Short Story Of the Day, Weeds by Bill Chance

“The new owners kept the lawn up all right, they hired a crew to come in once a week, Mexicans in a pickup, trailer in back, mowers and edgers and in an hour it was done. Other than that, though, things were worse. Way worse.”

—-Bill Chance, Weeds

Wildflowers, Huffhines Park, Richardson, Texas

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 (#11). What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.

 


 

Weeds

Weeds! Weeds!

Jonny pulled and moved forward. Working carefully on his hands and knees he inched along his side yard. This was Tuesday and Thursday work, pulling weeds. He was retired and had the time to do this by hand, to do it the right way. Monday was mowing and edging. Wednesday was for the flowerbeds, Friday the vegetables. The weekend was for fixing and painting.

He glanced up for a minute from the lush green growth to look across the street at the house there. It had been purchased six months earlier by some young man, named Douglas. At first Jonny and the other neighbors were happy, anyone would be better than the crazy slob that lived there before. That nut never kept the place up at all. When his nephews came to visit Jonny had been so embarrassed at the tall grass across the street he sneaked over one day when the nut was gone and mowed it. The nut called the police when he came home but they wouldn’t do an investigation, mowing someone’s lawn might be trespassing, but it wasn’t a thing they had time to pursue.

The new owners kept the lawn up all right, they hired a crew to come in once a week, Mexicans in a pickup, trailer in back, mowers and edgers and in an hour it was done. Other than that, though, things were worse. Way worse.

First were the bars on the windows. Then the big siren up on the roof, hooked up to a burglar alarm. That damn thing went off one night, woke up half the neighborhood. Cars coming and going, all night. Dark cars, tinted windows. Quick, hairy, odd folks. Darting in and out.

Jonny didn’t like it. Not at all. Right across the street.

Not much he could do about it. He cursed a little under his breath, turned his head back to the lawn and started to inch forward again. This time of spring the spurge was bad, round bright green leaves mixed in with the darker St. Augustine blades. It didn’t look right, so Jonny would pull them by hand, before they could get a stranglehold on his lawn. Had to nip these things in the bud, Jonny always said.

He was so intent on his weed pulling he didn’t see the first police van pull up. It was silent, no siren. The second one came faster and squealed its brakes. Jonny snapped his head up in time to see the third, fourth, and fifth speed in from different directions, all slamming up to the curb along the neighbors house. A few police cars came screaming in too, filling the street.

The black-clad helmeted police poured out of the trucks and ran up to the house, one at each window, the rest in groups at the front and back doors. Then the shouting started, and a loud banging, and the sound of wood being torn apart. The two groups of police disappeared into the house and, on cue, a big dark green truck pulled up, one with big back double doors that opened wide.

More shouting. The police came out with a black man wearing only bright red underwear, his hands cuffed behind his back. They threw him roughly into the back of the truck. Then they led out a skinny blond woman, wrapped in a blanket, smoking a cigarette, she went into one of the cars.

A group of police came out the back door, shouting louder than ever. Jonny could hear grunting and cussing, the police were red-faced and heaving at something. Then Jonny recognized Douglas, the young fellow that bought the house, he was wearing a black leather jacket like the police, it was hard to tell who was who.

Suddenly Douglas let out a scream and heaved forward and somehow broke loose. His hands were cuffed behind but he took off running across the street, straight for Jonny’s house. The police pulled guns, but didn’t fire. Two of them, maybe the biggest men Jonny had ever seen caught up with Douglas and knocked him down like he was made of straw. He bounced into the grass not ten feet from Jonny. The police gathered him up, quiet now, and hauled him quickly over to the truck. Even though he was right there – nobody said a word to him. They ignored Jonny completely, like he was invisible.

The trucks all left along with most of the cars. Only one marked car was left behind. One man took photos while another stretched yellow tape across the doors of the house. Soon then they left too. Suddenly quiet. Jonny hadn’t moved an inch. He still was on his knees, a freshly pulled weed between his fingertips. Nobody had said a word to him.

Jonny knelt for a minute, trying to decide what to do. Should he go in the house? His wife wasn’t home; on Tuesdays she spent the day at the Center… was it ceramics day? He thought for awhile but couldn’t come up with any reason not to keep weeding. Jonny looked up and saw something white on the grass, right where the police had thrown Douglas down. A fleck of what looked like a scrap of paper. He started to get up to walk over, see what it was.

“Jeez! That shore was sumpthin’!” a voice startled Jonny. He stood up quickly and looked into the face of Fred, a neighbor from down the block. Fred smelled of fresh clippings, he must have been mowing.

