Tag: fiction

Glinda and Charley (a scene)

I’ve given up trying to write traditional stories (at least, for now). Instead, I’m just letting the words do what they want. In this case, the words made me say, “What the hell?” Incidentally, the picture has nothing to do with the story. I just typed “weird” in the Flickr Creative Commons search bar and clicked on the one that made me laugh.

weird
image credit

“Is there somewhere we can talk privately?” Glinda asked. She wasn’t the Good Witch, or a witch at all. She was just Glinda, and she didn’t know how to dress herself despite being thirty-three. She had a maid help her. The maid’s name was Fuzzy. She was a cat, but a really smart one with a keen fashion sense and a remarkable vocabulary.

“Like the moon?” Charley suggested. He was fond of the moon and its wild temperature swings. He was also rather partial to radiation.

“The moon’s too far,” Glinda lamented.

“It’s not that far if you travel with your imagination.”

“Like Mr. Roger’s?”

“Sure, if Mr. Roger’s was a kick-ass space explorer.”

“Mr. Roger’s is plenty kick-ass without adding ‘space explorer’ to his already impressive resume,” Glinda said. Her hair dragged the floor, and she suffered from excessive optimism, the kind that made Charley nervous.

“Whatever,” Charley said. “Are we going to the moon or not?”

“Not. What I have to say can be said here. It’s private enough.”

“The bugs are listening.”

“I’m not worried what a few bugs think, if they think anything at all.” Glinda took a deep breath. “Ok, here it is. I’m worried you might not be real.”

Charley rubbed his chin. The thought had occurred to him, too. It was troubling notion, that he might not be real. Glinda’s realness was never in question. Was that strange or is that how things were supposed to go?

“Does it matter if I’m real or not?” Charley asked. “We still like each other.”

“We do?” Glinda felt warm inside. She thought Charley kind of hated her.

“Well, we tolerate each other.”

Glinda felt her insides clam up. She would never be the apple of Charley’s eye, or of anyone’s. The only creature that loved her was Fuzzy…maybe. Or maybe Fuzzy was just doing her job?

“Now that we’ve settled that, I’m off to check out the moon,” Charley said. “Are you sure you don’t want to come?”

“Yes,” Glinda whispered.

“Toodle-oo,” Charley said and blinked out of sight.

Glinda settled onto the floor and tried to cry, but she’d forgotten how. Or maybe she’d never learned in the first place.

Trees Exploding into Bloom (a scene)

This is Beverly, a cranky woman in her late sixties who had a bit to say during a freewriting session. I’m not sure what’s going on with the tree at the beginning. 

I haven’t made grits since my niece Laura was two years old, and on that day, my pear tree decided to bloom the fuck out and scared me half to death. One second it was all scrawny-looking, and then wham! Full fucking bloom, right outside the kitchen window! I mean, it was like God was playing a joke. Or the Devil was. It sounds like something that mean old bastard would do. Then again, God’s been known to throw folks a curveball from time to time, too, so I’m not sure. All I know is the whole episode made my Laura pee her pants, and that just about ruined our breakfast Who could concentrate on eating after that? I sure as hell couldn’t, and Laura was screaming like someone had pressed a hot iron to her face.

Aside from trees exploding into bloom, it was a pretty average day. Creepy Joseph Carrera dropped by and asked me to water his plants while he took a two week vacation to Akron, Ohio. “Who the hell goes to Akron for two weeks?” I wanted to know. “Isn’t your life shitty enough?”

Joseph coughed into his arm (which I appreciated because I catch colds like nobody’s business) and said in that puny little voice of his, “Akron is where Alcoholics Anonymous started.”

“And? What’s that got to do with a wheelbarrow of orangutans?”

Joseph went on to tell me that Akron was where Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob put their drunk heads together and came up with the idea for AA. He also said he’d been sober for nearly a year and wanted to go see the home of Dr. Bob for his sober anniversary.

“That’s all well and good,” I said, not wanting to get bogged down in hearing how Joseph got sober. I’ve heard enough testimonials from former drunks to last a fucking last time. My first husband’s a recovering alcoholic H got sober about a year before he left me for a hot little twenty-five-old accountant. I didn’t care so much that he split, but for a twenty-five-year old? And he was nearly fifty? Jesus wept.

