Short Story of the Day – “Driven Snow” by Nancy M. Michael

“Life is a bucket of shit with a barbed wire handle.”
― Jim Thompson

Crepe Myrtle trunk in the snow

I read a lot of short stories. I read A LOT of short stories. In most cases I read pretty much a short story a day. I like to read them, I don’t have much time for long novels, and I like to write them.I have learned that it is best that I read what I am writing.

Over time, I have spent months where I review and online short story each day –

Short Story Months:
Day One 2013

Day One 2015

Day One 2017

Instead of doing an entire month, I think I’ll put up stories I enjoy one at a time.

There is a fantastic independent publishing house, Akashic Books. From their website:

Akashic Books is a Brooklyn-based independent company dedicated to publishing urban literary fiction and political nonfiction by authors who are either ignored by the mainstream, or who have no interest in working within the ever-consolidating ranks of the major corporate publishers.

In particular, I enjoy their Noir series – each book consisting of a group of savage short stories based in a particular city. I have written about their Noir books based on the two cities I am most familiar with: Dallas Noir and New Orleans Noir.

They have a tasty extensive list of short and flash fiction available online.

Today I have a free online short story put out by Akashic Books. It’s a warped little romantic tale about how a relationship handles a snowstorm on I70 in Colorado. The flash fiction piece is a lot of fun – though it seems to have one obvious little error (Isn’t it nights in WHITE satin?).

Driven Snow by Nancy M. Michael – Loveland Pass, Colorado

Like the city-themed Noir books, fiction, especially thrillers or horror, is always more fun when it is set somewhere that you are familiar with. I am somewhat familiar with I70 through the mountains, Loveland Pass and Ski Basin, the scenic route off the Interstate to A Basin, and the feeling of snow whiteout conditions.

I remember jockeying down that stretch of highway in a blinding blizzard with a tiny Datsun jockying with a string of monstrous snowplows going 80 miles an hour inches off my bumper and looking bigger than the surrounding Rocky Mountains.

Whew! just the memory makes me feel frozen and sweaty at the same time.

So take a few minutes to go read the story and while you are there – check out Akashic Books and their other offerings. They deserve our support.

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Eating Barbequed Iguana

I’m on a mexican radio
I wish I was in Tiajuana
Eating barbequed iguana
I’d take requests on the telephone
I’m on a wavelength far from home
I feel a hot wind on my shoulder
I dial it in from south of the border
I hear the talking of the dj
Can’t understand just what does he say?
Radio radio…
—- Wall of Voodoo, Mexican Radio

The Tennessee Williams quote on the wall at the Gallier House, Royal Street, French Quarter, New Orleans.

I wrote about this on my Facebook page back in February – but I don’t think a lot of people followed the link.

At any rate, this story started back in 2012, on a trip to New Orleans. I ran into a group at the St. Vincent’s Guest House and soon was involved in a one-day writing marathon – walking around with a handful of folks, scribbling away.

I was inspired by the experience to the point I organized a Writing Marathon or two of my own, here in Dallas.

Then finally, in July of last year, I was able to swing attending the full week-long Writing Marathon Retreat – branching out from the Gallier House to write across the French Quarter and beyond.

One day, the group I had gone with that day stopped for the fixed-price lunch at Antoine’s (highly recommended if you are in New Orleans in the summer). I remembered an incident that had happened in that very restaurant thirty five years earlier. I pulled out my pen and notebook wrote up my memories in the bar.

At the end of each day, there was the option for a few folks to stand up and read from what they had written earlier. I put my name on the list and read the story from Antoine’s. The readings were recorded.

Then, in February, a selection of the recordings were played on KSLU radio.

You can listen to the 2017 readings AT THIS LINK – If you want to skip ahead, my reading is at about the 14:10 point.

If that link doesn’t work – go here – http://www.kslu.org/awards_recognition/index.html and click on “2017 Writing Marathon.”

People have asked me about the siren at the end of my reading. That isn’t a sound effect – the fire engine actually went by on the street outside, siren blaring, as I finished.

