"Waiting for the Big Freeze" by Ian Creasey — story background

The trouble with calling up the Devil is that you usually get his answering service.

Rune 1 to curse a neighbour
Rune 2 for three wishes
Rune 3 for tours of Hell

There have been many stories about calling up the Devil.  It always struck me that, given the Devil's senior position in the nether world, summoning him might not be quite so easy as conventionally depicted.  After all, can you call up Microsoft and get straight through to Bill Gates?  Even if you draw a pentagram and light a few candles?

And so I came up with what I thought would be a good opening line for a story:

The trouble with calling up the Devil is that you usually get his answering service.

This line then sat in my "Fragments" file for some time, along with many other half-formed scraps of ideas.

The problem was that, as I mentioned, there have been many stories about calling up the Devil.  The theme frequently appears in lists of clichés that magazine editors see far too often in the slush pile.  I felt that, as an unknown writer, there would be little point in me expending the effort to craft a full-length story, because no editor would bother to read past the first line.  You have to be a Big Name Author before you can get away with using such a well-worn theme, no matter how fresh your take on it.

Then I heard about "flash fiction", also called the "short-short" format.  As the latter tag implies, this is simply a very short story.  While there is no standard length, a common maximum for flash fiction is 500 words, although some definitions go up to 1,000 words.  In my bibliography I've used 1,000 words as the cut-off between flash fiction and longer work, because even a story of 999 words will usually have a very different feel to the more conventional format.

While there are, of course, many different types of short-short, the length restriction tends to impose certain characteristics.  It's difficult to include any particularly complex or original themes, because there simply isn't room to describe them.  But conversely, flash fiction is an ideal form for writing riffs on common tropes, since a familiar premise — such as calling up the Devil — can be established in just a few words.  The remaining space can then be devoted to a clever twist, an unusual perspective, an intriguing character, or whatever the author wants to convey.

With "Waiting for the Big Freeze", I simply wanted to write a fun little vignette that would subvert the reader's expectations.  And since this commentary is already longer than the story itself, I'll say no more than that.

Page last updated: 23 May 2015