“But what the hell else do you plan to do?” I asked. “Akron’s not exactly a hotbed of fun and frivolity. In fact, it’s kind of fucking dump.

Joseph grinned his crazy grin, which he always does when he’s uncomfortable, and my cursing caused him no end of discomfort. But it’s not like I was going to watch my Ps and Qs around him, of all people. Joseph Carrera was as weird as they came. I wouldn’t have surprised me if the police arrested them and then searched his place and found people cut up and hidden in freezer bags down in his basement.

Joseph babbled about going to see the Cuyahoga River and the Akron Zoo (be still, my beating heart) so I rushed him out and said I water his damn plants. He told me he’d put the spare key under the weird little statue of a scantily-clad boy he keeps on on his porch. It’s supposed to be Peter Pan, but it looks like a ugly-ass kid playing dress-up. Not that a statue of Peter Pan looking like Peter Pan would have been better, you know?

Once Joseph left, I shooed Laura out to play and told her if she sees any crazy shit with my trees to come and get me. I needed a nap.

Beth, Clary, and Ben (a scene)

After a long bout of freewriting (which included trees exploding into instant bloom, a computer coducting a therapy session with a teenager, and all manner of peculiarities), this scene emerged. I don’t think there will be a second part, but who knows?

“Hey, you remember when we all had phones?” Clary asked.

Ben popped his head up from behind the sofa. God only knew what he was doing back there. Looking for change? Scraps of food? His dignity? “You mean landlines?” he asked.

“Yeah,” Clary said. “Those were good days.”

“How?” I asked. I didn’t want Ben in this, or any, conversation. In fact, it would have been nice if Ben had found a discarded piece of pizza crust, popped it in his mouth, and then choked on it. Such are my fantasies.

“Because you had to answer the phone if it rang,” Clary said. “You couldn’t just ignore it.”

“Well, there were answering machines,” I pointed out.

“Okay, Beth, before answering machines. Those were the days.”

“I think I’m stuck,” Ben muttered from behind the sofa.

Clary and I ignored him. “The good old days were never actually good,” I said. “At least, not as good as we remember.”

Clary shrugged. “I think they were objectively better than now,” she said. “People were more connected. We weren’t all stuck on our phones and Facebook and Instagram and all that shit.”

“A little help here?” Ben said, a little more loudly.

“Yeah,” I went on, “but we still had problems. People may have been more connected, but as long as we’re all big, walking bundles of neuroses, there are issues. I think things are better now. We can segment our craziness and choose to not inflict it on others. That’s why I don’t have any friends. Present company excluded, of course.”

“You’re such a cynic.”

“I’m literally stuck behind the couch!” Ben wailed. “Will one of you get off your asses and move it so I can get out?”

“Fine,” I sighed. Clary hopped off the sofa and she and I moved it forward a few inches. Ben, sweat dripping into his excuse of a beard, crawled free. “Jesus, that was awful,” he panted.

“You’re such an idiot,” I said, shaking my head.

“Hey!” Ben protested. “Why are you being so mean tonight?”

“It’s my talent,” I said and walked toward the door. My people meter was full, and it was time to make myself scarce.

Awake (short fiction)

This is part one of my story about mannequins coming to life at night, a scenario I first read in a Choose Your Own Adventure (CYOA) style book when I was young. I’ve since looked for the book online with no success (this might be it, but I can’t be sure). The book chilled me to the bone, but I read and re-read it, trying out different outcomes. If you’re familiar with the CYOA books, you know the endings can be quite dark. In one ending, your left as prey for the evil, animated mannequins.

In my mannequin story, there’s no boy or girl trapped in a store after the mall closes. It’s a love story, and a sad one, at that. I haven’t done more than spot editing, so there are undoubtedly mistakes and things I’ll change in the final draft.

If she stood away from the security lights and stayed in the shadows, Ashley almost looked human, which made Barry more than a little uncomfortable. They had agreed to be themselves with no adornment, but Ashley had applied lipstick and eyeshadow, and she had found a wig. Her lips were curved in a permanent smile, even when she was upset.

