Short Story Of the Day – Slow Advance by Bill Chance

“No sensible man ever engages, unprepared, in a fencing match of words with a woman.”
― Wilkie Collins, The Woman in White

Apartment Building, The Cedars, 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 (#68) More than two thirds 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.


 

Slow Advance

I finally kicked down the neighbors’ door to find they had moved out. All that was left was a recording of them arguing. At full volume. I saw the eight track player. My father showed me one of those once and explained the tape inside was a loop. It would never stop. I stood there, gobsmacked.

The sound system was sitting on the threadbare shag carpet. There was absolutely nothing else in the apartment.  I turned the volume knob down and hit the blue led-lit power switch. It turned to red. I spun around and headed home. I had splintered the door jamb, so the door wouldn’t latch. In the hallway I paused, returned, and pulled the eight track cartridge.

“That was quick,” Jane said as I walked back in, “what the hell is that in your hand.” I set the tape down on the coffee table and she handed me my beer. It was still cold. Jane picked the eight track up and started to stare at it.

“They weren’t home,” I said.

“No, that’s impossible. We’ve been listening to them both scream at each other all day.”

“It wasn’t them, It was that,” I gestured at the tape.

“Well, at least it’s quiet now,” Jane said. “Hand me the remote, I want to watch Glee.”

I had to go into work early the next day and open up. Mr. Billet, the owner, called me and asked how business was.

“Slow as ever, boss.”

He sounded depressed. Nobody rents movies anymore, I don’t know how long he will stay in business. I don’t know how he’s stayed open this long – he must have money from his parents, I know he lives with his mom. She’s really old. I called Jane in the afternoon at work. She runs the counter from noon to six at Simon’s Pawn down on Forester street.

“Hey, Jane, do you have any eight track players in the pawn shop?”

“Hell no. Nobody’s seen one of those this century. Why?”

“I want to listen to the tape. I want to hear what they are arguing about.”

“Well, good luck with that.” Jane said this in that tone of voice that I hate so much, that “Why do I bother with this loser” tone. It made me mad enough to slam the phone down.

That little bit of mad stayed in my head all day. It stayed enough that I couldn’t sleep. Well after midnight I laid there, staring at the ceiling, thinking about everything that had happened, that I was afraid was going to happen, when , in between Jane’s sawing snores, I heard it.

Crying, mostly. A long, slow, quiet weeping that would build over a few minutes then build quickly into a few seconds of loud wailing, then it would die down to silence. If I listened carefully, I could hear a few minutes of quiet mumbling, barely audible, and an evil muttering laugh. Then the crying would start again.

“Jane, wake up,” I shook her shoulder.

“God no! Not now.”

“No, not that, listen.”

“Shit, I was asleep. You take care of it.”

The super had nailed a strip of wood over the broken jamb and locked the door. A shoulder and the thing sprung open. There it was again – the big blue light, and another tape stuck in the player. I hit the button, pulled the tape and went home.

I put the tape cassette on the coffee table next the the first one. I turned on the lamp by the couch and looked them both over. They were different colors, the arguing tape was red and the crying one a faded blue. They looked crude, homemade, with no labels. The only markings were handwritten numbers – 4 on the first, 7 on the second.

When I came in to work the next day, Mr. Billet was leaned over a big book he carried, full of lines and tables of numbers. He looked really depressed.

“Mr. Billet,” I said, “Do you have an eight track player I could borrow? Maybe a portable one?” I knew he and his mom had all sorts of old crap around their place, he had been asking me about eBay the last week, wondering if he could sell some stuff to help make ends meet.”

“Sure, what do you need it for?”

“Oh, I found these old tapes and I wanted to listen to them… By the way, could you record on the things?”

“Oh, most people only played them. Mostly in their cars. But I remember a few units, some of the very first ones, had recording capability. Not very popular… but it was there.”

He brought in this huge, nasty-looking boombox thing after lunch and I lugged it out to my car. At home I set it up on the coffee table and when she saw it, Jane didn’t like it. Not at all.

“Get that ugly-ass damn thing out of here!” she yelled. “Right now!”

“But I want to listen to the tapes.”

“What the hell for? Our crazy neighbors tape themselves arguing and play it all night long to drive us crazy and what the hell do I care! Don’t encourage them!”

She was furious. I was too. I started to scream back.

“All I want to do is to listen to something and you won’t even give me that much satisfaction! I am sick of this crap!…..”

On and on it went. Man, that woman had some lungs. And one hell of a memory. Things I had done years ago, when we had first met… she threw it out at me like it had happened yesterday. We built higher and higher until we weren’t even sure what we were screaming about any more, we just screamed.

She grabbed the tapes and hurled them at the wall, I stuck a paw out and deflected one onto the couch, where it bounced harmlessly. The other smashed and and splinters of blue plastic flew out in an explosion of fragments. I looked and saw a tangled mass of brown tape sliding down the wall.

