Friday, July 30, 2010
Jimmy Barletti and Vinnie, his muscle, slouched in their front row seats at the Regal. They watched the last of the credits roll by through a shroud of grey cigarette smoke. Vinnie glanced behind him as the last few people filed out of the theatre. “Looks like we’re good to go, boss,” he said as he ground out his cigarette in the ashtray.
“That Cagney’s some kind of guy,” Barletti said, stretching his arms above his head.
Vinnie nodded his agreement. “Yeah, but he’s no George Raft,” he said.
The men wandered up the aisle of the opulent theater as the heavy velvet curtain slid across the screen. Barletti liked this joint best because of the fancy art on the ceiling. Guys wearing armour and swinging swords, protecting busty dames with next to nothing on.
“I gotta take a leak. I’ll meet you in the lobby,” Barletti said.
“I’m nearly out of smokes. I’ll get a pack from across the road and meet you on the sidewalk in a couple of minutes.”
Barletti had a quick pee and checked his reflection in the bathroom mirror. His fingers scraped against the stubble on his chin but he figured he’d pass muster. He was meeting his girl in O’Reilly’s for a drink. Barletti carefully combed his hair, put on his fedora and returned to the lobby. He pushed open the heavy glass door and walked past the ticket booth. There was no sign of Vinnie.
The bright marquee lights made the misty air sparkle but they suddenly flickered off, leaving Barletti in near darkness. It was only then he noticed the street lamp above him had been smashed. He slipped his hands into the deep pockets of his overcoat, fingering the steel of his snub nose revolver, as he strode along 47th street. Vinnie had parked half block away in front of Cicero’s butcher shop.
Barletti had just passed the dark entrance of Epstein’s watch repair when he heard the heavy footfall of two people behind him. He began to run but traveled only five strides when his left foot caught the trip wire strung low across the sidewalk. Barletti’s knee buckled and he sprawled face first to the wet pavement. His hat fell off and a layer of skin was scraped from his palms as they hit the rough concrete. He clenched his teeth but didn’t cry out, not wanting to give the bastards the satisfaction.
The thugs were on him like hyenas on a dying lion. The skinny guy with the silver tooth yanked Barletti’s head up by his hair while the other guy, the one with the flattened nose, gave him two quick jabs to the face. He was pulled to his feet when Nose guy kicked him squarely in the family jewels. Barletti sucked in air and stopped breathing for a split-second before the lightning bolt hit him in the balls. He vomited on the sidewalk and curled up on top of the mess. The men frisked him and took away his gun.
The attackers grabbed Barletti under the arms and hoisted him up. They nearly supported his full weight as the toes of his wing tips dragged against the pavement. Even with blood in his eyes, he spotted the large man leaning against the light post across the road. The guy’s cigarette glowed below the hat hiding his face but Barletti knew it was Vinnie.
The goons dragged him to their large, black cruiser parked behind the meat shop’s delivery van. He recognized the sexy curves of the ’38 Buick Special. Some of the boys joking called it the Chariot to Hell and Barletti had a bad feeling he might find out if the boys were right.
Silver tooth guy pulled open the door and heaved Barletti into the back. The bench seat was covered with a blanket that looked like it had been swiped from a granny’s bed. It was yellow with white lilies all over the place. Nose guy squealed the tires as he pulled out from the parking spot.
Barletti tried to ignore the throbbing and wetness he felt in his groin area and attempted to steady his breathing, even though his heart hammered in his chest. He was bathed in light and darkness and back to light as they swiftly passed under the street lights heading towards the freeway ramp. The rain fell harder now; it tracked down the window above them in glistening tears. He tried to raise his head but was rewarded with a cuff to the ear with the butt of a gun. “Don’t make me mess up the interior of this nice car, asshole,” Silver tooth said.
“What the hell do you guys want with me anyway? What did I ever do to you?”
Nose Guy chuckled and glanced in the rear view mirror at the prone form in the back seat. “You’re a pretty stupid guy, Jimmy. I’d heard you were a smart guy, but that ain’t true at all.”
“What are you talking about,” Barletti said, glancing up through his swelling eye, more sensing than actually seeing the driver.
“Ya know that broad you been seeing?”
