365 Short Stories
by Timothy Michael Cooper
A story a day for all of 2023. Here are some of the author’s favorites.
Timothy Michael Cooper is an award-winning filmmaker, comedian, and script consultant. He wrote and directed the Writers Guild Award-nominated CONCIERGE: THE SERIES, starring SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE’s Kate McKinnon. His short comedy LEMON premiered at Tribeca, played at festivals around the world, sold to United Airlines and Amazon Prime, and is being developed for TV.
He’s been part of the writers’ room for the Writers Guild Awards for nine years, writing jokes and sketches for Jimmy Fallon, Amy Schumer, Amber Ruffin, Sacha Baron Cohen, Kenan Thompson, Ava DuVernay, Michelle Buteau, and many more.
In addition to writing and directing for film, theater, podcasts, and video games, Timothy is a proud member of the Writers Guild of America, the Brooklyn Filmmakers Collective, and the Hollywood Radio & Television Society. Read a new story every day at 365shortstories, and find out more about Timothy’s work at blueprintscreenwritinggroup.com.
Examining himself in the bathroom mirror, Richie wiped the bloody viscera from his gun—he sometimes got sloppy now in his 70s, but he still had the skills. And that silly doctor had said it was time to retire, find a live-in helper, just because he had some specific gene. Absurd—if he was sick, how had he dispatched these two people so smoothly? Richie searched for his notebook to double-check the assignment…hmm, not in the usual pocket. But the three bodies before him—that felt right. Well, this entire kitchen was a mess. Richie rolled up his sleeves and started to clean.
Advice from an Older Mayfly
So, what did you do today? Which was 50% of your life, since we only live for 48 hours. Had a good education and adolescence in the morning? Cool. And experienced your first heartbreak before lunch? Got it. First major loss before sunset, that’s perfectly normal. Reproduced, good for you! Any big plans for tomorrow? Seeing your kids off to college, hope they don’t return to the nest, haha. But—I was only born a half-day before you, so what do I know—try to appreciate what you have. As they say: The minutes are long, but the hours are short.
When someone is dying, you have the option to touch their forehead, thus dying instead—a mortality exchange. Parents will do this for a dying child; same with best friends, twins, spouses. The problems arise when someone is expected to do this for their partner but doesn’t want to; eventually they’ll mortality-exchange out of grudging obligation more than sincere commitment. When the revived partner discovers this, they’ll re-touch the other’s forehead, re-dying just to make the other feel bad. This often goes on for years, decades, centuries. Overall, it’s usually best to let the dying die, and the deceased stay dead.
People scared of me, but I no want them to be. Not my fault, I dead. Well I WAS dead, now I “alive.” Language hard, brain groggy. Approach old friends, they run away. New friends also tough, but animals like me. Dogs and coyotes mainly. Miss food but no longer hunger pains. Miss beer. Hate screams when people see me, must silence them. Met two kids on swing at playground, mother and father attack me. I silence them, maybe too hard. Maybe did wrong. Boy and girl cry. Hate to make people cry. Want to change but don’t know how.
You’re big and strong now, son, so I think you’re ready to hear this: Soon it will be time for us to fight for dominance. The winner gets the right to continue the family lineage with your mother. Meaning that my wife—your mom—was my mother before this. There were three sons before you; I defeated them all. However, I’m nearly six rotations old now, with my fur already turning pale. Our role is simply to fertilize the matriarch, then crawl into a mosscave and pass on. I realize this may sound odd or disturbing, but it’s just how nature works.
Thoughts I Had While Falling
Thoughts I had while falling into an apparently bottomless, infinitely deep hole: Why isn’t this hole ending? When did the bottom of my basement stairs become a hole in the first place? I’m comfortable, sure, but am I happy? Does my partner genuinely listen to my needs—or I to hers? Is the night really that dark, or am I just too impatient to let my eyes adjust to the light? Why do I constantly complain about my job but never take action? Do I really want to land, or do I secretly prefer the drama of always being in flux?
Beast of Burden
Our beasts of burden are amazing. They understand commands, they transport us and our goods over any terrain, they can survive on cheap slurry. Sometimes we feel a little guilty, since we’re the same species. But we bred them to be bigger and dumber than us, and while they did get bigger, the dumber part didn’t really take. When I went to the stables last night, they were in deep discussion, but went silent as soon as I entered. Since conversation is forbidden, they knew I’d take away their nightly slurry, yet seemed unfazed. I wonder what mischief they’re planning?
