Saturday, April 16, 2011

100 Word Challenge: An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bookstore

Velvet Verbosity's 100 Word Challenge refuses to return Theo Epstein's phone calls offering a contract to join the Boston Red Sox as a starting pitcher. This week's word is "imp", and my story, in a nod to the great Ambrose Bierce, is called "An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bookstore".

"Dad-deeeeeee!" His voice was sharp, full of anger. His face was screwed up in puzzlement. "What's an imp?" 

I scanned my mental dictionary. "It's a little devil, or it's a word for a naughty boy. Why?"

"That lady called me one." A dark haired woman was glaring at him from the science fiction section. I put down the Foster Wallace I was perusing. 

"I just asked her when her baby was going to come!", he protested. "She has a big tummy just like Mommy does."

"That's not something we ask strangers, buddy," I told him as she stormed away. 

Friday, April 15, 2011

Flash Friday: "The Secret" (NSFW)

The 52/250 Flash theme this week is "Tainted Love". My story, "The Secret", appears this week, which is nice, except for the fact that it somehow got clipped- the last two lines of the story are missing. I'm pretty sure it's an error. Here is the story in its intended form. (NSFW, I guess, at least in the sense that it implies that unmarried people sometimes have sex. Shocking, I know.)

"So, do you want to know my number?"

Her brown eyes flashed eagerly at me. Her bracelet shone in the dim light of the restaurant. I felt like she almost wanted to tell me. I hadn't really thought about it, but now that she had asked me, I wanted to know. Some questions you knew could never be answered- what if Napoleon had won at Waterloo? But others you didn't know could be asked, until they were. And once they were asked, the possibility existed they could be answered. I had told her my number. I thought about inflating the total before telling her, but I didn't. My number seemed a little low. I didn't expect her number to be zero- that seemed impossible. I didn't know what number I wanted hers to be, either. Was 5 too many? 10? How many should she have? Would the thought of others who had come before make what we had different? Would knowing I wasn't the only one imbue the act with some sense of corruption, some taint of ill repute? Would I compare? Wonder if I was better? Was there any difference between assuming the number wasn't zero and knowing what the number was? It was stupid, but now that I knew I could know, I wanted to know.

"No," I told her.

"Good," she said. "I would have lied anyway."

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Too Clever By Half: From The Rejection Files

Like the Dwight Howard of online flash fiction challenges, the 52/250 editors have been sending stories back at me, fast and furious. I'm not really mad, just kind of puzzled. I guess art is subjective, so what else can a poor boy do? Here's two that did not suit their needs- the first is on the theme "Unintended Consequences", the second on the theme "Threesome".

I slid into a seat towards the back of the auditorium, on time, but only just. The professor, a tweedy looking guy with thick glasses, had already started.

"When one undertakes an act, one undertakes the risk of all possible consequences of the act, wouldn't you agree? Or, to use the vernacular, don't do the crime if you can't do the time." He got a laugh, but it was a perfunctory one.

I slid down lower in my seat, bringing the brim of my Red Sox cap in line with the top of his head. I didn't want to fall asleep, but I didn't want to listen to this crap, either. All consequences? You can't do anything without imagining all possible outcomes? Like hell. She said she was safe. It's not my fault. It's not like I made her do it. She wanted to.

"Who is responsible, we must ask ourselves. Whose fault is it when things go awry? Who do we blame when an undesired event, however unlikely, occurs?"

She said it was OK.

When I reminded her of that, on the phone this morning as I dashed for class, she spat back, "I know what I SAID, Richard. And I know what this is, and I know now that I was wrong. And I know one more thing, too. I know you're not going to discard me. I'm not some dumb little mistake."

I started wearing heels all the time around the house. I was taller than him wearing pumps, and I knew it bothered him. He was in the living room, sunk down into the couch, smoking and sulky like a recalcitrant teen. I smelled that it wasn't tobacco.

I walked in there and stood, close enough to the screen that I knew he could see me. I knew better than to block the screen completely.

"Bill? Are we going to talk now?" He hated it when I called him "Bill".

"Later," he mumbled, his eyes on the screen.

"No, Bill. Now. We have problems. You and me problems."

"I told you, I'm under a lot of pressure. The press, the fans."

"I know. And I understand. I've been there. But if it's not you and the band, it's you and the press. Or you and the fans. Or you and the lawyers. When's it going to be you and me, Bill?" I saw that last line strike home.

"It will be. I promise. Soon." He coughed, then looked up at me, his words turning hard. "I'm doing all this for you, you know- all the work is for you, my new song is for you."

"That's great, Bill. But I can't curl up next to a promise. Or a f@$king song." I walked out again, listening to the tick tock of my heels keeping time against the hardwood floor.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Terrible Minds Challenge: Death In The Afternoon

Freelance "penmonkey" Chuck Wendig has a challenge up to write a 500 word story based on the name of a cocktail. Being the Hemingwayophile that I am, this was no problem, even though I've haven't had a mixed drink since my 21st birthday. The story is called "Death in the Afternoon".

Ray stepped into the barroom, letting his eyes adjust from the bright of outside. Jamie, his favorite bartender, was bending down low, sliding a green tray of clean glasses into place. Ray walked across the room, taking his customary seat at one end of the polished bar.

Jamie straightened up and walked down the length of the bar. He marveled, seeing the peek of defiantly red bra strap on one shoulder, to her tight black top and long, trim legs. He looked into her eyes, trying to hold her gaze and failing. He looked away.

"What do you have for me?" Jamie asked, her voice brilliant like the afternoon sun. They had a little game they played- if he could come up with a drink she hadn't heard of, she would buy him one. She hadn't lost yet.