Now I need to get going and register for the 2018 Retreat. So much fun.

We Are A Nation Which Cannot Remember Its Dreams

“Every reiteration of the idea that _nothing matters_ debases the human spirit.

Every reiteration of the idea that there is no drama in modern life, there is only dramatization, that there is no tragedy, there is only unexplained misfortune, debases us. It denies what we know to be true. In denying what we know, we are as a nation which cannot remember its dreams–like an unhappy person who cannot remember his dreams and so denies that he does dream, and denies that there are such things as dreams.”
― David Mamet, Writing in Restaurants: Essays and Prose

Downtown McKinney Texas


Oblique Strategy:
Retrace your steps

John Scalzi wrote critically about writing in a coffee shop:

You’re not fooling anyone when you take your laptop to a coffee shop, you know.

I mean, Christ, people. All that tapping and leaning back thoughtfully in your chair with a mug of whatever while you pretend to edit your latest masterpiece. You couldn’t be more obvious if you had a garish, flashing neon sign over your head that said “Looking For Sex.” Go home, why don’t you. Just go.

He expanded this simple idea into a book, You’re Not Fooling Anyone When You Take Your Laptop to a Coffee Shop: Scalzi on Writing.

He’s not wrong, of course. There can be a certain stuckuppishness about going to the coffee shop to write – either with a laptop or with a Moleskine.

With me, however, it’s different. I like to go to coffee shops sometimes, I like to drink coffee that someone else makes for me sometimes… and I write wherever I go.

For years, a long time ago, I took my son Lee to two hours of art lessons every Saturday morning. While I was waiting for him, I’d go to a nearby Starbucks with my laptop and write. I developed the ability to nurse one Venti coffee for two hours. In addition to getting two hours or writing done in an otherwise wasted window of time I perfected the writer’s ability to listen in to stranger’s conversations without looking at them.

This particular Starbucks was always crowded on Saturday mornings and the conversations were usually interesting. It seems that the main topic was to beg forgiveness and seek redemption for what had been done in passionate error on Friday night. There were some interesting stories floating around.

So I view Starbucks not as a coffee seller (which is good because their coffee is awful) but as an office rental space. For the price of an overly expensive cuppa Joe you get an office, internet connection, and conference room (if needed) for a couple hours. Good deal if you ask me.

Tonight I needed to finish a short story but there was too much going on at the house. I needed to be left alone for a few pages, at least. So I packed up and headed out to a coffee shop not far from our house. Of course, in my neighborhood you won’t be able to eavesdrop on conversations, they are in too many different languages.

But at any rate, three hours and one Venti later, my story was done. And I didn’t care who saw me typing and didn’t worry that absolutely nobody noticed me.

Disoriented At the End

By the end of a poem, the reader should be in a different place from where he started. I would like him to be slightly disoriented at the end, like I drove him outside of town at night and dropped him off in a cornfield.
—– Billy Collins

Clarence Street Art Collective, The Cedars, Dallas, Texas

Oblique Strategy: The inconsistency principle

Found Poetry

A taste for pure pork fat, long restricted to a furtive devouring of the white nubbin in the can of baked beans, can now be worn as a badge of honor.
(Julia Moskin, New York Times, 5/7/03, article on pork fat in high-class restaurants)

Under 6 years: 1 pastille as required. Maximum 5 pastilles in 24 hours
(Meggezones 24x)

…on a long bus ride, you should always choose to sit next to Mrs. Robinson, for example, rather than Benjamin.
(Roger Ebert, from a review for Death to Smoochy)

Daisy, the this pretty sea, and the wind.
(Bablefish translation of the first line of a Ruben Dario poem I have stuck in my head… the Spanish is: Margarita, esta linda la mar, y el viento.)

