Short Story Of the Day (flash fiction) – After Hours by Bill Chance

“There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.”
― Mahatma Gandhi

 

A sketch of the Casino at Montelimar, Nicaragua – once Somoza’s beach house.


 

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

Thanks for reading.


After Hours

Barry Carpenter and his daughter walked out onto the beach in the darkness. Even the waves seemed to respect the night, rumbling low in a tumble of phosphorescent foam. The sand was cool between their toes and the offshore breeze warm on their faces.

Far out to sea a violent store raged. From the beach, all that could be seen was a spreading mass of black cloud, curling above the unseen horizon, blacker than the black sky above. The clouds were silently and invisibly roiled but the violence was revealed by the strokes of electric veins flashing across and through the distant storm. Sharp traces of lightning flared alternated with the soft blue glow of deep interior discharges.

They stood on the smooth wet sward of damp sand, stood there and let the breeze blow bits of foam, the last extent of the crashing salt sea undulations, kiss barely against their bare toes. They stood silent, staring, shoulder to shoulder, together, and alone.

Barry Carpenter became aware that his daughter wasn’t completely silent, or utterly still, like he was. He turned his head and, since his eyes had become accustomed to the darkness of the moonless night, he could tell that her shoulders were shaking, her head moving a little in an irregular fashion. He wasn’t sure at first but then he caught a little sob, heard a bit of sniffle. Though she was trying to conceal it, his daughter was weeping. She was standing on the sand next to him, looking out to sea, and weeping.

He had no idea what to do.

The tiny sighs and subtle sobs, almost drowned by the noise of the surf, were powerful blows. He felt a deep and primordial panic welling up until his mind could not stand it any more.

Automatically, his memories poured forth; inexorable images welled up. He remembered another beach at night. A long time ago and a long way away. Another continent. It was another ocean – a much warmer one. He was young then, and so were his friends. And they were out of rum.

They were walking down the beach. Back behind them was the tourist beach, with the lifeguards and the all-inclusive hotels. There the sand was scrupulously clean, swept every day at dawn by a mob of barely-fed workers. The tourist beach was no fun.

Barry and his friends liked to hang out at Calangute… the people’s beach. Here the sand was always littered and the dunes filled with thatched huts rather than glass hotels. Thick blue smoke from hundreds of wood cooking fires battled the sea breezes – the unique magnificent smell of third-world grease and spice hung on everything. There was always a party at Calangute.

Except now, it was too late. The poor people of Calangute all had to work, somehow, to eat and it was four in the morning. Everyone was asleep. Everyone except Barry and his friends, who didn’t have to work and never liked to sleep. And they especially didn’t like it when they were out of rum.

They were working their way down the ocean-most row of shacks, wobbly crude constructions of sticks and palm fronds, intended during the day as tiny storefronts, selling food, drink, cheap plastic childrens’ toys. This late they were all closed and bundled up and took on their second purpose as houses for their proprietors.

The boys would shake each shack, watching it wiggle, shouting, “Oye! Oye! Rum! Rum.” Every shack had somebody in it, but… maybe they were afraid, maybe tired, maybe sick of the noisy rich kids… probably all three – and nobody stirred. They would wait, fain slumber, until the teenagers lost their thin patience and moved to the next hut.

Finally, a groggy woman’s voice grunted agreement from the inside of a particularly tiny and crude, hut. Barry figured she needed the money more than she dreaded the disruption. He pulled a wet, sandy, lump of bills from his pocket and waved it in the dark, knowing it would be more than enough for a bottle of the rough, clear hooch sold at Calangute. The stuff tasted like paint thinner, but it got the job done.

A low, yellow light snapped on within and the handmade door opened up a crack. Barry went in to pick up his purchase. The only light was a cheap lime-green flashlight with obviously failing batteries, but there was enough light to see the scrawny sick-looking woman holding out an old-style glass soft-drink bottle filled with a cloudy liquid and stoppered with a hand-carved wooden cork.

Barry looked around the inside of the shack and saw that it was filled to bursting with children. They were sleeping in piles all around the edge of the room, so deep there was barely enough room to stand in the center. There were too many to be the children of the woman with the bottle, and she seemed to be the only adult present. Barry realized that these were the ragged children that ran on the beach all day, selling tiny boxes of chewing gum, or worthless hand-carved trinkets, or simply offering to fetch a drink of bit of food in exchange for the tiniest of coins. He had always assumed these children to be a member of a family – sent out all day in their rags to bring home a little extra for their parents – but it seemed that they formed a family of their own – on their own.

