Sunday, December 9, 2007

Another Review

It makes me want to get off my ass and write somtehing. I'm a month late breaking this one, but "In the Beginning, Nothing Lasts" was Jason Sanford's Story of the Week on November 12. It comes "Highly Recommended."

Regarding my first sentence, I am having two problems:

1) All of my really good story ideas involve time running backwards. It drives me nuts, because it's hard to construct stories and write that way, and I don't want to keep going back to the same well.

2) I'm too busy doing other things to write.

I know, excuses, excuses. Regarding number 1, I should just follow the path of least resistance and see where it takes me. Regarding number 2, I should stop whining and just do something.

In either case, the positive feedback has me jazzed.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Job Offers Little

Everyday is a war of attrition. Everyday a small part of you dies.

You spend little enough time reflecting on your thorny memories, deep inside there are beautiful blooms of rose red and yellow, pink and night. Instead you force yourself to live in the present, where you can still feel the pain, but it is at least shorter, and has an end.

Bubbles and songs are your weapons. The kids tend to like the bubbles; their tear filled eyes often lock on in wonder as they float to the floor and burst in a translucent spray. Sometimes they will laugh at your songs, their minds taken away from their predicament as a nurse scans an ultrasound wand over their chest.

Most times, it's good news. The kids cry, they hem and haw in discomfort. Their parents would rather be anywhere else, someplace where nothing can hurt their children. But in the end, the news is good, their hearts are normal, everything is in its proper place, working as it should.

These patients are the easier ones.

The harder ones are not okay. As the doctor delivers the verdict you play with the children. You fold balloon animals over the sobs of their mothers, or perform a magic trick as their father asks pointed questions in a low, desperate, needful voice. It's your job to entertain, to help the kids relax as they are plugged into monitors, drilled through tests.

The job offers little reward, because in the end, you can't heal them.

The job offers little.

The job offers.

The job.


The only thing left.

Is a forced smile.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Little Buddy

"Hey! Hey! Order me a pizza!" A disembodied voice subtly whispered in my office. It was late: the clock in the corner of Windows read 5:36 PM. The rest of the floor was empty, all my colleagues were gone for the evening.

"Who said that?" I asked, "Who's there?" My fingers hovered over the keyboard, arched and tense.

I sensed someone was playing a trick on me. All too often I was the butt of office pranks, like the time Simmons in finance taped a "Dirty Dancing" poster to my ceiling, or the day Kanchelskis hung paisley drapes on my wide office window.

"Yeah, with pepperoni and mushroom," The voice replied.

I couldn't place where it was coming from. I got up from my seat, and walked the hall outside of my office. It and the adjacent offices were all empty. I returned, still tense. If it wasn't a joke, what could it be? A ghost?

"Yeah…get me a soda too," The voice mocked. It wasn't so much a whisper, I realized. The voice was full bodied, but muffled, as if it were yelling through a heavy cloth.

Confused, I looked down at my stomach, taking a moment to take in its curves, its girth. The buttons of my dress shirt were stretched by my belly, standing tall like little soldiers.

"Is that you, little buddy?" I wondered aloud. I had to admit, I was hungry. Maybe my empty stomach was trying to tell me something.

"You got it!" The voice answered.

"You want a pizza? Pepperoni and mushroom?" That seemed odd to me. I hate mushrooms.

"Do you mind? Can I pay you back later? Friday?"

I furrowed my heavy brows. Why would my stomach pay me back? How would it?

I giggled at the thought. Maybe it would finally crap out those two quarters Billy Meyer dared me to swallow back in the fifth grade. And then another laugh: I could buy myself two sodas with that half dollar.

I picked up the phone to order, my hand stretching across my desk to call the number of a local delivery place. Just as I began to dial, something powerful struck my office window, shaking the blinds and sending a reverberating rattle round the entire room.

I screamed, lurched, and came crashing down, my legs tangling heavy in my chair. In a panic, I kicked the chair away and pushed myself up to my hands and knees.

It is a ghost! My mind screamed.

Prepared to run, I looked back over my shoulder. Just outside my window, drawn up by long ropes, was a man with a bright yellow hard hat, a wet squeegee in one hand, a bucket in the other. Dark grime covered his hands and face, but his teeth were a brilliant white against the half set sun.

"Sorry…!" He waved, spotting me on the floor, the glass muffling his voice.

Disturbed, embarrassed, I didn't wave back. In seconds he was gone, onto the next window.

Friday, November 2, 2007

The Kid and the Mark

They called him, The Kid. He was young, Vietnamese, with spiky black hair and a clear complexion. He smelled of trendy body-cologne, a heady mix of overpowering spices and a High Karate sensibility.

