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.

 

Red Molly in a Leather Jacket

Says James, to Red Molly, “Here’s a ring for your right hand.
But I’ll tell you in earnest I’m a dangerous man;
For I’ve fought with the law since I was seventeen.
I’ve robbed many a man to get my Vincent machine.
And now I’m twenty-one years, I might make twenty-two.
And I don’t mind dyin’ but for the love of you.

—- Richard Thompson, 1952 Vincent Black Lightning

I’ve stolen something. There is a bar that I visited last year, one that had an old fashioned photo booth back in the back, next to the filthy bathrooms. On the wall by the booth was a torn up cork board. A lot of people thumbtacked their strips of four photos into the cork, leaving them for posterity. I picked up a handful that looked interesting and stole them.

I’ve scanned the strips and I think I’ll take them, one at time, four photos at a time, and write a few words about the people in the photographs. Or, more accurately, what I imagine about them.

I wrote a story about the first strip here – here’s the second, and now, on a riff about a song by Richard Thompson I heard lying in bed, is the third.

 

They all had one incredible thing in common, they were all, all four, born on the same day. The twins, Molly and Tandy Vermilion, Michelle McQuade, and, of course, James, James Aidee. All three girls loved James, loved him as long as they could remember. When they were little kids it didn’t matter that there were three of them, it was just something that they shared.

But then, as they reached their twenties, it began to change. Each one wanted James to himself. They set aside their differences on their twenty-first birthday and had a four-person party down in the bars by the waterfront. They crowded into a photo booth to remember the day. They smiled at the lens, not realizing how few happy days were in front of them.

It was time to start their lives. To the shock of the other three, Michelle joined the police force. She was always a big girl, and a bit shy, but she found a hard discipline inside herself that worked well with her on the front lines of the toughest parts of the city.

All three, women now, thought of James all the time, but he loved Molly. He loved Molly with a burning fire.

But James wasn’t worthy of all their attention, he was lazy and shifty and would do anything to avoid having to work for his money.

Somehow, when Michelle became a cop, that cut the ropes that were keeping all of them in check and things quickly began to spin out of control. James worked a deal with Molly’s sister, Tandy, borrowing all her savings (and she, unlike her sister Molly and James was a hardworking, honest woman) with some harebrained scheme to buy some brown heroin from the next town down the interstate and turn it into a big profit. Tandy never would have done the deal if she wasn’t blinded by her passion for James… there were some vague promises made – never intended to be kept.

He lost his nerve and blew Tandy’s money on a classic motorcycle, a 1952 Vincent, and a custom leather jacket for Molly, who dyed her hair bright red for the occasion. Tandy was furious, though she never showed it outwardly. Molly and James were the talk of the town… A red haired woman in a leather jacket on the back of a vintage motorcycle… quite the scene.

But the Gomez brothers were upset the deal never went down. They had made some upfront deal that left them holding the bag and they weren’t who you wanted to piss off. Officer Michelle McQuade heard rumors through her network of informers and tried to warn her old friend James, but he wasn’t hearing any of it.

Finally, one evening Tandy had enough and sent word to the Gomez brothers of a place that James would head out at night. She said she was sick and made sure her sister Molly stayed with her while James rode away, saying she didn’t always need to go, it would be all right, “Just this time.”

They blasted James with a shotgun and Molly barely got to him at the hospital before he died. His last act was to give her the keys to the undamaged motorcycle.

Now the two sisters, Molly and Tandy ride the bike together with Molly in front still wearing her leather jacket. They are the talk of the town. Sometimes they go too fast but Officer McQuade makes sure the tickets get squashed.

 

Nanowrimo Day Twelve

Ultimate goal – 50,000 words.
Daily goal – 1,667 words
Goal total so far – 20,004 words

Words written today – 1,862

Words written so far – 16,591 words
Words to goal – -3,413

“Game shows are designed to make us feel better about the random, useless facts that are all we have left of our education.”

― Chuck Palahniuk, Invisible Monsters

These villains creep – Deep Ellum, Texas

As I committed the other day I am doing Nanowrimo – the National Novel Writing Month this November – writing a 50,000 word (small) novel in a month. Not necessary a good novel, or even a readable novel, but one of 50K words.

Didn’t know if I could get anything written today. I was extremely tired after work, but took a nap and sat at my writing machine and hammered out a bit more than my daily goal.

Wasn’t sure what to write, so I typed out some dialog between two characters sitting in a hotel room. I find that random dialog is a good way to fill out word counts, simply imagine the two characters in some normal (or not-so-normal) situation and think what they would say to each other. It isn’t Tarantino quality dialog, but eventually you discover the personalities of the characters and sometimes they say something interesting, sometimes they say something unexpected. I started with them looking at the television in a cheap hotel room and talking about the game show that is on.