As he took the bottle and turned for the door he reached into his pocket a little deeper and found one last bill crumpled down at the bottom. Though he already had his bottle he let the last bit of money drop, down, among the sleeping children.

The yellowed memory sight of the grimy bill dropping down into the rags on the floor was the end of his reverie. He was back on the cooler beach, still standing beside his softly crying daughter.

He reached out and placed an arm around her shoulder, pulling her in close to him. Looking outward they both noticed that something had blown the foggy beach air out and replaced it with clear, fresh, atmosphere. Above the distant bank of dark electric clouds the stars appeared.

In particular, they could see a bright star, or planet, maybe Jupiter, hovering just above the remote tumult. And above that, a starry smear, a small cluster of tiny dots, connected with blurs of glowing gas.

See that,” Barry Carpenter said to his daughter, “those are the Pleiades.” She nodded. She knew what they were.

The two of them, nothing being said, began to walk out into the water. The waves poured sand over their feet, licked at their knees, and splashed bits of salty drops onto their faces. They walked until they were waist deep and could feel the bigger waves pulling until they would have to stumble a bit.

Barry saw his daughter pull something out of her pocket. It was a bit of vine covered with small white flowers. He remembered them – they grew on a little terrace in back of the beach house the two of them had rented for the weekend. As a wave collapsed his daughter threw the bit of green and white into the receding foam.

Ok, let’s go back now,” his daughter said.

He nodded, but didn’t say anything, and they turned and walked back, arm in arm, in silence.

Short Story, Flash Fiction, Of the Day, Spaceliner by Bill Chance

This was twenty years before there would be a bicycle shop on every corner, and forty before you could have one delivered the next day from the internet – the only place his father knew of was Sears and Roebuck. They drove to the massive featureless brick rectangle at the edge of an endless parking lot.

—-Bill Chance, Spaceliner

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

Thanks for reading.

Spaceliner

It took the boy a month of courage collecting and the prodding of his mother to get the nerve to ask his father to buy him a bike. He expected the usual answer, “Christmas will come in only a few months, we will see about it then.”

When his father snuffed out his cigarette, stood up and said, “OK, let’s go,” the boy almost fainted.

This was twenty years before there would be a bicycle shop on every corner, and a half-century before you could have one delivered the next day from the internet – the only place his father knew of was Sears and Roebuck. They drove to the massive featureless brick rectangle at the edge of an endless parking lot.

The boy was jealous of his friends because they all had bicycles they called Spiders. These had huge curved banana seats – with purple plastic metallic sparkling covers. The handlebars rose straight up with a curve on the end – hopelessly unstable, but it looked cool. One friend had a bike with an actual round car-type steering wheel. He was the coolest of all.

But his father marched straight to the Sears Spaceliner model. Chrome and red, gigantic, heavy as a steel boulder – these had streamline art deco style curved tubes and a thick red console behind the handlebars that contained a light, horn and silver plastic control knobs. This was a careful design of an impractical transportation device that looked to a father from the fifties like something a boy from the sixties (on the other side of the vast cultural divide) would like.

“Let’s get one plenty big,” his father said, “So you won’t outgrow it too soon. I don’t want to be back down here in a year buying another one.”

The sales clerk had one already put together and he let the boy try it out in the back parking lot.

He had to push it along until it gained enough speed to roll upright on its own and then climb on to it as if it was a boat without a ladder. The thing was so large – so too big for him – that at the bottom of each stroke the pedal would disappear past his foot. He could not reach them at that point. He’d have to fish around with his foot as the pedal rose to get back on it.

Near the front door of the cavernous Sears was a little stand selling hot nuts. The vendor heated them on a little stove and sold them in paper bags. The odor of roasting peanuts, walnuts, and cashews filled the entrance and spilled out into the parking lot.

“Can we buy some cashews?” the boy asked. He was shocked when his father bought a bag. His father wasn’t one for impulse purchases. But this was a special day.

To this day, the boy, now an old man, loves cashews and splurges on a can every time he goes to the grocery. Sometimes he gets out an old cast-iron skillet out and heats them up before he gobbles them down.

 


This story is, of course, mostly true. It is a little simplified from reality – I didn’t get to test the bike out in the store. It turned out to be very frustrating – it was so big It took me a month to learn to ride it. In the meantime, my brother, who was three years younger than me got a small bike (what we would call a BMX style today) and immediately began scooting around the neighborhood. I thought it was my own incompetence, instead of the size of the machine.

