Short Story (flash fiction) of the day, Where Are You? by Joyce Carol Oates

“You people who have survived childhood don’t remember any longer what it was like. You think children are whole, uncomplicated creatures, and if you split them in two with a handy axe there would be all one substance inside, hard candy. But it isn’t hard candy so much as a hopeless seething lava of all kinds of things, a turmoil, a mess. And once the child starts thinking about this mess he begins to disintegrate as a child and turns into something else–an adult, an animal.”
― Joyce Carol Oates

Downtown Waxahatchie, Texas

Joyce Carol Oates is one of my favorite authors. I’ve read a lot of what she’s written and understand most of it.

Where Are You Going? Where Have You Been?

Life After High School

Heat

What I like the best about her is that she is not afraid to go for the jugular. I have a need to explore the thin membrane – the border –  between what we all consider our day-to-day lives and the world of evil chaos that is right there on the other side. She understands that and will cross that membrane and will bring you along with her.

In today’s bit if flash fiction she does that, in only 500 words.

Where Are You?, by Joyce Carol Oates

 

Short Story Of the Day (flash fiction) – Forgot by Bill Chance

“Our memory is a more perfect world than the universe: it gives back life to those who no longer exist.”
― Guy de Maupassant

Old Man River, Robert Shoen, New Orleans

I have been feeling in a deep hopeless rut lately, and I’m sure a lot of you have too. After writing another Sunday Snippet I decided to set an ambitious goal for myself. I’ll write a short piece of fiction every day and put it up here. Obviously, quality will vary – you get what you get. Length too – I’ll have to write something short on busy days. They will be raw first drafts and full of errors.

I’m not sure how long I can keep it up… I do write quickly, but coming up with an idea every day will be a difficult challenge. So far so good. Maybe a hundred in a row might be a good, achievable, and tough goal.

Here’s another one for today (#96) Almost There! What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.


Forgot

Harold Sammons died at work, suddenly. His heart stopped beating. He was coming out of the break room with a cup of coffee on his way to the morning meeting. The last one out of the break room, there was nobody to see him go down or smell the hot coffee splashed across the floor. They did hear the cup shatter.

Since nobody saw him, nobody really knows how long Harold was dead. Since they heard the cup and came, curious, and the paramedics were there almost immediately (the fire station was right next door) they revived him and he came back to life.

There was brain damage. It was to be expected.

His short-term memory was gone. He would talk to someone and forget who he or she was. It was embarrassing, but people understood. He would forget where he was or where he lived or the PIN code on his phone (or even what that glass rectangle was useful for).

For the eighteen months he survived after he died and came back, it made life difficult, but not unbearable. While he couldn’t remember five minutes ago, fifty years in the past was as clear as crystal. There were so many things he forgot that came back to him now.

He forgot his first rock concert. He forgot how excited he was when the band did an encore. Now he remembered, “Everyone cheered so loud they came back out and played another song!” That naïve happiness came flooding back.

He forgot how many fireflies there used to be. Clouds of cold sparks. Now he could see them, even though they are now rare.

He forgot how everyone, young and old, used to watch the same shows on television together and could talk about them the next day. Nobody had more than one set so watching television was a social act.

He forgot how going out for a hamburger and maybe some ice cream was a big deal and a real treat.

He forgot that every house only had one phone and it was attached to the wall. The phone knew its place and its purpose.

He forgot swimming in a lake. The water had a green cast and a slight smell. The bottom was soft mud.

He forgot about front porches with rockers and gliders and the neighbors walking by.

He forgot about Zippo lighters that had liquid fuel and little yellow cards of replacement flints.

He forgot the taste of cold milk from a glass bottle.

He forgot the woman he loved first and loved most. He married someone else and never knew where she went. And now she was back and not a day older. Her smile as magnificent as ever.

These weren’t like old dusty memories that suddenly get stirred up. These weren’t like an unexpected odd odor that you know you have smelled before. The unfathomable labyrinth within his brain had been broken open and the distant past was as fresh and new as the sun is in the sky.

For those last eighteen months people would see the confused emaciated old man in his wrinkled ancient suit shuffling along or sitting motionless on a bench – they would feel pity and dread the day when they would end up in the same sorry state.

But for Harold Sammons the time after he came back from the dead was the best of his life. He no longer forgot.

Short Story Of the Day – The Death of Samuel Flood (flash fiction) by Bill Chance

“Always do sober what you said you’d do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut.”
― Ernest Hemingway

Italy, Texas


 

I have been feeling in a deep hopeless rut lately, and I’m sure a lot of you have too. After writing another Sunday Snippet I decided to set an ambitious goal for myself. I’ll write a short piece of fiction every day and put it up here. Obviously, quality will vary – you get what you get. Length too – I’ll have to write something short on busy days. They will be raw first drafts and full of errors.

