What if?: April 2006

Sunday, April 30, 2006

G's last line story

It needs a title, and I am open to suggestions. It's 500 words exactly, and I hope to maybe send it to another contest at Gather. I italicized the sentence I used.

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He scraped the top of the formica with a razor blade. She sat across from him, trying not to be excited. The laminate was colored with swirls of grey and blue, and if you looked hard enough, embedded with tiny gold sparkles. When he was younger he would get so absorbed looking for them his mother, in a grey housecoat and no sparkles, would continually nag him to eat his dinner. His imagination mining for wishes such gold could bring.

"Penny for your thoughts Charlie."

Her hair was the color of corn; she wore it down today. It was a special day. She leaned forward, smiling at him with bright, pink cheeks. Her arms stretched out across the table, hands clasped, potential energy leaking from her fingertips. He reached out to swipe some.

"For you," he said, "I might have to charge a quarter."

She laughed, and he was glad.

"I can afford it, you know."
"I know. This is an amazing opportunity for you."
"The chance of a lifetime," she added for fun, quoting his favorite movie. She was trying so hard to make this be normal. Normal would be her hair in a ponytail. Normal would be a pullover instead of that silk blouse she was wearing with two buttons opened. Normal would be a grey housecoat, not a pink trench and pumps that matched an overstuffed pocketbook.

The corner of the blade caught an edge, and he began to twist and dig at the groove undoubtedly left by someone carelessly cutting their peanut butter sandwich without a board under it. A perfectly manicured pink finger appeared pushing a coin.

"What gives Charles?"

What gives? Santa gives. Levies give. Lovers give. Mothers give---
Up.

"I was just thinking I've never seen you look so pretty."
"That's very sweet, thank you." The silence that followed was full, expanding by the second. It threatened to envelop him.

"You know, I did ask you to come to this thing with me."
"I know you did. I have no desire to attend some soiree full of suits and benefactors." What would he do? Talk about ground wires and voltage? Rave about the horsepower in the new Mustang GT? Bitch about how transit fares are going up again to the CEO?

She sighed. "Would you rather I not go?"
"Of course not," he told her. The chance of a lifetime. Up the ladder of success. A chance to be someone better.

A kiss on his cheek. Her trench coat smelled like moth balls, her breath like mint. "I'll see you soon baby," she whispered. "I just have to go fix some things, make them better."

The manicured finger stroked the back of his hand, leaving a burning trail.

"What are you doing with the razor Charlie?"
"I'm digging for gold."

She sat there a minute or two, then stood and walked around the table.

She kissed his cheek.

"See you later," she said, but what I heard was the damning finality of "goodbye".

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Exercise Two: First and Last.

This is an easy one. Below is what we accumulated as potential first and/or last lines of a story. If anyone has other ideas please continue to submit them as a reply to this post. There are no hard and fast rules; if the line reads like a last line, use it that way and vice versa. Word count should be no more than 500 words. Let's say, next Thursday for your results. (I will actually attempt to post something this time, instead of being lame and not finishing mine. LOL)

Bonus if you use two; one at the beginning and one at the end. :)

(Hooligan, I will sure to get to giving your post a read through and make comments.)

1. Woke up in a strange room again and it took me a while to remember it wasn't mine.

2. The tapping on the window grew louder, then stopped altogether.

3. It started out like any other day. The dreary dirt of the cobblestone caked to his shoes and the black coal colored coat hung over his thin and bony shoulders. He had his pick in hand and was racing to the lorry, wouldn't do to be late yet again.

4. Matilde closed her eyes. Yes, it was an end.

5. "See you later," she said, but what I heard was the damning finality of "goodbye".

6. "Damn.", he said, and died.

7. "Mary knew she should have worn underwear that day."

8. "What a moment to realize your parents really weren't your parents."

9. "He could not help but stare. She seemed perfect, absolutely perfect, sipping on her iced tea in the neighborhood café. Her hair, a tuft of which was expertly tucked behind her right ear, was perfect. Everything about her looked like an Italian painter had created her image for that moment, including the early evening light, highlighting her beauty.

10. "He looked at his watch. 6:30. With disgust, he exhaled audibly. He had missed the train."

11. As "Skinny" Kenny McAdams hauled his corpulent body to the top the stairs, the pain raced through his left arm like a shot of boiling heroin. Stumbling forward, he barely made it inside his apartment before he fell over and died. It was only when the paramedics rolled his corpse over that the true tragedy was revealed: Underneath lay the lifeless body of Vienna, the lovable star of the SouperPup dog food commercials.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Simon

Lost. He was lost. How in the hell did this happen? He was the great Simon. He never got lost. Years of training saw to that. Yet here he was. Lost. No map. No GPS. Just a compass and good Army training. That's all he'd ever needed in the past.

