Short Story Of the Day (flash fiction) – Shopping Carts by Bill Chance

“Vandals listen only when others are stronger.
If vandals are equal or stronger
Their word is the last word.”
― Dejan Stojanovic, Circling: 1978-1987

The ponds at the end of my block, 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 (#84) Getting closer! What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.


Shopping Carts

Sometimes, when the weather was warm, he liked to sit beside this little pond in a park near his house. The bank all around the pond was steep but there was a spot where a tree had died and left a flat area ringed by a rock wall that was a particularly comfortable place to sit.

He was sitting there looking across the pond where a sidewalk ran when he spotted a couple of teenagers pushing a shopping cart. There was a grocery store a block away and he could see a single shopping bag in the center of the cart. When they reached the middle of the part of the sidewalk that ran along the pond, one kid reached into the cart and pulled out the bag. The other simply turned the metal cart and pushed it down the steep bank where it hit the water and with a soft hiss, quickly sank beneath the surface. Once it was gone the two kids kept walking, now carrying the bag in their hands. It didn’t look very big.

He was upset at this. He knew the grocery store was losing money and would soon close. The neighborhood would be hurt by the lack of shopping and the image of the big empty box on the corner, the vacant parking lot. The carts were expensive and those kids were one reason nothing good ever lasted any more.

He thought about yelling something, but they were too far away. He couldn’t even chase them. By the time he rounded the pond they would be long gone. They were too far away for him to even know who they were – if he saw them again, he wouldn’t even know it.

So he sat there for a little longer and then walked home. He never went back to the pond again, preferring to stay home and watch television.

Short Story Of the Day, No Keepsies by Bill Chance

“The tongue may hide the truth but the eyes—never!”
Mikhail Bulgakov, The Master and Margarita

The Dallas Eye,
Dallas, 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 (#26). What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.

Does everyone know what “keepsies” is?  When I was  a kid, (and I know my father did in the 1940’s) children played marbles. You had a circle, everyone’s marbles went in and you took turns with a “shooter” – a big marble you would flick in there. You won all the marbles you knocked out of the circle. Some kids only did it for fun… but if you kept the marbles you won…  you played keepsies. The school administration was always trying to get the kids to not play keepsies. This story assumes kids still play marbles.


No Keepsies

Evelyn Bronson breezily tore into the manila envelope from her son’s school. She unfolded the single sheet letter and pulled off the thick brochure paperclipped to it. She started to read.

“Donald!” Mrs. Bronson yelled. “Donald! Come down here right now!”

There was no answer. Mrs. Bronson clutched the letter and stormed up the stairs. She grabbed the knob and stepped in. Donald was stretched out on his bed, eyes closed, head bobbing back and forth, with a huge pair of headphones covering his ears. Even so, she could hear a pounding beat leaking out.

“Donald! Turn those down. That’s going to damage your hearing.”

Mrs. Bronson stepped forward and yanked the phones off her son’s head.

“Hey! What the hell! I’m listening here.”

Turning blue with apoplexy she thrust the letter from the school at him.

He read for a minute then started a low, guttural chuckle. This began to rise until he was laughing out loud when he reached the end. He crumpled the paper and threw it onto a pile of dirty clothes and empty fast-food containers against the foot of his bed.

“Oh, mom, give me a break, it’s just a form letter.”

“Donald, be serious,” she said as she dug around for the letter, uncrumpling it and trying to smooth it on her knee, “This is serious. Have you been playing marbles… playing keepsies?”

“Playing keepsies? Ha! Oh, God, mom, what planet are you from? Give me a break.”

Mrs. Bronson didn’t know what to do so she left the room and returned to the kitchen and sat down. She hoped this would be the end of it, but she was mistaken.

Two days later, while she was in the kitchen finishing up a tray of deviled eggs for her Bible Study group, she asked her son if he was still playing for “keepsies.”

“As a matter of fact mom, take a look at this.”

Mrs. Bronson looked across the kitchen table at her son. Slowly she saw him reach into his pocket and pluck something out. He set his knuckles next to his plate and used his thumb to flick it out onto the table.

“I won this playing marbles, mom. It’s the coolest thing ever.”