Dolly, Good, Hernia, Bad
(big block letters on the side of a Budget rental truck in my neighborhood)

When I cruise, I’m an adventurer, eager to try new experiences. So on the second day of my first Carnival vacation, I found myself lying on a massage table wrapped in a crisp, clean sheet.
(From Currents, a magazine for people taking Carnival cruises)

Often Imitated, Never Duplicated-Great for Men and Women-As Seen on TV-It’s not magnetic, not copper…it’s the Q-Ray Ionized Bracelet designed to help balance your body’s Yin-Yang. Worn by professional athletes striving for energy, strength, flexibility and endurance, it’s also worn by people looking for natural pain relief. According to the oriental theory of Yin-Yang, we remain in good health when our negative (Yin) and positive (Yang) ions are in balance.
(from an ad for the Q-Ray bracelet, $49.95, in Dr. Leonard’s America’s Leading Discount Healthcare Catalog)

Sunday Snippet – from “Toesucking in Albania”

“Jealousy is a disease, love is a healthy condition. The immature mind often mistakes one for the other, or assumes that the greater the love, the greater the jealousy – in fact, they are almost incompatible; one emotion hardly leaves room for the other.”
― Robert A. Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land

St. Vincent’s, New Orleans

Oblique Strategy: You can only make one dot at a time

Snippet from a novel I’ve worked on off and on – originally from Nanowrimo
Working title – Toe Sucking in Albania


Sanibar crawled up over the ridge, watching the handheld tracker that indicated the position of Boromech’s flyer. He had placed a remote bug on the machine a week before and now it was time to see it pay off.

He knew that Boromech and Wenwiki had landed somewhere not too far over the edge and he would be able to see them once he cleared the crest. He folded his flyer and wedged it behind a rock and pulled out the powerful pair of stabilized digital tele-binoculars that he had ordered from offworld.

Down on his belly, Sanibar wiggled across the scree and cleared the ridge between two rust-red ragged boulders. The rock was warm from the bright sun; Sanibar wiped the sweat from his eyes and looked down into the valley past the ridge. His eyes were shocked with the bright green he spotted there, and it took a minute to recognize the valley as Area 51B25, a spot he himself had discovered and explored a year earlier.

This part of the planet, surrounding the dessicated edge of the drying salty inland sea, was, for the most part, lifeless and barren. Only small pockets, like Area 51B25, were able to support verdant vibrant life. The last sliver of an ancient dying glacier nestled up between the high peaks to the south, sent a constant dribble of meltwater down into the valley where it pooled into a turquoise lake, protected by the rugged ridges on either side. The lake slowly leaked water into the shattered rock valley where the roots of the strange alien forest drank it up. This little isolated pocket of forest was an orphaned echo of the vast jungles that were killed off along the toxic edge of the wasteland they created with the mining.

Sanibar had found this verdant valley during his initial survey of the sector. Between the steep and rugged ridges on either side and the high peaks to the south, it was hidden and would never be spotted by anyone not going right down into the gorge itself. He recorded it on the official maps, then made sure it had been buried deep in the central reports and he never told anyone about it. He knew the Rest and Recreation Corps would go nuts about it. They would build a rec facility on the shore of the little lake, blast trails through the woods, and put up some cabins in the most beautiful spots. They would give out weekend passes to people that had put in the most overtime, shipped the most product, or, more likely, kissed the most asses. Sanibar didn’t want this – he wanted to keep the hidden little green valley to himself.

After plotting for a month, he finally managed to get Wenwiki to go there with him. He had everything planned to the smallest detail – he had hauled in some stolen furniture, making a nice table and a couple comfortable chairs – up on a flat, rocky spot with a drop-dead beautiful view. He had paid the cook off to make a special meal for two, complete with rare off-world ingredients smuggled in on a mail run from home. Sanibar lied to Wenwiki and said he had prepared the picnic feast himself. He was even able to procure a bottle of fine old vintage – something unheard of on a remote mining base.

When he asked Wenwiki to go on a picnic with him and she committed to an afternoon three days away, she seemed honestly and truly excited. The three days of waiting were both hellish and heavenly for Sanibar. Both enervated with fear and ecstatic with anticipation, time clicked by in endless slow slivers. Finally the chosen appointment day and hour creeped up.