I finally learned by lugging the thing to the top of a long, steep hill, standing on one pedal while the thing picked up speed rolling downhill. Then I would climb on. As you can imagine, this process resulted in a lot of crashes, skinned knees, and thumped heads (no bike helmets then).

If you know me, you might think that this is the origin of my love for cycling. That would be wrong. A few years later, back on a base, I went down to the Post Exchange and spotted a ten speed racing bicycle, what we called at that time an “English Racer.” It was the first time I ever saw a bike with dropped bars. I was addicted to Popular Science Magazine and had read about the new invention “derailleur gears” and amazed to see them in real life.  I was entranced.

Again, I was shocked when my father bought the bike. This one was perfect. I rode that bike everywhere and learned how to work on it (the early derailleur system was crude and needed constant adjusting). That has continued to the present day – 55 years later.

Not too long ago, I saw a Sears Spaceliner for sale at a vintage bicycle show. It was in mint condition – it cost seven hundred dollars. I didn’t buy it.

Short Story Of the Day, Fourth of July by William E Burleson

But now he plays. As always, he plays because that’s what he’s paid to do. But this time, he also plays for his co-workers. This time, he plays for honor. And he plays brilliantly.

—- William E Burleson, Fourth of July

The end of a game of giant Jenga – Community Beer Company, Dallas, Texas

I remember… let’s see… I was about ten – that would make it about 1967. Well over a half-century ago. The memory is from a small farming town (about 500 souls) in the middle of nowhere – so that would mean, if I was living there, probably it was when my father was in Vietnam. I remember discovering a well-worn building within walking distance of my house (everything was within walking distance) that had a couple of pinball games right inside the front door. I would walk down there and some old man would give me a quarter so I could play.

A quarter was a lot of money in those days.

If you were weaned on video games you don’t understand the thrill of a real, mechanical marvel. The sound, real sound, of the metal ball and the flippers and the bumpers, clanking and chunking – the bells chiming – the mechanical counters clicking around (and hopefully the wonderful CLUNK of a new free game). The slight smell of ozone in the air from the thousands of contacts making and breaking. The flashing lights and garish graphics – real wood, real glass, real paint. The feel of the spring loaded piston that sent the heavy ball – you could feel the weight in the handle – shooting up and around and the moment you felt your fingers move to the round buttons on the side with your palms against the wood to give careful, tiny shoves (don’t want to TILT – you learned the limits of your machine) to keep the ball moving and away from the gutter. You became one with the flippers – the game would last as long as your skill and luck held out.

Those days are gone.

Read it here:

Fourth of July by William E Burleson

William E Burleson homepage

Short Story (Flash Fiction) Of the Day, Memory by H.P. Lovecraft

In the valley of Nis the accursed waning moon shines thinly, tearing a path for its light with feeble horns through the lethal foliage of a great upas-tree. And within the depths of the valley, where the light reaches not, move forms not meant to be beheld.

—- H. P. Lovecraft, Memory

H.P. Lovecraft

If I was looking for something to read, and stumbled across the opening lines reprinted above… and didn’t know who wrote them – I would have skipped on. Life is too short. It has all the hallmarks of bad writing – present tense, overwritten, trite adjectives, silly names. But this is Lovecraft after all, and it is crackerjack.

When I first read Lovecraft, in college almost a half-century ago, I didn’t, at first, understand why he was so famous. The writing didn’t seem to have aged well. But then I tried to go to sleep and found my dreams haunted by the monsters from the page. Lovecraft understands what we are afraid of more than we do ourselves.

Iä! Iä! Cthulhu fhtagn! Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah-nagl fhtagn—

Read it here:

Memory by H.P. Lovecraft

from Flash Fiction Online

H.P. Lovecraft

Short Story (Flash Fiction) Of the Day, The City of Things Finished by Jared Graham

The old man felt at home in the gloaming. He leaned close to the window, the fresh air teasing his nose and the whiskers of his long, white beard. All day he felt the oppression of his old body, a weathered hull tired of the ocean’s endless lapping.

—-Jared Graham, The City of Things Finished

Sailboats on White Rock Lake, Dallas, TX

Read it here:

The City of Things Finished by Jared Graham

from The Citron Review

A Cloud Flower

“Mushrooms were the roses in the garden of that unseen world, because the real mushroom plant was underground. The parts you could see – what most people called a mushroom – was just a brief apparition. A cloud flower.”