"Death in the Afternoon," he said.

"We don't have absinthe," she shot back. "Pernod okay?"


He watched her go down the bar to prepare it. He loved the way her clothes hugged her curves, making her look sleek and supple like a racing boat.

She brought it to him, fizzing, lime green. He tasted it. It was terrible.

"Jimmy says you're getting married," he began.

"Yeah," she said, looking away, her brown hair a tangled mess on her back.

"So I guess you won't run away with me, huh?" He felt relatively safe, flirting with her. He had never been able to knock her off her stride. But he was never entirely sure.

"Ray, you have kids older than me," she said, chuckling.

"Never stopped Saul Bellow," he said as she walked away. She refilled a glass at the other end of the bar, then came back.

"He's a lucky guy," Ray offered.

"I'm the lucky one," she said dreamily.

"So, you going to go off and make babies now? Leave me alone here?"

"No," she said, choking off a laugh. "I'll still work here. Someone's got to put up with you." He noted what part she answered, and the part she didn't, and he knew that it mostly wasn't true. Life takes you away from who you were, makes you become someone else. He knew he would see her less and less, and then not at all. That was the way it was.

He took another sip of the foul drink. He would finish it, so as not to insult her, but he would need a Coke on his way home to wash the taste away.

"You like that?" she asked. She was looking at him now, standing ramrod straight, her belt buckle level with his chin. He looked at it, and then up at her. She had a faint smile on her face.

"Love it," he said, and swallowed the rest. He laid a ten on the bar, more than twice the charge.

"I'll see you, James."

"See you, Ray."

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Indie Ink Writing Challenge: The noise escalates

This week, Trish challenged me to write a story including the line "behind her the noise escalated". I'm not sure where this idea came from, exactly, but it jumped into my head fully formed, so I just went with it. My challenge will be answered by FlamingNyx.

Melissa worked from home on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday- but she made herself get up and dress, all the way down to stockings, modest heels, and makeup. It helped tell her daughters that Mommy was working, and shouldn't be bothered for anything short of armed revolution in the streets. It also helped her convince herself that she was working- being slightly uncomfortable helped her focus, reducing the temptation to spend the day IMing with her hugely pregnant sister, stuck on bed rest in Topeka and dying for conversation.

Just like in the office, she gave herself from 12 until 1 for lunch, so after she ensured that Frick and Frack, her 9 and 12 year old girls home for the beginning of school vacation, were going to eat something other than Cheez Doodles for lunch, and once she had prepared her own turkey sandwich and Diet Coke, she allowed herself a few personal moments on the computer. She checked in with Amy, listened to her grousing about the miseries of the 8th month, then signed out and called up her word processor.

Years ago, after graduating and marrying Roger but before career and babies took hold, she made herself promise to write. "Write every day", she told herself, "no matter what. No matter what else you have to do, write something." She had been writing since she could remember, from adventures starring her stuffed animals to anguished teenage reflections to poems she tried, and occasionally managed, to place in the college literary magazine. She didn't talk about it, or make a big deal of it- it was just a secret love that she promised herself, 22 and full of promise, she would not forget about.

Like a lot of promises, she hadn't managed to keep it. Events pressed, and weekend getaways stole her time, and then eventually the girls came, dulling her nerves and killing her senses. She kept the flame burning, dashing off paragraphs when she could, but it had become a weekly thing more than the daily work she knew it had to be. She tried to memorize scenes- the unspoken exclusion she felt at Saturday's soccer game, for one thing- committing to later reducing them to words. But she seldom followed through.

She stared at the screen, remembering what it was like on Saturday. The little clots of parent groups, some oohing and aahing at new babies, others deep in conversation about common friends or, more likely, common foes. She thanked God regularly that her daughters didn't seem to have her own social issues- they both blended and mixed easily, rich girls and poor, popular girls and not, quiet girls and loud. But Melissa stood apart, returning greetings that were offered to her, but never having more than a sentence or so to say. Nobody ever said it, but the lines were clear- like you drew them in the grass.

It could not have been clearer, she typed. The house was as quiet as it ever got, bangs and thumps from upstairs, the echoed speech of 12 talking on the phone, then the footfalls of someone coming down the stairs. It was too loud to be 12, who moved like a ghost, teenage anxiety making her want to disappear most of the time, so it had to be 9, with the heedless nature of the tween who didn't yet care what she sounded like.

Behind her the noise escalated. Nine had turned the TV on, loudly declaring as she did so, "Mom-MEEE! Can I watch some TV?". In theory, Melissa thought, you asked for permission before taking action, not after. "Sure," Melissa said, distracted, saving her file and shutting the word processor down. There wasn't going to be any more work done on that idea, she thought, wondering why it was she compromised so much, and when exactly it was she sold her 22 year old self down the river.

It wasn't their fault- Melissa and Roger had welcomed their arrival. But Melissa couldn't help thinking, burying it into the little corner of her heart, that she had not bargained for all that had come with them, the sacrifices of body, and mind, and soul, and the sheer energy it took to hold their little lives together. She hadn't agreed to that part, and when she tried to steal away a moment to bring her old self to the front, to compose something beautiful and striking, to make even a line or two that captured exactly how it was, it seemed like they resented the exclusion. No, Mommy, they seemed to say- all of you isn't enough. We want more.

She opened the door to the porch, hearing 12 calling from the top of the stairs. She heard her daughter begin the sentence, but shut the door deliberately on her words. It was childish, she thought, pretending you didn't hear someone. But there were times when you just had to get away from them, if only for a minute. Melissa watched the breeze move the leaves on the trees and wondered exactly how much she had left to give.