His extensive, expensive, and exhausting preparations complete, Sanibar flew his cleaned and polished flyer, complete with sidecar over to Wenwiki’s quarters and rang and rang. She wasn’t there. A neighbor cracked her door and said she had seen Wenwiki down at the cleaning station, doing her weekly laundry. His heart sinking, Sanibar flew over to the station and there she was. Wenwiki had forgotten. Sanibar was reduced to pleading, and after finishing a load of clothing, Wenwiki finally agreed to go with him after all.

But the day was ruined. Wenwiki seemed distant, her mind elsewhere. Sanibar’s careful preparations were for nothing. She picked at her food, refused the vintage, and simply nodded when Sanibar pointed out the rare beauty of the spot. Though the forecast had been for perfect weather, a small rogue storm tumbled down the steep slopes of the high peaks and dumped a sudden, cold, sodden shower onto the picnic. They abandoned the outing after only a short stint and Wenwiki was adamant about finishing her laundry when they returned and insisted on finishing it alone.

Sanibar was devastated. Back in his quarters he was racked with compulsive sobs of disappointment. He hurled the vintage against the bathroom sink and cut his feet on the shattered shards of the bottle. A long, sleepless night, and the next day Wenwiki was at breakfast laughing and acting as if nothing had happened. Now, thinking back about it, Sanibar realized that was the first morning he had seen Wenwiki sitting in the cafeteria with Boromech.

And now she had brought Boromech to his personal spot. A cold, bitter, sharp lump began crawling up from his gut as he wiggled his way into a hidden spot along the ridge crest and feeling sharp shards of rock digging into his propped elbows brought his digital binoculars up to his eyes and started to scan.

There they were. Boromech’s flyer landed and the two of them standing in each other’s arms along the light rippled shore. They were both barefoot, their four black work boots leaning against the flyer. Sanibar couldn’t see any supplies except for a large padded packing blanket spread out between the flyer and the lake and what looked like a small pile of soft folded towels. After a few minutes Wenwiki pushed Boromech away they began laughing about something. Sanibar wished he had put a sound transmitter on the tracking bug he had concealed in the flyer… but he gritted his teeth… thinking they were laughing at him.

Sunday Snippet – The Spirit Duplicator

There is no limit to the extension of the curious mind. It reaches to the end of the imagination, then beyond into the mysteries of dreams, hoping always to convert even the dreams into reality for the greater well-being of all mankind.
—-The Outer Limits, Control Voice, Keeper of the Purple Twilight [2.12]

Yell

Oblique Strategy: Only a part, not the whole

The Spirit Duplicator

Trout Slobber had many reasons for hating his parents. Somewhere in the middle of the pack was, of course, his name. It was an old family name, they explained. He thought it was a tradition that should have been abandoned long ago.

Trout’s favorite thing was to read in his bed at night, under the quilt. The thick, soft fabric tented up over his knees, squinting at the slowly fading yellow circle of a flashlight. His parents rationed his supply of batteries – the sort of thing he hated them for even more than his name. They always admonished him not to “waste things.” For a long time he would steal batteries from the foreign man that ran the gas station. Trout hated to steal, hated the idea that he was a thief, but until Aurora helped him out he felt he had no choice.

He was in love with Aurora Schoner, a tall, skinny girl that caught the school bus at his stop. She wore a silver headgear that looped out from her braces and bent around to hook into an elastic band on the back of her head. Trout knew she hated how the headgear made her look, but he thought it was charming. Aurora had been riding the bus for almost a year and the two of them slowly became friends, as close as awkward kids could be. Trout wondered if Aurora loved him as much as he loved her, but could never uncover the courage to ask.

Aurora gave him batteries. Her parents never seemed to ask questions.

If other kids were around Aurora always referred to Trout as “Master Slobber,” because she thought it was cute – but if the two of them were alone she called him Trout. Aurora was bookish, like Trout, though they never read the same books, other than their school assignments. She liked to read woman’s books full of romance and adverbs.