The object kept rolling, between a bowl of boiled eggs and a pile of peeled shells, until it came to a rest with a clink up against the tray of finished deviled eggs. With a swirling mix of trepidation and curiosity she reached out and picked the thing up.

It was a large, heavy marble, white in color. She began to move it in her fingers until the back side came around and she saw the black center circle and the brown and green striated ring around it. She jumped in her seat when she realized what it was.

“Mom, I won Johnny Truman’s glass eye. Playing keepsies. Isn’t it the coolest?”

A wave of horror washed over Mrs. Bronson. She looked at her hand and almost heaved the glass eye away in revulsion, but she was worried it might shatter. She quickly picked up a cloth napkin and wrapped the eye, protecting it from breakage and her from its blinkless stare.

“Donald! That’s the most terrible thing I… Ever!”

“Aww, it’s no big deal. He don’t need it, he has a patch. ‘Sides, it doesn’t work anyway. It’s only for looks.”

Mrs. Bronson was shaking, speechless with horror. Suddenly, she let out a little squeal as the doorbell rang – once, twice, insistent.

Like a robot, Mrs. Bronson went to the door. She opened it and there, standing on the stoop, was a young man wearing an eyepatch.

“Mrs. Bronson? I’m Johnny Truman. I’m here to see if I can get my glass eye back. May I come in?”

Johnny pushed past her into the living room.

“Please, ma’am, can I have my eye back?”

“No way,” Donald said, “I won it fair and square.”

“I have twenty dollars,” Johnny said calmly, “I’ll give him twenty dollars.”

“Twenty dollars, forget it! It’s worth way more than that. Have to do better than that. Mom, tell him he’ll have to do better.”

Evelyn Bronson began to sway as the world began to spin. She tried to think but had no idea what to say. She walked over to the table and picked up the napkin, holding it and the eye away from her body as she returned to the living room.

“Aww mom, don’t give that to him.”

She looked at Johnny Ransom. Something had changed, something small, while she had walked to the kitchen table for the eye.

“Johnny,” she said, “Wasn’t your patch on the left side when you were at the door?”

“Mrs. Bronson, have you been tested for dyslexia?” Johnny asked her.

At that point, Donald fell onto the floor laughing hysterically. He rolled towards Johnny who gave him a good kick and then started laughing himself. Donald grabbed Johnny’s leg and the two tumbled into a hysterical pile of teen aged legs and arms, punching and grabbing.

She jumped in horrific anticipation as Donald plucked Johnny’s patch off of his eye and hurled it at her. But there was no gaping hole, just another ordinary eye.

“Oh, Jeez mom, you really fell for it!” Donald said as the two of them kept wrestling across the floor. “That was the damn funniest thing I’ve ever seen.”

“You’ve been punked ma’am,” Johnny said.

“Where did you get this horrible thing from?,” Mrs. Bronson asked.

“Ebay!” both boys shouted in unison.

The two boys let out a long double peal of evil laughter and then, spent, stood up and shook themselves.

“We’ll be upstairs, Mom,” Donald said as if nothing had happened and the two boys ran up the stairs.

Mrs. Bronson still was clutching the napkin with the glass eye as she walked into the kitchen. On the counter was the tray of deviled eggs she had made for the Tuesday night Bible Study. The plastic tray had lines of little indentations to hold the eggs. They all were filled. She stared at the rows of white ovals each holding its little pool of yellow congealed yolk, spattering of paprika dust and crowned with large cocktail olives.

Absentmindedly, she reached out and plucked an olive off of a random deviled egg and popped it between her lips. She rolled the sour sphere around in her mouth, sucked the sweet pimento out and felt the gap it left with her tongue. Looking back at the plate, she realized that she had left a space where the olive had been. It made the whole presentation look uneven.

“That won’t do,” she said to herself, and unfolded the napkin in her hand. She plucked up the glass eye and carefully placed it into the concave depression where the olive had been. She had to rotate the glass sphere a bit until the brown and green flecked iris was pointing directly upwards. She then switched the glass eye egg with another in the exact center of the tray. She smiled at the symmetry this gave the whole presentation.