I’m not sure how long I can keep it up… I do write quickly, but coming up with an idea every day will be a difficult challenge. So far so good. Maybe a hundred in a row might be a good, achievable, and tough goal.

Here’s another one for today (#62) More than half way there! What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.

 


 

The Death of Samuel Flood

 

On his last day, old Sam Flood hitched up his mule and pulled his still from its hiding place in the thick weeds beside the barn down to the open patch right next to his gate. Everyone else had their stills high up in the mountain hollows, pulling water from the clear limestone streams in dark dells where nobody was likely to go looking. Sam’s still was clean – a polished copper, curled up compact on a single pallet, with rails, which was how he was able to pull it down there, where everybody could see it, with his single mule. Nobody else gave a damn what their stills looked like, made of galvanized iron where they could, dented and dirty, utilitarian. But over the years he had spent more work getting his to look good than he did getting it to work good.

The gravel road that ran past his place was always busy, it being the straightest way from town into the most rugged parts of the hills. He had a heavy but simple welded iron gate, held with a loop of barbed wire around a wooden post worn thin and mirror smooth from the use. Under the gate was a cattle guard made from old water pipe, which was needed because of the many cows his neighbors would march past to get up into the high, sweet, meadow grass.

Sam went back up with his mule and brought back a tub of mash and a quarter cord of aged oak firewood, about three quarters hand split by Flood with an old rusty maul with the rest used barrel staves. He tipped the tub into into the pot and then build a rick in the fire box. He ran an old cracked green garden hose down from the tank in the goat pen and, sucking on the downside end, started a siphon. He used the screwdriver blade on his folding pocketknife to hook the hose to the condenser with a worm clamp. He took a new, clean bucket and put it under the end of the condenser, waiting hungrily for the first drops.

He stood back, looked at his work, and saw that it was good. He dragged his favorite rocking chair down from the front porch. He sat down next to the still, which was starting to bang and burp, and started to rock in a happy, relaxed way. There was a denim bag hanging from one arm of the rocker, and Sam pulled two thick needles, a skein of homespun, and a growing scarf. He whistled while he knit.

It wasn’t long before young Elisa Markham came strolling up the road, with her milk cow ambling behind. She wasn’t paying much attention to where she walked, instead staring intently at the small slab of a phone she carried in one hand, stabbing at it with quick, dexterous, and delicate fingers. She knew the cellular coverage was about to run out as she approached the hills and wanted to get her weekend plans nailed down.

Sure enough, the last bar faded away as she reached Sam’s place. She sighed as she switched it off to save the battery and shoved it down into the back pocket of her cutoff jeans. Only then did she look around and Sam Flood sitting there, rocking, knitting, next to the smoking still.

“Is that your still?” she asked.

“Sure is,” replied Sam, “A new batch of mash, wanted to get it ‘stilled before it went all bad.”

Elisa nodded, though she knew enough, as did everybody in that slice of country, to know that mash didn’t go bad once it had its alcohol. It would keep for years, if need be. That was the point.

“Sure sad to hear ‘bout the missus’” Elisa said. “It’s a mournful business.”

Sam nodded, “Thank ‘e.”

“I’m sure gonna miss her goat cheese. Used to buy a basket full every few weeks in season.”

“I’m sellin’ the goats,” Sam said. “Up to the Franklin’s. I don’t have the time to go milkin’ ‘em like the missus’ did. Maybe the Franklin’s will have some cheese for you.”

“Doubt it, they’re not cheese folks. Figure your goats’ll be for breedin’ and meat mostly.”

Sam nodded. Inside his head he felt a fury stirring. To keep the tempest down he concentrated on his knitting, “Knit one, purl two,” he said out loud.

“You making a scarf there?”

“Yup, nothing fancy. Just something to past the time, I guess.”

Elisa nodded. “Well, good to talk to ya. I’d better be getting on. The cow here is getting restless. That’s what’s nice about your goats, they’ll eat pretty much anything. I’ve got to get her to that sweet grass or her milk will come out sour.”

Sam set his knitting down in his lap and watched Elisa walk off, wandering back and forth across the gravel, depending on where the cow felt like going. She was sure getting to be a pretty thing. He didn’t realize she was growing up so much. Time flies.

Elisa and the cow disappeared over the next rise and Sam went back to his knitting, waiting for the morning to trail away. The still hiccuped and spit out a bit of sour cloudy first-cut condensate. Sam rose and shook this out into the weeds, then replaced the bucket to catch the good stuff which would be coming out next.