"Isn't she beautiful?" He ran a well-manicured hand over the ass of a cherry red car. He left it there, lingering, absorbing its crisp morning chill. "We just got it in yesterday; you're the first to see it."

The Mark nodded his head, and ran a hand through his thick, dark beard. His opposite hand fingered his keys, deep inside the pocket of his chinos. "Very nice," he said, in an even, noncommittal monotone.

The Kid walked to the driver side door and held it open for the Mark. The car dinged in warning. The clean, pure, new car smell wafted the air seconds later. "Would you like to take it for a spin, stretch your legs a little?"

"Sure." The Mark slid into the seat. It matched his bottom like a well-tailored pair of slacks, the leg, head and shoulder room fit like a coffin cut to his size. He turned on the radio, running the receiver through blasts of static and blips of music and jockey talk, until he reached his favorite station, 94.1, smooth jazz. The music added a soothing affect to the car.

"It's got 12 speakers, the premium sound package." The Kid leaned through the door, "Only the best right?"

The Mark rested his hands on the steering wheel, and spotted his old car, parked distant, alone. It was faded white, rusted around the edges, with natty threadbare tires and a bent antenna. Sad in its solitude, the nearest car was a hundred feet away, its glossy black finish a mocking joke compared to his old car's dilapidated state.

Listening to the soothing tones of smooth jazz, the Mark watched his car with tense, sad eyes. The old car was full of memories, good and bad. He had driven it for ten years, since college.
"Want to take it out," the Kid asked, interrupting his reverie. He had a lot riding on this sale. He was the lowest guy on the totem poll, suffering the ignominy of the dealership giving him the email address of

They stuck him with the used cars and internet leads, were he shuffled through loser after loser. The people he dealt with had little money and often bought the cheapest car they could get their hands on. If he sold this deal, he would earn some respect. It would be his first new car sale, and it would bring in a decent chunk of change, enough to go to the strip club across the street one night with the other sales guys, instead of hanging out in his crummy apartment, eating tuna again. He hated the smell of tuna; that smell of fish and oil. He hated the way it stuck to the roof of his mouth. No, he wanted the strip club, he wanted a steak, and he was going to close this deal.

"What do you say…?" The Kid leaned further into the driver's compartment, a menacing tension in his shoulder. "Let's take it out."

The Mark shook his head, his eyes still distant, the new car forgotten. "I can't," he said. "I need to go." He jumped out of the car, nearly knocking the Kid over. "I'm sorry."

He walked away, fast, purpose in each step. When he reached his old car he flung the door open, and sat in the driver seat. The morning sun had given the car a smothering warmth and it smelled of spilled soda and old French fries. He turned the key once, twice, three times before the engine engaged. The smooth jazz of 94.1 came back on. His shoulders relaxed.

The Kid stood by the new car and watched the Mark drive off, his daydreams broken, from strip clubs to tuna.

First Review

On Michele Lee's The Fix: Short Fiction Review. "This one is worth a tenacious read."

I like that.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Kool-Aid Man

"Happiness is a tall glass of Kool-Aid." I laugh at my adolescent innocence. I found it in a box in my parent's attic, dog-eared, folded three times. It had lived the past ten years in obscurity, mingling with homework assignments that showed little effort and less imagination.

It's a picture of me, broad bulbous head, rosy cheeks, long haystack yellow hair, and spindly arms and legs. Back then I must have thought I didn't have a torso.

I know I have one now though, because despite the break in depression, I still feel as though my heart is going to beat out of my chest. In the distance, lacking any true sense of perspective, my parent's are drawn in next to our house.

There I am, standing next to Kool-Aid man, the bright red contents of his innards splashing seductively, ready to be consumed. He looks immortal, but it makes you wonder: If you took a straw to Kool-Aid man and drank him dry, would he die?

The thought makes me laugh. Mascots are lucky. They never die, the just reach their moratorium, their sell-by-date.

After staring at the picture for awhile I fold it and put it away, sandwiching it between a report on the lower intestine (graded: C), and a book report on "The Greening of Treehorn" (graded: B-).

I push the box into a corner of other stuff I plan to throw away. I stand up and realize that I've finished. Everything's been divided, some of it worth keeping and some not.

It's sad to see how small the keep pile is.

Part of me wants to save everything, as if a receipt that bears my father's signature somehow contains the life force that was once the man. Part of me wants to throw it all away, burn it all, because no matter what good memories I have about these things, no matter what I remember, they will always be tainted with the pain of my parent's death.

So it's an impasse, my sorrowed mind is balanced between destruction and salvation.

Unwilling to make a decision, I find the box with my school work and rifle through it, discarding paper left and right until I find it, that picture of me, with Kool-Aid man, my parents in the background.

