Advanced Word Problems in Portal Math by Aimee Picchi

Welcome to Short Fiction Friday! Every Friday, Black Forest Basilisks will be shining a spotlight on a new short story, novelette, or flash fic in addition to our regular posts. These stories will usually be available for free online, but occasionally stories from published anthologies will also be featured.

This story is available online for free at: Daily Science Fiction – Click through to read!

It is 7 p.m. on a snowy January evening, and Penny is a 13-year-old who likes fruity lip balms, wears leggings, and notices everything, like how she’s expected to wash the dishes but her older brother is excused to finish his homework.

Aimee Picchi is a master of nontraditional-format short stories. Recently, I also read and loved Search History for Elspeth Adair, Age 11 by her – a story told in the form of a series of online searches. Advanced Word Problems, similarly, is told in the form of a series of vignettes followed by math problems.

Penny wants nothing more than to escape to a new world. She dreams of finding a portal to a world that needs her, like has happened to her friends. Instead, she finds herself fighting mundane battles and giving up her dreams at each turn. She must rely on her own resilience to make it through each day even as the odds are stacked against her.

Per the author’s note, this story was in many ways a response to Susan’s treatment in Narnia. Is it so wrong that, when magic fails to appear for you, that you embrace your current life as best you can?

Picchi is currently being honored as a finalist in the 2021 Nebula Awards – that’s no surprise at all, given how much she manages to pack into so little. Read more reviews of Nebula Finalists. Her stories verge on flash fiction in length, but that doesn’t mean they lack impact. On reading Advanced Word Problems, I couldn’t help be reflect on my own life. How much would have been different if I’d simply been given an opportunity I needed? How often were others’ wants placed over my own needs? How might that have twisted my own fate?

Past featured short stories can be viewed here.

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About the Author

Aimee Picchi’s short fiction has been published in Fireside Magazine, Intergalactic Medicine Show, Flash Fiction Online, and Daily Science Fiction, among other publications. She’s a graduate of Viable Paradise and a former classical musician. She lives in Burlington, Vermont with her family. You can find her at @aimeepicchi.

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