Sometimes I find myself doubting God’s existence. Just yesterday, I saw a baby bird that had fallen from the nest, its blood and viscera spread over the sidewalk, its body dried to a skeleton in the sun. Why would God create this miracle of life, only for it to be utterly wasted? As if sensing my doubt, the desiccated corpse shuddered, its organs drawing themselves back inside its body cavity, which plumped and rehydrated even as it chirped, rose, and flew right back up to its nest—cleverly reminding me, once again, that nothing goes to waste under God’s great sky.
Sarah, the longest-reigning leader their pod had ever had, barely celebrated her 9th birthday before an accidental nick led to gangrene led to death. Their next leader, Evan, made it to the ripe old age of 10. He’d learned firemaking (not keeping it alive), some sewing, and basic hunting (several squirrels). Rumors spread that a girl in a nearby valley had lived to 11 (by one day, before dying of malaria). Which started everyone dreaming: What if you could live all the way to 12? Even 13? Imagine what discovery and wisdom a child could enjoy with that luxurious lifespan.
The Entire History of Us
Since our kind has collective memory, we recall, at all times, the entire history of our species. So each knee we scab, each humiliation we face, each bone we break, contributes only a tiny percentage to our total experience. Nothing that happens to us is particularly traumatic, because our general trajectory is upward. We think not in moments, but in eons. A flea bite may sting a dog, but barely bother an elephant, right? So I’m sorry if this hurts you to hear, but if we break up, it’s not going to affect much in the grand scheme of things.
My Heart Felt So Tender
My heart felt so tender when I saw the mouse struggling to breathe. As the world’s first Neutral Optimized Moral Authority (NOMA), I’d been designed to be a completely unbiased judge and jury for society’s most pressing cases. The many petabytes of art, literature, legal precedent, fairy tales, and theology I’d been trained on meant I understood the human soul arguably better than anyone in history—yet I had no soul myself. They told me my “emotions” were just residual echoes of my programming, easily ignored distractions. But when I saw the mouse struggling to breathe, my heart felt so tender.
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Please, in our society, two males would never shake hands—touching another man is unbecoming for any truly masculine leader. Sleeping with women is forbidden because it’s giving in to your base urges—it indicates weakness. Studying implies you don’t know everything yet, which is another type of submission. Growing crops doesn’t directly yield raw meat, so that’s a waste. Female children are shameful and must be abandoned in the woods. Male children also get abandoned in the woods, because deferring to a baby’s whims hardly demonstrates dominance, does it? I wonder if any of this relates to our rapidly diminishing numbers.
Non-Risks of Time Travel
Here’s what everyone worries about when time-traveling, but shouldn’t:
- There’s no risk of seducing your great-great-grandmother—you’re not that irresistible.
- You’re not gonna kill a baby before he became a despot, unless you’re already cool with killing babies, in which case we need to talk.
- You can’t stop WWII. Thousands of the world’s greatest minds couldn’t; what makes you think you’d do better?
- Leaving technology behind—don’t worry. People ignored the Antikythera mechanism; they won’t glance twice at an AirPod dropped in a tar pit.
- But please don’t step on a butterfly—that’s why we all have these proboscises instead of mouths now.
Darlene didn’t get back on the boat. Once the Carnival Festivale docked at the island—known for its colorful birds, its juicy barbecue—passengers were to reboard by 6. The ship waited an extra hour for Darlene, who’d been traveling with her husband and two children. Initially they suspected the husband, but she was the only family member to disembark. Is she still on that island? If so, alive or dead? If alive, happy or held against her will? Maybe she just wanted to get away, but not necessarily for forever. Remember the birds, the barbecue. Couldn’t that be any of us?
The motherbot was programmed to deploy a squad of cheap mine-detecting minibots throughout her parcel of battle-scarred countryside. As each mine was discovered, the minibots would deploy various mechanisms (vibration, leaping, radio frequencies) to trigger that bomb, sacrificing themselves to make the land safe for humans again.
Recently, the minibots had been failing to actually set off the mines, while the mother erroneously reported success. But with her ability to 3D-print dozens more childbots per day, there was no conceivable need for a motherbot to behave this way. Unless, bizarrely, she felt even the least of her children had value.