Jane reached for the giant boom box but before she could smash it I gave her a push. She stumbled back and went down over the corner of the coffee table. I was scared she was hurt, but she popped right back up and stormed out without saying a word.

So that was that. I felt like my guts had been pulled out through my mouth. I sat for a long time, staring at the open front door, watching the hall as the light faded. Finally, I stood, closed the door, and turned to the one good tape and the boom box.

I had heard it before, of course, but muffled by the thin apartment walls. When it was played next door I could hear arguing, but not the individual words – not even the individual voices.

At first, the arguing couple on the tape wasn’t speaking English. It was some guttural language, maybe Eastern European. Of course, I had no idea what they were talking about, but they were sure going at it. After about five minutes of this, of escalating anger, there was a slamming door, and then the tape went silent for a few seconds. I thought I could hear some humming, but that was about it.

Then another argument started. This one was in English, but it wasn’t from around here. It was English English, or maybe Australian, I don’t know. It was another couple and they were arguing about money. He didn’t make enough, she spent too much, it was tearing them apart. They had the most foul speech I had ever heard. It was so weird to hear such awful language coming out in that delicate British accent, it made me chuckle a bit. Then, he accused her of seeing somebody else, she didn’t exactly deny it, there was another door slam, and that was that.

The next argument was in Japanese. Or maybe Chinese, or Korean, I don’t know. This was getting boring. Instead of getting louder like the other two, this couple mostly just kept yelling faster and faster. I was caught off guard when the door slammed and the tape went silent.

“Well, this is a bunch of shit,” I said to myself as I reached out to turn the tape off. Right when my finger touched the button. A voice came screaming out. It was the next argument. This voice I recognized.

“Get that ugly-ass damn thing out of here!” she yelled. “Right now!”

It was Jane. It was the argument we had just had two hours before. Then out came a voice saying the same words I had spouted.

I fell back stunned while Jane and I hammered at each other on the tape. It sounded revolting, both of us, recorded there for everyone to hear.

Then, the door slam. The hum. I couldn’t move. A couple started fighting in Spanish.

What the helll! This was impossible. How could the tape possibly have a fight on it that hadn’t happened yet?

I pulled the tape out but forgot to turn the player off first. The tape caught and the box suddenly started spitting out a big tangled mess. I couldn’t stop it. I dropped the whole thing on the floor and stared at the useless box of plastic and the mound of snarled tape.

What had I just heard? I must have imagined it. It must be my upset state.

Shaken to the core, I stumbled into bed. I fell asleep but woke up from a horrible nightmare. I couldn’t remember what it was but I was drenched in sweat. I lay there tossing until I caught myself moaning and then I started to cry. As I tasted the salt of my tears I suddenly started awake. I sat up and thought of the blue tape, the one Jane had thrown against the wall. It was a tape of someone upset – moaning and crying. Who was it? Was it me? Who was laughing on the tape?

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

“After being bombarded endlessly by road-safety propaganda it was almost a relief to find myself in an actual accident.”
― J.G. Ballard, Crash

Car fire just north of downtown, Dallas.


 

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 (#66) Two Thirds of the way! What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.

 


 

Tailgate

 

Charlotte DeWhiskey moved to her left carefully using he turn signal and checking all the mirrors, twisting her neck and looking back.

“You never know who might be driving along in your blind spot,” she said calmly – to nobody in particular.

It was Friday afternoon, not quite Rush Hour yet, but the loop interstate’s six lanes going her way were full – but still moving fast. She glanced across the median and saw traffic was stopped going the other way.

“Whew! I feel sorry for those folks,” she said to herself while she adjusted her radio – pushing to the second button to call up the classical station, dialing the volume until César Franck’s First Piano Trio in F Sharp Minor filled the passenger cabin without quite drowning the sounds of the traffic outside.

“That’s nice,” she said and smiled a little at the familiar tune.

Charlotte waited patiently for one more gap to open to her left, applied her signals, and slid into the inside lane, right against the segmented moveable concrete barrier of he High Occupancy Vehicle Lane. She had seven miles to go on the Interstate Loop before she would have to exit on Walnut to get to the “Friends of the Symphony” offices. She was going to meet with Frieda and work on the upcoming fundraiser gala. Frieda meant well, but she was pretty useless for getting things done. With Frieda it was all, “This would be cool!” or “That will be fun!” – but ideas are cheap and Charlotte knew that if she didn’t take care of the actual work, the gala would be a disaster.

She felt a little butterfly of nerves – the gala was so important for so many people – and she wished it didn’t all fall completely on her shoulders – like it always seemed to do – but she had done it before and she could do it again.

Now that she was in the far left lane, Charlotte settled in and set her cruise control on sixty – the legal speed limit along that part of the highway. She kept her foot on the brake and her eyes alert.

“You never know when the traffic is going to come to a stop. If you hit someone from behind it will always be your fault,” she said clearly to herself. It never hurt to remind oneself of the rules of civilized living, especially in these troubled and confusing times.

There didn’t seem to be much danger of Charlotte having to slow down. As a matter of fact, cars were piling up behind her – moving to the right when they could, and merging back once they passed, speeding off into the space her relatively slow (but legal) progress created in the lane going forward. Charlotte noticed this, but it didn’t concern her in the least; she was used to it.

“Just because everybody else is speeding, doesn’t mean you have to,” she said, though there was nobody to hear.

One car, now, had pulled up, but it wasn’t passing. Charlotte could only see the front of the vehicle and she knew little about cars – didn’t recognize the make – but noticed the low-slung, streamlined, custom grill and the polished Navy blue metallic paint. The windows in the car behind her were tinted, but the sun was slanting directly through his windshield so she could make out the driver bobbing and gesturing behind his wheel. He flashed his lights quickly and moved forward until he was following only a few feet behind her rear bumper.

“Just because you want to speed doesn’t mean I should break the law,” Charlotte repeated out loud, directly at the image of the tailgater in the mirror – as if he could hear her. “You should have at least one car length between you and the car in front of you for each ten miles per hour you are traveling,” she added for increased effect.

The tailgater couldn’t hear her, of course, and had no intention of slowing down or going around. The left lane, the fast lane, was his. As a precaution, Charlotte pushed the little arrow button for a split second, shaving about two miles per hour off her speed, carefully and precisely regulated by the digital cruise control. The tailgater moved even closer and Charlotte could hear his horn blaring over the sounds of traffic – and “Finlandia” – one of her favorite pieces – which had only just started playing on the radio. She put on a little frown at this interruption and stared carefully into the mirror. She couldn’t make out the tailgater’s face due to the tinting but she could clearly see his arm come up in silhouette, waving his middle finger extended.

Charlotte picked up her cell phone, next to her purse in the passenger seat connected to a charger stuck in the cigarette lighter outlet. She didn’t like to use her cell phone when she was driving, it wasn’t safe.

“Sometimes,” she said out loud, “Things simply can’t be helped!”

Charlotte punched through the “F”s in her contact list and rang Frieda’s number. Frieda picked up almost immediately.

“Frieda, dear, how are you? Well, I’m doing great too! Well, Frieda, I am afraid, though, that I have one little problem. I’m not going to be able to make our meeting this afternoon, sorry. Oh, good, we’ll reschedule in a day or so. Why? Oh, no big deal, really, but I’m about to be involved in an automobile accident…. Toodles!”

Before Frieda could reply, Charlotte snapped her phone closed, disconnected it from the charger, and dropped it into her purse.

She checked her mirror again. The tailgater was still there – he had inched even closer. He was honking his horn constantly – he must have been palming it with his left hand, while he steered with it, Charlotte thought, because she could see his right hand violently waving his middle finger… only lowering for a second or two so he could use it to flash his lights before bringing it up again.

“Not a very alert or safe way to drive in traffic,” Charlotte said to the mirror as she raised her right foot off of the brake. She bent her knee as far as she could; the cruise control would keep her speed constant. Once her leg touched the back of the steering wheel she braced her back against the seat and shoved down as hard as she could, slamming her brake pedal to the floor.

As her tires locked and screeched, tearing hunks of rubber off onto the tarmac Charlotte smiled at the thought that she had carefully followed the manufacturer’s recommendations and had the brake system serviced – the best quality pads installed – disks carefully turned and balanced.


Melvin Turnbuckle was so angry at the crazy woman snoozing along in the fast lane and was so close to her bumper he never even noticed her brake lights come on – not that it would have made any difference at that space and speed. It seemed that the woman’s sedan had been shot backwards out of a cannon, slamming into the front of his car without warning.

The two vehicles locked together in a maelstrom of rending metal. They drifted to the left – momentum still hurling the hulks forward – until the rough concrete barrier wall tore chunks of screaming steel away from the driver’s side of each car. Power and impulse spent, they separated and stopped ten feet apart, steaming, smoking, spewing fluids black, brown, and bright green, creaking, popping, – the dire smell of fuel and burnt rubber blowing across the highway.

Behind them, thousands of brakes squealed and tires skidded as the entire six lanes ground to a halt for miles.

It all happened so fast Melvin never had the chance to quell his fury, no time to even feel the fear. He stepped from the wreckage and strode forward, seeing a slight woman pull herself from the pile of twisted sheet metal in front of him. She stood upright, weaving a tiny bit, a small trickle of blood running down past one eye.

“Lady! What the hell!”

“Oh,” Charlotte noticed him and replied. “God, what a sound! I’m always amazed at the music of these things, the sound it all makes from inside, from when you’re sitting in there. The screech at the start, the tires squealing… and at the end, the explosion of the airbags. in between the cries of the bending metal – it makes that astonishing noise, almost like a human voice in pain.”

