Posts Tagged ‘Fiction’

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On being a river.

September 17, 2018

I could see, even from far off, she has water for skin. At first glance it looks placid, still. But then I notice the movement. As though a noiseless train was passing by, the light flickering across her body. In this often dark world, she is a source of light, though it isn’t so much light as absence of darkness.
There is a way water can trick one into thinking it’s safe, when it hides depths that would drown you, keep you there with it, without a second thought.

I want to drown in her. To lose myself in her fathomless eyes. To understand what sort of creature she is, even if it means I’ll be unable to share that revelation with anyone but the picked clean bones of those who had sank before me, been absorbed, lost. And perhaps found?
There is nothing about her that threatens. There is no need to be warned. It just is.
I think of every myth surrounding sirens and selkies, mermaids and manatees – I consider that on some level it’s possible my knowledge of tides and the deeps might ultimately save my life, wretched and small as it is, but I know that is folly. I am but a speck. It’s not even that I’m unworthy of consideration, it’s more that she is so vast.

She lay waiting, her body rippling with shoals under a bright moon. I long to skim her surface, to feel the gentle sucking of her tide. It wouldn’t take much to commit myself fully to her depths. All my life I’ve wanted to be part of something greater, grander than myself. Here is my opportunity, so why do I hesitate?
I’ve grown accustomed to the surface, the shallow places where thoughts can meander in eddies that serve to reinforce a narrative that suggests progress, even when there is little. I give little consideration to what is happening below as I traverse my world. Nothing holds my attention for long, I carry only the mildest of awareness of anything beyond what I can readily see. I say that I want to know more, it is most certainly these thoughts that have drawn me to her. She will beckon, encourage, her song familiar, but I must find my own way, and I find myself afraid of what might be lost.

I sense more than see, the shifting, as though sun from behind clouds that move too quickly to track. A mottling of sorts, her flesh suggests impatience, though her features are serene. I am past the point of no return, even as I wind my way home. My journey at an end and simultaneously a beginning, I open my mouth, and breath in the sea.

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‘most creative keyword research project I’ve seen in a while’

September 6, 2018

“Tell me again how this works?”

The steady clickity sounds emanating from the laptop paused, followed by a telltale squeak of chair, as she twisted to face me. She tilted her head to the side, as though she was listening for something, or perhaps accessing files in some internal server.

“To be honest, I’m not sure that it does work, or rather, will work. This is all very experimental. But basically it’s this. I ask for writing prompts from friends. Some are writers, some not, some know each other, some not. There are certainly some interpersonal connections that might skew the experiment a bit, but since I’ve established no real control, no base line beyond limited parameters of wordcount and subject matter, there is a good possibility we could end up anywhere.”

“Right, I know what it is you’re doing. What I don’t understand is what you hope to achieve with the exercise.”

“The exercise is enough, of itself. I was stuck. I’d not written anything for over a month and was starting to go batty. It happens subtly. It’s likely no one would notice because I don’t spend enough time with anyone on a regular basis for them to notice the twitches, the ticks, the irrational thoughts and behaviour. And sitting myself down and having a talk with myself, you’re going to write blah blah every day for the next week, does nothing because those same people I’m not spending time with aren’t around to keep me honest. And I will make any excuse to get out of the work, and know that I’ll buy it because I struggle with holding myself accountable, and my self knows that!”

“But if you involve other people…”

“Then I’m accountable! It’s the same principle where someone might go out of their way to help others, but struggle with asking for help themselves. I tend not to put myself in the same category of worthiness as I do my friends and loved ones. Which is insane because the very fact that people who are amazing call me friend should be enough justification to consider myself worthy of their, and by extension, my, affection.”

“Okay, that’s all fine. So you weren’t writing, and that makes you a bit batty. So where does the exercise finish and the experiment begin?”

“That’s rather tenuous as I’m not really sure there is an experiment per se. I’ve discovered I do rather well with some semblance of structure. When given a prompt, I’m always curious to see where I’ll go with it. For instance, when prompted to write about deceit, I ended up writing a poem about trickster gods and the benefits of deception. I didn’t see it coming and it was awesome! Okay, here’s something. Say I decide I want to write about x. It’s totally reasonable to imagine the places that original writing might take me, the further writings it might inspire. If I get random prompts from all different people, I have no idea where my inspiration will not only come from, but where it will go next! It’s terribly exciting.”

“And so what is your hypothesis of what might happen as a result of the exercise? Beyond perpetuating a daily dalliance with the muse, to keep yourself from going batty?”

“Well, I’m thinking there is a possibility that if I keep getting prompts from friends and loved ones and perhaps even beyond my cozy and beloved social circle, eventually I’ll discover I’ve randomly solved the mystery!”

