Lost Children

Thomas Pluck and Fiona Johnson are awesome people. I mean, teh awesome. See, they put together this flash fiction challenge where for every story received they would donate cash money to a couple of select charities. Of course the response was fantastic and they reached deep down into their own pockets and sent some funds to PROTECT: The National Association to Protect Children and Children 1st UK.

They are at it again, but this time we all have a chance to be as giving. They put together an anthology of some great stories that came out of that flash fiction exercise and it will be sold as an ebook November 1st. Again, the proceeds will go to PROTECT: The National Association to Protect Children and Children 1st UK.

It’s an honor to be just one of the writers included in the anthology. Please look for it on November 1st.

 

Why Write? It’s Sure Not to Eat

Recently I’ve been MIA. I dropped off facebook and twitter except to plug a story, interview, or author I’ve recently read and liked a great deal. Some time ago, a friend made an observation: “you’ve been hiding”. Another friend asked me what I was up to because she hadn’t seen me on-line in awhile. I told her I’ve been busy with work, which was only partially true and she knew it.

While it is “crunch time” at work, I’ve also been wrapping up and revising a number of projects. The first draft of my novel is complete. I have two new short stories finally finished. And I have a couple of poems in the hopper. Through a few emails she finally asked the question that I’m sure was bugging her: “Why do you spend so much time on that?”

I laughed and asked her if she had been talking to my wife. But, she didn’t let it go; she was earnest in her question. So I had my usual conundrum: what do I tell people when they ask me why I write?

Usually, I tell them “I don’t know”.

I’m a big, fat liar.

I lie with a straight face. I don’t feel bad about it. I lie so well that if I played poker, I’d be rich enough to not need a fellowship or win a contest or be the next Steven King to help me support my writing addiction.

I could spit out “I have to write”, but that has no meaning to people who are not writers. They don’t understand the obsession or how not writing can affect a person. If I come home from work and am a jerk, the first question my wife asks me is: “you didn’t get a chance to write, did you?” So, “I don’t know” is a perfectly good response.

Even I’m not entirely sure why I do it. Perhaps I write to clarify, to make sense of the world, to entertain. Whatever it is, it sure isn’t to put food on the table.

Jon Dewey observed, “We do not learn from experience…we learn from reflecting on experience.” Like most writers, I am writing continuously: scratching out idea at kid’s karate practices, recording plot ideas while walking between classes, intently listening to the old people in the booth behind me discuss Sam’s need for a kidney (while technically this is eavesdropping, I like to call it research).

When I go to the park with my kids and watch them master the monkey bars for the first time or block a lay-up at basketball practice, when I sit on the couch with a kitten on my lap, feeling it push its paws up and down on my stomach, when I am awake at night unable to sleep listening to the fan whir, I make sure to jot those moments down.

Many of the moments don’t ever leave the cheap composition pad I wrote them on; but, when that book is full and I am ready to put it away, I review them. I see where praising my daughter would be more appropriate than getting frustrated with that strong-willed terror, because she really is a good kid. I see where I could have listened to the subtext of a conversation, or the body language more closely and recognized that my wife really wasn’t angry about my shaven ear hair in her sink, but I had been so “busy” I hadn’t really sat down and talked with her for awhile. Best yet, I can see where I had a breakthrough in my own writing, a beautiful “ah hah” moment about a certain piece that was bugging me.

People are mean, and crazy; they are innocent and hypocritical; they are a complex bundle of chemicals and synapses, emotions and values. By writing, I attempt to get at who people are and why they do what they do in our culture. This exploration is more for myself than anyone else, though if they also find it engaging, I am even more happy.

Yes I want people to think, and to explore the complexities of our condition, but I also want them interested in the story, to feel something. Without that emotional charge, I am not making any connection with anyone else, and that is anathema to writing. I, like most writers, write to be read.

One day I hope to look at this topic more closely. I hope to really reflect on the question. Maybe then I’ll even be able to find a better answer than “I don’t know” when I’m asked “why do you write.” Until then, I’ll keep plugging along.

Speaking of writing, please keep an eye out for a poem, “Lilith Braves the Pawn Shop”, recently accepted over at Apparatus Magazine, and a short story, “Camp Deliverance”, accepted over at Title Goes Here.