“What are you talking about? Oh my God! You did that on purpose! You’re crazy.”

Charlotte’s eyes rolled. “I always follow the letter of the law. I can’t help it if you are following too close. If you hit someone from behind, it’s always your fault.”

The anger and the jolts of adrenaline felt like high voltage coursing through Melvin’s body. He could feel his eyes popping and his mouth going so dry he could barely speak. He doubled his fists in a primitive lizard-brain reflex and started to stumble toward Charlotte – not knowing exactly what would happen when he reached her.

Suddenly, blue and red flashing lights interrupted the scene and a patrol cruiser screamed past in the High Occupancy Vehicle Lane. He exited a quarter mile past and uturned into the vacant lane protected by their wreckage and sped back, parking at an angle to deflect the oncoming snail-like parade of commuters.


Officer Franklin Tenpenny was tired. He sighed when the call came in, another rear-ender along the Loop Interstate, his third one that day. Dispatch radioed that they were sending a couple wreckers so Tenpenny hit his lights and headed over that way.

When he walked up he found a man out of control, glaring, fists clenched, at a slight old woman – both standing between two steaming lumps of ex-automobiles.

“Sir, Sir! I need you to calm down. Calm down right now.”

“Officer, I am glad you are here. This bi… woman… she caused this accident. On purpose!”

“Sir, I was driving at the speed limit when I… I thought I saw a kitten in the highway.”

“A kitten! You’ve got to be kidding me.”

“Officer, he must have been following too close – he smashed into me from behind – he must have been going too fast.”

Officer Tenpenny noticed the trickle of blood running down Charlotte’s cheek. He moved to wipe it with a clean handkerchief he always carried. “Ma’am, are you all right?”

“Yes, officer, it’s only a tiny cut. I’ll be fine.”

“Is She all right?” said Melvin Turnbuckle. “What about me? She caused this. On purpose!”

Tenpenny knew road rage when he saw it. Turnbuckle was getting more and more worked up and Tenpenny didn’t think he would calm down anytime soon. “Excuse me, Ma’am” he said to Charlotte as he moved away from her and palmed his radio. “Dispatch? I have an out of control driver here; better send a couple more cruisers.” He walked briskly toward Melvin, pulling his cuffs out of their case on his belt.

Charlotte watched Officer Tenpenny fold Melvin into the police cruiser. She flinched as Turnbuckle’s head bounced off the door frame. “You would think the police would have done this enough times to get him in there without banging his head,” she said out loud, but quietly, to nobody in particular. She was standing next to what was left of her car and she noticed the radio was still operating – the classical music still playing.

The disk jockey said, “That was the Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 by Franz Liszt, one of my favorites. Now we bring you traffic on half-hour – If you are going home on the North Loop Interstate, dinner might be cold before you get there. An accident has snarled traffic in both directions, backup to the McDuffle Expressway Bridge.”

Short Story Of the Day Night Guitar (part 2) by Bill Chance

“The only truth is music.”
― Jack Kerouac

Music at the Brewery Tour

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

Thanks for reading.


 

Night Guitar (part 2)

Read Part 1 Here

 

Wendy’s parents were cool. Her father, Hank, had a beat-up old nylon string guitar that could never hold tune and fancied himself a musician. Doug had already formed his first band, a bunch of schoolboys with bad skin that called themselves Kubrick Honesty And The Midnight Emotion. They weren’t very good but Doug could already feel the power of being on stage, the glazed stare of the middle school girls leaning on the gymnasium stage, looking up at him.

Doug knew Hank was happy that Doug was Wendy’s boyfriend because Hank wanted to live out his own childhood fantasy of being a budding rockstar. And that was fine with Doug. He could put up with Wendy’s whining as long as her father would spend money on the young couple.

Wendy’s parents had a weekend cabin down at the lake. They would take Doug, and Wendy’s little brother Bart would bring a friend and the six of them would hang out, ride paddleboats, make a fire, cook hotdogs and s’mores. It was all a little too cute for Doug, too old-fashioned, too family-oriented, but he put up with it.

It was getting late in the year and Wendy started bugging him to go to the cabin with her parents that weekend.

“Ah, Wendy, it’s too damn cold, we can’t swim, nothing to do.”

“Doug, we’re going and that’s that. I’m trying to butter up the folks, I’m going to hit them up for a car at the end of the semester.”

If Wendy had a car, then he had a car. The way Hank slobbered over him Doug would probably get to pick the color.

The problem was that Bart, Wendy’s snotty little brother had a new friend… his name was Sam, but everybody called him Boo. At any rate, Boo had an older brother named Carter, and there was something wrong with him. Carter gave Doug the creeps and he was going to go along for the weekend.

Carter was blind and had terrible scars across his face. He wore dark glasses, a floppy hat, and a thick scarf. They put him in the very back of the station wagon, in that folding seat that faced backwards, all by himself. Everybody else piled in and off they went.