 

Snippet of what I wrote:

“What show is that?” asked Bernard.

“Price is Right,” said Willard.

“What’s the point?”

“What? of us watching?”

“No, I know there is no point in us watching. I mean what’s the point of the game? What are all those idiots doing?”

“That guy picks one of those old biddies and then the woman tries to guess how much shit costs and if they get close enough they get to take it home.”

“Man, that’s lame. I guess those old women have spent their whole life buying shit and must know a lot about how much it costs. Hey, what’s to keep them from looking it up on Amazon… like from their phones?”

“I don’t think they would allow that. Besides it’s MSRP… ‘Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price.’ I think Amazon sells it cheaper, so that wouldn’t help much. It’s a real ripoff anyway. The companies’ give the crap to the show for free, for advertising, so it doesn’t cost them squat – they’re giving away free shit. Plus the poor saps that win it have to pay income tax. They have to pay to take away a bunch of free crap they never wanted in the first place.”

“Are you sure? That seems really stupid.”

“Yeah I’m sure. And it is really stupid.”

“Well, then why do you watch it?”

“I don’t usually, but there’s nothing else. Besides it makes me feel better. I may be a hopeless loser, but at least I’m not as bad as all those dumb assholes.”

“Hey, that guy doesn’t look right. I remember my mom watching this, isn’t that guy supposed to be Monte Hall?”

“No, Monte Hall was on ‘Let’s Make a Deal,’ another show… though it’s kinda like this one. You’re thinking about Bob Barker, and he’s not on it anymore. That guy’s Drew Carey.”

“Bob Barker? Yeah… I remember. Didn’t he get in a fight with that actor dude… Sandler? Adam Sandler?”

“Bob Barker and Adam Sandler? No, they were in a fight in that golf movie, ‘Happy Gilmore,’ but not in real life,” said Willard.

“You sure seem to know a lot about this stupid shit,” said Bernard.

“I’ve had a lot of spare time during the day,” said Willard. “So have you.”

They both let out a long rolling chuckle.

“Yeah,” said Bernard, “I guess the two of us share a strong dislike of going to work, don’t we?”

“Nobody likes going to work.”

“But not too many hate it and avoid it as strongly as we do. The two of us work harder at avoiding work than anybody I know.”

“That is a true statement,” said Willard.

Nanowrimo Day Eleven

Ultimate goal – 50,000 words.
Daily goal – 1,667 words
Goal total so far – 18,337 words

Words written today – 3,064

Words written so far – 14,729 words
Words to goal – -3,608

But it seems to me that once you begin a gesture it’s fatal not to go through with it.

—-John Updike, A&P

Kids love the reflecting pool. The water is less than a quarter inch deep.

As I committed the other day I am doing Nanowrimo – the National Novel Writing Month this November – writing a 50,000 word (small) novel in a month. Not necessary a good novel, or even a readable novel, but one of 50K words.

I have fallen behind, missed a couple days (too tired when I came home from work – fell dead asleep) and wrote too little on a couple days. But I had a good day today (a little over 3,000 words) and more importantly, have worked out a nice way to work.

I’ll do a blog entry on my writing machine and explain it in detal – but in essence is is a Raspberry Pi microcomputer mounted on the back of an old monitor, hooked up with a wireless keyboard and mouse. I run a program called Focuswriter set up to look like the old Wordperfect 5.1 – you know, that sharp white text on a blue background. It’s a distraction free full-screen experience, but I do have a bar on the bottom of the screen that gives me my constant word count and the percentage of the way to 1.667. This makes it surprisingly easy to crank out the words and get to the daily goal. We’ll see how it works combating the exhaustion of the workday (and I do have to work late several days this week).

Today I hammered out some bits of backstory and filler for a few hundred words. Then, looking for something that I could string out for at least a couple thousand, I looked in one of my books of writing prompts, The 3 A.M. Epiphany Almost immediately I came across a hint that suggested borrowing from a trusted source. The one in particular suggested taking a favorite story and rewriting it, giving it your own voice and changing what you want. I immediately thought of what might be my favorite of all time, A&P by John Updike (read the story here).

I hammered out my version – changing it from three girls to two (characters already in my story), from an A&P to an IGA, and told it from the girl’s point of view. It’s odd… I didn’t re-read the story (to try and make it my own) and haven’t looked at it in years, have forgotten many details, but made the bag-boy named Sam – in the story it’s Sammy. The name must have been stuck in my memory.

So, did I cheat by stealing from Updike? I don’t think so – it’s more of an homage.

 

Snippet of what I wrote:

Teresa knelt beside Beth’s chair and squirted the oil on to her back. She spread it out and rubbed it in until it disappeared into Beth’s skin.