The mailman came by in his little three-wheeled vehicle and stuck some junk into Sam’s box. He had white headphone wires running into his ears from the front pocket on his crisp uniform. He was a city man and nobody even knew his name. He never glanced at the still, even though it was sitting right there. Sam doubted the mailman would know a still if it bit him on the ass. The rumor up in the hills was that the mailman had fooled around with the daughter of a boss of some kind and had been demoted, sent out to the backwoods as punishment. Sam didn’t know if it was true, but it was believable enough and a good story to boot.

Sam walked over to the box and pulled his mail out. There wasn’t much. He didn’t even look at it, just walked over and added the paper to the burning rick of oak. Then he sat down, started the rocker and went back to his knitting.

—————————————————

Somebody during the day sent an email to the Sheriff, complaining that Sam Flood was running his still right out in the open, in front of God and everything. It might have been a neighbor with an axe to grind, or maybe that mailman knew more about what was what than he let on.

At any rate, the Sheriff decided what to do about it.

“Absolutely nothing,” he said to his eager deputy.

“But, he can’t just sit there, it’s not right.”

“Now, let’s not get so riled up about it. After that business with Mabel, I think we can cut him a little room. If he wants to run that still for a day or so, we’ll just look the other way for a bit. If he turns it into a regular business, then we’ll take some action, but I’m in no hurry right now.”

The deputy was disappointed but still impressed with the Sheriff’s wisdom and cool judgment. For not the first time, the deputy made a note to himself to be more like that.

—————————————————

They found Sam Flood dead in his rocker the next morning. He had been shot once, right in the center of his chest. The bullet had gone in but not out, and it wasn’t until the autopsy that they realized it was a round lead muzzle load shot. It was hand-cast, not one of the commercial balls that the turkey hunters used.

His scarf was at his feet, finished before he was shot. The women at the ladies auxiliary didn’t know what to do with the scarf. Even though it was a bilious color and the knitting uneven and full of mistakes, it was the last thing that Sam ever did, except for the still, and they didn’t want to throw it away, but nobody wanted it. It had too much death associated with it. They took it to the city and put it in a donation box – hoping some poor inner city kid could get some warmth out of it.

Nobody was ever arrested for the murder. There was no evidence. Since he had been killed with that muzzle loader everybody knew it was an old argument an ancient unpaid debt. Sam Flood must have known it was coming… that was why he set up his still like that and sat there knitting, out in the open. With Mabel gone, he knew someone was coming for him and decided to make it as easy as he could.

At the funeral, there was a lot of staring back and forth over the coffin. The guilty party was almost certainly there, looking as solemn and quiet as the rest.

Franklin came and got the goats, claiming he had already paid for them. First,though, he took the still away in the bed of his pickup truck, before the city lawmen came to investigate the shooting. It ended up at the end of Slaughter Hollow and is still working away, though Franklin doesn’t keep it clean and never shines it. It wouldn’t ever gleam in that thick shade anyway.

When they found him shot, the still was cold but the bucket was full of shine. The folks around there weren’t big on wasting anything so they jugged it up and drank it at the wake. Most figured that Sam Flood had done that batch so they would have something to drink in his honor. They said they thought it was the best Sam Flood had ever made.

Short Story Of the Day – Fire Escape (flash fiction) by Bill Chance

“If you’re going to try, go all the way. Otherwise, don’t even start. This could mean losing girlfriends, wives, relatives and maybe even your mind. It could mean not eating for three or four days. It could mean freezing on a park bench. It could mean jail. It could mean derision. It could mean mockery–isolation. Isolation is the gift. All the others are a test of your endurance, of how much you really want to do it. And, you’ll do it, despite rejection and the worst odds. And it will be better than anything else you can imagine. If you’re going to try, go all the way. There is no other feeling like that. You will be alone with the gods, and the nights will flame with fire. You will ride life straight to perfect laughter. It’s the only good fight there is.”
Charles Bukowski, Factotum

Fire Escape, Fort Worth, Texas


I have been feeling in a deep hopeless rut lately, and I’m sure a lot of you have too. After writing another Sunday Snippet I decided to set an ambitious goal for myself. I’ll write a short piece of fiction every day and put it up here. Obviously, quality will vary – you get what you get. Length too – I’ll have to write something short on busy days. They will be raw first drafts and full of errors.

I’m not sure how long I can keep it up… I do write quickly, but coming up with an idea every day will be a difficult challenge. So far so good. Maybe a hundred in a row might be a good, achievable, and tough goal.

Here’s another one for today (#58) More than half way there! What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.

