Sunday Snippet – The Spirit Duplicator

There is no limit to the extension of the curious mind. It reaches to the end of the imagination, then beyond into the mysteries of dreams, hoping always to convert even the dreams into reality for the greater well-being of all mankind.
—-The Outer Limits, Control Voice, Keeper of the Purple Twilight [2.12]

Yell

Oblique Strategy: Only a part, not the whole

The Spirit Duplicator

Trout Slobber had many reasons for hating his parents. Somewhere in the middle of the pack was, of course, his name. It was an old family name, they explained. He thought it was a tradition that should have been abandoned long ago.

Trout’s favorite thing was to read in his bed at night, under the quilt. The thick, soft fabric tented up over his knees, squinting at the slowly fading yellow circle of a flashlight. His parents rationed his supply of batteries – the sort of thing he hated them for even more than his name. They always admonished him not to “waste things.” For a long time he would steal batteries from the foreign man that ran the gas station. Trout hated to steal, hated the idea that he was a thief, but until Aurora helped him out he felt he had no choice.

He was in love with Aurora Schoner, a tall, skinny girl that caught the school bus at his stop. She wore a silver headgear that looped out from her braces and bent around to hook into an elastic band on the back of her head. Trout knew she hated how the headgear made her look, but he thought it was charming. Aurora had been riding the bus for almost a year and the two of them slowly became friends, as close as awkward kids could be. Trout wondered if Aurora loved him as much as he loved her, but could never uncover the courage to ask.

Aurora gave him batteries. Her parents never seemed to ask questions.

If other kids were around Aurora always referred to Trout as “Master Slobber,” because she thought it was cute – but if the two of them were alone she called him Trout. Aurora was bookish, like Trout, though they never read the same books, other than their school assignments. She liked to read woman’s books full of romance and adverbs.

Their neighborhood was divided by a heavily wooded creek. Years before a road cut through the creek and connected the two halves but the bridge was decrepit and unsafe and nobody wanted to spend the money to rebuild it. The road petered out on each side of the creek with concrete barriers blocking traffic from the crumbling bridge.

The bridge, the creek, and the overgrown vacant floodplain lots behind the housing development were the playgrounds for all the kids in the neighborhood. There was the creek, brown and green with dirt and algae, trickling over rocks and hunks of old concrete. There was an old molding pile of hay up in the lot from when someone had tried to have a horse. There were the thick tangles of riparian trees and vines. This was the geography of the children’s world – inflated and colored by their imaginations into a mystical and mysterious land of canyons, jungles, and ancient ruins.

There was always an ebb and flow across this landscape, groups of boys throwing rocks from the creek, older kids poking their heads up from the piles of hay, shouts and insults, mean laughter and sniffles. Trout didn’t like this aggression and bragging (it always reminded him of his parents and their friends) so he imagined himself a scout, a spy, a lone agent, flitting unseen along the edges. He would slink through the tangled woods, following faint trails that he imagined only he could see, and hid behind bundles of vegetation to spy on the caterwauling clots of rowdy kids.

One day while exploring a wide loop of the creek he stumbled across a brown paper bag wedged down in a corner of abandoned concrete. The spot was bent far enough out to be within a few feet of a busy alley and Trout had found mysterious stuff thrown away into the brush there before.

Trout picked up the bag and realized it had something heavy and rectangular concealed within. He braced himself and slid a deep steel tray out onto his lap. It was a covered with white porcelain and filled with some amber material. He carefully reached out and touched the smooth surface and realized that it was some sort of firm jelly. It was stiff enough to stay steady in the tray, but still jiggled a bit when he tapped on it. He tipped the tray a bit to let a shaft of sunlight fall into the jelly, and he realized that there was some sort of ragged purple stuff running through the mass, an irregular pattern, lines, curves, bits here and there.

He shoved the thing back into the bag, and, heart pounding, headed for home. He had to snake around to avoid a group of kids that were chasing each other with dried shafts of weeds attached to round balls of dirt pulled from the ground. They would club each other or throw the things whistling through the air.

Trout was able to escape unseen and slid the bag under a thick bush on the side of his house. Later, after dark, at chore time, he trundled two bags of trash out to the cans in the alley. On his way back he retrieved the bag and hustled it up to his room hiding it under his bed.

That night he hid under his blanket and carefully examined his prize with his flashlight. He could not imagine what it was, the cool metal tray, the firm jelly and the purple squiggles. His mind filled with exotic possibilities, but nothing seemed to make sense. Trout would slip the tray back into its bag and hide it under his bed, but he would toss and turn and then fetch it out for another look. He barely slept.