“That’ll give those Bible Study women something to scream about,“ she said out loud as she fitted the frosted plastic cover over the tray, hiding the glass eye among the rows of identical eggs. She pulled her keys out of her purse, hooked it around her shoulder, and carefully lifted the deviled egg tray with both hands. Walking out the door she yelled out, “Boys! I’m going to Bible Study. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”

There was no response from upstairs but Evelyn didn’t care. She strode out to the car, kicking the front door shut behind her.

Sunday Snippet, Archipelago by Bill Chance

They liked to ski in that area because of the hundreds of small islands that cut the wind and waves and made for the smooth glass-like surface that was so fun to ski on. But the area was like a maze, as much land as water, and a confusing labyrinth of passages, gaps, and islets. It was tough to know exactly where your were at any time.

—-Bill Chance, Archipelago

 

Trees reflected in a pond, inverted, with Chihuly, Red Reeds

Archipelago

Sam leaned back and pulled on the rope while cutting his ski into the water. He shot sideways, outward, and felt the wave of the wake as it shoved him into midair. Bracing, he cut back as he landed on the smooth, green surface outside the wake and turned to grin at Jim on the other side. Sam relaxed and enjoyed the smooth skimming across the mirror smooth water.

He realized that in the year since his family moved to Central America his skiing had improved so much. The fact he could ski every day, all year round, made such a difference. There was never that long layoff of the winter months where he would get soft and uncoordinated – have to relearn everything in the spring.

He glanced up at the boat where Jim’s father and little brother were driving them around the water in the vast archipelago of little jungle-covered islands. Something was wrong and he could see Arnold’s red hair disappearing below the rear gunwale as he looked for something in the bowels of the boat. Jim’s father was turned around too, looking, pointing and barking orders, although Sam couldn’t understand what he was saying.

“What’s up?” Sam shouted across at Jim, “Something wrong in the boat.”

“Hell if I know,” Jim shouted back.

“Make that jump, Jim. See if you can get as high as I did.”

Jim nodded, pulled and made a sharp turn outward like Sam had a few seconds before. He did fly high as he hit the wake wave, maybe a little higher than Sam had. But he over rotated and waved his hands desperately as the nose of the long slalom ski caught the water first and at a bad angle. Jim cartwheeled over twice bouncing off the water and then sinking in.

Sam laughed as he let go of his rope, slowly coasted to a stop, and sank down to his life jacket. The two good friends had been working hard on their skiing and fell hundred of times. He knew Jim was fine and saw him smile as his face poked back up above the water.

They both turned to the boat expecting to watch it circle around so the both of them could grab their tow handles and keep skiing. It was a routine they had done many, many times before – three times that very day.

But Arnold was still rooting around and his father was still looking at him. Before either of the two boys could yell from the water the boat had moved around the nearest island and disappeared.

“Shit!” Sam said. “They didn’t see us fall.”

“Don’t worry, they’ll notice soon enough and come back to find us.”

They liked to ski in that area because of the hundreds of small islands that cut the wind and waves and made for the smooth glass-like surface that was so fun to ski on. But the area was like a maze, as much land as water, and a confusing labyrinth of passages, gaps, and islets. It was tough to know exactly where your were at any time.

As the two boys bobbed in the water, floating on their foam jackets, and holding on to their skis, they could hear the whine of the outboard motor moving around between the islands, going back and forth, but couldn’t see anything. This went on for a long time.

“They can’t find us,” said Sam.

“Don’t worry, eventually they will, the water’s warm, we can wait.”

But then the sound of the motor died away.

“Now what?” asked Sam.

“They probably are low on gas and went back to fill up.”

By that time it was getting to be late afternoon and it was the rainy season. Inevitably, the small clouds overhead began to quickly coalesce into large angry-looking black overcast blankets. And then the rain began to fall. It was warm rain, almost like a hot shower. But it was think and heavy – coming down in a deluge of giant globs of water. The boys were used to that, but they were very exposed.

“What do we do know,” Sam yelled over the din of splashing water.

“Let’s swim to the nearest island and wait it out there.”