 


Fire Escape

Andrew Torremolinos had lived in the apartment for almost three years, yet, until today, he had never been on the fire escape. He said to himself, “I wish I had climbed out here before, it is very nice.” Down the alley, through a gap in one of the surrounding buildings he could see a bit of the slate-gray river beyond and he watched as a tugboat pushed a barge. He could only see a slice of the whole thing as it moved past, but it was beautiful and he had never realized he had a river view from there. The sky was a deep, cloudless blue, and the sun felt warm on the back of his neck. It was quiet and calm, with the whole city spread out at his feet.

Getting out there had been difficult, though. He had lined his kitchen window with little shelves and filled the shelves with houseplants. Andrew’s shoulder stung from the effort in frantically wrenching the panes up. Then he tumbled the shelves while he stepped out, the terra cotta cracking against the old wood floors, potting soil fanning out, the pitiful Geraniums and African Violets naked and thirsty on the kitchen floor flung from their pots. Once outside, he shoved the window back down, catching and crushing a feathery arm of Boston Fern against the sill.

With the window closed, it was suddenly peaceful out on the fire escape. His apartment was very high up, only three floors down from the roof. His windows looked into the highest floor of the building across the narrow alley. Sometimes he would sit at his small table and lwatch the tumult of the big, extended family that lived in the apartment across from him scurrying around their kitchen, preparing meals, and eating together. A large immigrant family from some tropical country – there was always hustle and bustle over there. His mind filled in the loud passionate conversations and spicy exotic odors that must have constantly filled their overcrowded kitchen.

But this afternoon there was only the one old woman home across the alley. Andrew could see her very clearly. She stood motionless at her window, absently still rubbing a plate with a dishrag. She stared at Andrew with an expression of pure horror.

The fire escape was made of thin bars of wrought iron, open and rickety. Carefully, Andrew leaned on the spidery, rusted railing and looked over and down into the alley. The narrow passage far below was empty of human beings though still cluttered with banged-up dumpsters and piles of trash. Turning his head, he saw a cluster of people at the head of the alley, where it dumped out into the street. They looked excited and agitated, pointing and shouting; many were holding a drink in one hand, squinting into the bright daylight.

There was a big, popular bar on the corner of his alley – Andrew figured most of these gawkers had tumbled out and had taken their beverages with them.

Sometimes the bar would have a live band playing into the late night and he could hear bits of the music and sounds of the crowd laughing and yelling. He would lie there and weep at his loneliness as the distant merriment washed over him. He wanted, more than anything else in the world, to go down there and be one of those people, but he could never do it.

His sad reverie was interrupted by a sudden sound behind him. It was a strange high insistent ping that came from the pane of glass in the kitchen window. The ping was followed by a vicious cracking noise and then the tumbling crash as the glass crashed out of the window, breaking and tingling through the iron gaps in the floor of the fire escape at his feet.

The terrific heat inside the apartment had shattered the glass and soon enough, the thick black choking smoke came pouring out, interspersed with tongues of flicking orange flame. The smoke and heat forced him to crouch against the railing of the fire escape and turn away from the building itself. Andrew looked at the people outside of the bar and saw them all running out into the street beyond, scattering around the corner. Some looked back over their shoulders, but most just ran, dropping their drinks as they fled.

The whole building began shaking. Andrew was afraid that the fire escape would be pitched from the building, but it held. A terrific rumbling came from the back end of the alley and Andrew turned his head in time to see the front wall of the entire back half of the building peel away and tumble off into the alley. Thousands of tons of brick and mortar collapsed into a smoking pile in the alley with amazing speed, throwing up a massive cloud of tan dust and black smoke. The building shook and moved and Andrew was sure the whole thing was going down. His fingers bled as he gripped the sharp corners of the iron bars of the railing and he closed his eyes against the caustic grit and burning smoke.

He could feel the building swaying as he braced himself for the collapse that didn’t come. Gradually, the movement stopped and the crashing din was replaced by a strange deafening, high-pitched roar. With tremendous willpower he forced his eyes open and was surprised to find the air relatively clear, the view cleaned out by a sudden unearthly wind sweeping down the alley toward the roaring sound.

Andrew turned his head to look at the sound and was shocked to find the entire back half of the building, starting two apartments down from him completely missing. In the center of the rubble a crater had formed where everything had been thrown back, revealing the cracked concrete foundations. A jagged, hellish hole had appeared and from this ragged maw a massive horrendous blue flame erupted. This powerful incandescent flare was hungry and pulled the air to it and swept away all the smoke and dust, leaving the apocalyptic torch exposed.

The power of this flame seemed to come from Satan himself, jetting up from Hades through the cracked earth and concrete beneath the city. After the shock wore away, however, Andrew was able to figure out what had happened, what he was looking at.

“A gas main, a big one,” he said to himself, “That was the explosion, that was why the fire spread so fast, trapping me out here.”

Andrew realized that he didn’t have much time left. The fire was tearing the apartment building apart. It would collapse in a few more seconds. Again he located the folded iron ladder and felt for the heavy hardened steel chains he had found earlier. Pulling and rattling, he came across the massive rusted lock. It was stamped with the word, “MASTER.”

About a year ago, the apartment building had been plagued by burglars. The windows had been jimmied open, everyone’s valuables gone. The thieves were using the fire ladders. Things were getting really bad, the burglars getting more brazen. They had found some woman alone in her apartment and had beaten her until she was half-dead. There was a real feeling of palpable helplessness and desperation among everyone that lived in the apartments.

Then, suddenly, the burglaries stopped. There was rejoicing and thanks to the building management for “doing what needed to be done.” Now, Andrew realized that they had folded and locked the fire escape ladders – which stopped the thieves from being able to access the windows of the building. It was against the safety codes, but inspectors can be bribed, and something, anything, had to be done to protect the residents.

Andrew squatted and held a section of heavy chain in his hands and pulled, pulled as hard as he could, pulled for his life. He pulled until his fingers became slippery with blood. The blood dripped onto the iron bars, sizzling and burning away as the fire escape became heated from flames flicking up from below. He strained against the steel and the pain, roaring and screaming as he pulled. He screamed louder and louder, screaming until he hoped he could drown out the roaring gas flame, and force the fire back to hell with his sound and fury. It was not enough.

He collapsed, exhausted onto the hot iron floor. His clothes began to smolder from the heat. The flames were pouring out the window now in a hellish flood and he had to get away from them. The only way to go was out.

He struggled over the railing, until he was facing outward, suspended over empty space. He saw the old woman in the apartment across the alley still standing at the window. With the narrow alley, the width of the fire escape, and the distance he was cantilevered out, she was surprisingly close.

Andrew held on as long as he could. His fingers began to crack with the heat of the flames that were growing stronger as he grew weaker. The building began to shake again, grumbling in its death throes. Andrew looked straight into the eyes of the woman across the way. He wondered what she was thinking, what she would tell her family when they returned home, what she would say about the poor, horrible, helpless man she saw burned to death in the fire across the alley.

As he looked into her eyes he thought he saw her nod, just a little. Something about this nod helped to calm him, and his fear and pain unexpectedly melted away. He was a split second away from releasing his grip when he heard a loud clang next to him. It was a long aluminum ladder and it carried a huge man wrapped in silver.

The man grabbed Andrew like a preternatural bear and pulled. Then they were dropping, dropping fast through the smoke and fire, but not falling.

When he woke in the hospital he was in terrible pain. He never imagined that such pain could exist or that it could last for so long.

He once heard a burn victim say in a film that recovery was so difficult that he wished he had perished. Andrew Torremolinos didn’t though. The rest of his life he would look at the scars on his hands and think of that giant silver man, that fireman in a heat resistant suit, and know it as the best moment, the first moment, of his life.

 

 

Short Story Of the Day Bluetooth (flash fiction) by Bill Chance

“It gave me no hope to see him doing these simple things with the sluggishness of a somnambulist. It proved nothing more than that he could go like this forever, our silent accomplice, little more than a resuscitated corpse.”
― Anne Rice, The Vampire Lestat

Mojo Coffee, Magazine Street, New Orleans, Louisiana
(click to enlarge)

I have been feeling in a deep hopeless rut lately, and I’m sure a lot of you have too. After writing another Sunday Snippet I decided to set an ambitious goal for myself. I’ll write a short piece of fiction every day and put it up here. Obviously, quality will vary – you get what you get. Length too – I’ll have to write something short on busy days. They will be raw first drafts and full of errors.

I’m not sure how long I can keep it up… I do write quickly, but coming up with an idea every day will be a difficult challenge. So far so good. Maybe a hundred in a row might be a good, achievable, and tough goal.

Here’s another one for today (#50) Half way there! What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.


Bluetooth

“Rufus!” Sandy was so loud in his Bluetooth headset that Rufus had to pull it out of his ear and hold it or he would be deafened. Sandy’s voice sounded tinny and distant like that, which suited Rufus just fine.

“Damn it Rufus! You need to get your ass down here and take care of that Sylvester dude. He’s in my apartment and he won’t leave.”

“And this is my problem? Why?”

“It’s your problem because you set the whole thing up. Now you get down here right now and help me throw the guy out or I’m gonna start making some calls. And you won’t like who I call or what I am going to say.”

“Ok, Ok, calm down. Now, you said that the Radio guy is in your apartment? Where exactly is he? What’s he doing?”

“He’s on my couch. Asleep. Has been since this afternoon. I can’t get him to budge.”

“Ok, Ok, Sandy. Don’t get your panties in a wad. I’ll be right down. Won’t be any big deal.”

Rufus stood up and walked out of the Starbucks. As the front door closed, he thought he could hear a smattering of applause filtering out through the narrowing crack of the glass door. “You all can go to Hell!” Rufus yelled back at the coffee shop as he walked quickly to his primer-colored Ford Taurus.

He headed directly for the car door. Rufus didn’t like to look at the long, winding rusty dent that buckled along the entire driver’s side. He knew there was a shorter, but deeper puncture wound on the passenger’s. The trunk was held down with a piece of wire, and there was even a dent on the bottom of the car where he had driven up over a parking barricade in a drunken stupor.

Reaching the door, he didn’t need a key, the lock had been drilled out months ago. The ignition cylinder spun freely without a key and with a turn and a few seconds of sputtering and coughing, the engine came to life, idling roughly.

The yellow “low gas” light stared him in the face, mirroring the “Check Engine” symbol on the other side of the dash. He did some mental calculations and decided he could make it to Sandy’s house, though he’d be on fumes once he arrived there.

Sandy needed his help and as he started out down the road, began to plan his angle. He needed a place to stay and he thought he remembered Sandy’s place as having a good, working, air conditioner. That Sylvester Radio guy was a skinny little runt and he’d have no problem rousting him out the door. If he did it in an assertive, manly way, then Sandy was sure to show some appreciation.

Maybe he could get a little more out of the deal than just a place to crash. Rufus started to imagine Sandy’s face full of gratitude, her eyelashes batting. The fantasy became more and more involved, more and more pleasant until he sprinted up the two flights of stairs to Sandy’s apartment and rapped confidently on the door.

Rufus’s fantasy left immediately when Sandy opened the front door. She stood there, her dirty blonde hair sticking out in all directions, her face smeared with mascara. She was wearing old torn cutoff blue jean shorts, a dirty T-shirt, and mismatched Crocs on her feet.

“It’s about time you got here,” Sandy said “he’s not moving at all.”

“Well, don’t worry. I’ll just pitch him out and then we’ll talk.”

Rufus strode to the couch where he saw Sylvester’s head sticking out from under a ratty quilt. He bent over and gave the quilt a yank. It came up quickly – flying into the air.

“Okay Radio! It is time to.. Oh geez! Damn it Sandy! The guy is naked.”

Rufus had to reach in the air to grab the quilt and push it down back over Sylvester Radio as quickly as he could. The image would not leave his mind even after he shook his head violently.

“You didn’t you tell me he was naked!”

“Sorry, I forgot.”

“You forgot? I don’t even want to think…”

Rufus leaned over and grabbed Sylvester’s shoulder and started shaking as hard as he could. Rufus wanted to get him out as soon as possible.

“Oh Christ Sandy, he’s stiff as a board.”

“What are you talking about?”

“I think the guy is dead!” Rufus jumped back away from the couch in disgust. He stood in the middle of the living room shaking and staring at the quilt with the tuft of hair sticking out of one end.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes I’m sure. He’s rigid… rigor mortis… as dead as a doorknob. What did you do to him?”

Sandy said nothing. She simply stared at Rufus and he was horrified when he thought he saw a small grin flash across her face for a second.

“Where’s your phone? We need to call the cops.”

“Oh no,” Sandy said. “No cops. No cops! I’m on probation you know. This will send me back to the big house for sure. And I’m telling you I’m not going back there because you sent me some scrawny pervert with a weak heart.”

“Well then what are we going to do?”

The first step, Sandy told him, was to wedge the dead guy off the couch onto the floor while keeping him wrapped up in the blanket.

Rufus looked around for something to use, he did not want to touch the body. All he could find was a toilet plunger leaning against the end of the couch. He grabbed the wooden handle and used it to wrench the corpse off the couch. He took two corners and Sandy took two and after checking the front stairs they dragged the body out the door and down the two flights as quickly as they could. Luckily no curious bystanders showed up.

“Okay, where’s your car,” Sandy said.

“My car? I’m on fumes. We’ll have to use yours.”

Sandy shook her head in disgust and clumped around the corner. Rufus heard the whine of a small engine and a tiny Smart car appeared.

“What is that? Is that a toy? How are we going to fit in there with him?”

“You should have thought about that before you came here with no gas.”

“I know. I have an idea. I’ll wait here and you can drive with him in the passenger seat.”

“No way. I am not going to do this alone. You sit in the passenger seat and hold him on your lap.”

And that was how they drove. Radio’s head was covered with the blanket and stuck out the passenger window at an angle. They drove to a spot Sarah knew about where a rough gravel road crossed an old railroad spur and dipped down into a thick grove of scrubby trees.