Off in the distance a twig snapped. Simon stopped, kneeled down close to the ground, and waited. He took in the sounds of the forrest. He could hear the squirrells scurrying about overhead. He could hear birds fluttering about overhead. He even thought he could hear a nest of baby birds. They sounded hungry to Simon. The smells were also there in full force. That's what he noticed first. The smell. What sort of man would go hunting for another man wearing cologne? It wasn't even good cologne. It was that awful Drakkar. It burned his nose.

He slowed his breathing to quiet himself. His right index finger fell instictually to the trigger of the gun in his hand. He was in the prone position. On his belly in the mud. Elbows dug in, steadying the weapon in his hands and supporting his weight. He had taken great care to make himself a ghillie suit. He had fasioned it from an old uniform, some burlap, camo netting and assorted bits of local vegetation.

Simon remembered sniper school as if it were only yesterday, instead of the seven years since he attended. The lessons learned there were ingrained into his very being. The words of the instructor were in his mind every time he put on a ghillie suit.

"The ghillie suit is your best friend. Your silhouette makes you a target. Without a ghillie suit you stick out like a sore thumb. Here you will learn to make a ghillie suit. You will learn that antenna and rifles are straight and nothing in nature is. You will learn that the human form is one of the most recognizable things in the world. You will learn to be silent. You will learn to be deadly. You will learn to be the baddest of the bad motherfuckers on the planet. You will learn that the only thing that can stop a sniper is G*d himself. And boys, even G*d doesn't fuck with snipers."

Entrenched in his little hilltop hiding spot, Simon waited. This was no big deal to him. Sniper school taught him how to wait. Sniper school taught him how to ration his food and water so that three days worth of food and water could last him twelve. Simon was a machine when he was in "sniper mode". He was attuned to his surroundings. He was capable of great patience. He was capable of staying in the prone position he was in currently for days at a time without moving an inch. This was like home to him. This was where he was comfortable.

Three meters to his left he saw the tell tale signs of an untrained human opponent. Granted the smell had preceded his foe by almost ten minutes. The mistaken step onto a dry, brittle branch had been five minutes before that and Simon knew then it was only a matter of time before this man would make himself visible. He didn't expect what he saw though.

This man was dressed in camoflage. BDU bottoms and top. A Marine cover on his head. Camo paint on all his exposed skin. The man must have thought that camo makeup was invisibility potion or some other sort of nonsense. He didn't stay low to the ground. He was upright and walking at a normal pace, with a normal stride. He wasn't taking any care into where or how his feet fell. He was like the proverbial bull in a china shop. Coming ahead and announcing to the world that he was here. No caution at all. Bullheaded and proud of it. And dead.

Pop. Pop. Pop. Simple as that. The one shot one kill thing was for the movies. Three rounds. Two to the chest and one to the head. The first shot usually did the trick. The other two were for "insurance".

Bright pink exploded against the man's chest. He let out a yelp and placed his hand to his chest. From out of the woods a whistle blew. Simon rose from his postion a mere five meters away. His opponent looked dumbfounded. Simon just smiled.

"Be glad they weren't bullets"

This is an excerpt from my soon to be self published novel. I'm in the editing process as we speak (or type as the case may be). Input most definitly welcome. Thanks for the invite!

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Conservation

The ranger navigated the Jeep slowly along the rutted path. He knew the way well, but at higher speeds the guiding illumination of the headlights was not a sufficient buffer against the unpredictability of the forest at night. Many of its inhabitants were nocturnal, and it was his duty to see that they were protected. He would not enjoy the irony if he were to cause one harm.

It was mating season, he could smell the volatile fumes thick in the air. He slowed the vehicle a bit more as he negotiated a series of turns around a toppled ancient tree. In the daylight, he knew, the trunk was blanketed with a vibrant coat of moss. But now, it loomed menacingly next to him, a shambling mound eerily lit by his passage. The ranger would need to be very vigilant tonight, for mating season meant poachers. There was a ravenous black market that hungered for the fertile denizens under his care. Unfortunately, poaching required very little effort when the prey were captured in the midst of their mating ritual. They were defenseless, except, that is, for the ranger.

The ranger continued his careful patrol through the darkness. Aware of the darker patterns around him, he compared his surroundings against his own mental record. Off to his left, he noticed a shadow that didn't belong. A vehicle had been left, partially obscured by the trees. A wry grin curled the ranger's lips.

