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

Short Story of the Day – What Bram Saw by AE Stueve

It was a strong ancestral pull from the phantasmagoric, but curiosity shoved me toward Bram, toward the tapping.

—- AE Stueve, What Bram Saw

Detail from Eyes of the Cat, by Moebius and Alejandro Jodorowsky

Today’s short story – a tasty little nightmare of flash fiction:

What Bram Saw by AE Stueve

From Flash Fiction Magazine

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

A Month of Short Stories 2017, Day 16 – War of the Clowns by Mia Couto

Klyde Warren Park,
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 16 – War of the Clowns by Mia Couto

Read it online here:
War of the Clowns by Mia Couto

The following morning, the two remained, obnoxious and outdoing
each other. It seemed as though, between them, even yucca soured. In the
street, meanwhile, those present were exhilarated with the masquerade.
The buffoons began worsening their insults with fine-edged and finetuned
barbs. Believing it to be a show, the passersby left coins along the
roadside.

—-Mia Couto, War of the Clowns

Today, we have a brief bit of flash fiction by Mia Couto, an excellent writer from Mozambique.

At first, the parable seems like a bit of literary fluff. But it also feels terribly familiar. It feels like watching the evening news.

Are you afraid of clowns?

The biggest movie right now is It – from the Steven King novel. Like today’s flash fiction, It plays on our fear of clowns. The clowns in today’s parable are even more frightening, in the end, than the horrific Pennywise. They are the end of the world.

Interview with Mi Couto:

We know we are made of memories, but we don’t know the extent to which we are made up of forgetfulness. We think of oblivion as an absence, an empty space, a lack. But in most cases, with the exception of neurological disease, forgetting is an activity—it’s a choice that demands the same effort as remembrance. This is equally valid for individuals and communities. If you visit Mozambique, you’ll see that people have decided to forget the war years. It is not an omission. It’s a tacit decision to forget what were cruel times, because people fear that this cruelty is not a thing of the past but can again become our present. And moreover, in rural parts of Mozambique the notion of nonlinear time is still dominant. For them, the past has not passed.

—-from Paris Review

Laissez les bons temps rouler

A Month of Short Stories 2017, Day 15 – Limited Edition by Tim Maughan

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 15 – Limited Edition by Tim Maughan

Read it online here:
Limited Edition by Tim Maughan

Avonmeads is less than ten minutes walk from Barton Hill, from his ends, but it feels like a different world to him. Whenever there’s any trouble with youth in places like this the timelines erupt with opinions, people angry and shouting, saying why are people like him making trouble and tearing up their own community. He shakes his head and laughs to himself. Community? There’s no community down here. This isn’t a community space – it’s nowhere, a non-place. Nobody lives here, it’s populated only fleetingly by transient visitors – van drivers getting lunch, shoppers buying the few things they still can’t buy through their spex or print at home. Even the staff in the shops here – none of them live here, they just come for a few hours a day, a few days a week. And most of them don’t even hold that down for long – there’s about as much a sense of career down here as there is community. For a start the shops never stay for long – something opens, fills a short-term need, then closes. Storefronts lie dead and abandoned, until someone thinks they’ve found another fleeting need, moves in, shuts down. Open, close, repeat.

—-Tim Maughan, Limited Edition

I am an old man, old enough to know a time when athletic shoes were called sneakers, or maybe tennis shoes – and were made of a single, simple layer of canvas with a simple rubber sole. The only “brand” I remember were PF Flyers (PF stood for Posture Foundation – bet you didn’t know that) and there were ads for them on television. I do remember a bit of the thrill and envy when I saw a pair – always on somebody else.

Now, of course, the innocent and silly tropes of my ancient youth have been distorted and blown up by technology and the shallowness of modern life until they have become reality. Sneakers have been replaced by Kicks, and Johnny Quest replaced by millionaire athletes.

Throw these ingredients into the soup of social media and powerful portable devices and you have the world of today’s story, Limited Edition.

This truly is the best of all possible worlds.

Interview with Tim Maughan:

Odo: Current technologies such as virtual reality, social networks and online games are prominently featured in your stories. How would you say that the use of these technologies is changing our way of thinking, our way of interacting with other people?

