Short Story of the Day – The Man With the Scar

He’s an exile from Nicaragua. He’s a ruffian of course and a bandit, but not a bad fellow.

—–The Man With the Scar, Somerset Maugham

The land of lakes, volcanoes, and sun. A painting I bought on my last trip to Nicaragua.

Every now and then I like to share a short story that is readable online. I used to do this a month at a time every couple years  ( 2013, Day One 2015, Day One 2017) and may yet this year – but for now… here’s one.

 

Today’s story is The Man With the Scar. You can read a PDF of it here.

 

I was cleaning out the files on a laptop when I stumbled across a PDF entitled The Man With the Scar. It was a short story by Somerset Maugham. Obviously, I had read it before and downloaded it, but I didn’t really remember it. I re-read it and then searched my archives to see if I had written about it before. It was mentioned here – in a review of another Somerset Maugham short story. I had forgotten how much I loved his short stories. I had read the thing in a lending library at a park downtown – Klyde Warren – the park build over a freeway.

Woodall Rogers Freeway, from Klyde Warren Park, Dallas, Texas

But I had never linked to the story itself.

Which is a shame, it’s a little piece of greatness. What a horrible tale told in such high-falutin’ language. It encapsulates the insane evil that springs forth when human life is held in such little regard.

Is the Man With the Scar a hero or a villain? An evil man… maybe, or an ordinary man caught in a hopeless farrago of wickedness. He does at least take a stand… but it is such a depraved stance. He realizes that beauty has no place in his world – no place for mercy or for sacrifice.

I guess our only reaction to a story like this is to rejoice we don’t live in the same place as these characters do… or to maybe at least hope we don’t.

Short Story of the Day, “Sea Change” by Nancy M. Michael

But those in the mix know what blood tastes like.

—-Nancy M. Michael, Sea Change

Approaching Storm, Dallas, Texas

I used to take a month each year to comment on and link to short stories published online.

Short Story Months:

Day One 2013

Day One 2015

Day One 2017

I haven’t done that for a while, but have been thinking about it. That doesn’t keep me from reviewing them one at a time. Last year, I wrote about Driven Snow by Nancy M. Mitchel. The author commented on my blog entry (with the surprising revelation that the story was true and the woman survived). She mentioned that she had another story on the Akashic book website, Sea Change.

Go read it – a short, pithy read. Then you can come back and read the rest of what I wrote.

It’s of an interesting construction in that the protagonist isn’t directly involved in the action. Stories like that are cool because there are two stories – the main, observed action… and the reaction of the observer. It’s quite a feat to accomplish this in so few words.

 

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.

A Month of Short Stories 2017, Day 30 – SCHOOL by Melissa Goodrich

Sundance Square, Fort Worth, Texas

Over several years, for the month of June, I wrote about a short story that was available online each day of the month…. 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 – In September this time… because it is September.

Today’s story, for day 30 – SCHOOL by Melissa Goodrich
Read it online here:
SCHOOL by Melissa Goodrich

They eat spicy Cheetos and Ramen noodles, have the kind of beautiful faces that crack rearview mirrors.
—-Melissa Goodrich, SCHOOL

We were talking today, like we often do, about Game of Thrones, gratuitous nudity, and little person sex. I said, as I often do, “The problem with the world that Game of Thrones is set in, is that everybody’s life is miserable. From the most destitue peasant to the kings of the world, nobody is happy and life is so difficult and, despite the gratuitous nudity and little person sex, so joyless… If I lived there, I’d just kill myself, and anyone else would too.”

Someone else said, as they often do, “It’s like the life we live today.”

I replied, “No, we don’t live in miserable times… we live in the crazy times.”

Interview with Melissa Goodrich:

Is writing more of a blessing or a curse?
God. Both. I usually think I’m not writing enough. I’m haunted by those people who write every day, and run ten miles, and read new books and journals, and eat organically nurtured produce…I’m still a cereal-eater, a sleeper-inner, a person who writes slowly and then binge-watches TV.

But the blessing is I trust my voice now. And I trust that writing should be joyous and surprising, and that none of it is wasteful.
—-from Cultured Vultures

Kyde Warren Park, Dallas, Texas

A Month of Short Stories 2017, Day 29 – Counterfeit Money by Charles Baudelaire

Sunflower

Over several years, for the month of June, I wrote about a short story that was available online each day of the month…. 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 – In September this time… because it is September.

Today’s story, for day 29 – Counterfeit Money by Charles Baudelaire
Read it online here:
Counterfeit Money by Charles Baudelaire

We encountered a poor man who held out his cap with a trembling hand‹I know nothing more disquieting than the mute eloquence of those supplicating eyes that contain at once, for the sensitive man who knows how to read them, so much humility and so much reproach. He finds there something close to the depth of complicated feeling one sees in the tear-filled eyes of a dog being beaten.
—-Charles Baudelaire, Counterfeit Money

It’s later than I thought and I’m more tired that I like, so it will be a piece of flash fiction tonight.