“I don’t even want to know how you knew about this spot,” Rufus said.

“It is lucky that I do.”

They opened the door and slid the body on the quilt down to a steep thick weedy patch and pulled the blanket off while the body rolled away into the darkness.

“I don’t know,” Rufus said “it doesn’t seem right to leave him like that. Should we cover him?”

“That’s my quilt. I’m not going to leave it here for the police to find. Don’t worry. They’ll think he’s just some dead junkie. He’ll never be messed.”

As they were driving away Sarah asked Rufus to open the glove box. Inside was a wallet and keys. Rufus instinctively checked the wallet.

“There is no cash, no credit cards. I’ve already pulled them,” Sarah said. “I want you to check his driver’s license and give me the address.”

“What for?”

“We are going to his place. Those are his keys. I want to see what’s there, I want…”

“Come on Sarah, we are not burglars”

“You can’t burgle a dead man.”

The address was a small brick duplex not far from the University. They parked a block away and walked. As they approached the door with Sarah holding the keys a voice called out from the darkness of the next door entryway.

“Are you two friends of Sylvester’s?”

“Uhhh,” the same confused sound came out of both their throats as they started to slink away from the unexpected interruption.

A spindly old woman suddenly moved from the darkness into the blue light from an overhead street lamp.

“It’s good to see that Sylvester has some friends, some young friends.”

“Yes,” Sarah said, thinking quickly, “we are his friends, we’re here to check on him.”

“Good,” the old woman said, “Sylvesster needs someone to check on him, especially with his, well, you know, his condition and all.”

“Condition?” Both Sarah and Rufus spoke at the same time.

“Yes, don’t you know? That’s why I stayed up waiting for him. He has this nervous disorder. When he gets too excited. His whole nervous system – his brain and spine – his muscles – they freeze up stiff as a board. Catatonic. You would swear he was dead. Sometimes he won’t wake up for hours. Scares me to think that something bad might happen to him. You don’t think… Has something bad?”

Rufus and Sarah stared at each other.

“No, no,” Sarah said, “nothing bad, but, you know, we had better be going.”

“Yes yes,” Rufus replied, “we had better be going right now.”

Short Story Of the Day, The Reluctant I by Bill Chance

Oscar had, on the other hand, been working there forever. He was as grumpy as Cynthia was cheerful. Still, he knew everything and was the person you wanted around when things were going South.

—-Bill Chance, The Reluctant I

Sculpture and Building
Downtown Dallas, Texas
Near the Arts District DART Station

 

I have been feeling in a deep hopeless rut lately, and I’m sure a lot of you have too. After writing another Sunday Snippet I decided to set an ambitious goal for myself. I’ll write a short piece of fiction every day and put it up here. Obviously, quality will vary – you get what you get. Length too – I’ll have to write something short on busy days. They will be raw first drafts and full of errors.

I’m not sure how long I can keep it up… I do write quickly, but coming up with an idea every day will be a difficult challenge. So far so good. Maybe a hundred in a row might be a good, achievable, and tough goal.

Here’s another one for today (#17). What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.

 

 


Today, I writing using a writing prompt from the book by Brian Kiteley, The 3 A.M. Epiphany. It… and its companion, The 4 A.M. Breakthrough, are unusually useful collections of prompts in that each one is designed to teach a lesson – rather than some random idea seed. The prompt I used this time happened to be the first on in the book.

Description of this week’s Writing Prompt #1

The Reluctant I

Write a first-person story in which you use the first-person pronoun (I or me or my) only two times – but keep the I somehow important to the narrative you’re constructing.  The point of this exercise is to imagine a narrator who is less interest in himself than in what he is observing.  You can make your narrator someone who sees an interesting event in which he is not necessarily a participant.  Or you can make him self-effacing, yet a major participant in the events related.  It is very important in this exercise to make sure your reader is not surprised, forty or fifty words into the piece, to realize that this is a first-person narration.  Show us quickly who is observing the scene.  600 words

 


The Reluctant I

I was sipping at a morning cup of strong coffee, filling a sheet of paper with my checklist of things to do for the day, and looking out the window, thinking between items. The sky was an amazing and unusual crystalline blue. The plane was so small at first and it looked oddly low. It came on fast, growing and growing until I could see the rivets around the pilots’ windows.

Then at a huge speed it disappeared around the corner of the building an there was a tremendous crash followed by an impossibly intense crunching and cracking. The building bent to the side. People that work that high off the ground are used to swaying in the wind but this was far beyond that. The windows blew out and the building came still after a few seconds.

