Tag: stories

Vincent and Lily (part of a story)

I wrote this some day ago and still like it. Please forgive any typos and mistakes…I don’t have it in me to do anything more than cursory proofreading. 

Birds tire of flying after a while. One bird named Tom was exhausted and said to his wing mate, “Listen, I gotta take a rest. I’ll catch up later.”

Tom’s wing mate Fred snorted as much as a bird can snort, which honestly isn’t much. It’s kind of a stupid little noise, but there you have it. “You won’t catch up. You’ll get lost and die.”

“Wow, that’s kind of mean,” Tom said. “I won’t get lost. It’s impossible for birds to get lost, anyway. It’s possible I wouldn’t find the flock for a few days, but to get lost is something that—”

“It happened to Cecil,” said Fred.

When Fred didn’t elaborate, Tom pressed, “Er, who’s Cecil?”

Fred cut an irritated, beady eye at Tom, and sighed. Also, a rather silly sound and lost in the rush of wind. “Cecil was a bird who got lost.”

“And?”

“And died.”

“You know this for a fact?”

“It’s common knowledge, Tom!” Fred snapped. “Now keep flying and leave me alone!”

“Nope,” said Tom. “See ya… or not.” And with that, he dropped out of formation and flew to the ground.

Once there, Tom curled his legs under himself and sat in the grass. It was an unusual position for a bird to take unless it was wounded, which Tom wasn’t, and it occurred to him he could get snatched up and eaten. But just the thought of flying to a nearby tree made him tired, and before he knew it, he’d fallen asleep.

“You’re the bravest bird on Earth or the stupidest.”

The feline voice brought Tom fully awake, and he stared nearly eye to eye with a large tabby cat. “I’d like to think I’m not stupid,” Tom said, just for the sake of having something to say and possible forestall his imminent death, “but I’m not particularly brave, either. So, in response to your remark, I must say that this isn’t such a simple matter of black or white, yes or no. There are gradations, even with birds.

The cat glared at Tom. “That was an unnecessarily long and philosophical statement. Usually, birds just freeze when they see cats.”

“I suppose I’m not most birds,” Tom said and wondered how long the cat would stand for his sass.

“No, you’re not, at that,” the cat replied thoughtfully, settling into the grass. “I will not eat you. I stalked you, of course—instinct and all that—but I’ve already eaten. Couldn’t swallow another feather.”

“Ah, well, that’s good news for me,” said Tom, standing up and shaking his wings. He felt much better now that he rested, and he was sure he could take to wing in an instant, leaving the cat and possibility of death (no matter what the cat said behind). But he was curious. And since there was no saying about curiosity killing the bird, he stayed.

“What’s your name?” Tom asked.

“Which one?” the cat answered. “What humans call me, what I call myself, or my secret name?”

Tom’s eyes widened. “Cats have secret names?”

“Of course we do. We’re among the few creatures that do.”

“Well, what is it?”

The call rolled its green eyes. “I’m not telling you that, bird. It’s my secret name for a reason. But humans call Lily.”

“That’s a pretty name,” Tom said. “I’m Tom.”

Lily placed her face on her paws. “That isn’t such a pretty name.”

Tom shrugged his wings. “No, it’s rather dull. I wish I had a secret name, like Max, or Dash, or Vincent.”

“Vincent?” Lily echoed in surprise.

“I knew a wise bird named Vincent,” Tom said. “He was great and taught me a lot.”

“So I’ll call you Vincent. Vincent the bird. It seems to suit you better than Tom.”

“But… that isn’t my name,” Tom protested. “It isn’t what my parents named me.”

Lily opened her mouth in an enormous yawn, and Tom shivered at the sight of her teeth. “It doesn’t matter,” she said. “You can be whoever you want to be.”

“The flock would have a thing or two to say about that,” Tom muttered.

“Well, I don’t see any other birds around, so I dub thee Vincent the sparrow. Wear your name with pride.”

