By Jeff Baker
May is short-story month and ‘Nathan Burgoine is celebrating with a monthlong series of posts about short-stories, and inviting others to play along. I couldn’t resist!
My first short-story (the one that made a big impact on me anyway) that I read, dates back to Grade School, maybe about 1971. I’d actually read some novels, the Arabian Nights and a lot of comic books. But one day, in a book of ghost stories I stumbled on a short-story called “The Brown Hand.” Based on an old legend from India, it involves a man trying to end a haunting at his Uncle’s estate. The Uncle was a surgeon in India and he amputated the hand of a Lascar who believed he could not rest unless he was buried with his hand. The Uncle moved back to England and the preserved hand was lost in a fire.
Then the Lascar’s ghost showed up. Every night.
For years I thought the story was by Rudyard Kipling, as it has Kipling’s hallmarks: India, the British officer, a clash of cultures and a superstition being real. Instead, the story was by Arthur Conan Doyle. (It is readily available, and I recommend any of Doyle’s supernatural stories.) To this day when I notice where the square of moonlight from the window has moved when I’ve been asleep, I think of this story.
And a word here for Robert Louis Stevenson’s “The Bottle Imp” which I may have read earlier (I know I’d read “The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” which is a novel or novella, but they didn’t stick with me the way “The Brown Hand” has!)
My first published story (two really!) was a flash-fiction piece which appeared in the 1999 anthology “The World’s Shortest Stories of Love and Death,” which features short-stories 55 words or less. One (“Fifty-Five”) was co-written with the late John R. Bogner. The other (“Oh, Henry!”) was expanded a bit by the editors. Here’s the original version:
Oh, Henry, by Jeff Baker
He had a sudden thought: “Her hair will grow back, but my watch is gone!” Outside, the cold snow fell.
John and I were paid in copies for our stories and we couldn’t have been more thrilled. (We shared the contents page with Norman Lear, Larry Niven and Charles M. Schultz, that’s still cool!!) I had a story read over the radio Halloween Night of 2001, but the next nine years were filled with rejection slips but I was writing and learning by writing and I started publishing (about one story a year) in 2010.