They weren’t very far from the dark green hillock and were strong swimmers. It was an easy task, especially with their life jackets, to paddle and cover the space between them and the nearest land, even pulling their skis along.

The problem was the jungle grew in a thick, inhospitable blanket right down into the water. They had to swim along the shore until they came to a spot where a tree had died and fallen into the lake, leaving a gap in the jungle foliage. They were able to swim among the dead branches and find a little bit of spongy ground to sit on.

As they moved up they were startled by a gigantic toad, camouflaged invisible into the thick layer of forest detritus along the shore. The toad, bigger than either of the boys had ever seen, grunted and leaped past them into the water with a gigantic splash. Both boys cried out in a moment of fear and then laughed together when they realized the gigantic monster was merely a harmless toad.

There wasn’t much open space left in the spot the amphibian and abandoned and the two boys had to crowd together sitting on the wet ground, still holding their skis. The thick vegetation overhead provided only a little shelter from the rain – the drops of water falling on their heads came a little less often, but were much larger after they tumbled through the leaves.

“They will never be able to see us here,” said Sam.

“In this rain they couldn’t see us or hear us anywhere anyway. It’ll have to stop sometime. They’ll come looking then.”

And the rain did stop. But by then the sun was falling behind the tall trees of the next island to the west.

The suns sets quickly in the tropics – its path is straight down and there aren’t very many minutes of twilight. As it disappeared in the post-rain humidity it became surprisingly cold and the boys shivered in the misty miasma of decomposing life that flowed out from the darkness behind them into the lake.

The two boys sat silent, their thoughts to themselves, as the dark night descended and devoured the whole world. The loud sounds of the nocturnal jungle dwellers began to rise in a wild cacophony of shrieks, cries, and growls.

The boys could only listen and wonder where the whine of an outboard was.

Then And Now – The Kids At Cozumel

“His life had been tied to the past. He’d seen himself a point on a moving wavefront, propagating through sterile history—a known past, a projectable future. But she was the breaking of the wave. Suddenly there was a beach, the unpredictable… new life. Past and future stopped at the beach: that was how he’d set it out. But he wanted to believe it too, the same way he loved her, past all words—believe that no matter how bad the time, nothing was fixed, everything could be changed and she could always deny the dark sea at his back, love it away. And (selfishly) that from a somber youth, squarely founded on Death—along for Death’s ride—he might, with her, find his way to life and to joy.”

― Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow

Nick and Lee, Cozumel, 2002

Nick and Lee, Cozumel,2018

 

I was cleaning out and organizing some old files.

War Minus the Shooting

“Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence. In other words, it is war minus the shooting.”

― George Orwell, The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell 1903-1950

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

Oblique Strategy: Turn it upside down

Again, I was exploring the depths of my hard drive archives. I found this entry from October 16, 2002. It concerns my youngest son, Lee, who was nine years old.

Lee called me at work – he was home from school and a friend, G. was at our house. He wanted to know how to type on my computer. I gave him quick instructions on how to start up Word, how to save his work, and how to print it out when he was done. It turns out he and G. have an idea for a new sport, which they call Foondball, and they wanted to type out a list of rules.

When I came home I found my desk littered with sheets of notebook paper covered with crude drawings of athletic fields and different dimensions, markings, and goal layouts.

On the screen was their rules for Foondball:

Foondball

  • The game can only be played with 6 to 12 players.
  • You may use your hands to throw the ball and your feet to kick the ball and the goalie may use a hockey stick to block shots taken by the strikers.
  • The goals are at opposite ends of the playing field the field is 75 yards in length and is about 25 to 30 yards in width
  • The winner of the most rounds wins the match there are three rounds lasting 20 minutes and 5 minutes of rest between rounds
  • In the case of a tie the winner will be decided by a 10 minute overtime if no winner is decided then it is a draw
  • The goals are about- 6 to 7 feet high and 10 to 11 feet wide
  • The game begins with the thrower throwing the ball and the whacker hitting the ball the seekers catch the ball if the seeker on the whackers team catches the ball he may keep running to the goal if the seeker on the throwers side catches the ball he may run it back and try to score
  • Each goal is worth two points
  • If there is a foul the ball goes to the place where the foul was committed and thrown from there.
  • If a foul is committed within ten yards of the goal the person whom the foul was committed against gets to take a free shot he can throw the ball into the goal or he can kick the ball into the goal
  • If one team wins the first two rounds of the game then they automatically win the game
  • At no time during the game is play ever supposed to stop unless a foul is committed
  • There is a ten minute half time in between the 2nd and 3rd round
  • If a person scores on a foul then the goal only counts as one point
  • After a goal the team that scores is to throw the ball and play resumes
  • Helmets are to be worn
  • For each team – 1 goalie, 2 whackers, 1 seeker 2 throwers
  • The goalie may never come out of his 10 foot box
  • If a player is on concrete he may dribble the with his hands
  • The player may throw or kick the ball to one of his fellow teammates