“Yeah, her. She’s taken goods ya idiot.”
“So what. That’s between me and her!”
“Maybe. But ya gotta ask yourself, what kind of moron would fuck the police chief’s wife and ‘spect to get away with it?”
“Yeah. Real moron,” repeated Silver tooth guy, jamming the gun barrel into Barletti’s ear. The thugs laughed in unison.
The large black Mariah, propelled by its 141 horses, sped along the freeway towards the marshlands west of the city. The heavy rain drummed against the shell of the car and disappeared into the water that pooled on the road.
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
Anyway, I've roughed it out on paper and have to type out a first draft today. I'll try to get it together for Friday. My overlords are really cracking the whip again at the moment as it's the last week of the month and a certain quantity of steel must be issued for manufacturing by the end of the month. Or spankings will ensue. I won't go into details...
I have all of next week off. Normally it would be a great time to get some reading and writing done, but there are at least three household projects that I have neglected that require my attention. They all involve some amount of painting. Did I ever mention that I am the son of a painter? Not the 'acyclic on canvas' type of painter...more the latex on drywall sort of painter. When I was 12 my dad started taking me to job sites as a helper during summer breaks. Making the money was good, scraping and taping not so good. That may have been instrumental in my decision not to become a painter. Anyway that's another story. If I don't get some work done on those projects my bride will be annoyed...
...speaking of brides...those of you who follow Cathy Olliffe blog, Life on the Muskoka River, may have noticed the drastic changes she has made. It's all in an effort to help her celebrate her upcoming wedding in 60 days or so. Pop by and have a peek. She's also looking for your bizarre wedding stories and photos. I've got nothing to say to that end. Nothing out of the ordinary ever happens at
While I pimping things up...Kat over at Crooked Tales is still looking for your erotic stories for her 'Smutfest 2010' contest. Entries can still be submitted until July 31, 2010 and you can get all of the naughty details here.
And, of course, Michael J. Solender is still seeking submissions to his Dog Days of Summer Contest. Deadline for that is August 15, 2010. You can get all the information here. Hey, it's only 101 words...how bad could it be...?
Yikes! Almost forgot about the ongoing humourous Vampire Commentaries from Katey Taylor. Part 2 deals with Martin (1977), Dracula (1979) and The Hunger (1983) and you can link to that here. Part 3 deals with The Night Stalker (1972), Vampire Hunter D (1985), The Lost Boys (1987) and Near Dark (1987). You can link to those here.
Saturday, July 24, 2010
- Cut the Verbal Clutter. Train yourself to write with fewer words. Your readers will love you for it. If you can make twenty-five words do the work of fifty, you have reduced by half the amount of material the reader must assimilate to get the intended message.
- Keep it Simple. Contrary to what some people seem to believe, simple writing is not the product of simple minds. A simple, unpretentious style has both grace and power. By not calling attention to itself it allows the reader to focus on the message.
- Don't Overstuff Your Sentences. As a general rule, a sentence should have no more than one main idea. We emphasize general because this rule, like so many others, is violated by some good writers.
- Train the Ear. Writing is at once a visual and aural medium. Although not all writing is intended to be read aloud, most good writing can be read aloud with no detrimental effect. It is important, therefore, for anyone who wants to write well to train the ear to recognize the good and bad aural qualities.
- Help the Reader. An often-repeated axiom is that communication is a two-way street. But clear communication is the responsibility of the writer, not the reader. The writer must therefore give the reader all possible help in understanding what is written.
- Watch Your Language. Words mean things. You can no more write well without using words well than a composer can create a symphony without understanding rhythm and harmony. Good writers know that connotations are often more important than definitions, and that the true meaning of a word or phrase is the effect it has on readers.
- Set Your Work in Concrete. If the purpose of writing is to convey ideas and information, then unnecessary or unintended abstraction defeats the purpose. The more concrete the writing, the more precise the message it conveys.
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
Jon Strother, 'pappy' of the #fridayflash community of writers, has created a new award recognizing those regularly producing outstanding flash fiction (1000 words or less). The Fabulous Flash Award was presented to me this morning by Cathy Olliffe at Life on the Muskoka River and by Laurita Miller, a fellow islander, who blogs at Brain Droppings. I have become good friends with both of these ladies the past few months (and not just because the are fellow Canucks!) and enjoy every creative creative story, poem, photograph, photoshopped photograph, interview or whatever is going on at their blogs. Please check out their blogs if you haven't done so before.