TM: That’s a good question. That’s a big question! I’m not sure we know yet, I think we’re still feeling our way. That’s why I’m writing about them, I think, to try and understand myself. I think everything is so double edged now – online communities for example, they can be both embracing and alienating, both to degrees we couldn’t possibly imagine a couple of decades ago. The same goes for the anonymity and distance that ‘net culture grants us – it can be liberating, allowing people to express themselves in ways they would be too scared to in real life – but of course the flip of that is it lets people get away with saying or doing terrible things with no consequence. I was reading a forum recently where someone used a homophobic slur, and when they were confronted about it they said nobody should be offended as it was ‘only pixels’. That struck me as simultaneously both horrifying and logical – it’s a defence that must make some sense if you’ve grown up spending a large percentage of your communicating life online. It’s the complete stripping of meaning, postmodernism made real, I guess. How do you argue against that? In fact, with meaning gone in that way, how do you argue about anything?

Odo: Trust (and distrust) is an important theme in your stories, where characters are often deceived by their friends. Do you think that trusting other people is more dangerous today than, say, twenty years ago?

TM: No, I don’t think so – the media would love us to all believe that, it feeds on fear, and is constantly looking to spread the illusion of distrust so that consumers turn to it for a kind of fake truth. I hear a lot of media talk here about the ‘blitz spirit’, about how British society was more unified during the war in the ’40s. I largely suspect that’s bullshit, and some terrible things happened when the lights were out, there was looting, people cheated on departed lovers and so on. When I’m writing about distrust I’m not saying that it’s a new thing, or a futuristic thing – to be honest it’s sometimes just a plot device! – but more that it’s there, and our media and culture likes to amplify it, to separate and alienate us, to make us better, competing consumers. Consumerism doesn’t work well if everyone trusts each other, it only works if we feel the need to compete with our neighbours, friends, even families.

—-from Sense of Wonder

On the way home from the store with a bag of Miller High Life.

A Month of Short Stories 2017, Day 14 – Dog by Joe R Lansdale

Deep Ellum, Dallas, Texas
Cathey MIller, Cathedonia
(click to enlarge)

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 14 – Dog by Joe R Lansdale

Read it online here:

Dog by Joe R Lansdale

The money had made him worthless, and he missed writing the column, wished now he hadn’t quit the job when the money came in. Should have stayed at it, he thought. He considered possibly getting his old job back, or maybe trying to write a humor book. Right now, however, it was all just a daydream from the seat of a bicycle.

—-Joe R Lansdale, Dog

I have become quite a fan of Joe R Lansdale. First of all, he’s a Texan, which is always a good thing.

The first story of his I read was God of the Razor – a scary little tale of ultra-horror. That’s not usually my thing but the story was so stark and well-written – it hooked me. I have been reading his stuff every since.

Now, today’s story, Dog, is not for animal lovers… not at all. It is about a guy on a bicycle, which is usually a good thing.

But in this story… not so much. It is a story of a nightmare fight to the death between pretty good and absolute evil. Shame about poor Cuddles.

Interview with Joe R Lansdale

You recently talked on Facebook about writers who complain about loneliness and other aspects of the craft, and you noted, “If you want to be miserable writing, that’s your choice.” Why do you think some writers describe it as some painful, soul-sapping drudge?

I’m sure there are some people out there who are just miserable . . .

They’d be miserable if they were plumbers.

Right. But I think also it’s a pose for a lot of people, because they think they’re doing something that doesn’t require that they dig a ditch or fix a car. I think because it’s intangible. When you take a job, you get paid when you first start out whether you know what you’re doing or not, but in writing you’re not necessarily getting paid when you’re starting out, so are you a writer or are you not a writer? So I think a lot of it too is insecurity, that feeling that it’s like, “Look, I’m really working, this really is important and it’s really hard.” And it’s not that it isn’t hard sometimes—it is. I’m not saying it isn’t hard work; I beat my head against the wall sometimes thinking, I just can’t get that right. But that’s not the same thing as saying I’m miserable doing it. It may be a hard thing to do, but I enjoy doing it. And I feel lucky, because I’ve never wanted to do anything else. It’s not the same for everybody, but I feel like I just got the best break in the world.

One recent tip you offered was, “Actually start out with Once upon a time and continue.” Have you done that?

Yeah, I’ve done it. I even have one story that begins, “Once upon a time.” I’ve done it several times. I just type “Once upon a time,” and then I’m into it

—-from Nightmare Magazine

Bark Park Central
Deep Ellum
Dallas, Texas