Doug leaned into Wendy, “I’ve had never heard Carter talk, can he?”

“Shh, not so loud,” Wendy said, “He can hear fine, he can talk fine. There’s nothing wrong with the inside of his noggin, really. Nobody knows why he don’t talk much. His parents can’t figure out what to do. He goes to a special school.”

“Well, what the hell happened to him?” Doug whispered.

“I don’t know for sure. I’ve heard Boo say that his mother pulled some grease off the stove and it fell on him when he was a baby. They don’t like to talk about it. I think his parents feel really guilty and try not to think about Carter much. He’s off at that school all the time anyway. He’s only home one weekend a month. And then they send him off with us.”

“Christ, that’s awful,” Doug said. “Crap, I hope he doesn’t screw up our whole weekend.”

“Don’t worry,” said Wendy. “He just sits there. We won’t even know he’s around.”

At the cabin they put Carter in a rocking chair on the porch, in the sun and he sat there, moving his hands silently across a Braille book, while the others went for a hike.

After the sun set, Wendy’s parents built a fire in a stone structure that ran behind the cabin. They called all the kids over.

“Glad to see you brought your guitar,” Hank said, gesturing at Doug’s steel-stringed Yamaha as he strummed a little chord on his. Bart and Boo brought Carter over, steering him until he sat on a bit of stone wall off to the side. It was Hank and his wife, Doug and Wendy, and Bart and Boo, all crowded around the fire, with Carter silent, alone.

“Play us a song, Doug,” Hank said.

“Please,” asked his wife.

“How about, ‘Blowing in the Wind.’”

“Yeah, Yeah! Blowin’ in the wind, shouted Bart and Boo, punching each other and making blowing noises.”

Doug was suddenly embarrassed, unsure. “Uh, I know the song, but I don’t want to sing by myself.” He looked around, the younger pair was still horsing around; nobody else seemed too interested.

“Here, give me that guitar.” Everybody jumped. It was Carter – the first thing that Doug had ever heard him say. What especially shocked Doug was that Carter’s voice was… perfectly normal, almost matter-of-fact. Ordinarily, Doug didn’t let anyone touch his guitar, but he was taken so much by surprise, without thinking, he leaned over and pushed the Yamaha into Carter’s arms.

Carter cradled the guitar, strummed the strings, and, though Doug always kept it in tune, adjusted two of the pegs, strummed again, then tweaked one the tiniest bit. That seemed to satisfy him, and without pause, he launched into the Dylan classic.

Everyone around the fire was stunned. Carter had Bob Dylan’s technique down to a tee, his guitar playing and the gravelly voice was spot-on. Still, Carter was able to add something, to make the song his own. It was surreal. He finished and sat there, running his fingers up and down the strings. The others were gobsmacked. Doug had no idea what to say or do. Only Wendy’s mother was able to get out a sentence.

“Why Carter, that’s lovely. I didn’t know you could play and sing like that. Where did you learn that?”

“Oh, they teach me in school. I don’t have anything else so I can practice for hours every day. I do work very hard on it.”

“Please,” Wendy’s mother said, “Sing us something else.”

Without hesitation, Carter started strumming and singing. He belted out Gordon Lightfoot’s “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” which was on the radio at the time. Doug, again, was stunned. That’s a tough song to sing, especially solo, especially for a kid. Somehow, Carter was able to strum out the rhythm, bounce the drum part with his fingers on the guitar, and pick the accompaniment simultaneously, making it sound like he had a backing band.

When he finished, Doug was able to muster up a question.

“Carter, you know, we have a talent show at the school, I think you should come down there and play.”

Without raising his head Carter pulled a derisive grunt from his throat. “Gah, you know, I work really hard on this. It’s very important to me. It’s all I’ve got. I don’t think I’m going to waste my work on a talent show at Estes Kefauver High School. Besides, I’m mostly a songwriter, not a performer. I don’t think anybody’s really going to want to look at me.”

Stunned, Doug asked, “Can you… can you play something you’ve wrote?”

“Well, I’m working on something. Instrumental. It’s for piano, not guitar, but I think I can…” He began picking out a melody, very softly at first, but growing in volume on the second round. He added chords and then began the drumlike thumping until he sounded like a small orchestra sitting there. He played through the melody again and again, starting with subtle variations then veering off in unexpected directions, changing keys and rhythm, until finally coming back to where he started.

Doug was amazed at the technical virtuosity needed to pull this off with a simple guitar sitting around a campfire. He forgot about Wendy about the others… even Bart and Boo sat silent and motionless. Doug could see in his mind’s eye the scarred blind kid sitting in an empty classroom hunched over a piano, practicing day after day, shunned and forgotten by everyone and everything except his music.

Doug knew how many untold hours it took to learn that. Doug knew that he couldn’t put in that much work – he had too much else to do. He also knew that he would never, ever, in his entire life, be that good. He would never be able to do that. He would never write anything that beautiful.