Tom—Vincent, his mind insisted—fluttered his wings excitedly. “Vincent. Yes, you’re right. I will be my own bird.”

“Excellent,” Lily said. “I’m glad to have helped a fellow animal out. And now, I must be off.”

“But wait,” Vincent said. “We just met. Where are you going?”

Lily blinked lazily. “Home, silly. I’m an indoor and outdoor cat, and I’m ready to go inside. I think. I might change my mind when I get there, but I’m ninety percent sure I want to go inside.”

“Can I come with you?”

Lily laughed and said, “I don’t think my humans would take well to a sparrow living with them.”

“No, I could fly along with you and make a nest in a tree, assuming there are trees where you live.”

“Oh, there are plenty of trees,” Lily said, “but what about your flock?”

“Who needs them?” said Vincent, feeling suddenly brave. “They were going somewhere boring, anyway. Same place every year. This sparrow wants something different.”

“Well, I can’t promise that living in a tree in my humans’ yard will be the most exciting thing you’ve ever done,” Lily said, getting up and stretching, “but I suppose it would be different. All right. Come on.”

“Hang on a second,” Vincent said. “Do you mean to eat me… like, at any given time?”

Lily pondered for a moment and then said carefully, “It’s technically possible. If I don’t get enough food inside, or if my wild side kicks into high gear and I just have to kill something, I could eat you. But I’ve never eaten a bird I’ve met. It’s just too strange and wouldn’t be worth the guilt.”

“Do you feel guilty when you eat birds you don’t know?”

“Of course not.”

“What if one said, ‘Wait, my name is Cecil, I got lost from my flock, please don’t eat me?”

Lily narrowed her eyes. “That’s a very specific hypothetical situation.”

“Well?”

“I don’t know. I would like to think I wouldn’t eat a bird once I learned its name, but perhaps I would and then feel just a tiny bit guilty. Also, have you ever seen a cat stalk and kill a bird? It’s all over pretty quickly. There’s not a lot of time for chit-chat.”

“Okay,” Tom said. “I trust you. I think.”

Lily shook her head. “You’re an odd bird, Vincent. It’s getting late, and my humans will get worried

Writing, or Better Known as Banging My Head Against the Wall

Well, stupidly, I thought I could write something of substance. Ha. Here’s what I wrote:

“I don’t have time for bestiality,” Mr. Warble said.

“Noted,” replied Ms. Eye Drop.

It was the dead of winter. The trees felt like crying but were too cold to do anything but sigh. In a distant land, someone invented love. In a distant time, someone invented death.

I sang into an unplugged microphone, something about leftover dreams and dust.

Raymond Chandler, it ain’t. I love Chandler, by the way, but that’s neither here nor there. I could just as easily say, “I love Stephen King” (which is true) or Stevie Smith (also true).

The thing is, I know my writing voice. I have a distinct poetic voice and a less distinct fiction writing voice. I suppose that’s because I haven’t spent as much time developing my fiction writing…except I have. It just seems like I haven’t. But I wrote fiction almost constantly from the age of 16-33. I wrote five books, two of which are half-way decent. I have an untold number of stories, both finished and unfinished. I’m quite familiar with the craft of writing fiction; I’m just not as good at fiction as I am with poetry.

Why’s that such a problem? It shouldn’t be. You don’t see Joyce Carol Oates lamenting that she’s not as prolific a poet as she is a fiction author. The inimitable Billy Collins does not, to my knowledge, rail out against the Writing Gods that he doesn’t write killer short stories. He’s a poet, and a damn good one. Why not be content with my gifts, such as they are, and let it go at that?