He continued driving until he was out of earshot, then stopped and turned off the engine. Silently, he exited the Jeep and retraced his path back to the abandoned car. The smell was stronger here. He knew he didn't have much time. His hand brushed the sidearm holstered on his belt. He wouldn't need it, but its presence helped restore his focus. The ranger followed the scent, reassured as signs of the poacher's passage became glaringly apparent.

The ranger stopped. Yards in front of him, crouched behind a ragged bush, was the poacher. The poacher, his attention captivated by motion on the other side of the bush, held a length of rubber tubing. The hose ended in a five-gallon bucket next to him. The ranger's eyebrows knitted together, enraged by the site of the filthy tools. But he held his ground. While there were rules governing most everything in the state of New York, possession of a hose and bucket was not a crime.

A bubbling sound erupted from the dirt beyond the poacher, and the man lunged over the bush, hose thrust ahead. "Stop right there!" shouted the ranger, turning his now brilliant flashlight on the poacher. The man turned in mid-air, startled. He landed hard on his back, and scuttled backwards trying to escape the shadowed visage of his would-be captor. The rubber hose collapsed impotent to the ground. The ranger advanced calmly until the poacher backed himself up against a tree.

"You are under arrest for hunting a federally protected species," stated the ranger.

"What are you talking about, man?" protested the poacher. "I wasn't doing anything wrong!"

"Perhaps you didn't see the sign when you entered the park," the ranger began, "seeing as how you probably didn't come in through the front gate, but this is the Columbia County Wild Gasoline Preserve."


-----

Hello, my name is Paul. My story was inspired by a front-page headline in our local newspaper that ran last Wednesday. It read: "Want to preserve gasoline? Drive responsibly, experts say". I prefer strawberry preserves, myself...

Monday, April 17, 2006

Lisa's Belated Contribution

There was a news story last night about a 19 year-old man (boy) who had shot and killed two registered sex offenders, then when he was cornered by police, shot himself.  He was only in critical condition, so I look forward to hearing more of this.  As the reporter spoke, my mind churned: had either of those men abused him or someone he knew? Or was he just playing vigilante?  Ok, this probably gives away any direction I could take with the story, but here goes.

His heart beat like a thousand drums, echoing through his body and filling his ears.  His breath hung smokily in the air in front of him, threatening to settle on the pane of glass and give him away.  He was ready. It was time. But he couldn’t move just yet.  As the grey-haired, flannel shirted man sat heavily in his recliner, the boy stood up.  He crossed himself and squeezed his eyes tight briefly, one name going through his mind like a flood, now that he was moving.  

Around the side of the house, up four steps, through the back door. He was careful to open it slowly and keep the handle turned until he had placed it back in its closed position.  His hands were sure and firm, his mind was blank and he walked as with blinders on: steadily forward, eyes on the prize.  Through the kitchen, down a narrow hall and—

There he was. The man. The monster, in the flesh.  He looked up from his TV dinner without surprise and met the young man’s gaze.

“Three years?  Do you think that was enough for what you did to my sister?”  His shaking voice rose as he spoke, so that by the last word he was almost shrieking, his fury threatening to overtake him.

A mirthless smile crawled across the man’s face.  He slowly licked his lips.

“That little slut was worth every minute behind bars.  Have you ever tasted a 12 year-old? Mmmm---“

The bullet ripped through his pursed lips and spread apart the bones of his face. Jeff saw this in slow motion, feeling his own heart soar at the moment the beast before him was ended.  He hadn’t thought about how precise it could be, this removal of life; he had pictured more shots, more twitching, more flailing.  This was better. It was clean.  And it was magical…for the first time since that day, the day she finally couldn’t take it anymore and risked her life by telling her secret, the hole that was rent in their world began to close up a little.  

Jeff stuck the gun under the waistband of his jeans, his jacket hiding it completely, and slipped back out the way he came.  As he walked through the clammy night air, his breathing slowly returned to normal, and his thoughts cleared.  He had never been so proud of anything in his whole life. A lone tear crossed his cheek and he didn’t bother brushing it away—he just smiled broadly and sighed.  It was as he walked home from the former school principal’s house that an idea began to grow inside him.  The registry.  The one where he had found this vermin’s address.  Yes.  He remembered how long that list was, how many of those men where in the same category as this one—and that was just in his town.  He looked at his watch, and quickened his pace to a jog. If he worked fast, he could get through that list tonight, and be in Canada by noon.  They wouldn’t know who to suspect, with so many victims between all his prey.  He let out a short laugh and ran faster.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Night Swimming to the Mermaids’ Graveyard

The headline from The World read, 'Mermaid Graveyard Found!'
I'd wanted to write a short story, but this came first.