― Margaret Atwood,  The Year of the Flood

Mushrooms along the creek in back of my house.

When I was a little kid, my parents had a friend that knew what eatable mushrooms looked like, in contrast with poisonous ones. We lived next to a golf course and I remember him coming over with some others, they woke me up at four in the morning and we headed out to the golf course with flashlights and little plastic buckets. I’m not sure why (or even if I remember this accurately) but there were mushrooms everywhere. I didn’t even need my flashlight – it was if they glowed in the moonlight. We filled up our buckets and headed home. The expert examined the pile… one by one, to insure we all had “good” mushrooms.

What an odd memory. Maybe it never even happened… but I hope it did. I don’t remember eating the mushrooms… but back in those days the adults kept the delicacies for themselves.

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.

Memories Warm You Up

“Memories warm you up from the inside. But they also tear you apart.”
― Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore

Decatur, Texas

I remember when I was a little kid loving the Texaco commercials on TV. The TV was small, full of static (with rabbit ears and bits of foil on top), and only black and white – but it had an amazing effect on my tiny self. “You can trust your car to the man who wears the star.” I barely can remember my PIN number now but I remember that jingle from more than a half-century ago. I would bug my father to buy some gas from Texaco, but he never would. He said it was more expensive than his brand (not sure what it was, but I do remember getting a big green inflatable dinosaur from Sinclair). Now, of course, it seems silly to get excited over a stupid commercial, but I was only a little kid. What did I know?

The Hubris of Men

“This is the story of Isaac and his time in America, the last turning of the centuries, when the hubris of men led them to believe they could disregard even nature itself.”
― Erik Larson, Isaac’s Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History

Oblique Strategy: Children -speaking -singing

When our kids were young we used to come over Thanksgiving, or over New Year, or both – to rent a beach house at Crystal Beach on the Bolivar Peninsula, just east of Galveston, Texas. In the off season you could rent an old rickety beach house for almost nothing. It was great with high maintenance kids like ours- there were only two directions they could go on the beach and nothing they could destroy. It was the best of times.

We had to stop going because in 2008 Hurricane Ike wiped the low sandy Bolivar Peninsula clean.

Now, ten years later, a lot of the beach houses have been rebuilt. Their stilts are noticeably higher now, heavier and more numerous. So we rented one for New Year’s – Lee came from New Orleans and Nick from North of Houston.

It’s great to be back, the only problem is the weather is awful – cold, rainy, and very windy.

Lee walking in the surf at Crystal Beach. I checked my old blog entries – this was December 29, 2002. Fifteen years ago, almost to the day.

Lee walking in roughly the same spot, fifteen years later. There was no sun and it was very cold and windy. Same ocean, though.

Snapshot

“Was there any human urge more pitiful-or more intense- than wanting another chance at something?”
—-Joe Hill

From Snapshot, by Joe Hill

Oblique Strategy: Honor thy error as a hidden intention

Four down, ninety-six to go.

A few days ago, while working on my goals for 2018 I decided to set a goal of reading a hundred books in the year. Thinking about it, I decided the only way to pull this off was to read short books. I made a list of 66 short novels and wrote about it. Thinking more about it, I was excited enough to jump the gun and start the 100 books immediately. The first one I read was Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle. The second was Zastrozzi, by Percy Bysshe Shelley. The third was The Room by Jonas Karlsson.

Next up is a Novella, Snapshot by an author I have never read before (to my memory), Joe Hill. Not sure where I read about Hill, but I did read about him somewhere and he sounded like something I’d like so I put his collection of four Novellas onto my Kindle.

And Joe Hill is an author that I’m interested in.

You see, I have this odd theory of literature. It’s not the only theory – but it is one that I think about a lot. There is the ordinary life that we all live – but it is a small amount of four-dimensional space in the whole of reality. Beyond this little island of our everyday, comfortable world is the bottomless sea of chaos. There is a thin barrier, a translucent membrane, separating us from this tractless void that surrounds us. Certain fictional people, certain stories, rub up against- or penetrate completely this delicate membrane. Sometimes the characters return, sometimes not. This is what I’m interesting in writing about and reading about.

In Snapshot the character is an overweight unpopular teenager and his experience with the void is in defending an addled old woman against a lunatic tattooed man with a very strange and dangerous camera. It is a crackerjack tale. I especially like it because not all wrongs are righted and not all secrets are revealed.

Another nice thing is that there are three other novellas in the collection – though they will have to wait for later.

From Snapshot, by Joe Hill