I unfold it and take out my lighter, and set fire to one of the edges. I watch it burn until it's nearly up to my fingers, the fire feasting on the dry, aged construction paper.

When I can truly feel the heat on my hand I drop what's left to the floor, and stamp the fire out. Everything I drew is gone, me, my parents, the house, Kool-Aid man. The only thing that's left is a corner with one seared edge.

In the dim room the paper glows like the day it was brand new.

When the smoke clears, I leave the attic, and the house, saving the rest of it for another day.

Monday, October 8, 2007

The Wall

We ran forever on the first day, our feet pounding the equatorial super-highway that split the Earth like a concrete ribbon. We started in Singapore, her and I, and broke west. The sky was open, gray, devoid of color. Beneath it, the highway stretches wide and out, filling the rest of our vision.

In the beginning, the crowds roared for us, chanting our names, holding banners. As we digest the miles, there is less passion, fewer people. They still cheer, though they do it from their homes, from shanties or lean-tos pushed up against the highway's walls like discarded driftwood. Lorry drivers honk their horns when they pass, giving us the thumbs up or shouts of encouragement.

I can feel the sweat soaking through my hair and shirt, lying heavy on my temples. It itches but I refuse to scratch, knowing that scratching will only make it worse.

My wife smiles at me in shared misery. The hair on the back of her neck is damp, and her ponytail sways free to the rhythm of each step. We spoke for the first couple of hours, but the conversation dried out, as civilization dwindled, as we focused on pushing out the miles, our shoes drinking in the pavement.

Seventy miles in, we make camp, resting our backs against one of the bridge's giant suspenders as we swallowed rough bites of cured meat and distilled water. The super-highway is not like most roads or bridges. Supported by the sky, it spans continents. The suspenders climb beyond the top of the world, beyond the eye's ability to see. Outside the atmosphere, invisible to us, counter-weight stations anchor each line.

We start out the next day, our bodies still sore.

We have 27,973 miles to go.

We hope to finish in 13 months.

We run a thousand feet above the South China Sea for the next six days, and eventually see land again. Borneo has grown in the past few generations. Where once it was an idle locale of dense jungles and empty beaches, it now looks like everything else, like a neon circuit board writ gigantic. We ignore its exit signs and push on, past the Celebes. The Pacific Ocean looms below us, an empty wasteland of harsh salt water. The highway is narrower here, just wide enough to handle six cars, side by side.

Out here there are fewer people, fewer travelers, fewer lorries, fewer cars. We see them rarely now, one every handful of hours. Each day looks the same, though rest stops punctuate the highway every 500 miles. We see them only once a week.

"Can we stop?" One of us asks 27 days in. "Maybe walk a few miles?" We glance at each other between each long stride. We can both feel the wall; that place, physically, where we can produce no more.

We both shake our heads in unison. We have another 26,153 miles to go.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Remember the Death of Alpin!

"Cumhnich Bas Alpin," my father gasped, his last words rattling dead in his throat. Remember the Death of Alpin!

I sat at the foot of my father's bed. His death was more relief than pain to me. He had been eighty years old, living a surprisingly long life for someone that relished the vices of war, drink, and whoring. Old age had done for him, though, beating out the others despite the long odds.

"The family words," Father Bede replied. He sat near my father's shoulder, his head bowed as if in prayer. He kissed his rosary and closed my father's good eye; an eye-patch covered the other. "No truer words have been spoken. Apt they are."

I rubbed my forehead with the heel of my palm. My father dead, and rather than saying something useful, he recalled an ancestor 300 years gone. "Yes, very helpful," I sighed. "You think he could have said something more appropriate, seeing as they were his last words. Maybe, I love you son, or, make me proud?"

"Is there anything better than the words of your clan? The words passed down from father to son? They should give you strength. Remember who you are."

"I know who I am." They were ludicrous words anyway, more a reminder of our hatred for clan Dunakin, and their long ago ancestor Bruch, who slew Alpin. "I wonder why we couldn't choose better words. We're not a small house. We have decent incomes, sizeable lands, old prestige."

But we were stuck with Remember the Death of Alpin, while other clans, such as clan Dougall from the East, had jarring words, like Victory or Death. Words like that inspired a man, made the heart beat faster, the loins stir.

"I think you mistake their meaning." Bede straightened from his stool and stretched my father's green blanket high to his chin. "While they do herald your ancestor's lifelong enmity, they provide other insight. Do you know how Alpin died?"

"No," I conceded.

"He was slain by Bruch," Bede began in an urbane air, "with his trousers round his ankles, and his rear planted in a privy. Remember the Death of Alpin may seem weak to you, but it's better than Don't Get Caught With Your Pants Down."