“What mystery?”

“If I knew that, it wouldn’t need solving, would it?”

“Ooookay. And what makes you think a) the mystery exists, b) that it wants to be solved and, c) that stumbling across the answer randomly is how you’ll do it?”

“A) there are all kinds of mysteries we know about and haven’t been able to solve. Imagine how many there are we don’t know about because we’re so concerned with looking directly at them. B) That’s like asking whether or not a puzzle wants to be put together. Obviously it does. Why else would it be in so many pieces? And c) it seemed to work for Dirk Gently.”

“Dirk Gently.”

“Yes, do you know him?”

“If you mean the fictional character created by Douglas Adams who ran a holistic detective agency, yes. Yes, I do. You’ve based your theory of random mystery solving through writing prompts on a character from a work of fiction.”

“He solved the mystery every time, regardless of the fact that he was a fictional character. That’s more competent than many people who consider themselves to be “based in reality”. I don’t see the issue.”

“Alright. Cool. Um… what’s the next one then?” She turned back to the laptop and peered at it, scrolling a bit before lifting her head.

“Ooh! It’s ‘on being a river’, diary entries from a waterway! I’m excited about this one. I wonder which waterway it will be. Perhaps the river from the wind in the willows! I bet that one has lots of good stories.”

“Right. Well, I’ll leave you to it then. I’ll say this, it is the most creative keyword research project I’ve seen in a while.”

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“The worst castles” – 500-1000 words in the style of Raymond Carver

August 30, 2018

The wind whipped across the dunes, as though it knew there were better places to be. It brushed sand up against the clapboard houses, mostly silent now, summer having been bundled up and tucked into a back closet until next year.
The woman clutched at her skirt, holding it tight against legs that had made men whistle low and long, a more menacing wind than the one that currently buffeted. She used the other hand to shade the late September sun, peering at the small figure down the beach. He was like an ant, both in size because of the distance, and his industrious movements. She knew just what he was doing. It was the same as he’d done nearly every day since they fled the city, the rattling grey Studebaker an overstuffed fish swimming against the tide of vacationers fleeing the advancing line of Autumn.

The day they’d arrived, he’d said nothing, so she filled the air with busyness to distract from the ghosts that had made themselves at home in eyes too ancient for a seven year old. She put away groceries and chattered about how kind the landlady was, to reopen this cottage for them, and wouldn’t it be fun to be on vacation when all the other children had to be in school? At this he turned and said, “It’s okay, mama.” She bit into her bottom lip to keep from crying at that, red lipstick staining straight white teeth. It reminded him of how she’d looked before they’d left, and he ran to her, wrapping his arms around her hips. It felt as though he was trying to hold her on the earth, terrified if he let go she might drift away. She rested her hands on his head and then he was gone, screen door slamming against the wall, the thunder of his footsteps swallowed by sand. She didn’t bother to call. The wind would have none of it.

Every morning when the boy woke up, the ocean had disappeared. It was a marvel how something so massive could just not be there anymore. It would come back. No matter how far away something seemed to go, it would always come back. He had learned that. He had learned that it was important to enjoy the times inbetween. The times when it was quiet and she smiled easily, and nothing was broken. And so every morning, he got up and washed his face, rubbing it clean of sleep and nightmares. He took an apple from the bowl on the table and tucked it in the pocket of his jacket. Then he poured a glass of milk, drank it as fast as the breathlessness of youth would allow, and set the glass in the sink so his mama would know he was up. He opened the door quietly, letting it close completely before reaching to pick up the small pail sitting next to the porch stairs.
He walked toward the ocean, wondering as he did every day, how long it might take to reach it. He wondered if, once he did, if he would be faster than the tide, racing that edge as it crept back up the beach until it was suddenly within a stone’s throw of the cottage where they would stay until she forgot.

Before he got to where there was still standing water, he dropped to his knees, the pail resting beside him.

He had tried to build castles at the top of the beach, where the sand was slippery and drifted like dust. They might stay, safe from the tide, but they were the worst castles.
And so he built them here, where he knew that the sea would wash them away. But for that moment, while they stood, they were glorious.

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Festival season

July 13, 2018

We live at the bottom of the mountain. With the spring sun comes the winter runoff, and this prepares us, to some extent, for the deluge of summer. I don’t know how many more years we can do this though, I’m terrified that we’re running out of room. And once the mountain is full, I honestly don’t know what will happen next.