“Uh, yeah,” was the only comment Jonny could come up with.

“I always knew somthin’ fishy was goin’ on over there… but Jeez!” continued Fred. “Come back from Vegas yesterday, lawn growed up somethin’ awful. I’s out mowin’, then this. Jeez!”

“How was Vegas?” Jonny asked, eager to change the subject.

Fred was happy to oblige, “OK, I suppose.” “Wife and I ate at the buffet, at the Brass Nugget, same as always. ‘Cept this time we went to pay and the girl said ‘Thirty-Two dollars.’ ‘Thirty-Two Dollars!’ I says back at her. I couldn’t believe it had gone up that much. ‘It’s whole lobster night,’ she says. That explained it, it was whole lobster night.”

“Did you eat a lobster?”

“Yeah, you had to use a coupon so it wasn’t really all you could eat, you only had one. You picked out your lobster, only they weren’t very good. Too big ‘n tough. I’d never had a whole lobster before, only tails ‘n claws. This one was too tough.”

“Oh, sorry.”

“Well then,” Fred went on, “I went back, to the regular part of the buffet, and got some of the meat. Some beef. And, you know, it was so tough I could barely chew it. Like horsemeat.”

“Oh, the buffet wasn’t so good?”

“It’s OK. Same as always, really. All you can eat. Can’t beat that.” “Well, Jonny, I’d better get back to that mower. Lawn’s all grown up ‘n all.”

“Oh, talk to ya later, then.”

“Talk to ya later.”

And Fred strolled off. Jonny watched him for a minute, thinking about Fred flying all the way out to Las Vegas for a vacation. Thinking about going all that way to wait in line in an all-you-can-eat buffet. Piling up tough meat on a plate.

Jonny turned and looked at the fleck of white. It looked even worse than a weed, so he walked quickly over to get it off his lawn. In a few steps he was on it and could get a good look down into the turf.

He wasn’t so young anymore, he wasn’t up on all the new stuff, but he wasn’t an idiot either. He knew what that was down there. It must have fallen out of Douglas’ pocket when he went down. In all the hubub nobody noticed such a small thing stuck there in the blades of grass.

It was a marijuana cigarette, a joint. Handrolled, ends twisted, a little bent, Douglas must have rolled onto it as he fell. Jonny had never seen one of these before. It looked familiar, though. In the army, he and the other men would buy tins of tobacco, packs of thin, gummed papers, roll their own cigarettes out on maneuvers. He knew this wasn’t tobacco, though.

Jonny didn’t know what to do. The police were all gone. The few neighbors that had come out onto their porches right after it happened had all retreated back inside. He looked down the block and saw Fred pushing his mower around the corner into his side yard.

Jonny bent over, picked it up quickly and walked fast into the door of his workshop.

It used to be a detached garage, but Jonny added space on to the front that would hold their car and converted the rest into storage for his tools and a bench. It was dark and quiet, the one place where Jonny felt always at home. It had been more than five years since another human being had been in this room. He pulled the hand-rolled cigarette out of his pocket and put it down on the bench between his soldering iron and the case of his socket set.

Jonny stood there motionless. He kept thinking of Fred and the buffet. He could see the trays, almost taste the tough meat. He thought of all those retired people on vacation, trading in their little coupons for tasteless old lobsters, picked from a tank and boiled alive. He could hear the sound of mowers through the wall of his shop, not only Fred, but others out pushing the machines. It sounded like bees buzzing through the walls. Jonny thought of the third of his yard he had left unweeded, of the brighter green leaves of the spurge mixed in with his carefully tended turf.

Without even knowing why, Jonny reached out to his pegboard and pulled the long propane lighter he used on his bar-b-que grill.

He sat down on a stool. “I think I’ll let the rest go today,” he said out loud to himself and picked up the marijuana, stuck it in his mouth.

Can Never Be Undreamed

“That which is dreamed can never be lost, can never be undreamed.”
― Neil Gaiman, The Wake

Buddhist Center of Dallas

Today, after a lot of hard work doing nothing at all useful, I felt the need for a nap.

I dreamed of a house, one that is very familiar to me. It is a classic old wooden Victorian – getting long in the tooth. Like thousands and thousands throughout the center of the continent, the place I am so familiar.

It is larger than most, four stories including a dormered top floor with ceiling slanted to match the steep snow-shedding roof. There is an apartment addition over the double garage, reachable from the second floor. The main floor is completely encircled by a porch, with an old metal glider facing the road. There is an old-fashioned sleeping porch extending off the back portion of the second floor – a refuge from the hot summers, a peaceful relic from before air conditioning.

