Sunday, June 12, 2016

The Center Cannot Hold: Thoughts On Orlando

So, another mass shooting.

It is an obscenity that I have to write that sentence. Mass shootings should be as rare as hen's teeth, as uncommon as Halley's Comet or a Bartolo Colon home run or a moon landing. But, in the country of my birth, they are not. So I have to write one of the most stunning sentences I can put together: there has been another mass shooting in America.

This is usually a writing blog, and it is certainly an infrequently used and poorly written one. (And, since I brought it up, there is a story collection called "Tall...ish" that is now available at Pure Slush featuring work by me along with other much more talented people.) But the events in Orlando need to have witness born, and I feel like I need to add my tiny voice to the chorus.

We will hear the usual claims and counterclaims, posts and counterposts. Friendships will end. Angry screeds will be added to comment sections. And then we will all move on. We always move on, and only the families of the dead are frozen in time, their lives forever split by the time before and the time after, and then it will happen again, and we will get outraged, and nothing will change. Again. I have to conclude that, as a people, we are okay with this, that 20000 precious human beings going into the ground before their time is a fine price to pay, because we need to slavishly obey to the letter what a bunch of dead freedom loving white slaveowners wrote down. This is not my belief, but it is the conclusion I am forced to come to because we keep burying our children, and we never do anything to change it. If you have a leaky faucet, and you won't fix it, you learn to live with the sound of dripping.

If you honestly believe, in your heart, that the right to bear arms is so sacred, is so precious, that spouses have to become widows, and brothers have to bury sisters, and parents have to bury children, by the tens of thousands every single year, all so we don't even begin to intrude upon the fringes of this most important of rights, you have the right to believe that way. It's a free country. I won't stand in your way. But I think you're wrong on the ethics, and wrong on the law (Kurt Vonnegut's question remains valid- how does a heavily armed man, woman, or child given no aims, goals, or training by any leader constitute a militia?) , and a moral midget who sees abstractions as much more important than people.

Thursday, April 07, 2016

100 Word Challenge: "Sunday Morning Coming Down"

[The 100 Word Challenge this week is a little more straightforward, this week's word being "Power". This is called "Sunday Morning Coming Down"]

"Balance of power?," she said. "Power doesn't ever balance. Someone always has more."

I was reading "The Oil Kings", a nerdy book about petroleum. She had a Bolano paperback on the table in front of her, but she was looking at me. We were drinking coffee, and Johnny Cash was playing, and we were trying to figure out how to spend another Sunday morning.

I felt like I should say something, but I didn't. She had left me twice before, once for a trust fund artist, once for a eager banker. I knew who had the power. It wasn't me.

Friday, April 01, 2016

100 Word Challenge: "Exit"

[This week's 100 Word Challenge is a little different. Instead of involving the inclusion of something, this week requires 100 words with the absence of something. Just for fun, I'm not going to tell you what is missing, except to add that the missing element is present both in this prologue, and in the name of this blog, but not in the story itself or its title. This story is called "Exit."]

"Sex, like most exploits, is pointless exercise. Rubbing, friction, moisture, effort, for one moment of pure joy? Not worth it. In this universe without end, nothing we do counts."

He wrote it, then stood. He looked. True? Yes. Nice? No. He wondered when he broke, when he fell, when the shroud covered his soul. Who listens to people in modern times? He looked down, then up to the writing.

"It's over," he whispered softly into nothingness. 

No one replied. Silence reigned. He left. It's finished. Finished? He felt finished. He shut the door. It closed firmly, like periods end sentences.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

100 Word Challenge: "Twilight"

[For this month's 100 Word Story Photo Challenge hosted at 100WordStory.Org, I wrote this, called "Twilight"]

The men walked up the hill away from the house. Their footsteps were silent in the snow, and their breath formed plumes in the air. It was a mile or so back to the dirt road where the car was. They didn't talk. They didn't have to. It was done. They were told to do it, and it was hard, but they did it. It took three weeks to track him to this tiny country town, but they found him, and when they came through the front door, he wasn't surprised.

"Be quick about it," he said flatly.

They were.  