Barry looked around the department store, but he didn’t see any other mannequins about. They used to all animate at once, exactly fifteen minutes after the mall closed. It was magical, all of them gathered in the center of the first floor by men’s casual wear, looking at each, flexing their plastic fingers which didn’t move more than a little, but any movement was a miracle.

That had been close to a year ago, and Barry supposed it was inevitable that the newness of consciousness had worn off. That still didn’t account for the different animation times…or the fact that some of the mannequins didn’t animate at all.

Barry took a few halting steps toward Ashley, suddenly unsure of himself. He considered changing his shirt, a complicated task that usually required another mannequin, but he decided against it. He would stick with the plan he and Ashley made. If she wanted to break it, fine. She was her own…person? Her own entity? Barry didn’t know. He imagined he felt a headache coming on, which he knew wasn’t possible. He could barely feel when he touched something, as if he had stunted nerve endings. Perhaps I do, Barry thought. Perhaps I have a functioning brain, but the rest of the system isn’t complete. Would it ever be complete? Barry liked to think so.

“Good evening,” Barry said to Ashley. He remained formal with her. It seemed the right move.

Ashley didn’t turn to face him. Her cool, flawless face stared at an unseen point on the shadowy wall. “You don’t approve,” she said after a moment.

“I don’t approve of what?”

“The lipstick. The eye shadow.”

“It’s not that I don’t approve,” Barry said. “I just thought we were going to be ourselves.”

Ashley turned. Barry had to admit that she looked good. Somehow, she had expertly applied the lipstick and eyeshadow, and the blonde wig was situated perfectly on her normally bald head. She had always been more flexible than Barry. She had almost a complete range of motion in both her hands, and she could turn her neck more than a few degrees without causing tiny fractures in the plastic. Other mannequins usually whispered jealously about Ashley’s abilities, but Barry saw none of them around tonight.

As he scanned their corner of the department store, he realized they were the only two that had animated. He saw Evan in his corner, wearing the store’s latest fall jacket, along with a red scarf, jeans, a flannel shirt, and hiking boots. Beside him, Joey–no more than ten if he’d been human–wore the same outfit but in a smaller size. From where he was standing, Barry couldn’t see Elizabeth, Cierra, or Tonya. He also couldn’t see Alex, the half-mannequin with no eyes whom Elizabeth usually carried to the center of the store.

He heard no voices. He and Ashley were only ones awake.

Perhaps a Little Fiction to Change Things Up

I’ve sensed lately that I need a break from poetry. Perhaps it’s all the rejections I’ve been getting. I certainly want a break from submitting poems. I still have a few out there, and maybe they’ll find a home.

I have a few stories running through my head. One is about mannequins who come to life at night in a department store, two of whom have fallen in love and find immense difficulty mapping the emotional and physical terrain in which they find themselves. Another springs from a wrong number text I received last night, and the other has something to do with this:

junk
There’s a story hiding in this big ol’ pile of scrap metal

I’ll post the stories as they progress, as I used to, breaking them up into parts. I generally do little editing and revising of my fiction that I post until I’m finished with the story. I like having a record of the piece as a work in progress.

Here’s the beginning of the tale of the love-smitted mannequins:

If she stood away from the security lights and stayed in the shadows, Ashley almost looked human, which made Barry more than a little uncomfortable. They had agreed to be themselves with no adornment, but Ashley had applied lipstick and eyeshadow, and she had found a wig. Her lips were curved in a permanent smile, even when she was upset….

mannequins-in-love-2
Oh, my….

So stay tuned, and thanks as always for reading.

Minister Hot Tea Denies a Bird a Proper Burial (surreal fiction)

This oddness poured out a few days ago. Enjoy?

Minister Hot Tea Denies a Bird a Proper Burial

“I give not a fig for how the bird died,” said Minister Hot Tea, “nor do I wish him to be buried on this sacred ground. A pauper’s grave for the bird, now see to it.”

Minister Hot Tea’s wife was an unwilling accomplice, but she had run grown weary of playing Go Fish with ghosts, so she gathered the bird’s broken body and transported it to the burial ground just outside of Gehenna.

She said a hot, hasty prayer that got tangled in the clouds and lingered in the air long enough for the bird to reincarnate, leave the nest, and glide through an immaculate sunset, his heart beating in time with his strong, blessed wings.

