A Month of Short Stories 2014, Day 20 – Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?

A year ago, for the month of June, I wrote about an online short story each day for 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.

Today’s story, for day twenty – Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?, by Joyce Carol Oates

Read it online here:

Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?

or, if you prefer, a PDF version here:
Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?

Well, after yesterday’s bloody and frightening short story, A Good Man is Hard to Find, I present you another one… even more horrific.

For some reason, I always associate these two stories with each other – there was a time I even conflated the authors a bit. Flannery O’Connor and Joyce Carol Oates are very different people with very different backgrounds – but both are masters of the grotesque and bizarre realities concealed in this strange world we find ourselves wandering lost in.

I’m not sure which story I like better. Probably today’s – because of its supernatural and symbolic undertones.

The author said it was inspired by the case of the “The Pied Piper of Tucson,” – serial killer Charles Howard ‘Smitty’ Schmid, Jr. But the evil Arnold Friend with his gold convertible and shoes stuffed with newspaper is stranger and more ghastly than any mere human killing machine. He is a pied piper – a strange and mutated siren that draws the young, doomed Connie through the only protection she has – a flimsy screen door.

A while back I wrote about another Joyce Carol Oates story, Life After High School… and it was today’s, I suppose, that convinced me the purpose of that story’s protagonist’s murderous intent. He wasn’t as experienced, skilled, or evil as Albert Friend and he failed – his victim escaped into a life after high school.

Poor doomed beautiful Connie. It’s a shame what happened to her… whatever it was.

Does make for a good story, though.

Sometimes they did go shopping or to a movie, but sometimes they went across the highway, ducking fast across the busy road, to a drive-in restaurant where older kids hung out. The restaurant was shaped like a big bottle, though squatter than a real bottle, and on its cap was a revolving figure of a grinning boy holding a hamburger aloft. One night in midsummer they ran across, breathless with daring, and right away someone leaned out a car window and invited them over, but it was just a boy from high school they didn’t like. It made them feel good to be able to ignore him. They went up through the maze of parked and cruising cars to the bright-lit, fly-infested restaurant, their faces pleased and expectant as if they were entering a sacred building that loomed up out of the night to give them what haven and blessing they yearned for. They sat at the counter and crossed their legs at the ankles, their thin shoulders rigid with excitement, and listened to the music that made everything so good: the music was always in the background, like music at a church service; it was something to depend upon.

A Month of Short Stories 2014, Day 19 – A Good Man is Hard to Find

A year ago, for the month of June, I wrote about an online short story each day for 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.

Today’s story, for day nineteen – A Good Man is Hard to Find, by Flannery O’Connor

Read it online here:

A Good Man is Hard to Find

When I was a little kid and we had to go on a long driving trip I would calculate the odds of us not arriving at our destination alive. That’s not normal for a little kid – but somehow the actual act of doing the calculations were a comfort to me. I knew the terrible stuff was there and my thinking, research, and ciphering gave me solid evidence that there was at least a possibility of getting through alive and uninjured.

In A Good Man is Hard to Find Bailey and his family, especially his monster of a mother, don’t do a very good job of calculating the odds – and pay for it.

What a great story. What horror.

I don’t know what is worse – the thought of the murderous Misfit and his henchmen out there waiting for you, shirtless, armed, merciless. Or the thought of being cooped up in a car for hours and hours with that Grandmother.

She didn’t want to go to Florida. In the end, she didn’t have to. Be careful of what you don’t wish for.

This is a story about the two sides of evil – real, horrible evil… and the small evil of self-centred ignorance. It is a story about grace – which seems to always come too late. And it is a story about the world and the doom that it presents.

Above all, it is a story.

They stopped at The Tower for barbecued sand- wiches. The Tower was a part stucco and part wood filling station and dance hall set in a clearing outside of Timothy. A fat man named Red Sammy Butts ran it and there were signs stuck here and there on the building and for miles up and down the highway saying, TRY RED SAMMY’S FAMOUS BARBECUE. NONE LIKE FAMOUS RED SAMMY’S! RED SAM! THE FAT BOY WITH THE HAPPY LAUGH. A VETERAN! RED SAMMY’S YOUR MAN!