Night Swimming to the Mermaids’ Graveyard

It’s all right tonight
to fight tides
in icy silence.
Guided by sandpipers;
a holy host of feathered flight.

Draw breath and dive
to find what I like;
coral, crisp icicles
climbing high toward
the forgotten sky.

And deeper, dolmens
guard the sleeping people.
Do they really die?

Are any left alive?

I rise to find
winding sheets of rain.
only horizons circle around
waves, like shrouds
covering sounds of cries
echoing deep inside
the ocean.

President Attacks Plumber After Last Minute Vegetable Inquest

NB Headline generated by my mate's fantastic bit of frivolity. Just click here and then click refresh to see a new headline.

The Sun was going down on a tough day for Trent Corblackson, President of the United States Vegetable Counter-Insurgency Committee. Every day was a tough day for the USVCIC and today was a day so it was tough.

Mulling over this conundrum wrapped in a riddle deep fried in an enigma Trent had little time left for traffic and was shortly knocked down trying to cross a busy Main Street by a stern looking woman.

"Hey" Shouted Trent, from the floor. "If you're going to run me down at least have the Goddamn American decency to do it in a motor vehicle"

"Sorry" said the stern woman, sternly. "I was in such a hurry to get to the Vegetable Inquest that I clean forgot my car."

Quick as a flash Trent leapt to his feet. A Vegetable Inquest he pondered? Why wasn't I informed? There's no time to convene USVCIC now, I must make haste!

Trent believed in thinking with a lot of punctuation.

Commandeering a nearby bicycle by flashing his sprout shaped ID Trent pedalled like the wind towards the USVCIC HQ, where the inquest was surely being held.

With the tall tapered aparagus towers in sight Trent upped his speed to near weak child with a cold levels. He was all set to leap heroically from the saddle when a gush of water spun him around and left him flat on his back in the road for the second time in 5 minutes.

"Adshudisoijsdds?!" said Trent, soggily.

"Sorry bub, jus' adjustin' me hydrant" said a burly plumber, inserting his massive tool into the roadside dog toilet.

And with that, Trent went for him with a carrot.

Woman Finds Imperfect Mate At Outlet Mall

Below is my first assignment. I had to find a headline and write something based on the title alone. Anyway, I looked on the Onion, and found this title to a news article: Woman Finds Imperfect Mate At Outlet Mall. I have not read the article, but I will write some based on the title alone. I can assure you, any similarity between the article and my tripe is coincidence.

She tapped her foot nervously on the ground, and turned her palm to her face, looking at the petite gold watch around her wrist. Where is he, she thought. Where is he?

It was 6:15 pm, and her ride was not here.

This is the third time in a month that her boyfriend forgot her. Once at a bar, once at a restaurant and now at an outlet mall. Clearly from her actions, he was telling her that other things were more important than her. Mental note: subtract five brownie points.

She looked around – where the hell was she anyway? Oh, and then she saw her sanctuary – the outlet mall. Everything was coming in clearly now. The mall.

After trying on shoes that were too expensive and uncomfortable, she decided to see what the store was next door. The only sign, on the door, was "Open." This did not reveal the nature of the store, or what was inside.

The windows were blackened, and the "Open" sign must have been purchased as an afterthought. What the hell, the thought to herself, if her boyfriend was going to be late, he was going to have to find her sweat ass.

Entering the store with a bit of trepidation, she saw that the walls were black, perhaps charcoal grey, and a short man with thick glasses stood at attention behind a podium. He was waiting for her, it seemed.

"Y--es. May I help you," the man said, spending much time enunciating the "Y" in "Yes" and emphasizing the word "I" as if he was the only one in the word who could help her.

Through the conversation that followed, the woman learned that this man with a thick, hard-to-place accent had just opened a mail-order-groom business. In an outlet mall, no less.

The woman's thoughts at first were of disbelief. She immediately scanned for cameras, first thinking "Candid Camera" and then thinking "Sting Operation."

"I know your zoom is ticking," the man continued.

"Pardon," the lady offered.

"I know your womb is ticking," she deciphered from the man's words, "What it is you would like, Miss."

There was some calmness to his voice, and she began to let her guard down.

"I don't know how to answer your question," she finally said. It was a true statement, but it did not reveal too much. She did not want to hope.

"I want an honest man," she started. All women want honest men. But she added, "Honest, but kind." She wanted him to tell her what he was thinking, but not if it involved sexual acts with Playboy playmates or that she really did look fat in a dress.