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Diamondback, No Place for Nobody

It was a weekday in Diamondback, which was wonderful to Susan, as it meant she and Ivan had the entire visitation room alone. The room was the size of a gymnasium, and was littered with the type of old Formica chairs and tables that you would find at an under-funded school. They had plenty of privacy, the room was absent of guards. All of the doors were locked, while fish-eye cameras stood silent sentinel in each corner, their black bulbous eyes glittering iridescent under the room’s heavy halogen lamps.

They were halfway through the second day of Susan’s three-day visit. She felt relief that it would be over soon, that she would be able to leave this oppressive place and her husband behind. She drove out here once a year, from Portland, to see him, to check up on him. Every year he looked thinner, older, more worn down. Every year the visit was more harrowing and depressing.

It usually only took one day to wring the conversation out of them. They would spend the next three in silence, just enjoying the small freedom of each other’s company. They would waste the day away holding hands, or sometimes just sitting there and staring at each other. Diamondback afforded them no chance for affection, but there was small intimacy in their ability to comfort each other. Sometimes, Susan felt that just having a female near him, to have someone there that loved him, recharged Ivan’s batteries.

They were halfway through their second day, sitting at one of the tables, a half eaten burrito from a vending machine between them, when Susan could sense that something was wrong. Ivan seemed tense, distant, distracted. She was about to say something when he broke the midday silence.

“I need you to get me something,” he whispered, his hands turning the burrito’s paper plate in a clockwise motion, “When you come tomorrow, I need you to bring something.” His tone was low, but conversational. His eyes left his plate and met Susan’s.

Susan was tense; she had expected something like this all morning, some bizarre and dangerous request. What could he want? Cigarettes? Booze? Alcohol was what put him here in the first place. If the guards caught them her visitation rights would be suspended forever, and Ivan would be locked down for 90 days.

“I don’t know…,” she began, before Ivan interrupted her.

“Just a picture. A recent one. Of my boy.” His eyes moved away from her. "Just want to see what he looks like.”

“I couldn’t bring him, baby,” Susan replied, somewhat relieved. “This is no place for him.”

“But still, a picture.”

“I’ll see what I can do,” Susan promised.

The next day, she passed the metal detector and pat down much like any other, with one difference. Over her left breast, sandwiched between her skin and the tan cotton of her bra, was a recent photo of her son. It was a wallet sized school picture. Susan thought he was handsome, even though his dark hair was too long, covering up his forehead and blue eyes.

The day proceeded like any other; their morning was filled with contemplative silence. At lunch, Susan reached into her bra, miming a scratch, and palmed the photo. She slid her hand across the table, inserting the picture underneath her husband’s plate.

“I brought it,” she said, her mouth working nervously between breaths.

Ivan smiled and nodded. He hunched his head over his plate and slid it forward, concealing the image with his long, thin arms.

“Looks like my father,” He said after several moments.

“Yeah,” Susan replied.

He looked at the photo for a long time, so long that Susan thought he had fallen asleep. Finally, he slid the plate back over the image, and pushed both to the center of the table.

“Take it back,” he said.

“But…?” Susan was confused. Her eyes scanned the room, lingering on one of the cameras.

“Can’t get caught with that in here, and you can’t get caught giving it to me." He paused, running his hands through his close cut hair. "I saw what I wanted to see."

Susan nodded, understanding. “I’m sorry,” she said.

“You’re sure?” He asked, “He can’t come see me?”

Susan looked past him, at the empty room, with its drab taupe walls, orange chairs and tables. At the opposite end of the room the old, wood-paneled vending machines hummed like depressed drunks looking for a handout.

“This is no place for him,” she said. “I’m sorry.”

Ivan nodded, frowning. “It’s no place for nobody.”

Friday, September 28, 2007

In The Beginning, Nothing Lasts

My first pro work dropped today, in Issue 6 of Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show. Liz Clarke, an artist from South Africa, has drawn a haunting illustration to go with it. The artwork captures the tone of the story and really creeps me out!

Here's a teaser:

"Beulah Irene wept as the workers pulled up shovels of rust red dirt from her son's grave. She covered her dark face with her hands, not wanting the men to see her. Thick bandages wrapped her arms from fingers to elbows, the skin underneath burned and itched.

The four gravediggers gave her odd glances between pulls. They were all grim men, with dirty faces and hands. Patches of sweat and red mud stained their denim trousers and cotton shirts.

Irene removed her hands from her face and focused her eyes on the men, wanting to watch until they finished.

It was important to her, even though her son would not die until yesterday..."

Read the rest at Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show.