I’d thought I’d end with this post with a poem. Yes, it’s a draft, but I am enjoying the process of revising it. Again.

My Wife

chews her children’s worlds, listens to the cud of daily life.

The baby yawns between bites;

Her older sister entertains our gaze with tales

of swings, flowers, a boy named Chase.

Afterwards we make fireworks

and kaleidoscopes from toilet paper tubes,

put on music and drum and sing; we dance

in circles. When dusk settles,

we fan ourselves with quiet.

My oldest daughter loves sleep,

the imagination’s Tiger Lilly. The baby

shares thrash and eye spin. She tastes

the world differently: a glutton

for the explosion of textures

and aromas, the sweet gnashing

and slow burn. My wife drinks

coffee, tosses and turns

in bed. She wishes she were warmer, curls

into my skin as naturally as a body unfolding

after a large meal. The streetlight

illuminates her face and I am amazed:

a woman such as this

fits her body into mine whispering

stories that burst

like blood on taste buds;

a woman such as this holds my hand,

and walks with me into dream.

 

Flash Fiction Friday #2

Here we are on the second installment of FFF. We are given a first sentence, this time suggested by me, and our mission was to write a 2000 word or less story based on that sentence.

So here goes my attempt — feel free to comment if it so moves you 🙂

Mom Is Always Right

Mom always said I would amount to something.

I amounted to exactly 5’11,128 pounds and 3 ounces not including clothes. When Slacker cut off my digitus mínimus mánus, or commonly referred to as pinky finger, I might have amounted to less, but indiscernibly so. A person really never considers the beauty of a pinky until he no longer possesses it.

Slacker was my wife’s brother who earned his name by selling dope and living off the girls he fucked. He fucked a lot of girls and lived pretty well. He amounted to about 6’3, 248 of unadulterated muscle.

Slacker was not a nice guy. Cheryl, my wife, said so herself. She said it was the juice, but I thought there was more to it. His shocking blue eyes were a little closer together than the average person which to me seemed somehow predatory. He could enter a house and you’d never know. Scared us a few times like that. We’d be eating our mashed potatoes or whatever and he’d be standing in the doorway just staring at us like he was studying us. When we’d notice him and jump, he’d laugh and give Cheryl a hug his huge paws draped over her shoulders.

Mom, Cheryl’s mom, was the only real mom I ever had. When I was 17, my father killed my mother then put a bullet under his chin with the family’s .38. While one cop said she thought it was homicide, all the others assumed murder suicide. Case closed. I asked them why and they said, “shit happens, kid”. After that I was in counseling for about a year; that is, until the counselor unexpectedly ran off with some newspaper editor from Reidsville.

I started dating Cheryl in high school and her mom took pity on me and saved me from the foster care system. I was able to finish high school, and Cheryl and I were married right after. I took three years of pre-med at the local state college. Cheryl waited tables at Crawford’s Racks and Ribs where the girls wore pasties while serving cheap beer and bar b-que to fat townies. I didn’t like her working there, but the money was putting me through school so I couldn’t bitch too much.

Mom said I’d be a doctor from the day I met her. Mom believed in me. She said a psychic three towns over in Harrison told her in no uncertain terms that her daughter would marry a doctor. One of the only reasons mom said yes to the marriage was because I agreed I was going that doctor in her prophecy. If I lived through this, I’d have to find that psychic and give her a piece of my mind – I hated sick people. But I did love Cheryl.

I’ll admit it, when Slacker took my thumb with his gardening snips, I almost passed out. I know he tried to get between the metacarpus and the palm, and I appreciated that, but it was just too hard to get in there with the thick blades. He put his massive frame down on the handles, his forearm muscles straining, and the snap of bone made my stomach lurch. It was the sound of it more than anything.

I was probably down about, what, 10 grams. If not, blood loss would definitely put me there. What a mess.

A couple of hours before I found myself there in Mom’s basement, a guy up at Crawford’s told Cheryl he’d seen me with some “hot little thing wearing a state T-shirt and painted on jeans”. Slacker was me downstairs within about 30 minutes.

“I’m telling you, Slacker, I mean, shit, look at me, I didn’t have any hot little thing. Ever.”

Slacker was pulling a piece of my flesh that got caught in the snips when he suddenly stopped what he was working on and cocked his head like a dog hearing a door knob rattle. “Ever?” he asked.