“I’m thirsty,” Beth said in a luxurious voice, enjoying the afternoon, the sun, and, though she would never admit it, the feel of Teresa’s smooth hands sliding oily across her skin. She closed her eyes and thought of Sam and how his long, tight, sinewy body felt against hers, even her back, while they were in the pool at night. She was seized with a sudden desire to see him, in the daylight, and for him to see her, like this.

“I’ll go get some iced water, refill the pitcher.”

“No don’t,” said Beth.

“I don’t mind.”

“I don’t want water, not only water. I want some more of that drink we had earlier.”

“I made that, it was orange juice cooler, just orange juice and champagne.”

“My mom still has at least five bottles of champagne in the cupboard, leftover from my sister’s wedding,” said Beth.

“But…” said Teresa, before Beth cut her off.

“She doesn’t mind, she told me we could drink some, as long as we didn’t get hammered, as long as we left some for her.”

“No, it’s not that. We’re out of orange juice.”

“Oh?” said Beth. She sounded like she already knew they were out of orange juice.

“We could just drink the champagne.”

“No, I want some orange juice,” said Beth, “It wouldn’t be the same, it’s so hot today, champagne alone wouldn’t be refreshing enough.”

“Oh, where could we? I guess I could run down to the IGA and get some orange juice,” said Teresa.

“Yeah… I mean no, I’ll go.”

“Why don’t we both go?”

“Sure,” Beth said, “Let’s both.”

Nanowrimo Day Seven

Ultimate goal – 50,000 words.
Daily goal – 1,667 words
Goal total so far – 11,669 words

Words written today – 1,865

Words written so far – 10,854 words
Words to goal – -824

“Sometimes I wish for falling
Wish for the release
Wish for falling through the air
To give me some relief
Because falling’s not the problem
When I’m falling I’m in peace
It’s only when I hit the ground
It causes all the grief”
― Florence Welch

Trinity River in the Fall,
Dallas, Texas

As I committed the other day I am doing Nanowrimo – the National Novel Writing Month this November – writing a 50,000 word (small) novel in a month. Not necessary a good novel, or even a readable novel, but one of 50K words.

Well it happened. I skipped a day. There is no day six.

It was inevitable, I had been too busy, missed too much sleep. I came home from work, actually had planned on what to write but I made the mistake of pausing a bit – watched the first half of the Kansas Basketball game (college basketball is my sport – KU is my team, I did go to school there) and when I stretched out for a second at halftime, to rest my eyes… suddenly it was morning, time to go to work.

Missed a day, no big deal. Went from a bit ahead to a good piece behind. The important thing is to never skip two days in a row. So on day seven I was able to pound out some words. They came easily, I had time to put a firm vision in my head. When I’ve done that, I can write as fast as I can type. Didn’t finish the scene – which is a good thing – it gives me a good place to start tomorrow.

The weekend is coming soon, will have to catch up then, get out ahead a bit.

What I wrote today was more conversations between Craig and Odette.

Snippet of what I wrote:

“I’ll tell you what,” said Odette. “I’ll make a deal with you… I’ll give you something… a gift.”

“Really? What?”

“Don’t get excited bucko – it’s not anything big.”

“Not something expensive.”

“Not worth a nickel. But rare nonetheless.”

“Now you have made me curious.”

“OK, here’s the thing. First, you don’t know me so you don’t really know whether I can give you this gift. But, if you did know me, knew me well you’d know that it isn’t only possible, it’s a gift I can give easily. Understand?”

“Not at all,” replied Craig.

“Never mind. This is my gift. I give you permission. Permission to say anything to me, anything at all. You can ask me any question at all. Since I don’t know the question, I can’t promise I’ll answer it in any particular way. I can’t promise if I’ll answer at all – there are unanswerable questions. I can’t even promise I’ll tell the truth if I answer, though I do promise to try not to lie, if possible. What I do promise is not to judge you in any way. You can ask anything, and I mean anything, without me getting upset.”

“OK.”

“I’m not done. You can ask me to do anything. Anything at all. Again, since I don’t know what you will ask I can’t promise that I’ll do what you ask, only that I won’t judge you, I won’t get upset that you asked. For example, you could ask me to jump out of the moving car right now… and I wouldn’t do it. I’d just say ‘no,’ but I wouldn’t get all pissed about you asking me to kill myself. OK?”

“OK,” was all Craig could think to say.

“Now, here’s the hardest part. You’re afraid to tell me why you wanted the car. I give you permission to tell me, tell me, again, anything, and I won’t judge you. This is hard, because I don’t know what you are going to say, but I promise I won’t get mad or won’t judge you in any way.”

“Now that is impossible. I can say anything?”

“It’s not only possible, it’s not too hard. Notice, I’m not giving you any permission to do anything, that’s something that would be impossible. But permission to say anything? All that takes is a tough skin, and I have the toughest. After all, sticks and stones….”

“I’ve always thought that old saw to be a complete lie.”

Odette ignored him.

“This is a valuable gift. Think about it. There is a person in your life now that you can ask any question, ask any favor, or tell anything to without fear.”

“OK,” Craig said again, overwhelmed.

 

Nanowrimo Day Five

Ultimate goal – 50,000 words.
Daily goal – 1,667 words
Goal total so far – 8,335 words

Words written today – 1,880

Words written so far – 8,980 words
Words to goal – +645

 

“Horns sounded from the trapped vehicles on the motorway, a despairing chorus.”
― J.G. Ballard, Crash

1957 Thunderbird

As I committed the other day I am doing Nanowrimo – the National Novel Writing Month this November – writing a 50,000 word (small) novel in a month. Not necessary a good novel, or even a readable novel, but one of 50K words.

Another tough day – was at work for twelve hours and really too tired and shook up to do any writing.

I did it anyway.

Decided on a way to bring Craig, my anti-hero, and Odette, the girl, together.

Snippet of what I wrote:

He called Meridian’s car salesman and negotiated an offer. It was high, but Craig was able to get him down a bit, mostly in order not to raise suspicion. It never looked good to appear too eager.

“I told you that price would become an object.”

“Just want things to be fair, that price is still high enough. One more thing, I’m going to pay in cash.”

“Cash? That’s nuts. Nobody has that amount of cash hanging around.”

“My client does.”

“So does mine. Cash will be fine. What did you say your client did out in California?”

“I didn’t say.”

“Fair enough.”

And that was that. He put together the proper amount and drove it halfway, meeting the dealer at a designated crossroads in the middle of nowhere. The paperwork was signed on the hood of Craig’s rental.

“Well, that’s that,” said Meridian’s agent. “Are you sure you don’t want to put half down and the rest on delivery? That’s how we usually do it.”

“Nope, this is fine.”

“Guess you trust us.”

“Of course, I know where you work, I know where you live, I know where your wife works, I know where your kids go to school.”

A quick, strong shiver went up and down the agent. He had worked for Prime Meridian for a couple decades and knew the kind of man he was dealing with. He walked back to his SUV, opened the back, raised the floor, and put the case of cash in the back, carefully hiding in the space the spare tire used to be. He put everything back the way it was.

Nanowrimo Day Four

Ultimate goal – 50,000 words.
Daily goal – 1,667 words
Goal total so far – 6,667 words

Words written today – 1,722
Words written so far – 7,100 words
Words to goal – +433

Oak Point Nature Preserve

From this picture you would think I was out in the country somewhere, cruising the Great Plains, rather than in the heart of the urban, tony suburb of Plano, Texas.

 

“I ain’t a Communist necessarily, but I have been in the red all my life.”
― Woody Guthrie

As I committed the other day I am doing Nanowrimo – the National Novel Writing Month this November – writing a 50,000 word (small) novel in a month. Not necessary a good novel, or even a readable novel, but one of 50K words.

This was a tough writing day. Since I was off work, I wanted to really spend some time and maybe double my word count in case I needed a day off this week (which looks awfully busy). But shit happens and a good bit of it did. I managed to write a couple hundred words at lunch and didn’t think I’d be able to get a lot done at night, but I managed to sit down and hammer out my quota.

I’m not to happy with what I wrote, but it is what it is. I wrote the backstory of a new character – I originally intended him to be killed early, but now that I’ve spent so long on his backstory I might keep him around for a while – maybe make him an antagonist. He is a nasty piece of work with an odd name – Prime Meridian.

I started out with the story of how his grandfather, Isaac Meridian, established the start of the family fortune by foreclosing on the misery of the  people of the plains during the great depression and the dust bowl. Too much exposition – but this is Nanowrimo, so I keep typing.

Snippet of what I wrote:

Each little town had its own movie theater, city hall, and carefully tended town square. Every weekend there would be picture shows, dances, and even traveling entertainment – tiny circuses, barnstormers, or small concert orchestras – moving from town to town earning what they could – which was usually enough. People would travel from town to town enjoying the times, making friends.

Nobody ever thought the good times would end. Until they did.

It all happened with horrific speed. The rains stopped. Nobody had understood that the rainy time was the rare exception, not the rule. The land quickly reverted back to what it had always been – a wind-blasted near desert. The crops died and then the soil began to blow. Vast dust clouds began to form as millions of tons of topsoil were blown off barren fields and carried for hundreds of miles.

Walls of dust, moving mountains of dust, shot across the plains, devouring everything in sight. To be hit by this was like walking through a storm of razors. People caught in their own yards would be forced to grope for the doorstep. Cars were forced to a standstill, and no light in the world could penetrate that swirling murk. They lived with the dust, ate it, slept with it, and watched it strip everyone of possessions and the hope of possessions