Someday, maybe, kids will dream of glory on the foondball field, and trade photos, cards, and stories of who their favorite whackers, throwers, and seekers are.

All Day Holiday

All day holiday
All day holiday
Home is so far away
“Where should I land?” My hollow voice is carried away on the wind
—-Shugo Tokumaru – Parachute (English Lyrics)

Clarence Street Art Collective, The Cedars, Dallas, Texas

Oblique Strategy: Discard an axiom

Our two sons drove back to Dallas, from New Orleans and Houston, for Thanksgiving. They always try to come back to run in the Turkey Trot eight-mile race on Thanksgiving morning. We used to always go down there with them, but now I sleep in and they drive themselves.

Turkey Trot 2011

Turkey Trot 2012

Turkey Trot 2013

Lee and some friends had tickets to see the Dallas Cowboys get the crap beat out of them at the death star – so he was gone most of the afternoon.

I ate too much and did, well pretty much nothing. I did get a little bike ride around the hood on the folder as the sun set and that was surprisingly enjoyable. There were a lot of people out and about.

Holidays are odd – they feel like wasted time, but they string together in your memory. At first you think they are the same, but there are changes.

From my old journal “The Daily Epiphany” – Thursday, November 25, 1999 Thanksgiving – The kids were what? seven and eight.

The feeling of satiety, almost inseparable from large possessions, is a surer cause of misery than ungratified desires.
—-Benjamin Disraeli

We have a family tradition of going camping over Thanksgiving. It’s usually the most pleasant time of year here in Texas, cool nights, warm days. Sometimes we get caught in rain but most years are clear and crispy. A four day trip to a nearby State Park, maybe Fairfield or Bob Sandlin. Red fall trees, inky sparkling night sky, the smell of wood smoke, brown curious deer paying a shy visit, bold nighttime raccoons looking for handouts. Out of the rat race, out of the stuffy too much food too much television couch potato place.
This year we couldn’t do it though. Candy Mom’s illness, soccer games, my work, all conspired to keep us in town; no matter how much we needed to get away, get out of the city.

We went to Candy’s sister’s for Thanksgiving dinner. I had an odd hankering for Chinese take-out, eating out of white foam containers, but the traditional turkey ‘n fixins’ was pretty good. Despite my forewarnings to myself I ate too much, and sank into that holiday hyperglycemic funk.

Nick and Lee played a tough, energetic two-kid soccer game out in the small back yard. The dead and desiccated landscape plants, dormant for the winter, brown, cracked and shattered as the ball whizzed back and forth, showering up a small cloud of bits of leaf and stem.

Poor Lee wore himself out, though. He curled up on the couch, blanket in hand, fingers in mouth, and looked awful while everybody else chowed down. Instead of the traditional watching of the Cowboy game I drove Lee home. We stopped for gas and I promised he could pick whatever he wanted out of the station’s cold-drink case. The poor woman working the counter on the holiday beamed at the cute little pouting kid rummaging around. He, not surprisingly, picked out a half-gallon of chocolate milk, the artificially thickened rich brown sugar stuff that kids love. I thought he’d pick a small bottle but the half gallon was only a dime more, so I guess Lee knows best.

At home he sucked down most of the carton and that revived him some, enough that he was up to playing some video games. Lee didn’t want to be alone, though, so I went back to his room with him. I climbed the steel ladder and curled up in the top bunk, it’s about a foot shorter than I am. I spent the bulk of the day there, fading in and out, dreaming strange and terrifying dreams while Lee sat below guiding Banjo Kazooie through his fantasy world.