The next morning, at the bus stop, he pulled Aurora aside and told her what he had found. She kept asking him for details.

“How big was it again?” she asked.

“I don’t know, maybe as big as my notebook.”

“It was full of jelly? Up to the top.”

“Almost, not quite to the top.”

“What did the jelly taste like?”

“God! I didn’t eat any of it! Do you think I’m crazy?”

“Okay. Now. Tell me again about the purple stuff.”

“It was like marks, all over the jelly.”

The bus pulled up and they piled on. They didn’t want to talk about the tray on the bus, afraid someone would overhear them. Trout kept glancing sideways at Aurora, who was silent and looking down the entire bus ride, serious, like she was thinking hard about something.

Finally, as they were walking up to the big double doors of the school building, Aurora said, “I want to see this thing. Don’t tell anybody else about it. Meet me an hour after school down at the playground. Bring the bag.”

Trout nodded and slipped into class. All day he struggled to pay attention to his teachers and his work. He was too excited. He would stare at the big clocks at the front of the rooms. The red second hand seemed to creep around the dial and the tiny jumps the minute hand would make seemed miniscule and rare.

On the way home, Aurora and Trout didn’t sit together on the bus. They didn’t want to raise any suspicion. Trout’s parents were watching television and they only nodded when he said he was going down to the playground. He quickly sneaked the bag out from under his bed, piled his leather glove and a baseball on top, and flew down the stairs and out of the door.

Aurora was late. Trout hid the bag in the gravel under the slide and tried to look relaxed as he threw the baseball in the air and tried to catch it coming down. He felt his stomach would bust until he finally saw Aurora walking up the sidewalk. She was carrying some loose blank sheets of typewriter paper and a little bottle. It had a rubber bulb on it and a nozzle – Trout thought it was what girls sometimes kept perfume in.

“What’s that?” he asked, gesturing.

“Oh, it’s only water,” Aurora said. She paused for a moment and said, “I know what the thing is.”

“How…”

“My parents knew.”

“You told your parents?”

“Of course, dummy. They don’t care. My dad knew exactly what it was and told me what to do.”

Trout couldn’t speak. He was torn between the horror of knowing his mystery had been revealed to Aurora’s mom and dad and the excitement of finding out what it was. Aurora whistled for a minute and he realized she was enjoying his consternation and impatience.

“Well, what is it?” he finally said.

“My dad says it’s called a hectograph. He says they also call it a jellygraph. It’s used to copy stuff.”

“Copy?”

“Yeah. Those purple markings? That’s a special ink. It goes into the jelly and then you put a piece of paper over it. The ink comes out. You can make a bunch of copies that way.”

“But I looked at the purple things. They didn’t make any sense.”

“That’s ‘cause it’s backward. It’s like a mirror. You can’t read it like that. That’s why I brought the paper.”

She wriggled the sheets in her hand.

“What about the water?”

“Dad says that it might dry out, the water will help pull the ink out. Well, what are you waiting for? You brought it didn’t you?Let’s get the thing.”

Trout fished the tray out from under the slide. They crouched over the jelly surface and Aurora gave it a few spritzes of water from the bottle. Once the surface was glistening, he carefully slid a page of paper on top of the jelly and gently smoothed it over the surface.

“How long do we have to wait?”

“Don’t know,” said Aurora, “My dad didn’t say.”

Trout picked at a corner of the paper.

“Let’s see,” he said and raised it up. They turned it over and spread it out on the grass. Clear, bright purple letters covered the sheet.

“Yeah, I can read it,” said Aurora, and the two of them started in.

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A Month of Short Stories 2017, Day 30 – SCHOOL by Melissa Goodrich

Sundance Square, Fort Worth, 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 30 – SCHOOL by Melissa Goodrich
Read it online here:
SCHOOL by Melissa Goodrich

They eat spicy Cheetos and Ramen noodles, have the kind of beautiful faces that crack rearview mirrors.
—-Melissa Goodrich, SCHOOL

We were talking today, like we often do, about Game of Thrones, gratuitous nudity, and little person sex. I said, as I often do, “The problem with the world that Game of Thrones is set in, is that everybody’s life is miserable. From the most destitue peasant to the kings of the world, nobody is happy and life is so difficult and, despite the gratuitous nudity and little person sex, so joyless… If I lived there, I’d just kill myself, and anyone else would too.”

Someone else said, as they often do, “It’s like the life we live today.”

I replied, “No, we don’t live in miserable times… we live in the crazy times.”

