A Month of Short Stories 2015, Day Thirty – The Omnibus

The last two years, for the month of June, I wrote about a short story that was available online each day of the month… you can see the list for 2014 and 2015 in the comments for this page. It seemed like a good idea at the time. My blog readership fell precipitously and nobody seemed to give a damn about what I was doing – which was a surprising amount of work.

Because of this result, I’m going to do it again this year.

Today’s story, for day thirty – The Omnibus, by Arthur Quiller-Couch

Read it online here:

The Omnibus

Now we come to the last short story of the month…. I still have a massive list of stories – of course I will still read. I do try to average a short story a day and have for most of my life. That’s a lot of stories. So much to read, so little time.

I’ll still write about the ones that seem to have special meaning for me, personally, like A&P or Life After High School. I do need to put together a permanent page with links to all the short stories – weed out the ones that are no longer available online. Otherwise, that’s it ’til next June… I guess.

Today’s story Omnibus is a familiar scene to all of us that ride public transport regularly. In the story it’s a vehicle pulled by horses – but it’s all the same whether it’s this or an electric train, a diesel bus, or a jet plane. Somebody gets on in obvious emotional turmoil… everyone knows they should do something, say something, offer help… but it is rare that the connection is made.

Public places are sometimes the hardest to actually relate to the public.

The last line of the story used the term Whittingtons. I had no idea what that meant. After some research – I think it refers to Richard Whittington and the legend that grew around him – Dick Whittington and His Cat.

A Month of Short Stories 2015, Day Twenty Nine – The Untold Lie

The last two years, for the month of June, I wrote about a short story that was available online each day of the month… you can see the list for 2014 and 2015 in the comments for this page. It seemed like a good idea at the time. My blog readership fell precipitously and nobody seemed to give a damn about what I was doing – which was a surprising amount of work.

Because of this result, I’m going to do it again this year.

Today’s story, for day xx – The Untold Lie, by Sherwood Anderson

Read it online here:

The Untold Lie

“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation. From the desperate city you go into the desperate country, and have to console yourself with the bravery of minks and muskrats. A stereotyped but unconscious despair is concealed even under what are called the games and amusements of mankind. There is no play in them, for this comes after work. But it is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things.”

—- Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Today’s story is a chapter from Sherwood Anderson’s longer work – a short story cycle, Winesburg, Ohio.

It’s a tale of quiet desperation from two men – one that has earned it and one that hasn’t. There is an amazing scene early on – a flashback of sorts – of how the father of one of the two died.

When the train struck and killed him and his two horses a farmer and his wife who were driving home along a nearby road saw the accident. They said that old Windpeter stood upon the seat of his wagon, raving and swearing at the onrushing locomotive, and that he fairly screamed with delight when the team, maddened by his incessant slashing at them, rushed straight ahead to certain death. Boys like young George Willard and Seth Richmond will remember the incident quite vividly because, although everyone in our town said that the old man would go straight to hell and that the community was better off without him, they had a secret conviction that he knew what he was doing and admired his foolish courage. Most boys have seasons of wishing they could die gloriously instead of just being grocery clerks and going on with their humdrum lives.

Though the time, setting, and overall tone could not be more different, it reminds me somehow of Updike’s A&P – how easy it is to fall into habits and how little decisions can reverberate through time, to the end of life.

In the end, the story does not say who is right and who is wrong – it does not dare to take sides concerning what is the correct road taken. The title says it all – no matter what decision is made, no matter what advice is given – it will be… everything is lies.

A Month of Short Stories 2015, Day Twenty Eight – The Destructors

The last two years, for the month of June, I wrote about a short story that was available online each day of the month… you can see the list for 2014 and 2015 in the comments for this page. It seemed like a good idea at the time. My blog readership fell precipitously and nobody seemed to give a damn about what I was doing – which was a surprising amount of work.

Because of this result, I’m going to do it again this year.

Today’s story, for day twenty eight – The Destructors, by Graham Greene

Read it online here:

The Destructors

I looked up, read, and used today’s story The Destructors by Graham Greene for one reason… it’s mentioned in Donnie Darko. What better reason can there be?