…..

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.

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 15 – Limited Edition by Tim Maughan

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 15 – Limited Edition by Tim Maughan

Read it online here:
Limited Edition by Tim Maughan

Avonmeads is less than ten minutes walk from Barton Hill, from his ends, but it feels like a different world to him. Whenever there’s any trouble with youth in places like this the timelines erupt with opinions, people angry and shouting, saying why are people like him making trouble and tearing up their own community. He shakes his head and laughs to himself. Community? There’s no community down here. This isn’t a community space – it’s nowhere, a non-place. Nobody lives here, it’s populated only fleetingly by transient visitors – van drivers getting lunch, shoppers buying the few things they still can’t buy through their spex or print at home. Even the staff in the shops here – none of them live here, they just come for a few hours a day, a few days a week. And most of them don’t even hold that down for long – there’s about as much a sense of career down here as there is community. For a start the shops never stay for long – something opens, fills a short-term need, then closes. Storefronts lie dead and abandoned, until someone thinks they’ve found another fleeting need, moves in, shuts down. Open, close, repeat.

—-Tim Maughan, Limited Edition

I am an old man, old enough to know a time when athletic shoes were called sneakers, or maybe tennis shoes – and were made of a single, simple layer of canvas with a simple rubber sole. The only “brand” I remember were PF Flyers (PF stood for Posture Foundation – bet you didn’t know that) and there were ads for them on television. I do remember a bit of the thrill and envy when I saw a pair – always on somebody else.

Now, of course, the innocent and silly tropes of my ancient youth have been distorted and blown up by technology and the shallowness of modern life until they have become reality. Sneakers have been replaced by Kicks, and Johnny Quest replaced by millionaire athletes.

Throw these ingredients into the soup of social media and powerful portable devices and you have the world of today’s story, Limited Edition.

This truly is the best of all possible worlds.

Interview with Tim Maughan:

Odo: Current technologies such as virtual reality, social networks and online games are prominently featured in your stories. How would you say that the use of these technologies is changing our way of thinking, our way of interacting with other people?

TM: That’s a good question. That’s a big question! I’m not sure we know yet, I think we’re still feeling our way. That’s why I’m writing about them, I think, to try and understand myself. I think everything is so double edged now – online communities for example, they can be both embracing and alienating, both to degrees we couldn’t possibly imagine a couple of decades ago. The same goes for the anonymity and distance that ‘net culture grants us – it can be liberating, allowing people to express themselves in ways they would be too scared to in real life – but of course the flip of that is it lets people get away with saying or doing terrible things with no consequence. I was reading a forum recently where someone used a homophobic slur, and when they were confronted about it they said nobody should be offended as it was ‘only pixels’. That struck me as simultaneously both horrifying and logical – it’s a defence that must make some sense if you’ve grown up spending a large percentage of your communicating life online. It’s the complete stripping of meaning, postmodernism made real, I guess. How do you argue against that? In fact, with meaning gone in that way, how do you argue about anything?

Odo: Trust (and distrust) is an important theme in your stories, where characters are often deceived by their friends. Do you think that trusting other people is more dangerous today than, say, twenty years ago?

TM: No, I don’t think so – the media would love us to all believe that, it feeds on fear, and is constantly looking to spread the illusion of distrust so that consumers turn to it for a kind of fake truth. I hear a lot of media talk here about the ‘blitz spirit’, about how British society was more unified during the war in the ’40s. I largely suspect that’s bullshit, and some terrible things happened when the lights were out, there was looting, people cheated on departed lovers and so on. When I’m writing about distrust I’m not saying that it’s a new thing, or a futuristic thing – to be honest it’s sometimes just a plot device! – but more that it’s there, and our media and culture likes to amplify it, to separate and alienate us, to make us better, competing consumers. Consumerism doesn’t work well if everyone trusts each other, it only works if we feel the need to compete with our neighbours, friends, even families.

—-from Sense of Wonder

On the way home from the store with a bag of Miller High Life.