Again, like yesterday, we have a short story based around giving alms to a beggar.

In today’s world, giving money to homeless panhandlers is problematic. I, myself, subscribe to the idea of not contributing – in a modern urban setting you will inexorably meet “professional” beggars and money given to them is undoubtedly enabling and will go for drugs, alcohol, or waste, making their plight even more miserable. I do feel pangs of guilt and the suspicion that my carefully-reasoned excuse may be more about selfishness than I can admit to myself.

I would not stoop to the level of the devil in today’s short piece, however.

Baudelaire is best known for his poetry – I keep a translation of Les Fleurs du mal around to read whenever life is too pedestrian to stand. However, he was a pioneer in what has now come to be called “Flash Fiction” – which he referred to as “Poems in Prose.” And what a cool idea – short little snippets that are actually poems without rhyme or rhythm – simply carefully selected words.

Charles Baudelaire:

Be always drunken. Nothing else matters: that is the only question. If you would not feel the horrible burden of Time weighing on your shoulders and crushing you to the earth, be drunken continually.

Drunken with what? With wine, with poetry, or with virtue, as you will. But be drunken.

And it sometimes, on the stairs of a palace, or on the green side of a ditch, or in the dreary solitude of your own room, you should awaken and the drunkenness be half or wholly slipped away from you, ask of the wind, or of the wave, or of the star, or of the bird, or of the clock, of whatever flies, or sighs, or rocks, or sings, or speaks, ask what hour it is; and the wind, wave, star, bird, clock, will answer you: “It is the hour to be drunken! Be drunken, if you would not be martyred slaves of Time; be drunken continually! With wine, with poetry, or with virtue, as you will.
—-Be Drunken

A Month of Short Stories 2017, Day 28 – The Model Millionaire by Oscar Wilde

Downtown Dallas, Texas

Over several years, for the month of June, I wrote about a short story that was available online each day of the month…. 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 – In September this time… because it is September.

Today’s story, for day 28 – The Model Millionaire by Oscar Wilde
Read it online here:
The Model Millionaire by Oscar Wilde

Unless one is wealthy there is no use in being a charming fellow. Romance is the privilege of the rich, not the profession of the unemployed. The poor should be practical and prosaic. It is better to have a permanent income than to be fascinating. These are the great truths of modern life which Hughie Erskine never realized. Poor Hughie! Intellectually, we must admit, he was not of much importance. He never said a brilliant or even an ill-natured thing in his life. But then he was wonderfully good-looking, with his crisp brown hair, his clear-cut profile, and his grey eyes. He was as popular with men as he was with women, and he had every accomplishment except that of making money.
—-Oscar Wilde, The Model Millionaire

Today’s story is a simple one – a man, not necessarily a great or charitable man, makes a great and charitable gesture, and suffers the consequences.

There is nobody better at writing aphorisms than Oscar Wilde. Even his fiction is generously sprinkled with entertaining pithy tidbits of wisdom that can be extracted and stand on their own. Finding these not-so-hidden jewels embedded in the text is one of the joys of reading Wilde.

Dorothy Parker said in a 1927 issue of Life:

If, with the literate, I am
Impelled to try an epigram,
I never seek to take the credit;
We all assume that Oscar said it.

A short list of Oscar Wilde Aphorisms (there are many, many more):

  1. I think that God, in creating man, somewhat overestimated his ability.
  2. The world is a stage, but the play is badly cast.
  3. Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much.
  4. It is absurd to divide people into good and bad. People are either charming or tedious.
  5. The only thing to do with good advice is pass it on. It is never any use to oneself.
  6. Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go.
  7. What is a cynic? A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.
  8. A little sincerity is a dangerous thing, and a great deal of it is absolutely fatal.
  9. When I was young I thought that money was the most important thing in life; now that I am old I know that it is.
  10. There are only two tragedies in life: one is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it.
  11. Memory is the diary that we all carry about with us.
  12. Woman begins by resisting a man`s advances and ends by blocking his retreat.
  13. Beware of women who do not hide their age. A woman who reveals her age is capable of anything.
  14. A thing is not necessarily right because a man dies for it.
  15. Art is the most intense form of individualism that the world has known.
  16. I choose my friends for their good looks, my acquaintances for their good characters, and my enemies for their good intellects. A man cannot be too careful in the choice of his enemies.
  17. Work is the curse of the drinking classes.
  18. Anyone who lives within their means suffers from a lack of imagination.
  19. True friends stab you in the front.
  20. Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught.
  21. Moderation is a fatal thing. Nothing succeeds like excess.
  22. I never put off till tomorrow what I can do the day after.
  23. Action is the last refuge of those who cannot dream.
  24. I can resist everything except temptation.
  25. I like persons better than principles, and I like persons with no principles better than anything else in the world.
  26. The pure and simple truth is rarely pure and never simple.
  27. Men marry because they are tired; women because they are curious. Both are disappointed.
  28. Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months.
  29. There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.
  30. Morality is simply the attitude we adopt towards people whom we personally dislike.
  31. How can a woman be expected to be happy with a man who insists on treating her as if she were a perfectly normal human being?
  32. A gentleman is one who never hurts anyone’s feelings unintentionally.
  33. The old believe everything, the middle-aged suspect everything, the young know everything.
  34. I like men who have a future and women who have a past.
  35. Quotation is a serviceable substitute for wit.