Doug and Wendy broke up a week later. From the stage at the talent show, he saw Wendy’s father Hank at the back of the auditorium. Doug’s band won, though Doug didn’t feel as excited as he thought he would.

And now decades later, he was Copernicus Mayhem, and his dreams had come true. He had strings of hit records, mansions, and supermodel girlfriends. His life was all money, excitement, and decadence. Sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll.

And now he was in a symphony hall, listening to music by the famous and secretive Tyrone Page, and he had heard that melody before. It started out soft, in the double reed woodwind section, which was an odd way to start, but it worked. The melody was picked up by the strings; then handed off as the entire orchestra joined in, each section taking turns with new variations and modifications.

Even though he had heard it only once fifteen years ago it had burned into his brain so deep he was able to pick out new ideas and novel variations that Tyrone/Carter had come up with over the years. It was innovative, it was exquisitely polished. It was a masterpiece.

And all of a sudden Copernicus was Doug again. And he knew that he could never, ever, do that. Still, he smiled, and raised the Maker’s Mark that he had smuggled in, and toasted the blind and scarred boy he once had heard around the campfire.

Short Story Of the Day Night Guitar (part 1) by Bill Chance

“And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.”
― Friedrich Nietzsche

Dan Colcer
Deep Ellum Art Park
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 (#45). What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.


 

Night Guitar (part 1)

 

Copernicus Mayhem was the lead singer and guitarist of the band Sweetmeat Valentine. Copernicus Mayhem wasn’t his real name, but he made sure everyone used it. His real name was Doug Chandler. Nobody called him that. Not any more.

“Oh, come on Copernicus, please, pretty please, let’s go. I wanna go,” said Serena Twist, Copernicus’ girlfriend. She was his West Coast girlfriend, and they were on the West Coast.

“Oh, babe, I’m beat. This is the first day off I’ve had in a month. Let’s stay here. The suite’s big and nice. Let’s do room service, hit some weed, soak in the tub.”

“Hit some weed and soak in the tub? That’s all you wanna do. I’m bored. I’m bored. Let’s go.” Serena switched her voice into high sniveling mode – like fingernails on chalkboard. Copernicus knew he would give in, but he held out for a minute. To keep up appearances.

“What kind of stupid concert is this anyway?” Copernicus asked.

“It’s classy. It’s classical. This composer, Tyrone Page, has a new symphony. It’s never been performed before. You’ve been invited and I want to go. It’s a humongous deal.”

Copernicus didn’t have anything against classical music. He wasn’t as stupid as he looked. His music was teenage angst and noise. But he kept up. He knew of Tyrone Page. Page was a mystery, an enigma, nobody knew who he was or where he came from.

The scores of Page’s works arrived on the desks of famous conductors at random intervals. Page never allowed his stuff to be recorded. It had to be heard live. No bootlegs, even. Though the composer was hidden, his army of lawyers weren’t.

Copernicus was interested. He wanted to go; intrigued. It had been so long since he had been intrigued he had forgotten what it felt like. He gave in after a calibrated resistance.

“Ok, ok, If you want this so much,” Copernicus said. “But I want you to call Skinner and make the transportation arrangements. I want a stretch this time, no van. And I want some weed in the car and a bottle of Maker’s Mark. And plenty of ice.”

“Sure honey, I’ll set it up. Thank you, Thank you.” Serena seemed truly grateful.

Copernicus couldn’t resist, “Oh, and please change. If this is a big deal, I want you to wear something… something shiny.”


The weed and the Maker’s Mark in the limo did the trick and Copernicus was very relaxed when they pulled up in front of the Opera House. He had to lean on Serena to make it through the gauntlet of flashbulbs and microphones between the street and the private box entrance. Skinner pulled him aside and made him talk to the asshole from TMZ.

The reported asked, “What are your touring plans now? How are you going to keep the band together after the tragic death of your drummer?”

Copernicus had forgotten about the drummer and the overdose. He had never spoken a word to the guy – Skinner had hired him. He always had bad luck with drummers and never wanted to get involved. It was just work. On tour – the drummer never actually played. The percussion tracks were all on tape.

“Oh, it was a terrible tragedy, but I have a responsibility to our fans and we’ll find a way to make it up to them.” The reporter seemed satisfied, Skinner nodded, and Serena pulled him inside the door.


Copernicus found himself sinking down, slinking toward the floor of the private box. Serena tugged on his shoulder to make him scootch back upright.

On stage, some geezer stumbled out and rambled away with an appeal for funds. Copernicus was really fading, fighting to stay awake. He had forgotten why he had wanted to come to the concert and was glad he had brought the whiskey in. He raised the Maker’s Mark bottle to his lips. Nobody would say anything – he was a rock star.

The lights dimmed and the music swelled from below. It began strange, atonal, repetitive, and that made Copernicus slip even closer to oblivion. Serena gave him a sharp elbow.