There would be headlines in the papers. Even the grown-up gangs who ran the betting at the all-in wrestling and the barrow-boys would hear with respect of how Old Misery’s house had been destroyed. Driven by the pure, simple, and altruistic ambition of fame for the gang, Blackie came back to where T. stood in the shadow of Misery’s wall.

T. was giving his orders with decision: It was as though this plan had been with him all his life, pondered through the seasons, now in his fifteenth year crystallized with the pain of puberty.

The first important thing to think about in this story is that it isn’t called “The Destroyers” but “The Destructors.”

Read through modern eyes, the actions of the gang are horrible and wasteful. But think about the area around Old Misery’s house – it was destroyed by the blitz. These young boys are raised in the quick aftermath of destruction – and are given an opportunity to do one better than the random violence of war.

And then, in the most haunting part of the story, there’s another passage that reminds me of a modern pop-fiction film reference. The boys come across Old Misery’s life savings, but they don’t steal anything, they burn. Like The Joker in The Dark Knight – they just want to watch the world burn.

“We aren’t thieves,” T. said. “Nobody’s going to steal anything from this house. I kept these for you and me—a celebration.” He knelt down on the floor and counted them out—there were seventy in all. “We’ll burn them,” he said, “one by one,” and taking it in turns they held a note upward and lit the top corner, so that the flame burnt slowly toward their fingers. The gray ash floated above them and fell on their heads like age. “I’d like to see Old Misery’s face when we are through,” T. said.

“You hate him a lot?” Blackie asked.

“Of course I don’t hate him,” T. said. “There’d be no fun if I hated him.” The last burning note illuminated his brooding face. “All this hate and love,” he said, “it’s soft, it’s hooey. There’s only things, Blackie,” and he looked round the room crowded with the unfamiliar shadows of half things, broken things, former things. “I’ll race you home, Blackie,” he said

A Month of Short Stories 2015, Day Twenty Seven – The Boarded Window

The last two years, for the month of June, I wrote about a short story that was available online each day of the month… you can see the list for 2014 and 2015 in the comments for this page. It seemed like a good idea at the time. My blog readership fell precipitously and nobody seemed to give a damn about what I was doing – which was a surprising amount of work.

Because of this result, I’m going to do it again this year.

Today’s story, for day twenty seven – The Boarded Window, by Ambrose Bierce

Read it online here:

The Boarded Window

Ambrose Bierce… I guess you can say is a witty writer. Born in a log cabin – like the one in today’s story – all his life he was a sardonic observer of society and the human condition. I know him from the story An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge and his odd and bitter lexicon The Devil’s Dictionary. He published extensive fiction and journalism – always at the center of controversy because of his biting satire. Although the details are fuzzy – he died, probably in front of a firing squad, in Mexico while following Pancho Villa and his army.

Today’s selection is a typical tale – the language is a bit stilted and old – but there is surprising complexity in the way it is told. For example, take a close look at how the narration jumps around in time and how different sources are used – without changing the point of view. It gives a subtle indication of an unreliable narrator and the impression that everything is not quite what it seems.

The little log house, with its chimney of sticks, its roof of warping clapboards weighted with traversing poles and its “chinking” of clay, had a single door and, directly opposite, a window. The latter, however, was boarded up–nobody could remember a time when it was not. And none knew why it was so closed; certainly not because of the occupant’s dislike of light and air, for on those rare occasions when a hunter had passed that lonely spot the recluse had commonly been seen sunning himself on his doorstep if heaven had provided sunshine for his need. I fancy there are few persons living today who ever knew the secret of that window, but I am one, as you shall see.

And then, at the end, the twist ending. Not too surprising, nothing you don’t see… but that doesn’t lessen the impact, does it.

A Month of Short Stories 2015, Day Twenty Six – Light and Light

The last two years, for the month of June, I wrote about a short story that was available online each day of the month… you can see the list for 2014 and 2015 in the comments for this page. It seemed like a good idea at the time. My blog readership fell precipitously and nobody seemed to give a damn about what I was doing – which was a surprising amount of work.

Because of this result, I’m going to do it again this year.

Today’s story, for day twenty six – Light and Light, by Chikodili Emelumadu

Read it online here:

Light and Light

Today we have a short, heartbreaking epistolary story.