100 Word Challenge: "2AM Sportscenter"

[The 100 Word Challenge brings us the word "dream". This is called "2AM Sportscenter"]

I couldn't really sleep, and I'm running.

I spend the night drifting slowly between the harsh light of yet another Sportscenter, bright smiling eyes delivering late baseball scores, and an unreal melange of past fears and regrets. The Royals rally in the 12th against the Mariners, and the Phillies beat the Dodgers, and I'm running. I'm late for something, and my mouth is dry and my muscles ache and I need to get away, and the Angels lost to the Yankees and they're getting closer, and I'm terrified, and the Padres lose at home to the Giants, and I'm running.

Friday, February 26, 2016

100 Word Challenge: "Up In Smoke"

[This week's 100 Word Challenge word is "Habit". This is called "Up In Smoke"]

It didn't solve anything. That wasn't the point. It was dumb, and it shortened your life, and it made everything smell bad. You couldn't do it anywhere anymore. It was incredibly expensive. Strangers always asked you to bum one. The craving was nearly constant, the need, the empty gnawing in your skull every time you let yourself go without one for a few hours. It wouldn't help, and it didn't fix it, but for a tiny, precise moment, the tension eased, you didn't want one for an hour or so, and you felt just a little bit like living again.

One A Day Until The Day I Die Podcast: "Leap"

["OneADayUntilIDie.Com" is the home of a 100 Word Story Podcast, believe it or not. This is my entry for the topic "Leap," called "Leap Year"]

The red leather toe of her shoe made tiny figures in the air between her and I.

"Want to know something?," she said. "I'm really only seven. I was born on Leap Year Day."

I looked at her black hair as she sipped. The evening felt inevitable, like a movie I've seen already.

"Is that so?," I said.

"Yes," she said, and her toe stopped. "Have you ever slept with a seven year old girl?"

It feels like that sometimes, I thought.

"Never," I said.

She stood up, her dress the shimmering blue promise of tomorrow's rain.

"Let's," she said.

100WordStory.Org Photo Prompt: "One Last Note"

[Over at 100 Word Story Dot Org, they post a photo prompt to induce acts of storytude. This is called "One Last Note"]

When she accused me of stealing, when she said she was out of milk when she wasn't, I didn't roll my eyes. I reminded myself, she was a lady, she had been young and beautiful once, she had raised children and screwed and fought and loved and lied here. She needed my help, but thought she didn't. She left notes everywhere, to help her memory, some of them useful. When I came as close as the firemen would let me, a yellow Post It fluttered to a stop at my feet. In her shaky hand, it said "Turn Off Oven."  

Thursday, February 18, 2016

100 WC: "Paper"

[The 100 Word Challenge continues with this week's entry, "Paper". This story is called "Roar"]

"Besides, it's only a piece of paper," he said, staring into the computer screen. She could hear the roar, tinny and detached, of a dragon.

She thought about her little sister's wedding, the stupidity of the blue dress and heels and hair and makeup. She thought about standing in the line, blinking in the sun, waiting for all the pictures to be taken, itchy and awkward. She thought about the sheer weight of the occasion, the way it seemed to make her sister into a real adult, the pride shining on their mother's face through her tears.

"Yeah," she said.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

100 Word Challenge: "Mercy"

[This week's 100 Word Challenge brings us the word "luck". This story is called "Mercy"]

I knew her name was Mercy, only because our last names were similar, and sometimes I would get her mail. She had worn long boots over very tight jeans, and her beautiful tan face looked eerie in the flashing lights as the paramedics worked on her. I knew one physics theory said there were an infinite number of universes, and I longed to be in one where she missed her bus and wasn't crossing the street at the exact moment the stolen SUV tore past, hitting her, turning her perfect body into broken flesh, making her name a mocking joke.

Thursday, February 04, 2016

100 WC: "Ducks In A Row"

[The 100 Word Challenge rolls on with this week's word, Idea. This story is called "Ducks In A Row"]

"What brought this on?," he said loudly.