Ms. Volta and Mr. Charlie Pincushion (Surreal Flash Fiction #2)

“Well, fuck me on a Tuesday,” said Ms. Volta, inspiring others around her to remove their clothes and curse. The others were blank slates, genderless, and were fond of violin solos that made them cry.

“It’s not Tuesday, Ms. Volta,” Mr. Charlie Pincushion said delicately. His veins, blue and beautiful, trembled in anticipation. His heart thundered like a little horse tramping in the grass.

“No, it isn’t,” Ms. Volta sighed. She dismissed the others, who left their clothes behind. Ms. Volta burned them. She and Mr. Charlie Pincushion roasted frogs over the flames.

“I found a new job,” Mr. Charlie Pincushion announced. Frog juice dribbled down his bearded chin.

Ms. Volta was not turned on, but she wasn’t hungry any more, either, so that was okay. “What was wrong with your old one?” she asked.

“Benefits were bad. Didn’t include enough…you know.”

“No, I don’t.”

Mr. Charlie Pincushion blushed a royal shade. “It didn’t include coverage for murder,” he whispered.

“Ah, yes. Good murder coverage is hard to come by these days.”

Mr. Charlie Pincushion ate the last of his frog. “This new job has great murder coverage, though. It’ll kick in after thirty days. After that, I’ll get back to it.”

“Any prospective targets?” Ms. Volta cleaned her nails with a French knife.

Mr. Charlie Pincushion smiled. “A few.”

“Anyone I know?”

“Steve Handler, the Microscopic Twit.”

“Interesting. I don’t have anyone in mind. I’m sure that’ll change, though.”

“If you ever need some ideas, Ms. Volta—”

Ms. Volta raised a thin hand. It flickered in and out of existence. “No, no. I can find my own people to kill.”

The two sat in front of the burning clothes until night fell. As the moon climbing into the purple sky, Mr. Charlie Pincushion fell asleep. Ms. Volta stabbed him in the heart at 2:34 AM. Mr. Charlie Pincushion’s eyes flew open and stayed that way.

“If it had been a Tuesday, I would have fucked you instead,” Ms. Volta said softly.

Surreal Flash Fiction #1

Traditional fiction and the story I was working on stalled (as did poetry) and this is what’s been coming out instead.

Henry Needed Something Stronger, And It Was His Undoing

The coffee wasn’t going to cut it. Henry needed something stronger. Blood, maybe. Yes.

He dragged himself into the bedroom where the girl slept. He grabbed his tiny pocket knife—still sharp, twenty years after his father gave it to him—and carved a little flesh from the girl. She moaned and stirred in bed but didn’t wake up. Henry thought he deserved points for that.

He collected blood in a small paper cup. It struck him how many wee things he used. Tiny knife, small cup. Perhaps the solution to his problem lay in his size.

Henry drank the blood, which shrank him down considerably. He was perhaps two inches tall now. Beside him, the knife and cup was huge.

The girl woke and felt her wounded leg. “Henry,” she sighed, “have you been cutting me again?”

“Yes,” Henry said. “Also, I’m very small now.”

The girl looked over the edge of the bed at tiny Henry. “So you are. Did you make coffee?”

“Yes. I needed something stronger, so…you know.”

The girl nodded. “I know.”

She swung out of bed and stepped on Henry. She savored the crunch of his small bones. She trailed a bloody footprint as she walked into the kitchen. As it turned out, the coffee was just fine.

The Point Where I Normally Give Up

I read one time that the reason Raymond Carver wrote such short stories (meaning, stories that were shorter than average…forgive the akward phrasing of this sentence) is that he was so pressed for time, it’s the best he could do. I understand that, as I’m sure many other writers do, too. Being pressed for time works well for me as a poet–I can crank out a surprising amount of work in fifteen or twenty minutes–but not so much for me as a fiction writer.

When I began taking myself seriously as a writer, at the tender age of thirteen, I had an enormous amount of time to devote to short stories. Along with one novel and a stalled sequel, short stories were all that I wrote. Poetry didn’t come until high school, and I didn’t bloom as a poet until part-way through college.