Oscar Wilde:

Upon the other hand, whenever a community or a powerful section of a community, or a government of any kind, attempts to dictate to the artist what he is to do, Art either entirely vanishes, or becomes stereotyped, or degenerates into a low and ignoble form of craft. A work of art is the unique result of a unique temperament. Its beauty comes from the fact that the author is what he is. It has nothing to do with the fact that other people want what they want. Indeed, the moment that an artist takes notice of what other people want, and tries to supply the demand, he ceases to be an artist, and becomes a dull or an amusing craftsman, an honest or a dishonest tradesman. He has no further claim to be considered as an artist. Art is the most intense mode of Individualism that the world has known. I am inclined to say that it is the only real mode of Individualism that the world has known. Crime, which, under certain conditions, may seem to have created Individualism, must take cognizance of other people and interfere with them. It belongs to the sphere of action. But alone, without any reference to his neighbors, without any interference, the artist can fashion a beautiful thing; and if he does not do it solely for his own pleasure, he is not an artist at all.
—-from The Soul of Man under Socialism

Rising cloud over the Hyatt, downtown Dallas, Texas

A Month of Short Stories 2017, Day 27 – The Peaceable Night by Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar

Jellyfish at Aurora, Dallas, Texas

Over several years, for the month of June, I wrote about a short story that was available online each day of the month…. 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 – In September this time… because it is September.

Today’s story, for day 27 – The Peaceable Night by Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar
Read it online here:

The Peaceable Night by Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar

Suhaila toed the mass of jellyfish and thought, At least they don’t sting. The tide had deposited thousands of their bodies up and down the beach in thick clumps, clusters of sand-spackled flesh so glossy it might be mistaken for cellophane from far away. The domes of their bells lay scattered everywhere: tangled in kelp, indented by purple-bellied slipper shells, pierced by the black horns of mermaid’s purses.

—-Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar, The Peaceable Night

I remember once taking the ferry across from Galveston to the Bolivar Peninsula the water was full of jellyfish. I don’t mean a lot of jellyfish… I mean full – millions upon millions of huge, bluish bellshaped coelenterates – it seemed that they had displaced the ocean – there was more jellyfish than water. I don’t know what quirk of weather, currents, or tides produced this bounty, but it was beautiful and frightening at the same time.

Of course, I remember a less pleasant encounter. At the beach on South Padre Island a wave washed a Portuguese man o’ war (yeah, I know – they aren’t really jellyfish… so sue me) over me, the long tentacles draped across my arms. The pain was amazing. It hurt as much as any pain I’ve ever felt. It was more like an electric shock than a sting. I spent several days in bed, sick – my arms had needle tracks like a champion junky where the nematocysts punctured my skin in long lines twisting around my body.

Today’s story features a recent widow with a young daughter. They have recently purchased a beach house and are struggling to pull each other through the day. It is a story of jellyfish and beach cleaners and trying to save a little bit of something. It is a story of war and immigration and trying to get your life back.

It’s a good thing those jellyfish don’t sting. It’s a shame that almost everything else does.

Interview with Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar:

You started out as a scientific researcher. What made you leave that path to pursue writing?

To be honest, I was a writer long before I was a scientist. I wrote my first story in third grade—a spiral-bound, illustrated little story called “If I Were a Kitten for a Day”—and wrote novellas and a few just-for-fun fantasy novels in middle school and high school. I’m a writer for the same reason I was a scientist—I’m fascinated by how the world works. So I continued to write throughout high school, college, and grad school, which resulted in a much better knowledge of and appreciation for the craft of writing. Along the way, I also studied science, because there were questions about the world that I wanted answers to. I’ve always been a curious person.

Writing has always been a necessary part of who I am. For me, writing is like a reflex; it’s how I process my experiences and the world around me. It keeps me sane. So while I eventually realized that academic science was not the right career path for me in the long term, my passion for writing only grew stronger.

—-From Creative Quibble

Red Jellyfish, from the Aurora Preview