“Your sister, I mean, that, that goes without saying. She’s always been really hot.”

Slacker was wearing a black mesh wife beater that showed off his sculpted frame, jeans, and Wolverine work boots, which made no sense since he didn’t work. Through the mesh I could see his freshly shaven pectorals and wondered just what kind of man actually did that.

“Come on, man, I didn’t do anything with some other woman. I wouldn’t. Let’s go find the bastard that said this and get it straightened out.”

Slacker wasn’t in the mood to talk that was clear. He bent down and reached under a worn workbench that hadn’t been used since their father died 4 years ago.

Slacker slid a 40 pound bag of fertilizer to the front of the bench and opened it up. A stench like an overflowing factory farm filled the room. Slacker reached both hands as if he was a chef, and then he seemed to clasp something inside and hauled it out. He wiped specks of fertilizer off the top of the package, then set a kilo of coke on the workbench. Turning on the radio, Hank Williams Jr.’s “Family Tradition” emanated from the miniature speakers.

Slacker fished a pocket knife from his pocket then carefully cut a hole in the wrapping. Quickly he produced a gold-plated metal straw from his other pocket, dipped it in the powder, and inhaled deeply. There was a half cough, a sniff, an exuberant “yes”. I could see his neck vein pulsing as he leaned his head back letting whatever was still in his nose drain down the back off his throat.

“Slacker, buddy,” I begged, “even if I did cheat, which I didn’t, why all this? It’s a bit extreme, isn’t it?”

Slacker opened a rusted toolbox from on top of the bench, grabbed something, and turned toward me.

“For years she’s worked and gone into debt for you. You took her years, her money and more important my sister’s trust. Fuck, Oliver, you took my mama’s trust. How do imagine the scales of justice would weigh that? A finger? A thumb? Maybe a hand?”

A human hand weighs about 300 grams, give or take. Trust is hard to measure. I knew for a long time scales of justice were not always balanced.

That’s when I noticed he had a hatchet in his hand. It was something you would use for kindling or cutting small branches. It was something that could easily go through a man’s wrist.

“You’re crazy,” I groaned trying to wiggle out of my bindings.

Slacker strode toward me, a gleam in his eye. A gleam I have recognized in my own at times. I was terrified.

He raised his hand above his head, striking a pose that reminded me of the Indians in the old westerns right before they killed the poor settlers.

“Sit still,” he said, “you don’t want me to miss and take half of your forearm.”

At that moment we heard a women’s commanding voice declare that Slacker should drop his weapon. I had my eyes closed, so I didn’t see her and when I opened them Slacker had already turned and was rushing toward the stairs.

Two loud pops didn’t stop him as he lurched forward. A third seemed to stun him and his body jerked back like he was shot with a jolt of electricity. A fourth cause the hatchet to fall to the floor with a thud and a gasp of air leave his lips. He dropped to his knees, and then sprawled forward onto his face.

In front of him at the bottom of the steps was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen, all 5’8 and 120 pounds of her. Her chest was heaving, sweat dappled her forehead. She took her State T-shirt sleeve and wiped her face. Her hands were shaking.

“I’ve never been so glad to see you, Detective.”

“Looks like I owe you an apology.”

Detective Hicks kicked the hatchet away, checked Slacker for a pulse, then holstered her weapon. She fumbled with my bindings for awhile before getting me free. She smelled like Lilacs. Probably a Lilac scented deodorant; it worked great.

“I’ve been telling you,” I grimaced holding my bloody hand, “I had nothing to do with my parents’ deaths or counselor’s disappearance.”

“I said I was sorry.”

“You said you owed me an apology.”

“We knew he was dealing,” she said looking at Slacker’s body on the floor, his blood pooling on the concrete. “We just could never get anything on him; but this, we never guessed this.”

“Clearly,’ I said looking for my digits hoping that a doctor would be able to sew them back on. “There’s coke over there.” I jutted my chin toward the workbench. My hand was throbbing.

“Why you, Oliver? Why’d he come after you?”

“Shit if I know. Could I get an ambulance? Christ?”

Hicks called in for a bus while I tried not to pass out.

“My guess Hicks, I’m just throwing out ideas here, he was an overprotective big brother. He never liked me I mean I invaded his house when I was 17, and married his sister, all while his mom had more hope and expectations for me than her own son. But you know the thing that really set him off?”