This technique, of telling a story through a series of letters, is surprisingly common. Here it works well, emphasizing the gulf between the life that Angela leads and the actions of those that prey on her. Angela’s voice is never heard directly, but you can’t help but feel for the doom that she and her daughter are careening towards.

Eight years is the right age that the devil likes. In fact we usually say between six and ten. What number is in the middle of that? Eight. So you see, your daughter’s age is at peak ripeness for letting the devil wear her like glove.

It’s another story of sexual abuse, and of blaming the victim… of power used in the purpose of evil while proclaiming the good.

An all too common and universal tale.

A Month of Short Stories 2015, Day Twenty Five – Running Away In Place

The last two years, for the month of June, I wrote about a short story that was available online each day of the month… you can see the list for 2014 and 2015 in the comments for this page. It seemed like a good idea at the time. My blog readership fell precipitously and nobody seemed to give a damn about what I was doing – which was a surprising amount of work.

Because of this result, I’m going to do it again this year.

Today’s story, for day twenty five – Running Away In Place, by Brandon French

Read it online here:

Running Away In Place

Today I felt like a modern short story from an online literary journal.

And what we have here is a very California piece of short fiction. It contains some very serious themes – sexual abuse, incest, hopeless fatal cancer, early onset Alzheimer’s, transsexuality, the sins of the fathers… and so on – but all this is tied together in a structure of movie reviewing. It’s especially California because the movies are all big hits – a New York story would include obscure foreign and experimental films.

The climax of the story is an homage to “Touch of Evil”… “So let me just say one more thing about my friend Bryce –- if you’ll be kind enough to imagine some gorgeous black and white lighting, a tinkling piano, a corrupt and bloated sheriff lying dead in murky water and Marlene Dietrich in a jet black wig” followed by a famous quote.

It’s an unfair world, but still one that pales in the light of the silver screen.

I’m a screenwriter so I know you can’t create a character who is a pretty good guy for most of the story and then you find out he raped his grandmother, or ate his dog, because people will say no way, I don’t believe it, not credible. But the truth is that people who do bad things aren’t usually walking around with wild hair, death’s head tattoos, and Charlie Manson eyes. So when you ram into their shadow, it’s like hitting the side of a mountain on your Harley, and then wandering around like your head snapped off and you can’t exactly see where it rolled.

A Month of Short Stories 2015, Day Twenty Four – The Servant

The last two years, for the month of June, I wrote about a short story that was available online each day of the month… you can see the list for 2014 and 2015 in the comments for this page. It seemed like a good idea at the time. My blog readership fell precipitously and nobody seemed to give a damn about what I was doing – which was a surprising amount of work.

Because of this result, I’m going to do it again this year.

Today’s story, for day twenty four – The Servant, by Sergey Terentyevich Semyonov

Read it online here:

The Servant

S. T. Semyonov was born to Russian peasant parents and lived a life of menial manual labor. He used that tough life as fodder for his stories.

I’m not too familiar with his writing – and am not sure if they all are like today’s selection – but I would imagine they are. It’s a simple story, a moral tale, that starts with a young man down on his luck. He has lost his position due to having to return to his village for military duty. He has been walking the streets of Moscow, hungry, for days – looking for work – any work.

When he runs across a silver tongued old friend, he has a ray of hope and a bit of good fortune. But he learns about the cost of his good fortune and has to make a decision. It seems that he chooses wisely.

“What’s the use of wasting words? I just want to tell you about myself. If for some reason or other I should ever have to leave this place and go home, not only would Mr. Sharov, if I came back, take me on again without a word, but he would be glad to, too.”

Gerasim sat there downcast. He saw his friend was boasting, and it occurred to him to gratify him.

“I know it,” he said. “But it’s hard to find men like you, Yegor Danilych. If you were a poor worker, your master would not have kept you twelve years.”

Yegor smiled. He liked the praise.

“That’s it,” he said. “If you were to live and serve as I do, you wouldn’t be out of work for months and months.”

It’s a short, straightforward tale – but a fine humans story about making the best of a difficult life.

The author, Semyonov was killed by bandits at the age of fifty five. It doesn’t get any more difficult than that.