Some years ago, two men arrived at the bottom of the mountain, red car rag top dust trailing behind. Their shiny shoes matched their shiny glasses, showing only that which looked at them, not what they saw. Their smiles were broad and insincere, half hidden by well kept whiskers, and the crisp white cards they carried promised usury. We were suspicious, tried to steer them elsewhere, but old Mr. Ellis, whose family had owned the top of the mountain since way back, he was always a sucker for feeling important. Being the youngest of nine, he’d lived a lifetime of being passed over, until time gave him what he’d always considered his birthright, putting his siblings in the ground and him in charge. And those shiny men, they cottoned to that right away. It was only a matter of time before he gave them exactly what they wanted. Access.

Since then, every year they return, bringing a whole swath of folks with them. I remember reading somewhere, ‘after three, the multitude,’ as though something magical can be kept quiet until enough know about it, and then there’s no stopping it. And not everyone knows how to react to things that are magical. People are just as likely inclined to stamp it out, destroy it, as to cherish and respect it. Perhaps more so.

Sometimes I think those men were devils and when Mr. Ellis shook their hands, made a deal, that was the three they needed, and it invited a torrent of people looking for somewhere to be. Most people seem to live for escaping their lives, they work and they toil and they stress, and for short amounts of time, they escape that drudgery, they vacate. I’m not sure they think about the people who live in the places they’re vacationing to. They don’t think about the work they create, the mess they leave behind. They come with their shiny shoes and their shiny blacked out eyes and tell us of the economic growth they’re burdening us with. Oh, excuse me, benefitting us with.

Mama says I shouldn’t complain. It is how it is, and there is no reason to grumble over what is. All that does is make one frustrated and that helps no one. I try to be like her and not to worry so much, but she’s not been down into the mines and seen what goes on there after the summer folk leave. I wish I could tell her, but so far it’s just me and young Jack who know about it….

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Nothing is good or bad, but thinking makes it so.

July 10, 2018

A knock on the door in the middle of the night is rarely a good omen.

Laura could see, through the picture window of the living room, the police car parked on the street as she crossed sleepily to the door, pulling her threadbare terrycloth robe tight, cinching the mismatched belt haphazardly. She could hear stirring in the bedroom behind her, knew that Harvey had been sleeping fitfully this night. She shouldn’t have burdened him with truth. But it was far too late to put the lid back on, and steadied herself as she opened the door.

“Elliot.”
Sergeant Elliot Hargreaves, recently promoted within the sheriff’s department of their county, hovered on the porch with as much authority as someone who has to deliver bad news could muster.

“Laura. I’m so sorry about this. I mean…it’s just that..”

“Elliot, you’re going to have to get better at this. You’re a sergeant now. Don’t stammer or try to sugar coat it. A police man at the door in the wee hours is rarely a cause for celebration. You can do this.”

He cleared his throat, staring at a spot on the porch between them, his fingers drumming on the edge of the screen door he held open. When he met her eyes, she could see that the sensitive young man she’d held tight when his mama couldn’t anymore, weakened as she’d been by the cancer which ultimately finished her, had taken a step back. She didn’t let the smile of pride find it’s way to her lips, instead meeting his attempt at stoicism with her own.

“Laura, your husband is dead.” If he registered her non-surprise, he didn’t let it show. He waited, letting the words sink in, watching the gamut of emotions rage in the shadows that lined her eyes. They closed tight and he took a step into the house, in case she was about to pitch forward. He should have known better, for when her lids flashed open, there was a fire in there all those years of abuse had never quite been able to douse.

“How long ago? And where?” Her matter of fact questions pushed a length of steel into his spine and he set his shoulders into what he hoped was a more official stance before responding.

“A couple of hours ago, just south of town. Presumably heading toward Jezzy’s bar when his car went off the highway and plowed full tilt into one of those big maples on Winchester. It killed him instantly if he wasn’t already dead. Without an autopsy it’s difficult to say, but coroner’s guess is a heart attack.” He looked down at his boots for a moment. When he looked back up, Laura had fixed her dark eyes on him. He looked down again. When he spoke again, his voice was quiet, hesitant.

“When my mama got sick, and I was going to drop out of school to take care of her, you wouldn’t let me. You told me to stay in school, make something of myself. I know that you got more hell than usual from your husband, everyone in town knows how mean that old bastard was to you, but you never stopped coming by and taking care of her. All the way to the very end.”

“Your mama was a damn fine woman, Elliot. She raised you as right as she could, considering she didn’t have much help, and she’d be mighty proud of the man you turned out to be.” He continued as though he’d not heard her.

“I came home from school early one day, just before graduation. The two of you were in the screened in porch where she liked to sit on the good days. You didn’t hear me come in. I heard you telling her how you could fix it, if she needed to..” his voice broke a touch and Laura wrapped her arms around herself, to keep from reaching out, knowing what he was about to say.

“..to check out. You told her there were options, and you could make her a concoction that would help her sleep and not be in any more pain.”