Walking the halls, I realized that I knew every square inch of this large-rambling house and remember all the repairs and improvements done over the decades. I even remembered how it used to be – I remember standing over an opening that led down to the floor furnace, the crisp white winter smell, the warm air convectioning up, the blue gas flame hissing away far below, how my feet felt on the hot metal grating.

Of course, once I ended my nap, stood up and entered the wasted day fully I realized that the house that I knew in such detail and remembered for so long does not exist. Has never existed. Could not even possibly exist.

Yet it feels more real than my actual home – or any dwelling I have lived in before.

The Ornament of a House

“The ornament of a house is the friends who frequent it.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson

Oblique Strategy: Listen to the quiet voice

For over a decade we did nothing to our house – no improvements, no work. With two boys and their friends at home or at school and spending summers at home – there was no use. Everything was going to be destroyed, no matter how hard we tried. Our house became frighteningly outdated and worn out.

Now that both sons are more-or-less gone, we have slowly tried to fix, repair, and update our house. We have no excess money, little time, and less energy, but we do what we can.

Our master bath was outmoded, dysfunctional, and bilious. I decided that was one room that I could update on my own (more or less). I started over the last holiday break, thinking I had time off work. But I caught a nasty flu that took a long time to get over, and that set me behind. It took a terrible amount of time to finish – an embarrassing amount of time.

The counter with two embedded (seashell shaped) sinks was especially awful. It was a huge hunk of some sort of cultured stone – yellow with dark streaks and bits of shiny gold flakes embedded in it. I suppose this was in style at one time, but I am not aware of any time that it could have been. It was incredibly heavy – it took four of my son’s largest friends to haul it out.

Everyone says that the only thing to use is marble, but the counter was ninety inches long – a hunk of marble that size would cost six thousand dollars. So I decided to go with tile, always an economical choice, and with a pair of vessel sinks. We were happy with how all that turned out. We struggled with colors, trying some various schemes out and painting over them. We ended up with grays and whites – not a lot of interest. We thought we could add color with accessories.

I had the idea of printing out some of the photographs I have taken and hanging them on the walls. So I started looking through my catalog. Even though I am trying to put more live subjects into my shots, I didn’t want any people in the photos. Nobody wants anybody watching them from the walls of their bathroom.

After some thought, I remembered a series of photographs I took at sunset at the Galatyn Park Fountain here in Richardson. They were abstract and somewhat colorful and the water theme seemed to fit with a bathroom. I decided on two larger photos, 16 x 20 and one smaller one, 8 x 10.

The two larger:

Galatyn Park Fountain, Richardson, Texas


From Walking on Water

Fountain at Galatyn Park, Richardson, Texas


From A Drop

And the smaller:

Galatyn Park Fountain, Richardson, Texas


From Something I’d Never Tasted Before

I sent the files off to Posterjack for the printing, and was very happy with their work. Then I bought poster clip glass from Michaels – a lot cheaper than matting and framing, and fine for the bathroom.

While I was waiting in line at the checkout at Michaels I noticed along with some folks behind me that they had a book on display – on that rack full of impulse purchases for the people in line. It was “Fun With Fidget Spinners: 50 Super Cool Tricks & Activities .” That is an actual book. A book of things that you could do with a fidget spinner…. other than spin it. We couldn’t imagine what could be in the book. Maybe I should have bought it.

I have to do a little more work trimming and fitting the posters (they are not exactly 16 x 20), but overall, I’m happy on how it all came out.

It’s only a bathroom, and it’s our bathroom, but there is a bit of a tiny thrill to see my photographs printed out large and mounted on the wall.

The smaller photo on the wall at the end of the sinks.

The two larger posters on the large blank wall facing the sinks.

Fear the Futuro

“When did the future switch from being a promise to being a threat?”
― Chuck Palahniuk, Invisible Monsters

Oblique Strategy: What are the sections sections of? Imagine a caterpillar moving

The Futuro House

Futuro House, Royse City, Texas

How the Futuro House came to Royse City

Futuro House, Royse City, Texas

There is so much out there, great and small – along the highways or off small country roads, or along rugged trails. What must be in the unreachable, unvisited, unexplored tracts?

It really doesn’t matter because so few people stop, anyway.

A Month of Short Stories 2017, Day 26 – At Lorn Hall by Ramsey Campbell

Here’s a closeup of the sculpture on the clock on the carriage house.