Cynthia sat at the next desk and Oscar at the one beyond that. They both leaped up and ran towards the stairwell at the center of the building but were driven back by a solid wall of acrid smoke spilling from that direction.

Cynthia was new, she had only been there for two months, transferred from the Philadelphia office. She brightened up the place terrifically and her effortless good looks and cheerful disposition helped everyone look forward to coming to work more than they otherwise would.

Oscar had, on the other hand, been working there forever. He was as grumpy as Cynthia was cheerful. Still, he knew everything and was the person you wanted around when things were going South.

Cynthia was covered with black soot and ran to the shattered windows to try and get some breathable air. Oscar was slower and didn’t retreat in time and his suit was burning. He fell to the floor and rolled but was unable to extinguish the flames. Suddenly, he rose up and ran straight into the smoke and flames to his death.

The smoke was advancing and getting thicker and it was becoming impossible to breathe. Crouching flat on the ground right next to the open hole in the wall helped but it only bought a few short seconds.

The look on Cynthia’s face was horrific. It was a mix of unbearable fear and hopeless resignation that I had never seen before. The heat was beginning to rise and the tatters of curtains overhead were bursting into flame. The black smoke began to shut out the entire world. The scream from Cynthia was awful as she succumbed to the flames. It wasn’t very loud because she couldn’t inhale enough air for that, but what floated abouve the din of the burning office contained a thousand lifetimes of agony.

There was only one choice left.

Anyone that works in a high rise building, especially the few that work in the rarefied air over a thousand feet off the ground inevitably thinks of the fall.

First there is the feeling of weightlessness. There is the comfort of being away from the heat and burning smoke, the air fresh and clean, the sky blue and the sun shining. The column of smoke is now high, high overhead and starting to retreat quicker and quicker.

The air, so comforting at first, begins to rush and push and it feels like being held in a soft cushion or giant hand. There is a quiet, peaceful space and only the sound of the ever increasing wind is heard and that isn’t as loud as you would think.

There isn’t much time, but there is enough for the fresh fast breeze to start to clear the burning from lungs and nose and the eyes to clear and truly see. There is a desire to twist around see below and there it is… rushing up, coming close, impossibly fast until….

Short Story Of the Day, Premium Harmony by Stephen King

They’re going to Wal-Mart for grass seed. They’ve decided to sell the house—they can’t afford to keep it—but Mary says they won’t get far until they do something about the plumbing and get the lawn fixed. She says those bald patches make it look shanty Irish. It’s because of the drought. It’s been a hot summer and there’s been no rain to speak of. Ray tells her grass seed won’t grow without rain no matter how good it is. He says they should wait.

—-Stephen King, Premium Harmony

 

Woodall Rogers Expressway, Dallas, Texas

Hey, it’s a Stephen King story – expect some horror – you are warned. The interesting thing is that you probably feel more shocked at what happens to Biz than to Mary. There are reasons for that, I guess.

Read it here:

Premium Harmony by Stephen King

from The New Yorker

Short Story Of the Day, The Lagoon by Joseph Conrad

A rumor powerful and gentle, a rumor vast and faint; the rumor of trembling leaves, of stirring boughs, ran through the tangled depths of the forests, ran over the starry smoothness of the lagoon, and the water between the piles lapped the slimy timber once with a sudden splash. A breath of warm air touched the two men’s faces and passed on with a mournful sound – a breath loud and short like an uneasy sigh of the dreaming earth.

—- Joseph Conrad, The Lagoon

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

I re-read The Secret Sharer the other night (haven’t we all read that in school?) and now I’m thinking of Nostromo – a novel I started once (inspired by the ship in the original Alien) but never finished. I want to finish it now.

So we have a Joseph Conrad short story, The Lagoon, about death and love and courage… and the jungle.

Read it here:

The Lagoon by Joseph Conrad

From East of the Web

Short Story (flash fiction) Of the day, Bedside, by Dan Ryan

“Then I’m definitely going to let Ma find the glass menagerie on her own!” I cried, and stormed out of her house—cut deep by this future she’d imagined without me.

—-Dan Ryan, Bedside

Sleep

Sleep

It’s hard right now to not think about what you leave behind. I need to clean my office room (the dogs have been in the trash). And don’t forget, there is digital now. Would you be comfortable with the people that follow you scrutinizing your hard drives? Your tablet? Moving through the directories, guessing at the filenames.

So you could password protect the things. But then you think that when you are gone, so is everything you collected. And that might be more frightening.

Read it here:

Bedside, by Dan Ryan

from Electric Literature

Dan Ryan Twitter

Death Before Breakfast

“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!”
― Hunter S. Thompson, The Proud Highway: Saga of a Desperate Southern Gentleman, 1955-1967

Deep Ellum, Dallas, Texas