Because I want to be good at fiction. Though If I’m honest, my fiction writing voice is the same as my stream-of-consciousness voice, and I’ve apparently decided that isn’t good. Ever since I began scribbling in journals and typing away at an electric typewriter, I’ve been most comfortable letting the words just flow. That method works well for poetry and sometimes as an idea-generator, but it doesn’t make for compelling fiction. It makes for weird and confusing passages, and while they often make me laugh, I’m afraid others would have a hard time getting through them. “Okay, that’s just a waste of time,” I imagine folks saying. “What the hell’s wrong with him? This isn’t a story! This is just nonsense!”

I’ve never posted or shared in any form my real writing… the immediate, fiery words that erupt out of me and go in so many strange directions. Again: why is this bothering me so much?

so many questions….

And no, that isn’t me. Well, it is, but heavily edited with FaceApp because it makes me laugh as much as it horrifies my wife.

You may see some freewriting over the next few days. and it will be strange. Stay tuned…or stay away.

The Whale-Shaped Man (fiction? poetry? both? neither?!?!)

The Whale-Shaped Man

Is he in his office? asked the whale-shaped man.
Is who is his office? the woman in sparkly pants replied.
You know.
I don’t.
Him.
That doesn’t clear it up.
The whale-shaped man grimaced. I’m talking about your father.
Oh. Why do you want to see him?
To ask for your hand in marriage.
That’s stupid, the woman laughed.
What?
Why would I marry you? You’re shaped like a whale.
But I love you.
That doesn’t change anything.

So the whale-shaped man left. Inside his office, the woman’s father sighed in relief.

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.

Leaves for a Pillow (a brief story)

After the first line, this quite short story wrote itself. It’s not perfect, but it sent a chill up my spine, so maybe it’s on the right track.

Leaves for a Pillow

“You’re very kind,” the girl said, kneeling on the ground and gathering leaves.

The boy just watched. He wasn’t kind, but the girl didn’t need to know that yet.

When she had enough leaves, the girl walked back toward the farmhouse. Not enough for a pillow, but a girl start. The boy followed but stopped on the porch while the girl opened the door and went in.

“Do you want to visit for a while?” the girl asked. “Mama may not mind. She’ll be in the kitchen, fixing supper. Daddy’s gone to town for the day.”

The boy studied the girl. He liked her bone structure, her fine ankles, the tilt of her head and the slow blink of her eyes. She dazzled in a bar of sunlight. He nodded.

“You don’t say much,” the girl remarked, turning and facing the boy. “Or anything, really. Can you talk?”

The boy nodded.

“But you don’t have anything to say right now?”

The boy nodded again.

“Well, then,” the girl said, “I need to get these leaves in a pillow case and gather more. I’ll introduce you to Mama first. Come on.”

The boy followed the girl into the kitchen, where a tall woman stood over a sink snapping beans. She turned and regarded the girl and boy with narrowed eyes. “And who’s this?” she said coldly.

“I don’t know his name,” the girl said. “I found him in the woods. He’s very kind.”

The boy studied the girl’s mother. He didn’t like her bone structure at all. The girl didn’t favor her at all, lacked the woman’s long face and protruding brow.

“We don’t take in strays,” the woman said. “Get gone, boy. We don’t have an extra plate, if its food you’re after, and we don’t need help on the farm.”

The boy didn’t move. The girl said, “He doesn’t talk.”
“I can see that,” the woman snapped. “Is he deaf?”

“No,” the girl answered.

“This is my house, you understand?” the woman said, tossing the beans into the metal colander and closing in on the boy. “You’re not welcome here, no matter what my daughter says. Go back to where you came from.”

The boy still didn’t move. The girl said, “Can he help me put leaves in my pillow.”

“No, he can get his ass out of here,” the woman said.

The boy flicked his right hand, and the woman disappeared. The girl gasped. “Where’d she go?” she demanded.

The boy shrugged.

The girl thought for a while. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad with her mother gone. She could be quite cruel, and the boy was very kind. Her father might be a bit put out. Maybe the boy could make him disappear, too.

“Would you like to help me now?” the girl asked.

The boy nodded and followed the girl upstairs to her room.