthday present for you.
Polyphemus: A strange object?
Odysseus: Binoculars is the name. They permit you to see further. Hold them to your face in this precise position.
Polyphemus: Like this? But I can’t see a thing!
Odysseus: Quick men, let’s escape while he is temporarily blinded.
Bytes, Not Scratches
You are typing on your computer when your cat reaches out a paw and deletes your work. That’s the end of the story. If your dog does the same thing, you can say “Fetch” and it will leap into oblivion, find the document and retrieve it for you, tail wagging.
Pinocchio has a brother whose nose grows shorter whenever he tells a lie. He is the opposite of his more famous sibling in this regard. If he tells enough lies his nose retreats into his face, leaving a deep crater. He is unfortunately too popular with the fraternity of golfers.
In Sheep’s Clothing
An eccentric shepherd in these parts has dressed his sheep in pink frocks. The wolf is reluctant to clothe himself the same way but remembers he is cunning and to fulfil the conditions of his reputation he has no choice. He takes care not to be seen by other wolves.
My nose was in the Guinness Book of Records. It’s a volume that lists the most extreme instances of various things. There’s a chapter about the tallest person ever, the longest hair and so forth. My nose was in that book. Then the librarian told me to take it out.
Going for a Walk
She said she was going for a walk with a book. I imagined she wanted to sit and read somewhere, but when I went to the park later, I saw her with a Tolstoy novel on a lead. It was opening its back pages against a tree while she waited.
The Haiku Hiker
The haiku poet went hiking and somewhere along the route he lost count of his syllables, so he just kept going. After walking far, he found an isolated tavern in the enormous forest. He fell on the beer like a shooting star. The syllables could find their own way home.
Runny honey: see the jar sprinting down the street. It grew legs secretly at night in the cupboard when no one was looking. When I opened the door, it jumped out and escaped! I chase it with a spoon. I will never buy runny honey again, only the solid kind.
He was Mighty
An early start was required. He rose from his bed in the castle and called for his squire, who carefully dressed him. A frown for his forehead, an increased pulse for his chest, perspiration for his skin. Now the mighty worrier was ready! Off he went to do anxious battle.
The Toothbrush Duel
There were no other weapons available, all the swords and pistols were missing or broken, so they decided to duel with toothbrushes. They met at dawn, saluted each other, then battled for an hour on the field of honour. Toothpaste squirted into the air. It was a good, clean fight.
Something More Comfortable
The woman took the man home. They had met only an hour before but had felt an instant attraction. “Allow me to change into something more comfortable,” she said. He nodded eagerly. In a flash she transformed into a big fluffy white dog that jumped up to lick his face.
Rhys Hughes has lived in many countries. He graduated as an engineer but currently works as a tutor of mathematics. Since his first book was published in 1995 he has had fifty other books published and his work has been translated into ten languages.
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