Interview with Melissa Goodrich:

Is writing more of a blessing or a curse?
God. Both. I usually think I’m not writing enough. I’m haunted by those people who write every day, and run ten miles, and read new books and journals, and eat organically nurtured produce…I’m still a cereal-eater, a sleeper-inner, a person who writes slowly and then binge-watches TV.

But the blessing is I trust my voice now. And I trust that writing should be joyous and surprising, and that none of it is wasteful.
—-from Cultured Vultures

Kyde Warren Park, Dallas, Texas

A Month of Short Stories 2017, Day 29 – Counterfeit Money by Charles Baudelaire

Sunflower

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 29 – Counterfeit Money by Charles Baudelaire
Read it online here:
Counterfeit Money by Charles Baudelaire

We encountered a poor man who held out his cap with a trembling hand‹I know nothing more disquieting than the mute eloquence of those supplicating eyes that contain at once, for the sensitive man who knows how to read them, so much humility and so much reproach. He finds there something close to the depth of complicated feeling one sees in the tear-filled eyes of a dog being beaten.
—-Charles Baudelaire, Counterfeit Money

It’s later than I thought and I’m more tired that I like, so it will be a piece of flash fiction tonight.

Again, like yesterday, we have a short story based around giving alms to a beggar.

In today’s world, giving money to homeless panhandlers is problematic. I, myself, subscribe to the idea of not contributing – in a modern urban setting you will inexorably meet “professional” beggars and money given to them is undoubtedly enabling and will go for drugs, alcohol, or waste, making their plight even more miserable. I do feel pangs of guilt and the suspicion that my carefully-reasoned excuse may be more about selfishness than I can admit to myself.

I would not stoop to the level of the devil in today’s short piece, however.

Baudelaire is best known for his poetry – I keep a translation of Les Fleurs du mal around to read whenever life is too pedestrian to stand. However, he was a pioneer in what has now come to be called “Flash Fiction” – which he referred to as “Poems in Prose.” And what a cool idea – short little snippets that are actually poems without rhyme or rhythm – simply carefully selected words.

Charles Baudelaire:

Be always drunken. Nothing else matters: that is the only question. If you would not feel the horrible burden of Time weighing on your shoulders and crushing you to the earth, be drunken continually.

Drunken with what? With wine, with poetry, or with virtue, as you will. But be drunken.

And it sometimes, on the stairs of a palace, or on the green side of a ditch, or in the dreary solitude of your own room, you should awaken and the drunkenness be half or wholly slipped away from you, ask of the wind, or of the wave, or of the star, or of the bird, or of the clock, of whatever flies, or sighs, or rocks, or sings, or speaks, ask what hour it is; and the wind, wave, star, bird, clock, will answer you: “It is the hour to be drunken! Be drunken, if you would not be martyred slaves of Time; be drunken continually! With wine, with poetry, or with virtue, as you will.
—-Be Drunken

A Month of Short Stories 2017, Day 19 – The Pomegranate by Kawabata Yasunari

The Sweepers
Wang Shugang
Cast Iron (2012)
Crow Collection of Asian Art

The Sweepers
Wang Shugang
Cast Iron (2012)
Crow Collection of Asian Art

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 19 – The Pomegranate by Kawabata Yasunari

Read it online here:
The Pomegranate by Kawabata Yasunari

Two weeks or so before, her seven-year-old nephew had come visiting, and had noticed the pomegranates immediately. He had scrambled up into the tree. Kimiko had felt that she was in the presence of life.

“There is a big one up above,” she called from the veranda.

“But if I pick it I can’t get back down.”

It was true. To climb down with pomegranates in both hands would not be easy. Kimiko smiled. He was a dear.

—-Kawabata Yasunari, The Pomegranate

Today’s delicate short story is by Kawabata Yasunari, the first Japanese winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1968. He wrote several acclaimed novels, including Snow Country and the semi-fictional The Master of Go. But he was also known for his very short works, which he called “palm-of-the-hand” stories.

Kawabata Yasunari:

In Zen there is no worship of images. Zen does have images, but in the hall where the regimen of meditation is pursued, there are neither images nor pictures of Buddhas, nor are there scriptures. The Zen disciple sits for long hours silent and motionless, with his eyes closed. Presently he enters a state of impassivity, free from all ideas and all thoughts. He departs from the self and enters the realm of nothingness. This is not the nothingness or the emptiness of the West. It is rather the reverse, a universe of the spirit in which everything communicates freely with everything, transcending bounds, limitless. There are of course masters of Zen, and the disciple is brought toward enlightenment by exchanging questions and answers with his master, and he studies the scriptures. The disciple must, however, always be lord of his own thoughts, and must attain enlightenment through his own efforts. And the emphasis is less upon reason and argument than upon intuition, immediate feeling. Enlightenment comes not from teaching but through the eye awakened inwardly. Truth is in “the discarding of words”, it lies “outside words”. And so we have the extreme of “silence like thunder”, in the Vimalakirti Nirdesa Sutra. Tradition has it that Bodhidharma, a southern Indian prince who lived in about the sixth century and was the founder of Zen in China, sat for nine years in silence facing the wall of a cave, and finally attained enlightenment. The Zen practice of silent meditation in a seated posture derives from Bodhidharma.

