“ARMOR, n. The kind of clothing worn by a man whose tailor is a blacksmith.”
― Ambrose Bierce, The Unabridged Devil’s Dictionary
“Your red dress,’ she said, and laughed.
But I looked at the dress on the floor and it was as if the fire had spread across the room. It was beautiful and it reminded me of something I must do. I will remember I thought. I will remember quite soon now.”
― Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea
I remember growing up on the farm (I didn’t live there all the time,of course, but I did do some growing up there) we would haul trash out to the slough, in the cow pasture (a mess of land that wasn’t good enough for wheat) and burn it. There were decades of fire rusted tin cans there, slowly being swallowed up by the prairie. It seemed like some sort of sacred ground to me, although it had a funny smell.
from Cheap Pop
“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.”
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.
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.
The old man felt at home in the gloaming. He leaned close to the window, the fresh air teasing his nose and the whiskers of his long, white beard. All day he felt the oppression of his old body, a weathered hull tired of the ocean’s endless lapping.
—-Jared Graham, The City of Things Finished
Read it here:
from The Citron Review
Overhead, Danny heard a sound like a hundred horses galloping in unison. The craft had looked like a stray gout of orange flame rising into the sky. The white blades of its propeller carved a halo over its head. The ice cream slipped, forgotten, from Danny’s hand. The cone crunched beneath his sneaker.
—-Nicholas L. Sweeney, Helicopter
I shot the helicopter reflected in a building in downtown after riding my bike to visit a new park, Pacific Plaza, in downtown. It was lifting what looked like roofing materials to the top of another skyscraper.
I looked around for a flash fiction about a helicopter, and found this one… it’s pretty good.
Read it here:
And she really began to wither away because her heart was dried up with fear, and those who believe in curses die from curses.
—- Rudyard Kipling, Through the Fire
We all remember Rudyard Kipling’s children’s stories when we were children, Just So. I wanted to read something that wasn’t intended for children, though, and today’s tale of doomed love fits the bill.
One nice thing about reading online – especially reading something set somewhere so foreign and exotic as Kipling’s Himalayan village – are the Wikipedia hyperlinks. With one click you can have the little mysteries resolved in the next tab over. This is truly the best of all possible worlds.
Read it here:
I’m on a mexican radio
I wish I was in Tiajuana
Eating barbequed iguana
I’d take requests on the telephone
I’m on a wavelength far from home
I feel a hot wind on my shoulder
I dial it in from south of the border
I hear the talking of the dj
Can’t understand just what does he say?
—- Wall of Voodoo, Mexican Radio
I wrote about this on my Facebook page back in February – but I don’t think a lot of people followed the link.
At any rate, this story started back in 2012, on a trip to New Orleans. I ran into a group at the St. Vincent’s Guest House and soon was involved in a one-day writing marathon – walking around with a handful of folks, scribbling away.
I was inspired by the experience to the point I organized a Writing Marathon or two of my own, here in Dallas.
One day, the group I had gone with that day stopped for the fixed-price lunch at Antoine’s (highly recommended if you are in New Orleans in the summer). I remembered an incident that had happened in that very restaurant thirty five years earlier. I pulled out my pen and notebook wrote up my memories in the bar.
At the end of each day, there was the option for a few folks to stand up and read from what they had written earlier. I put my name on the list and read the story from Antoine’s. The readings were recorded.
Then, in February, a selection of the recordings were played on KSLU radio.
You can listen to the 2017 readings AT THIS LINK – If you want to skip ahead, my reading is at about the 14:10 point.
If that link doesn’t work – go here – http://www.kslu.org/awards_recognition/index.html and click on “2017 Writing Marathon.”
People have asked me about the siren at the end of my reading. That isn’t a sound effect – the fire engine actually went by on the street outside, siren blaring, as I finished.
Now I need to get going and register for the 2018 Retreat. So much fun.
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 13 – Hop-Frog by Edgar Allan Poe
Read it online here:
The eight ourang-outangs, taking Hop-Frog’s advice, waited patiently until midnight (when the room was thoroughly filled with masqueraders) before making their appearance. No sooner had the clock ceased striking, however, than they rushed, or rather rolled in, all together–for the impediments of their chains caused most of the party to fall, and all to stumble as they entered.
—-Edgar Allan Poe, Hop-Frog
Everyone has read Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart in school. Everyone is familiar with The Raven, The Pit and the Pendulum, or A Cask of Amontillado. But I bet you haven’t read Hop-Frog.
It is a brutally simple tale of revenge and horror. Never one for subtlety, Poe goes for the jugular here, and delivers. I’m surprised this tale hasn’t been used more often (as has Poe’s other tropes) in modern horror films. It’s a yarn that holds up well, almost two centuries after it was written.
An interesting fact about the story is that, apparently, Poe wrote it as a literary “revenge” against a woman, Elizabeth F. Ellet, and her circle of friends. They had been trafficking in gossip about Poe and alleged improprieties to the extent that Poe’s wife felt they had driven her to her deathbed.
Don’t mess with a short story writer, or you will be immortalized in horror.
Poe on Writing:
I prefer commencing with the consideration of an effect. Keeping originality always in view — for he is false to himself who ventures to dispense with so obvious and so easily attainable a source of interest — I say to myself, in the first place, “Of the innumerable effects, or impressions, of which the heart, the intellect, or (more generally) the soul is susceptible, what one shall I, on the present occasion, select?” Having chosen a novel, first, and secondly a vivid effect, I consider whether it can best be wrought by incident or tone — whether by ordinary incidents and peculiar tone, or the converse, or by peculiarity both of incident and tone — afterward looking about me (or rather within) for such combinations of event, or tone, as shall best aid me in the construction of the effect.
—-from THE PHILOSOPHY OF COMPOSITION
“The immappable world of our journey. A pass in the mountains. A bloodstained stone. The marks of steel upon it. Names carved in the corrosible lime among stone fishes and ancient shells. Things dimmed and dimming. The dry sea floor. The tools of migrant hunters. The dreams encased upon the blades of them. The peregrine bones of a prophet. The silence. The gradual extinction of rain. The coming of night.”
― Cormac McCarthy, Cities of the Plain
“Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark in the hopeless swamps of the not-quite, the not-yet, and the not-at-all. Do not let the hero in your soul perish in lonely frustration for the life you deserved and have never been able to reach. The world you desire can be won. It exists.. it is real.. it is possible.. it’s yours.”
― Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged