Sunday Snippet – Degrees of Freedom

There were X-Ray Specs that promised to reveal secrets, even behind a woman’s clothes. There were mysterious living sea monkeys that would live on a shelf in his room and keep him company. There were instructions on how to grow muscles on his skinny twelve-year old frame and defeat the vicious sand-kicking bullies that filled the world.

—- Bill Chance, Degrees of Freedom

Spring Creek, Garland, Texas

I am working on writing fiction on a regular basis again. Every Sunday I’ll try to publish something here on my blog that I wrote, for as long as I can. Here is something for this week. It is a pure first draft – written on my Kindle Fire tablet with an attached mini keyboard. Feel free to get back to me with any comments.

Sunday Snippet

Degrees of Freedom

Lucious pulled his bicycle out from the garage and swung a leg over the bright purple banana seat after admiring how the metallic flakes sparkled in the afternoon sun. He lifted his hand high to grab the almost-vertical handlebars and with a little push rolled down the driveway into the street. The tiny front wheel, upswept bars, and aggressive frame geometry looked really cool to pre-teen eyes but was not very practical nor stable and he wiggled on the verge of losing control until he picked up speed and began to pedal along the road.

It was new comic book day at Smith’s Drugstore and Lucious’ eyes watered both from the wind and the visions of the colorful characters and amazing stories that were soon to be his. Last month had been particularly thick with cliff-hangers and he was desperate to find out how his heroes would escape their dooms.

Doctor Strange was trapped in a twisted dimension, The Fantastic Four were trapped in preternatural ice, and Spiderman was trapped by a new cute redhead at school. His package was already wrapped and waiting for him at the counter at Smith’s. Old man Smith did this to minimize the amount of browsing that Lucious would do – he could monopolize the magazine display for hours. A wad of crumpled, filthy bills along with a carefully counted ringing pile of change dropped onto the counter and Lucious was on the way home with the plastic bag full of adventure hanging from one purple grip.

That night, after feverishly turning the pages and learning of the miraculous escape of all his heroes and then how they inevitably jumped from the frying pan into the fire – leaving even worse horrific dooms for next month – Lucious flipped the pulpy pages to the section at the very back. He was ashamed to admit, even to himself, that this crude part of the publisher’s art was his favorite. He began to pore over the ads.

There were X-Ray Specs that promised to reveal secrets, even behind a woman’s clothes. There were mysterious living sea monkeys that would live on a shelf in his room and keep him company. There were instructions on how to grow muscles on his skinny twelve-year old frame and defeat the vicious sand-kicking bullies that filled the world.

Lucious was very familiar with these ads, had been seeing the same ones every issue for as long as he could remember – which was almost two years.

But there, on the very last page of Doctor Strange, was one he had never seem before. It even seemed fresh – sharp somehow – rather than the blurred text and crude drawings of the other, familiar advertisements.

“LEARN ALL ABOUT YOURSELF,” it read. The text explained that there were five dimensions of human personality and that it was of life and death importance to learn what point you occupied along these axes.

Lucious was twelve and suffered greatly from confusion about what was going on inside his own head. Thoughts swirled around deep mysterious eddies while confused desires and bizarre ideas crept in from the depths of his mind and set up camp in his head, refusing to leave. It was all very disturbing and frightened Lucious to the point that he worried about his future all the time.

And here, in front of his eyes, for the low cost of ninety-nine cents (not even a dollar) someone promised to explain this all to him. The mysteries of his own noggin would be cleared up and the future would open before him like a brightly-lit highway. He knew how disappointing the reality behind the wild promises could be – but this was irresistible.

Lucious carefully cut the little coupon out of the back of the book and filled out his name and address. He dug an envelope out of his middle desk drawer and taped three quarters, two nickels, a dime, and four pennies to a card (to disguise the fact the envelope contained cash and discourage the thieves at the post office). He relished the taste of the paste as he licked the stamps (adding an extra one, because of the weight of the coins).

He dashed out the side door and ran down to the next block to slide the letter into the big public mailbox (he didn’t want to use the clothespin on their own – didn’t want to answer his parents’ pesky probing questions) and watched it disappear forever into the black space beyond the slot. There was an ominous clang as he released the guard and it swung back over the opening. It was done – irretrievable –  there was no going back.

A twelve year old has no patience. Waiting was not one of his abilities. Every minute of every day was excruciating. Finally, after a hundred years (or maybe it was only ten days) a thick packet in a brown envelope arrived for him. He brushed off his parents’ questions and feverishly opened the package on his desk.

Inside was a cheap, mimeographed pamphlet of instructions, a set of computer cards with numbers and ovals, and a prepaid, preaddressed envelope. He was to read the instructions and answer a long set of questions, filling in the proper ovals on the cards that corresponded with the numbered questions and his answers. He was familiar with this drill – they did it every year at school to measure the children’s progress.

Lucious started to work. The questions were difficult – some were confusing, some were subtle, some were embarrassing to even think about, even more so to answer. But he knew that they were designed by professionals and were carefully and scientifically designed to plumb the very depths of his own personality – bring facts to light that even he had no idea about.

Hours later, feverish, sweating, and exhausted, he finished, filling in the last little oval. He packed the whole thing up in the provided envelope (the instructions said it was important to return the instructions themselves – not to let anyone read the questions other than him). It was late and pitch dark but he slipped out while his parents were watching TV and stumbled the two blocks to the same box, and slipped the envelope into the same slot of doom.

This time there was no impatience. He was a little nervous, but satisfied. He had done all he could do, now it was up to the experts on the other end to carefully examine his answers and to give him the self-knowledge that would change his life forever.

His only worry was that after all this work the whole thing was a ripoff. Maybe they were only gauging in some mysterious way the products that he was likely to want and to buy. Would all he get is some sort of a custom catalog full of items that he could not resist?

The days and weeks went by and Lucious mostly stopped thinking of the questions and the cards. He was only slightly haunted by the thought that he had probably wasted ninety-nine cents.

One day he was out riding his bicycle, going nowhere in particular. Suddenly, silently, three huge black cars were around him. One passed and pulled over in front, one behind, and one beside. He was boxed in and had to stop as the three slowed to a halt.

His heart raced and jumped into his throat as the door beside him opened and a huge man, with short dark hair, black business suit, and sunglasses stepped out.

“Lucious Lindale,” he said. It was not a question. “Please get into the car.”

Another man dressed in exactly the same way came out of the car in front, took his bicycle, and placed it in the trunk of the lead car. The trunk opened silently by itself and then closed with the same clunk as the cover on the steel mail box.

Lucious settled in the vast back seat beside the man in the suit. Another man that looked like the other two drove.

“Mr. Lindale, you filled out the multivariable personality assessment and sent it back.”

It took Lucious a minute to realize he was talking about the cards and the questions from the comic book. He nodded, although, again, it didn’t sound like a question.

“Out of the millions of responses, your answers indicate that you are exactly the person we are looking for. You will come with us and be trained This is truly the first day of the rest of your life.”

“But… but I’m only twelve years old.”

“Of course. You will receive very special and specialized training. You will be given unique abilities that a very select few are capable of. You will learn to look at the world in a way very different than everyone else. You will learn to see beyond the possible. For all this to be possible… well, thirteen is too old.”

Lucious looked out the window of the car. They were speeding along the old highway that ran out of town along the river. It had been a rainy spring and the river was up, angry and brown. The three black cars slowed and stopped along the shoulder next to an old railroad bridge. Lucious knew the bridge well, kids often crossed the river on it. It was a thrill not knowing if a train would come along before they could get across.

“Wait,” Lucious said, “I don’t now if I want to do this. I have to think. This is a big deal.”

“Sir,” the man said, very matter-of-fact, “This has already been settled. You have no input into the direction at this point. Did you read the fine print in the packet?”

Lucious had not. Still, it was a thrill to be called “sir.” He was certain no one had ever called him that before.

The two watched as the trunk of the car in front of them popped open. The man came out of that car, walked around and pushed the bicycle under the rear wheel. The car backed over the bike, leaving it a twisted mess of purple tubing. The man picked up the remains of the bicycle and threw it down the bank as if it weighed nothing. It landed half in the water below the railroad tracks on the bridge.

Lucious understood that everyone would assume he had been hit by a train and thrown into the river, never to be found. He turned his head to take one last look at the sun sparkling off the purple metallic plastic seat as the three cars sped away down the old highway to where it joined the Interstate.

Short Story (Flash Fiction) Of the Day, Staying Alert by Janet Gogerty

Without thinking she tiptoed to the wild corner of the garden, her haven created for butterflies and bees, not mythical creatures. A noise startled her and the dreadful cat from next door shot out from under a bush, across the lawn and up onto the fence. She felt a stab of fear, birds were not the only creatures in danger from the cat, she tried to dismiss the image of thin green legs dangling out of the cat’s mouth.

—-Janet Gogerty, Staying Altert

Young Faun, by Brenda Putnam, Dallas Arboretum, A Woman’s Garden

During these times I have been working on my shade garden in front of my house. I had to give up on our back yard – the five dogs that belong to us and the neighbor have trampled and dug and killed everything. They will not allow for new green shoots.

The front yard is dominated by large trees and the lawn is dying there from lack of sun. So under the trees I am building a small patio where I can sit and read in dogless quiet and am spreading mulch and planting ivy and ferns – other shade loving plants to follow. My neighbors on both sides have professional landscaping in front – it looks very organized and symmetrical. Mine is a jumble. Hopefully, in a few years, once everything has had a chance to grow a bit (shade plants grow very slowly) it may look natural but now it just looks confused.

It is interesting to start finding fiction inspired by the current lockdown.

Read it here:

Staying Alert by Janet Gogerty

from Times and Tides of a Beachwriter

 

Short Story of the Day – Chili’s Menu, by Cormac McCarthy by Justin Tapp

“They were watching, out there past men’s knowing, where stars are drowning and whales ferry their vast souls through the black and seamless sea.”
Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West

Transcendence, on the first night.

Today’s “short story” isn’t really a short story… it’s a satirical Chili’s Menu, written in the style of my (right now – though he has competition) favorite author, Cormac McCarthy.

From McSweeney’s

So, not really fiction… I’m not sure what the literary term for “literature written in the form of a fast-casual chain restaurant menu” is… whatever it is, this is it. And I enjoyed reading it.

If you don’t get where it is coming from, you haven’t read enough Cormac McCarthy. And you need to rectify that.

 

Enliven and Support Well-Located Parks

“The more successfully a city mingles everyday diversity of uses and users in its everyday streets, the more successfully, casually (and economically) its people thereby enliven and support well-located parks that can thus give back grace and delight to their neighborhoods instead of vacuity. ”
Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities

Klyde Warren Park, Dallas, Texas

You Take Meals In Crowded Joints

“You live by yourself for a stretch of time and you get to staring at different objects. Sometimes you talk to yourself. You take meals in crowded joints. You develop an intimate relationship with your used Subaru. You slowly but surely become a has-been.”
Haruki Murakami, Dance Dance Dance

The Cedars, Dallas, Texas

I have ridden my bike past this chicken joint many, many times… but have never tried to eat there. I want to – though I am a little worried that I won’t be able to decide whether to order chicken… or things.

Warped in the Folds of Time

“Silence. How long it lasted, I couldn’t tell. It might have been five seconds, it might have been a minute. Time wasn’t fixed. It wavered, stretched, shrank. Or was it me that wavered, stretched, and shrank in the silence? I was warped in the folds of time, like a reflection in a fun house mirror.”
Haruki Murakami, Dance Dance Dance

Bank of America Plaza building reflected in the Hyatt Regency Dallas from the Union Station DART platform, Dallas, Texas

I Lay My Vengeance Upon Thee

“Well, there’s this passage I’ve got memorized that sort of fits this occasion. Ezekiel 25:17. The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the iniquities of the selfish and the tyranny of the evil men. Blessed is he who, in the name of charity and goodwill, shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness, for he is truly his brother’s keeper, and the finder of lost children. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers. And you will know my name is the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon thee!”

—-Pulp Fiction

Deep Ellum, Dallas, Texas

Short Story of the Day – Jackalope Run by CJ Hauser

It’s a sloppy, grey Connecticut winter, and this is a bad town for Mexican food. You are a white girl in the vestibule of Rancho Allegre waiting to pick up three Chile Relleno dinners. You will pay with your father’s American Express card. You are thirty years old, unemployed, and have recently moved in with your parents.

—-CJ Hauser, Jackalope Run

Mexican Shrimp Cocktail and Negra Modelo at Big Shucks.

Jackalope Run by CJ Hauser

from Hobart

About the Author:

CJ Hauser

CJ Hauser teaches creative writing and literature at Colgate University. Her most recent novel. Family of Origin, will be published by Doubleday in July 2019. She is also the author of the novel The From-Aways and her fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Tin House, Narrative Magazine, The Paris Review, TriQuarterly. Esquire, Third Coast, and The Kenyon Review. She holds an MFA from Brooklyn College and a PhD from Florida State University. She lives in Hamilton, NY.

About the Story:

If I want to find out if a Mexican Restaurant is worth returning to – if they have the chops – I will order a chile relleno. This is the most difficult thing most Mexican restaurants shell out. It their chile relleno is good – the rest of the food probably is.

I too hate it when the restaurant has its staff come to my table and sing Happy Birthday. I hate it even more when they go to someone else’s table.