Their neighborhood was divided by a heavily wooded creek. Years before a road cut through the creek and connected the two halves but the bridge was decrepit and unsafe and nobody wanted to spend the money to rebuild it. The road petered out on each side of the creek with concrete barriers blocking traffic from the crumbling bridge.

The bridge, the creek, and the overgrown vacant floodplain lots behind the housing development were the playgrounds for all the kids in the neighborhood. There was the creek, brown and green with dirt and algae, trickling over rocks and hunks of old concrete. There was an old molding pile of hay up in the lot from when someone had tried to have a horse. There were the thick tangles of riparian trees and vines. This was the geography of the children’s world – inflated and colored by their imaginations into a mystical and mysterious land of canyons, jungles, and ancient ruins.

There was always an ebb and flow across this landscape, groups of boys throwing rocks from the creek, older kids poking their heads up from the piles of hay, shouts and insults, mean laughter and sniffles. Trout didn’t like this aggression and bragging (it always reminded him of his parents and their friends) so he imagined himself a scout, a spy, a lone agent, flitting unseen along the edges. He would slink through the tangled woods, following faint trails that he imagined only he could see, and hid behind bundles of vegetation to spy on the caterwauling clots of rowdy kids.

One day while exploring a wide loop of the creek he stumbled across a brown paper bag wedged down in a corner of abandoned concrete. The spot was bent far enough out to be within a few feet of a busy alley and Trout had found mysterious stuff thrown away into the brush there before.

Trout picked up the bag and realized it had something heavy and rectangular concealed within. He braced himself and slid a deep steel tray out onto his lap. It was a covered with white porcelain and filled with some amber material. He carefully reached out and touched the smooth surface and realized that it was some sort of firm jelly. It was stiff enough to stay steady in the tray, but still jiggled a bit when he tapped on it. He tipped the tray a bit to let a shaft of sunlight fall into the jelly, and he realized that there was some sort of ragged purple stuff running through the mass, an irregular pattern, lines, curves, bits here and there.

He shoved the thing back into the bag, and, heart pounding, headed for home. He had to snake around to avoid a group of kids that were chasing each other with dried shafts of weeds attached to round balls of dirt pulled from the ground. They would club each other or throw the things whistling through the air.

Trout was able to escape unseen and slid the bag under a thick bush on the side of his house. Later, after dark, at chore time, he trundled two bags of trash out to the cans in the alley. On his way back he retrieved the bag and hustled it up to his room hiding it under his bed.

That night he hid under his blanket and carefully examined his prize with his flashlight. He could not imagine what it was, the cool metal tray, the firm jelly and the purple squiggles. His mind filled with exotic possibilities, but nothing seemed to make sense. Trout would slip the tray back into its bag and hide it under his bed, but he would toss and turn and then fetch it out for another look. He barely slept.

The next morning, at the bus stop, he pulled Aurora aside and told her what he had found. She kept asking him for details.

“How big was it again?” she asked.

“I don’t know, maybe as big as my notebook.”

“It was full of jelly? Up to the top.”

“Almost, not quite to the top.”

“What did the jelly taste like?”

“God! I didn’t eat any of it! Do you think I’m crazy?”

“Okay. Now. Tell me again about the purple stuff.”

“It was like marks, all over the jelly.”

The bus pulled up and they piled on. They didn’t want to talk about the tray on the bus, afraid someone would overhear them. Trout kept glancing sideways at Aurora, who was silent and looking down the entire bus ride, serious, like she was thinking hard about something.

Finally, as they were walking up to the big double doors of the school building, Aurora said, “I want to see this thing. Don’t tell anybody else about it. Meet me an hour after school down at the playground. Bring the bag.”

Trout nodded and slipped into class. All day he struggled to pay attention to his teachers and his work. He was too excited. He would stare at the big clocks at the front of the rooms. The red second hand seemed to creep around the dial and the tiny jumps the minute hand would make seemed miniscule and rare.