She continued with the description, telling this stranger her ideal man. All the while, the man wrote in his little notepad, as if a waitperson was taking a meal order. She continued and continued, and then the man looked a bit annoyed, and then stopped writing all together.

"Ma'am," he interrupted, "how much would you like to spend on your mate?"

She froze, and then thought – did she want to mortgage the house for a man? Did she want to go into debt for a custom-ordered honey?

By the end of the transaction, she left with a receipt for her mate, imperfect though he was. She did not want to leave empty-handed. He was two-thirds off, she thought to herself, and if she did not like him, she could always return him. After wiping him off, that is.

Monday, April 10, 2006

It wasn't a crime yet

It wasn't a crime yet. No one had enacted a law against it. Not sure if anyone will. Not sure if anyone is really harmed by it. But that is the way of unintended consequences. You see I have a way of just reaching back and curing people. A real to goodness chiropractor. But a chiropractor that actually works. Yeah I know there are some out there who know how to touch one so, how to adjust, how to make good recommendations. And some that are really good at convincing you, giving you a placebo in place of a pain killer, tricking the mind into helping itself. That is actually a good thing. I once knew an ancient Japanese man who was many levels advanced into some form of Budo that it achieved mysticism in all those who knew him. He could stop you with a finger; cure a sprain with a touch. Yeah that is how powerful he made you believe. But I am not like that at all. I'm different.

It all began when young. Time seemed to go so slow. And sometimes I could stop it, even reverse it. The adults all laughed when I said time was slow, they told me to be patient, that you will get patience when you grow up. They didn't know what I meant. No one did. It is like that great thought experiment where the ball appears to be just bouncing up and down for the boy on the train, but for the boy on the station platform the ball arced up and down as the train passed. It was all in your perspective. Mine was that time didn't flow just one direction. It flowed in many directions. To me the ball bounced up and down and side to side and off the walls. I could make the ball do what I wanted it to.

The first time I realized I could slip into time was when I was walking to school and Jimmy McGovern would stop me and ask for my lunch money. Jimmy was older and at least a head taller. I'd give him my lunch money and then the world would blur and stop, grind to halt. Except for me. I could still move, still breath, still experience. And the experience I would have would be to take my lunch money back out of Jimmy McGovern's pocket and put it back in mine. It was easy. To this day I wonder what went through Jimmy's mind when he found his stash of money light my contribution everyday. Maybe nothing, Jimmy wasn't that bright.

So now as a grown man, time goes in many directions. You see my cures for patients are not so much cures as preventions. When someone comes into my office complaining of a sore wrist I follow them back in time from my office to when they first hurt their wrist, preventing the injury in the first place. Yeah, I know, then why would they be in my office to begin with if they had no injury? Good question, but time doesn't work like that, it has a way of pushing things on even if you don't know why. And somehow my patients remember the pain, not the injury, but the pain. And then they pay me for the cure, praising my skill as a chiropractor, and of course telling all their friends.

I could do all sorts of things with time. I prefer this. The money is good.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Week one

Joyce Carol Oates in her essay, "The Nature of Short Fiction; or, the Nature of My Short Fiction," she admits to be "greatly interested in the newspapers and Ann Lander's columns and in True Confessions and in the anecdotes told under the guise of 'gossip'. Amazing revelations!" She said she has written a number of stories based on "the barest newspaper accounts" by re-dramatizing them.

For this week's exercise, collect some stories or headlines from tabloids, Weekly World News, (or since we are now so modern, perhaps a lead in from The Onion, or AP Odd News,) that seem to you to form---either partially or wholly, the basis for a story. Then, write a story based on one of them. (Where does it begin, end, who's POV is telling the story?) Be creative, and ideally the piece should be kept to under 750 words.

The objective is to 1) see and understand how and what triggers your imagination, and how when you dramatize a story, it becomes your story. 2) Increase your awareness of the stories that exist all around us. 3) practice how and where to enter a story, and where to leave off.

Post your stuff here by next Friday and we'll all have at them, including the viewing public! Pieces can then be polished if so desired and re-posted the next week.

Speaking of next week, please also see the post below to help form our next exercise.

Get busy time,
G.

First and last

A fun exercise I was given once in workshop was for everyone in the group to come up with three examples of first lines, and last lines of a story. Then we passed our sheets of paper to the left, and we told to choose one of the ones we got for a short story. For example:

"The moment Jane came home and noticed her living room smelled like wet dog, she knew what was left of her already horrific day was not going to get any better."

"The new owners never did find out about the way Steve made his money."

Post your ideas here, and we will disperse them about or somehow randomly choose some next week. Be creative! The more outlandish the better to inspire creativity!