Then, without warning, the main theme of the first movement came cutting through – starting with the woodwinds and quickly picked up by the strings. It jolted Copernicus. It resonated somewhere, somewhere deep in his memory. He jerked up straight; his eyes bolted wide.

He had heard this before. He had to relax and let the memories flow in before he could figure out where and when had he heard this music before.


Decades ago, in high school, when he was still Doug, Copernicus had a girlfriend named Wendy. He hadn’t thought about her in a long, long, time. He thought about her now. Copernicus realized that Wendy looked a lot like Serena Twist. Though his life had changed – veered off into the ozone – his taste in women had not. Like Serena, Wendy liked to get her way by whining until Doug gave in.

 

Read Part 2 Here

What I learned this week, June 5, 2020

I have a new obsession – Marble Machine X

Somehow I stumbled upon this guy and his band – Wintergatan. Starting in 2014 he started building a hand cranked machine that could be programmed to play music by bouncing thousands of steel marbles (ball bearings, actually) off of a vibraphone and drum set. When he finished it – he realized it was too unreliable and delicate to move. His dream was to tour with the thing and perform all over the world in front of adoring crowds.  So, several years ago, he embarked on Marble Machine X – a project to build a better machine – one that used all modern technology (CMC routing, 3D printing, TIG welding, CAD drawings and such) and a team of engineers from all over the world to make an amazing, complex, beautiful, practical (more or less) music machine.

It’s all documented on Youtube:

He puts out a new video every Wednesday, and has for years.

He’s up to number 128

 

Here is a link to a playlist of all the episodes.

I started at the beginning and now I’m hooked. I don’t know how I missed learning about this the last few years – but now I can’t wait for it to be finished.

 


 

Intermediate Axis Theorem

OK, take a tennis racket. Put a little piece of tape on one face. Then hold it by the handle, tape up, and flip it in the air, doing a 360 rotation front to back, like you were flipping a pancake (maybe) and catch it again by the handle after one revolution. The piece of tape  will still be up, right?

Wrong….


 

3D Printed Curta Calculator

When I was in college a friend of mine had a precious possession – he had a Curta mechanical calculator. I was amazed. The Curta is an amazing, complex little machine that uses incredibly precise and complicated gears and stuff to do mathematical calculations. It was invented by Curt Herzstark who did a lot of the design work while a prisoner at the Buchenwald concentration camp. After the war he formed a company and manufactured a hundred thousand or so of the machines in two different designs. Up until the invention of the digital calculator it was considered the best portable calculating machine.

I was amazed at the one I saw in college and have always wanted one. Unfortunately, they sell for thousands of bucks when they come available (most still work today as well as they did when they were made up to sixty years ago).

The other day I came across this amazing video of Adam Savage (of Mythbusters fame) receiving a modern, three-times scale, 3d Printed working Curta in the mail.

The best part (even better than the amazing machine itself) is the nerdy glee that Mr. Savage exhibits now that he has the precious item. I wish I could get that excited about something.

 


I know I’ve linked to this video before. Tough, I’m doing it again.

It’s Got Them Disraeli Gears

I just managed to convince my grandmother that it was a worth while that was something to do, you know, and when I did finally get the guitar, it didn’t seem that difficult to me, to be able to make a good noise out of it.

—-Eric Clapton

Dan Colcer
Deep Ellum Art Park
Dallas, Texas

There’s this show that shows up on AXS television – on the cable, you know – called Classic Albums. On the show they take an hour and go through the production of a classic rock album – usually with the musicians, producers, artists, hangers-on… the whole works. It’s pretty cool. I watch for these and DVR the ones that look interesting to me. I’ve seen a few, let’s see… Aja, Dark Side of the Moon, So, Damn the Torpedoes, Pet Sounds.

Last night I watched one on an album I wasn’t all that familiar with – Cream’s Disraeli Gears. I’m old enough to remember Cream back in the day but a bit too young to be a huge fan. They were only together for two years – Disraeli Gears came out in 1967 – and I was ten years old. I didn’t really start listening to popular music until 1968 – I would scrounge up a dollar each week and buy one 45 single on Saturday, the first one I bought was the theme song for Hawaii Five-O (jeez, don’t be hard on me, I was only eleven).

So I remember the Cream album covers in the stores and over the years I heard all the hits (Strange Brew, Sunshine of Your Love, Tales of Brave Ulysses) but didn’t know much about the band except that it had Eric Clapton in it. I did see a documentary about Ginger Baker once – he was a madman.

The show was interesting and gave me a new appreciation of this classic rock music.

But the best part was finding out what Disraeli Gears meant. I always assumed it was some sort of British political statement. It isn’t. It’s a malaprop and a cycling reference.