On the way home, Aurora and Trout didn’t sit together on the bus. They didn’t want to raise any suspicion. Trout’s parents were watching television and they only nodded when he said he was going down to the playground. He quickly sneaked the bag out from under his bed, piled his leather glove and a baseball on top, and flew down the stairs and out of the door.

Aurora was late. Trout hid the bag in the gravel under the slide and tried to look relaxed as he threw the baseball in the air and tried to catch it coming down. He felt his stomach would bust until he finally saw Aurora walking up the sidewalk. She was carrying some loose blank sheets of typewriter paper and a little bottle. It had a rubber bulb on it and a nozzle – Trout thought it was what girls sometimes kept perfume in.

“What’s that?” he asked, gesturing.

“Oh, it’s only water,” Aurora said. She paused for a moment and said, “I know what the thing is.”

“How…”

“My parents knew.”

“You told your parents?”

“Of course, dummy. They don’t care. My dad knew exactly what it was and told me what to do.”

Trout couldn’t speak. He was torn between the horror of knowing his mystery had been revealed to Aurora’s mom and dad and the excitement of finding out what it was. Aurora whistled for a minute and he realized she was enjoying his consternation and impatience.

“Well, what is it?” he finally said.

“My dad says it’s called a hectograph. He says they also call it a jellygraph. It’s used to copy stuff.”

“Copy?”

“Yeah. Those purple markings? That’s a special ink. It goes into the jelly and then you put a piece of paper over it. The ink comes out. You can make a bunch of copies that way.”

“But I looked at the purple things. They didn’t make any sense.”

“That’s ‘cause it’s backward. It’s like a mirror. You can’t read it like that. That’s why I brought the paper.”

She wriggled the sheets in her hand.

“What about the water?”

“Dad says that it might dry out, the water will help pull the ink out. Well, what are you waiting for? You brought it didn’t you?Let’s get the thing.”

Trout fished the tray out from under the slide. They crouched over the jelly surface and Aurora gave it a few spritzes of water from the bottle. Once the surface was glistening, he carefully slid a page of paper on top of the jelly and gently smoothed it over the surface.

“How long do we have to wait?”

“Don’t know,” said Aurora, “My dad didn’t say.”

Trout picked at a corner of the paper.

“Let’s see,” he said and raised it up. They turned it over and spread it out on the grass. Clear, bright purple letters covered the sheet.

“Yeah, I can read it,” said Aurora, and the two of them started in.

Look Like Chopped Liver

“Don’t start an argument with somebody who has a microphone when you don’t. They’ll make you look like chopped liver.”
― Harlan Ellison

Mural (detail) at Bowls & Tacos, Deep Ellum, Dallas, Texas

Taken on the Friends of the Santa Fe Trail Pub Ride.

Oblique Strategy: Lowest common denominator

Another Snippet: From a short story – Slow Advance by me

I finally kicked down the noisy neighbors’ door to find they had moved out. The place was empty. All that was left was their disembodied voices, still arguing. At an incredible volume.

I had to look around, but finally found the eight track player. My father showed me one of those once and explained the tape inside was a loop. It would never stop. I stood there, gobsmacked, and reacted too slow as a cat ran out of the hallway and dashed out the still-open door.

The sound system, such as it was, was sitting on the floor making a dent in the filthy shag carpet. There wasn’t anything else for me to do but to turn the volume knob down and hit the oversize bright blue led-lit power switch. The light turned to red. I spun around and headed home. I had splintered the jamb with my boot, so the door wouldn’t latch. In the hallway I paused, returned, and pulled the plastic box of the eight track from its hole and quickly strode home.

“So, that was quick,” Jane said as I walked back in, “what the hell is that in your hand.” I set the tape down on the coffee table and she handed me my beer. It was still cold, with an archipelago of condensed moisture droplets sparkling on the amber glass. Jane picked the eight track up and stared at it.

“They weren’t home,” I said.

“No, that’s impossible. We’ve been listening to them both scream at each other all day.”

“It wasn’t them, It was that,” I gestured at the tape.

“Well, at least it’s quiet now,” Jane said. “Hand me the remote, I want to watch Glee.”