His eyes met hers, brightly washed with tears. He cleared his throat and balled his fist to wipe one eye, and then the other, his other hand gripping the edge of the screen door tight.

“When she died in her sleep while I was away at college, I knew it was you. I was so angry at you for that, for waiting until I was away. I even thought about making an anonymous call to Walter, to let him know the department should do a toxicology report, see what turned up. Not that it could have done much to bring her back.” She met his eyes, nothing but sadness and compassion in hers.

“She made the decision, honey. She knew you were going to be just fine, and didn’t want you to worry about her anymore. It was so bad at the end, she would have hated you to see her like that. It was hard to let her go, but harder still to see her suffer.”

“Did your husband suffer? Before his heart attack? There was a bottle of whiskey in the car with him. If the lab did tests on it, would they find traces of something that might have caused him some distress before he took a header into that maple?”

Her silence spoke volumes.

“Well, some mysteries might have to remain just that. Especially considering the bottle was accidentally smashed when the new corporal didn’t notice it in his blind spot and backed over it.”

Laura felt a smile tug at the corner of her mouth.

“I’m real sorry for everything you had to put up with from that piece of work. If you ask me, he finally got what was coming to him. There’ll be some paperwork to fill out whenever you get some time to come down to the station. Good night, Laura.”

“Good night, Elliot. I’m glad it was you who came to tell me. And thank you.”

“I’ll always be grateful for the kindness you showed my mama. You’re a good woman, you deserve a good man.” His suddenly young face split in a broad grin. “Give Harvey my regards. Ma’am.” He tipped his hat to her and walked down the steps.

Laura’s laugh followed him through the closed door.

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What’s past is prologue.

July 3, 2018

The sound of the screen door slamming was nearly eclipsed by the crack of thunder that rolled across the sky. She closed her eyes, and let the weight of the last ten years slide in salty paths down her cheeks, as the heavens opened in commiseration.

The sound of his engine roared and it wasn’t a stretch to imagine his tires tearing up the lawn, which never got a chance to recover from his obstinate refusal to use the driveway, though perhaps now it finally would.

She glanced at the sideboard, at the document next to a dust ring where a bottle she wouldn’t miss used to sit. At the signature he’d thrown at the paper more than written, white knuckle grip on the pen, which lay discarded once he’d finished with it. She knew just how it felt.

She poured the last drops of whiskey from his glass, rinsed it clean and pushed herself away from the kitchen sink. Walking to stand at the back door, she watched the rain wash the world clean. And then gave a throaty chuckle as she saw the heavy drops splashing mud up onto the side of the house. She stepped out onto the back porch, the warm July rain making short work of the tears on her cheeks, streaking the blue of her sundress darker, bringing it closer to the purple of the aconite flowers that bloomed in boxes lining the edge of the deck.
Revelling in the feel of the water soaked wood under her bare soles, she walked down the three steps into the yard. It stretched toward the willow trees which hung over the river, obscured by a mess of brambles he’d had always promised to remove, but never did.

Taken by a sudden urge, she grabbed the long handled clippers lying next to the stairs and strode through the tall grass, feeling the sodden earth sink beneath her feet.

She started attacking the brambles, clipping randomly with a fury well matched by the tempest around her. Not noticing when the thorns cut her arms and legs, she took out all of her rage at the way she’d let herself be treated on the prickly bushes until she realized someone was calling her name.

“Laura, what the hell?”
Her closest neighbour, Harvey, stood askance a few paces away. His short dark hair, peppered with grey, sticking to his scalp. The concern in his eyes was genuine and she smiled ruefully, suddenly aware of how she must look.

“He signed. He even toasted me, and then took the rest of the whiskey with him, thank god. It’s finally over, really and truly.” She let out a ragged sigh that deepened and pulled an unbidden sob from the centre of her chest. The clippers dropped in the space of time it took Harvey to close the distance and wrap his arms around her.

The moment he had her, she let go, her screams absorbed by the soon to be damper cotton of his workshirt, her body spasmodic with the pain of release. He maintained his calm, an eye to her storm, while the torrent soaked them both. He felt her grow still, her breath coming in gasps and halting hiccups. He waited until he felt her quiet and gently pulled back. She wiped the back of her hand across her rain soaked cheeks before realizing the futility of the act. The absurdity of it struck her and she let out a hoarse chuckle that soon gave way to hearty laugh. Harvey registered that he’d not seen Laura laugh in a long time, and it gave him hope. Although..

She saw the shadow cross his face, and quelled her mirth.
“What is it?”

“Do you think signing the divorce papers will really keep him from coming back?”

“Not likely, he’s too much of a bastard for that. But the monk’s hood I infused into his damn whiskey will make sure he doesn’t.”

The sudden chill Harvey felt had nothing to do with the rain.

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