Fast-forward to today, with two kids out of school for the summer, and I don’t have a lot of time to myself. Parenting tends to wear me out, so staying up late to write isn’t an option. I’m a morning person, but I’ve been sleeping in later and later. So I continue to write when and where I can, often as I sit with my youngest while my oldest practices Taekwando. That’s where I wrote the following story-opening:

 “Listen, I’m making a concerted effort to wear clothes around the house,” my father said, walking into the dining room fully dressed, “so I’d appreciate it if no one popped in the bathroom while I was in the shower. Make sense? Good.”

I glanced at Amber, my current girlfriend. Well, “girlfriend” wasnt really the right word. Friends with benefits was more like it, but Mom and Dad were happy I brought a girl home, so they could call it what they wanted to. I was less interested in my older brother Owen’s opinion, on Amber or any concievable topic.

“I like my men deviant,” Amber said, looking at me but directly the words to my father. As usual, his attention was solely on his food, and mom was already half in the bag after three glasses of wine and only a handful of Ritz Crackers to eat. Owen paid attention, though, and grumbled something. I wasn’t in the mood to ask him to repeat it.

I managed to write a little more before practice was over, and ended the session with this note to myself:

this is a story in need of a direction, a resolution, and some character tweaking. This is where I usually stop writing, abandoning whole shit-show for a poem, but I need to finish this to prove that I can.

Indeed. So, to keep myself accountable, I’ll continue to write and document the experience here. When I’m done, I’m post the first draft. After edits, I’ll post the second.

(sigh) Now to find the time to do it….

 

Gabrielle (flash fiction)

Earlier this morning, I read an excellent article about flash fiction and then wrote the following. Flash fiction isn’t one of my strengths, but I work on the craft from time to time.

“Are you a serious poet or not?” Gabrielle asked, leaning against me, having drank too much, having breathed in the dust of bad memories, hazy and crazy as her hair.

“No, I just fuck around on the page,” I said, half meaning it, half wanting to smack Gabrielle across the room. Of course I was serious, serious as the blood in my veins, coursing like a loping dog…that is, slower than I’d like for it to, because I’m getting older, as Gabrielle pointed out yesterday as we lay in bed after a mid-afternoon tryst. It was brief and brilliant, the memory of it still hanging in my chest and clear in my mind, not muddled a bit by her drinking, which you’d think I’d be used to by this point. Jesus.

“I’m a serious poet,” Gabrielle said and swayed over to sit on the piano bench. Don’t play, please, I said to her with my mind because sometimes she hears me. Not that time. She opened the keyboard cover and trailed her fingers down the keys. The sound set my teeth on edge and I nearly dashed over and grabbed her off the bench. Instead, I forced my muscles into stillness and listened to her horrible plunking of the keys and drunken nonsense.

“I’m going to publish a chapbook and you’re not,” Gabrielle said, the fingers of her right hand curling to strike a chord—F major, so it should have been her thumb, middle finger, and pinkie, but she fucked it all up and used her thumb, index, and finger finger, the latter of which slipped and so butchered the chord.

“Are you now?” I said.

“And it’s going to win some major fucking award and I’ll get an agent.”

“Poets like us don’t get agents, Gabrielle.”

She—my girlfriend of two years, my lover, my Lost Girl, my Burning Angel, the source of my hatred and long—smiled at me, her teeth stained with coffee, wine, cigarettes. “There’s no us when it comes to writing, you presumptive bastard,” she said. “It’s just me while you trail somewhere behind.”

Gabrielle wasn’t like this sober, which was less and less these days. I moved out of the room as she continued trying to play chords and mostly failing.

I poured the last of the wine down the sink and tried not to listen, which is kind of like trying to not breathe. The massacred notes bombarded the kitchen for a few minutes and then suddenly stopped. When I came back into the living room, I found Gabrielle curled up and sobbing on the sofa.

“Do you hate me?” she cried out as she slammed her hands against her head.

I wanted to…but I didn’t. I sat beside her and gathered her heaving form, cradled her like a child, whispered soothing things into her hair.

When she finally fell asleep later, I undressed her calmly, put her on pajamas, and tucked her into bed. Then I sat at the piano, playing songs from memory, knowing the sound wouldn’t come close to waking her.