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 26 – At Lorn Hall by Ramsey Campbell
Read it online here:

At Lorn Hall by Ramsey Campbell

To its left, where he might have looked for a doorbell, a tarnished blotchy plaque said LORN HALL. The door displayed no bell or knocker, just a greenish plaque that bore the legend RESIDENCE OF CROWCROSS. “Lord Crowcross,” Randolph murmured as though it might gain some significance for him if not summon its owner to the door. As he tried to recall ever having previously heard the name he felt a chill touch as thin as a fingernail on the back of his neck. It was a raindrop, which sent him to push the heavy door wide.

—-Ramsey Campbell, At Lorn Hall

Ramsey Campbell is considered one of the masters of modern horror – and from what I’ve read, I’d have to agree. I particularly impressed by the evolution and breadth of his talent… from Lovecraftian tales, to jewels of erotic horror, to his increasingly complex novels.

Today’s story is a straightforward gothic frightfest… a haunted house full of ancient furniture, barely functioning lighting, and foreboding paintings of the master, Lord Crowcross looking down on every scene. There are these odd headphones that narrate the tours… and maybe more. There are even spiders that add their webbing to the lace patterns of doilies on the furniture.

Scary stuff. Game over.

Interview with Ramsey Campbell:

Starburst: What are your thoughts on horror fiction? Do you think one must experience horror in order to write it?

Ramsey Campbell: I think you have to experience horror in the imagination. That’s what you dream up onto the page. On a personal level, my childhood is a case of nightmares. Someone once said I was born to write horror; I’m not too sure about that. A fair number of horror writers have a strange background. It’s not specific to the field, and I’m not certain if it’s even special to it. That said, I grew up reading adult horror. It was a very small step from reading George MacDonald to fairy tales. Victorian fairy tales were a complete nightmare that have been cut out of the later versions. They use the same kind of suggestions. What is left out is then up to my imagination, for me, that’s how much of the best horror fiction works, even today.

Thoughts on your childhood?

I had a very strange childhood. I lived in a small house with my parents. They became estranged very shortly after I was born, and I didn’t know my father at all for about twenty years, even though he was in the same house. I never saw him, and he became this kind of monstrous figure. My mother suffered from schizophrenia, and at a very early age I had to figure out the difference between what she saw and reality. I had to work that out when I was three years old, you know. A useful perception, obviously. That’s defined a lot of what I write, this difference between what is perceived and what is real. That was a long answer. (laughs)

What type of influence did H.P. Lovecraft have on you, in particular your early work?

Oh huge. Huge! I read a number of anthologies from the library when I was young and teenage. You couldn’t get a book on Lovecraft, and it wasn’t until 1960, I believe, that the first ever paperback collection of Lovecraft stories came out called, Cry Horror. They contained Call of Cthulhu and Rats in the Wall. Some of his masterpieces. Also some of his lesser stuff like Moon Bog. But I read that through in a single day, and I was completely steeped in it. I knew that was what I wanted to write, basically. But I didn’t write short stories or a novel for at least three years. At eleven I completed a terrible work called, Ghostly Terrors, which was everything I read just stuffed together, but it gave me focus. I knew this was the kind of thing I wanted to do, and I wanted to imitate. But I hadn’t travelled, never gone further than Southport, and Lovecraft’s work was set in Massachusetts. I wrote five stories very much imitating Lovecraft. Lovecraft didn’t use dialogue, so nor did I. I unlearned a lot of stuff. I sent the works originally to Arkham House to see if they were any good. They wrote back two pages describing what was wrong with the pieces. Not the least of which, of course, was the lack of dialogue. It’s interesting how many writers start off imitating other writers.

—-From Starburst Magazine

(click to enlarge)
Magnolia Building
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.

My Favorite Bit of Street

And you may find yourself living in a shotgun shack
And you may find yourself in another part of the world
And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile
And you may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful
wife
And you may ask yourself-Well…How did I get here?
—-David Byrne

It’s not a street, just a strip of a few houses. They aren’t even big houses, they are classic New Orleans Shotgun Houses – these have a second floor in the back, called Camelback Houses. It’s at Sixth and Camp in the Garden District.

(click to enlarge) Sixth and Camp in New Orleans - a beautiful row of Camelback Shotgun Houses

I love the colors. I love the front porches, so close to the street. I love the floorplan. I really love the brackets supporting the roof apron over the front porch.

I first saw this street at night when Candy and I walked through the area from the Saint Charles Streetcar on the way to eat on Magazine Street. Under the streetlights the houses looked like they were made of icing – so bright and delicate. I came back during the day to see if they looked as nice under the sunlight.

They did.