—From his Nobel Prize Lecture

Buddah
Liu Yonggang, Chinese, b. 1964
China, 2013
Painted Steel
Crow Collection of Asian Art
Dallas, Texas

A Month of Short Stories 2017, Day 18 – Feral by Christopher Moyer

Patricia Johanson, Sagitaria Platyphylla (Delta Duckpotato), Fair 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 18 – Feral by Christopher Moyer

Read it online here:
Feral by Christopher Moyer

Our grandmother watches us some of the time. The rest of the time, we do what we want. At school, the adults asked a lot of questions about that, so we stopped going. We haven’t gone down to the school in weeks or maybe months, I don’t know—our watches stopped a long time ago, too, and after that we threw them in the creek down by the park just to watch them splash.

—-Christopher Moyer, Feral

I had always wanted to own a home on a creek lot. Our house technically is, though it is more of a ditch than a creek. At any rate, there is quite a cavalcade of critters parading by, other than the joggers and dog-walkers. If you sit in my back yard at dawn and sip a cup of coffee you will see the coyotes trotting back to their dens – I assume hidden in the clumps of trees along the fairways of the golf course. A family of beavers live under the road and sometimes can be seen on the jogging trail bridges at night. Rabbits, ducks, and possums are common, sometimes a fox will show up. There is a bobcat terrorizing the neighborhood – not much can be done.

Nature is never as far away as we think it is.

Today’s bit of flash fiction by Christopher Moyer reminds us, not only of the wild presence, but how easy it is to slip back… to lose our humanity… to become feral. Easy, and maybe not so bad.

Christopher Moyer:

The first time I bid on a freelance job to ghostwrite a doomsday survival guide, I was only asked one question: Did I have experience writing for middle-aged Republican men? I told the client that I had experience writing for a wide variety of ages and political affiliations, which was noncommittal enough to be true.

The client said, “Sounds good, bro.”

We were off to the races.
—From Confessions of a Former Apocalypse Survival Guide Writer, at Vice Motherboard

They don’t call it Duck Creek for nothing.

A Month of Short Stories 2017, Day 17 – The Mice by Lydia Davis


 

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 17 – The Mice by Lydia Davis

Read it online here:

The Mice by Lydia Davis

Although we are pleased, we are also upset, because the mice behave as though there were something wrong with our kitchen. What makes this even more puzzling is that our house is much less tidy than the houses of our neighbors. There is more food lying about in our kitchen, more crumbs on the counters and filthy scraps of onion kicked against the base of the cabinets. In fact, there is so much loose food in the kitchen I can only think the mice themselves are defeated by it.

—-Lydia Davis, The Mice

Lydia Davis is a writer known for ultra-short works of flash fiction. I haven’t read very much of what she has written – though I think I’ll pick up a book of her stories now.

There is something about flash fiction that is appropriate for the way we live our lives today. Who has time for a giant novel anyway? Bits and little tales you can fit in before meetings, while waiting for something, or riding the train. That is all the freedom we have anymore – those tiny slivers of time when the world forgets about you for a moment.

Sure, it’s tough for a deep connection or for strong emotion to take hold in such little slivers of seconds. But that is what we are left with.

Interview with Lydia Davis:

in those days (fall of 1973, age 26, living in the country in France), I would force myself to stay at the desk for a certain number of hours, giving myself admonitions (written in my notebook) like “Alright, let’s establish one firm rule: from when I get up—at 7 or 7:30—until, say, 12:30 … allowing one break for a modest, circumscribed, abrupt meal of porridge or eggs at about 10:30, nothing else will be allowable—no cooking, no cleaning, no walking, no talking or playing, etc.”

At the desk, I would write and write, in my notebook, whatever came to mind, as a way of working up to the point of writing something like a story. This would not be free-association writing—I never did that—but thoughts, descriptions of what was around me, always written carefully, revised. I might write something incomplete, possibly the beginning of a story, but possibly just a fragment:

Although the house seemed very bright, clean, and elegant, one could tell by the number of flies that swarmed in it, landed on the furniture, and crept up and down the windowpanes, that something about the house was rotten.

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