I heard sirens in the distance which was good because my adrenaline was dropping and the pain was hitting.

“Someone told him I met this ‘hot thing’ today.”

Her face blanched.

“I, I was…”

“I know, trying to get under my skin. See if I would lose my cool, even though I didn’t have anything to lose my cool over. Ah, fuck you very much Detective.”

She looked at Slacker’s body, then at my bloody hand.

“I guess I deserve that. For what it’s worth I’m truly sorry.”

I nodded. For some reason, I really felt bad for Hicks. She looked so vulnerable, so innocent. Strangely it was the first time I ever hoped she’d find the counselor, all 5’10, 263 pounds of her.

The sci-fi nior train

The series exploring Oscar and his Special Forces unit, Azreal, in the service of the PCG (Planetary Control Group) rolls along with a new story, “Furious”, up at Dark Valentine.

The set up story for the series, “Paint Me a Victim, Make Me a Cause”, can be found on Big Pulp.

The others, like “Power Surges” which was previously published at Pulp Engine, follow one of the characters in Oscar’s unit.

Again, “Furious” just came out in Dark Valentine edited by Joy Sillesen, and published by Katherine Tomlinson. What’s really cool about this magazine is not only the quality writing, but the fantastic illustrations that go with them.

If you like the series, “Breaking Knute” is in final edits and will be coming out at Silver Blade next month.

First Two Chapters

Ok, I figured since I’m a little over halfway with my novel I’d share the first two chapters. The first chapter was picked up by The Flash Fiction Offensive.

I know the title is awful, but I am hopeful that the end will give me something to work with. Comments and suggestions welcome.

I’ll be at http://www.wildacreswriters.com/ this July and am going to share a few others. Maybe by the time I start shopping it, someone will be interested. Heh.

Derby Ballard Gets Creative

1

“I tell you what,” he intoned in his nasally accent acquired from too many broken noses, “there is no way, I mean, I like those fellas just fine. Just fine. Both of ‘em stand up guys as far as I’m concerned, but I tell you, they don’t have a cup of sense to sip on. Neither one of ‘em. You hearing me?”

I heard him, but I was trying to enjoy my food and didn’t want to spoil it with talk about lawyers I didn’t even know.

“Look, look, I’m telling you they’re like cats who wander into a kennel of Rots and have no damn idea they’re about to get their heads ripped off even when the dogs are slobbering mad with fangs and muscle and whatnot.”

I don’t know where he picked up that word, whatnot, but he used it so often I was about crazy. I told him if he ever said it in my company again I’d bust his lip. Of course, he quickly figured out to say it only at times I couldn’t respond, like right now while eating my Swedish meatballs at my favorite restaurant. Reece was an ass that way.

It was about that moment I saw his right eye explode out of his head, spattering my meatballs with a tsunami of blood and gray matter. Reece’s mouth hung open, like a man in some soliloquy and suddenly forgot what he was going to say. (I learned that word, soliloquy, from my ex, Rosa, who used it just to remind me what a messed up idea I had thinking I could ever be with a girl like her.) And I suppose Reece did forget what he was going to say since a bullet ripping through a person’s skull-bone would generally have that affect. But I swear he was going to finish his thought before falling forward into his plate, snapping his nose into two places once more.

I imagine the coroner opening him up, recreating the timeline, the 44 bullet traveling at this angle telling the cops the shooter was ‘yeh’ tall and how the bullet ricocheted off his skull just enough to save his friend’s life.

But I couldn’t imagine anything at the moment. I was too busy thinking, ‘what the hell?’

I sat there like a cat in front of a Rot watching everyone dive under tables, pulling their beautiful pasta dishes on top of their heads. I watched the bartender disappear behind the oak bar. I saw people scurrying into the back hall and I saw the boy holding the too big gun in his shaking hand. He looked oddly familiar but I couldn’t place where. Sweat fell from his forehead. His brown eyes had a look that reminded me of something very serious, but everyone laughed anyway. His red flannel shirt hung loosely off his slight frame. He sported a thick head of brown hair, jeans, and the way he was shaking, I bet this was the first time he ever took a human life.

What the hell did Reece do to make this kid want to make him a pirate in the afterlife?