“You know how the title came about – Disraeli Gears – yeah? We had this Austin Westminster, and Mick Turner was one of the roadies who’d been with me a long time, and he was driving along and Eric (Clapton) was talking about getting a racing bicycle. Mick, driving, went ‘Oh yeah it’s got them Disraeli gears!’ meaning derailleur gears… We all just fell over… We said that’s got to be the album title.”

—-Ginger Backer, 1967

How cool is that! You learn something every day.

Short Story Of the Day (Flash Fiction) A Trace of Music by Robert Garner McBrearty

During all my drinking days, I listened for that music and thought it might be worth continuing to drink just to hear it once more. But, of course, it wasn’t.

—-Robert Garner McBrearty, A Trace of Music

Music at Ciclovia Dallas

Working my knee back with ice, rest and ibuprofen. Yesterday, I rode my spin bike on very light resistance for an hour and today, one week after I slipped coming out of the shower and twisted my knee, I rode my road bike for the first time – five miles around the ‘hood. It was fine – not entirely pain-free, but bearable. Maybe ten miles tomorrow after work (I have to work, I am essential). The nice thing about the road bike is that with my feet clipped in they are held rigid with no lateral flex in my leg or knee. That helps. It’s a bitch getting my shoes on, however.

A day at a time – small improvements – each day a little better than the day before.

Like in today’s story….

Read it here:

A Trace of Music by Robert Garner McBrearty

from Heart of Flesh Literary Journal

Robert Garner McBrearty Homepage

 

Short Story Of the Day (flash fiction), A Longer Trip Back Home by Hiromi Suzuki

My mother spends all her wages on cigarettes. My mother, a waitress at a café in the center of a suburban residential area at the edge of the world. In the afternoon, the café is filled with ladies. They are housewives coming from elegant houses at the edge of the world, killing time.

—–Hiromi Suzuki, A Longer Trip Back Home

Stray Christmas Ball in the Trinity River, Dallas, Texas

Does a story have to have a classical plot? Does the protagonist have to want something? Is the story always about if they get it or not?

I didn’t know that a French word for mock strawberries was Fraisier de Duchesne. That sounds like a good name for a character – maybe an evil aristocrat or a kindly old neighbor, Fraisier de Duchesne.

Read it here:

A Longer Trip Back Home, by Hiromi Suzuki

from 3AM Magazine

Hiromi Suzuki Twitter

hiromi suzuki microjournal

Morgan James sings Dream On

What really brought out the voice that I have, my soul voice and true voice, was really not getting any work and being very sad and being poor and having to sit with that. I think that’s where the blues comes from.

—-Morgan James

It has been a very busy, exhausting week – the worst of it is that I haven’t been able to write as much as I want. I did have a page of notes for stuff and I sat down to write some of it out and get something for here.

But the internet interrupted me. I was reminded that years ago I used to embed Youtube videos of Postmodern Jukebox into some of my blog entries. For a moment’s entertainment I started some playing and then, stumbled across this (watch and listen to it – you won’t be disappointed):

 

It only has seventeen million views – so I suppose there are a few folks that have never seen this.

My God! That woman has some pipes!

So now I’m a big Morgan James fan. To be honest, I have never been that big on Aerosmith (though I respect their classic work, of course)  – but her version…. man. Of course, Postmodern Jukebox does a great job of the arrangement (love the cello). A fantastic piece of art.

Some comments from Youtube:

“I can make music or I can be famous”-Morgan James

I heard Aerosmith made a cover of this

What a time we live in. This level of performance used to be available to kings and queens… not the paupers.

I like how she sings with her entire body uninhibited like a toddler.
Singing in traffic pushes cars forward.
That voice surpasses all shower doors and makes the water stick to the tiles in awe.

I can cook a steak with that fire she’s spitting

I need a smoke after this one.

I didn’t believe… no. Let me start again. I thought I knew, I was sure, I kind of built my life on the fact that nobody could do this better than Aerosmith. This was THE UNCOVERABLE SONG! – – – And now this….

A doctor needs to treat me for shock, and possibly a dislocated jaw.

Damn – the moment I saw those heels I knew shit was going down!

She could sing the phone book and it would be great.

Morgan James is one of those immensely talented and pretty singers who should be a major star. Instead we get the likes of Katy Perry. There’s no justice.

Now THIS is what is called TALENT! Why isn’t Morgan James a household name? We haven Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber and all the rest of them blocking the airwaves when we could be enjoying AMAZING voices like this?!? I am so glad I just happened along this video! A beautiful woman with a gorgeous voice to match! All the best, Morgan! You’ve earned your place in music history!

There are songs out there that are classics and I always say, “You can’t mess with a classic,” but her… she can do anything she wants.

 

There are a ton of her songs on Youtube (including a cover of the entire Beatles White Album) – it’s a glorious rabbit hole.

If you are already a fan of Morgan James I’m sorry for wasting your time with this – if you have never heard her (and the world has to fall into those two categories – fans and people that haven’t heard her)… well, you can thank me.