Friday, July 21, 2023

“Songbird, Jailbird” • by Pauline Barmby


I stared at the grimy ceiling and dreamed of a better world.

The cell door clanged open, and a thin woman stumbled inside. She dropped a jumpsuit onto the opposite bunk and slumped beside it. The door slammed shut.

“Welcome to the writers’ block,” I said. “What’d you do?”

She faced me and drew a shaky finger across her throat.

“Overcrowding in the singers’ wing?” She nodded. I winced. The regime was especially brutal to her kind.

Rummaging under the jumpsuit, she extracted a tiny notepad and regarded me expectantly.

“Hide that!” I hissed.

She shook her head, eyes flicking between the pencil stub she now held and my wrist stumps.

“Okay,” I sighed. “I’ll tell you a story. They won’t like it.”



Pauline Barmby is an astrophysicist who reads, writes, runs, knits, and believes that you can’t have too many favorite galaxies. She lives in London, Canada and hopes to someday visit her namesake main belt asteroid, minor planet 281067.


About The Pete Wood Challenge
The Pete Wood Challenge is an informal ad hoc story-writing competition. Each month Pete Wood spots writers the idea for a story, usually in the form of a phrase or a few key words, along with some restrictions on what can be submitted, usually in terms of length. Pete then collects the resulting entries, determines who has best met the challenge, and sends the winners over to Bruce Bethke, who arranges for them to be published on the Stupefying Stories web site.

You can find all the previous winners of the Pete Wood Challenge at this link.

This month’s challenge was to write a 125-words-or-shorter flash fiction piece keying off the words “writer’s block,” whatever the writer might interpret those words to mean. The results have been interesting, and sometimes deeply disturbing. Like this one.


If you like the stories we’re publishing, subscribe today. We do Stupefying Stories out of pure love for genre fiction, but in publishing as in tennis, love means nothing. To keep Stupefying Stories going at this level we need to raise at least $500 USD monthly, and rather than doing so with pledge breaks or crowd-funding campaigns, we’d rather have subscribers. If just 100 people commit to just $5 monthly, we can keep going at this level indefinitely. If we raise more, we will pay our authors more.

Please don’t make me escalate to posting pictures of sad kittens and puppies…


Karin Terebessy said...

Wow! Just - holy crow - wow. That was awesome.