So I sat there looking at the kid, and the kid stared at me, and then he turned and ran out. I was pissed. Reece always left me in these kinds of situations. Now I’d have to talk to the cops. I’d have to deal with their questions and sidelong glances. I’d have to hope it was McClain first on the scene and not that hardass, Nevin.

I’d have to order some more damn meatballs and whatnot.

2

That night a storm came through which seemed fitting considering my mood. The rain pockmarked my windows, hitting the glass like fingers on a table. I hunkered into my couch sipping on some scotch, the half full bottle on the floor next to me and I thought of Rosa. She was, after all, where my aimless thoughts usually led me.

Rosa taught me things. She taught me how to use big words like soliloquy and cornucopia that impressed other thugs like me, she taught me how to dance and like it, and she taught me how use my hands for something other than beating the crappola out of someone.

Rosa moved on, Reece moved on, and I suppose it’s only a matter of time until the cosmic charge of karma busts my chops again. I only needed to look around my scant apartment to know all of that was true: walls painted gray years ago and now just looked putrid, floors scuffed and dirty, a ratty couch and stained Lazy Boy my father gave me before he died and enough memories hanging so heavy in the air I could barely breathe. I had enough in my bank account for more than this, much more, but I was saving up to get my ass out of the city. Though every time I thought I was just about there, I decided I would need a larger pool at the villa, or another car to park in my car garage. I’ve always been waist deep in fantasies and I’ve quickly realized once you get them, the reality sucks ass compared to the fantasy itself.

The knock at my door was soft, almost dainty. I glanced at my clock. 1 am. I took another drink and thought they had the wrong place. Then a stronger rapping reverberated through the room. Guess they had the right place.

“Who is it?” I called from the couch. I wasn’t getting up without a reason.

“It’s me. Open up.”

That was reason enough. I opened the door and the small man pushed past me.

“You have another one of those?” he asked knowing I did.

I went and got a glass, and returned to the living room where he stood looking out into the street.

“Jesus,” he said, “it’s cats and dogs out there. Cats and dogs.”

I filled up both glasses and he slugged his down.

“That’s tough about Reece. Not tough as in ‘tough shit’ but you know,” Sam said.

Reece and I grew up together in Toledo’s West Side. Train tracks, a liquor store around the corner, and Catholic school a few blocks away (which is now locked up and spray painted by the local kids). I got Reece into this business and I often wondered what he would’ve done with his life if I hadn’t. A salesman, probably.

Sam was a funny guy for this life though. Too sensitive. How he ever made it this long or this far is beyond me. Sam’s only skill seemed to be make other people feel that if he could make it in this business, anyone could. This made him more dangerous than any of the thugs out there as far as I was concerned.

I know you were close. Not close like that. Just close,” he stammered.

I gave Sam a look that told him he could shut up anytime. “What do you need, Sam?”

“Bopa. He wants a meeting.”

Of course he did. I nodded and sat back down on my couch and looked out the window.

Sam was Bopa’s little carrier pigeon. Once on a run to a dealer’s place with a simple cease and desist order from Bopa, he ended up in the bathtub with the dealer’s daughter. The way Sam tells it, she seduced him with German chocolate cake and a cup of coffee. When the dealer walked in and saw them there washing their tongues in each other’s mouths while scrubbing bubbles ran down their backs, he grabbed the closest thing he could find which just so happened to be the toilet plunger. The plunger stung Sam in the back and, Sam assumes, didn’t have the punch he wanted because the dealer dropped it in the water and ran into the other room as the wet couple scrambled out of the tub.

It was a twist of skin and water, the tile slick with puddles, and Sam just made it out of the bath when the dealer came back with his 9mm. In a passionate wail, the daughter screamed and dove for Sam knocking him off his feet and stumbling into the dealer like a drunk on roller skates. A shot rang out as the dealer raised his hands to catch Sam but ended up flailing backwards himself. The sink caught the dealer behind the head. When Sam lifted himself off the dead man, he glanced over to the quiet daughter. The water puddles on the tile already  turning pink with blood. Sam called me and I called Jersey our cleanup kid. What a mess.

Sam kind of shuffled from foot to foot, ran a hand through his hair, then looked outside. “Guess I’d better brave that. I’ll show myself out.” And he did.