She hated when he said that. The very idea that single thoughts follow from single incidents, that any of her tears were brought on by anything short of an entire constellation of memories, thoughts, perceptions and feelings, felt insulting and patronizing. It was a masculine idea, Socratic, orderly, premise followed by conclusion derived from said premise, as unitary and singleminded as ducks in a row, and it made her feel crazy when he acted like this was the only way to think, the only way to live.

"You'll never understand," she spat back.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

100 WC: "Yes"

[The thin spiral notebook takes up the mantle of Velvet Verbosity's 100 word challenge, and the word this week is "peculiar". This story is called "Yes"]

"Yes," she said, and then fell silent.

Her face was unsmiling, but not entirely serious. She had a small scar on the bridge of her nose. Her eyes were brown, betraying no hint of turmoil. Her cheeks were red from the cold, and her lipstick was brown, slightly smudged. Her legs were long and thick, her wool boots warm, her sweater white and large with a single black stripe across her hips. She looked comfortable, but not serene.

What they were asking wasn't peculiar, but it meant everything to her.

They couldn't tell if she meant it. They didn't care.

[Also of note is Pure Slush's new book "Five," featuring a story by me and on sale now here.]

Monday, December 21, 2015

Fear The Beast!

The Mighty And Powerful Pop Culture Beast has published my review of Amazon Studios' "The Man In The High Castle"

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Light And Shade Challenge: "Prom Night"

[The Light And Shade Challenge continues with the quote "all we ever see of stars are their old photographs," from the great Alan Moore. This story is called "Prom Night"]

They are walking. The camera is off center, so it looks like they are looking at someone, towards someone, who is to the camera's left. He is smiling. He knows how lucky he is. She is smiling too, but secretly, shyly, like she knows a secret. Neither of them know of the heartache to come.

They are walking, hand in hand, wearing rented clothes, into the night, together. They couldn't possibly guess what is to come. They think they know what forever means.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Light And Shade Challenge: "I Want To Tell You"

[Our friends at the Light and Shade Challenge have posted a picture of a message in a bottle, and what sprung to mind what may or may not be part of my NaNoWriMo project to come. This story is called "I Want To Tell You"]

"Where did you get this?," he said to me.

I looked up at the officer, his chest broad and strong under the navy blue uniform. "BERRY," the patch said over one breast. He was holding the piece of blue paper in his hand, I assumed the same one I had handed in twenty minutes ago. I could hear a song about putting a little black dress on playing in the background. Behind him, her arms folded, was a female officer with short blond hair, scowling. I could not remember being this close to a police officer before, and it was intimidating. He looked down at me, his bald head shining in the artificial light, his face a mask. When I looked straight ahead, I could see his belt, the bulge beneath it, the black objects hanging from it, the silver of handcuffs, the solid grooved handle of his gun, squat and angular, hanging off his waist. I wondered what his personal life was like, if he was married, if cops cheated on their spouses as much as everyone said they did. I looked at the bulge beneath his belt again.  

"Where did you get this?," he said again, his voice rough, almost a bark. I looked up at his face again. The words formed in my chest, in my throat. I had a sudden memory of watching "My Fair Lady" on TV, Rex Harrison mocking Eliza's father, "I'm willing to tell you...I'm wanting to tell you...I'm waiting to tell you!" The need to speak was a bubble of pressure underneath my breastbone. I wanted to explain, to say that I wasn't really involved, that this wasn't my idea, that I was just doing someone a favor, that it was so cold. I wanted to explain, to tell them how I needed to give Janine a ride because neither of us had jumper cables, how I drove her to Marvin's house, how he came outside to drive back to Janine's car and give her a jump start. I wanted to explain about how Marvin leaned into my car window, his breath full of smoke, and asked me to please drop this off for his auntie, that he wouldn't have time to do both before the pharmacy closed, and the twenties he handed me to pay for it, and how I stammered and finally agreed to do it.  

I thought about how I almost never said no to anyone, how my life was a series of agreements I didn't mean to make, how I felt buffeted from currents I didn't understand, how I let things happen because it was easier than fighting back. I thought about Marvin, how I always felt uneasy around him, how his brown eyes turned sharp and angry when you said something he disliked, how Janine said Marvin really scared her sometimes, and I felt sad and sorry and very frightened, and I didn't say anything.