The acceptance of this award means, of course, that I must sportingly follow a few rules:
- Recipients of the Fabulous Flash Award should acknowledge receiving the award in a blog post
- link back to the person who awarded it
- select four other fabulous flashers to receive the award to keep spreading the joy
- write one or two short lines explaining why you’ve chosen each recipient
- optionally (I know not everyone is on Twitter) tweet, “I just gave the Fabulous Flash Award to (name). They’re worth reading.” Include a shortened URL back to your post in the tweet.
- Pose for a full-body photo wearing only a fez and a smile
Ok, so maybe I made up that last one...
The hard part is selecting four people to pass this along to. There are probably over 100 people contributing stories to the #fridayflash scene and I have about 40 bookmarked and visit them regularly. I think my criterion is to select those blogs who I feel compelled visit each time they post a story and who always reward me for doing dropping by. My selections are...
Anthony Venutolo...what hasn't been said about Ant? His stories always take you to different times and different places in the American culture. With a few words he can shock you, impress you and amaze you with the depth of his characters and the often sordid lives they lead. Drop by his blog Bukowski's Basement, you may get a nibble of caviar or perhaps a bite from a greasy old burger. Either way, you won't go hungry.
Mark Kerstetter...I have been really enjoying my visits to Mark's blog The Bricoleur the past few weeks. I have little background in art, but I feel that I have learned more these past few weeks than all of my previous
47 29 years. His merging of art and fiction is flawless and the factual/fictitious stories of famous artists he has posted have been fascinating. Of all the bloggers I have come across, I have met none who write from closer to the heart than Mark. And I thank him for that.
Pamila Payne...I haven't been following Pamila's blog Bella Vista for very long, but she has impressed me with every flash story. If anyone was to surpass the previously mentioned Anthony Venutolo for 'seedy' stories, it's Pamila Payne. Her street-wise characters may be course but they show a glimmers of salvation and her descriptive stories make you wonder if she is in the room with real people; she is studying their movements and speech, faithfully recording them on paper.
Peggy McFarland...since I have started following Peggy at Eldritch Way, she has posted science fiction, human drama and horror all with equal skill. Her characters are so well-rounded and her descriptive passages are so vivid you feel that you are immersed in their world and you will be held there until Peggy chooses to let you go. Make time to check out her stories.
Sunday, July 18, 2010
Finally I present a couple of night time photos we took from the top of historic Signal Hill last week. One is looking down into the harbour and the city lights beyond. The other is a shot of Cabot Tower lit up. The third is courtesy of The Weather Network and is of a rainbow spanning the Narrows into the harbour. That was taken by Regina Downtown. The night photos don't appear as large as I had hoped. C'est dommage!
Friday, July 16, 2010
In My Mind’s Eye
The rising sun bathes my living room in an orange glow. I sip my mug of hot chocolate; tendrils of steam curl through the air and dampen my nose with condensation. As I close my eyes and inhale the drink’s rich aroma, I’m transported to my childhood home at the other side of the country. I part the sheer curtains, looking beyond the grimy glass and vinyl-sided houses lining my street to the stucco homes in the neighbourhood of my youth.
We didn’t have a lawn when we first moved to the suburbs. The front yard consisted of raked and seeded dirt, a small Pampas grass and a cherry blossom tree. Across the street from my childhood home grew a field of tall, golden grass that bent and swayed with the wind’s breath. Children frequently filled the space and launched their kites into the sky. The colourful shapes often gained such altitude we feared they would drift into the paths of planes approaching the nearby airport.
At the eastern edge of the field, where it bordered the school grounds, grew a tall maple. One spring morning I climbed high into the branches of the ancient tree whose waxy, green leaves were beginning to unfurl. Using a pearl-handled pocket knife I carefully carved my initials, and those of a girl I secretly liked, into the bark of a branch thicker than my father’s arm. Later that week the girl caught me admiring her from afar.
“Why don’t you take a picture? It lasts longer,” she teased from across the school yard. My embarrassment prompted me to avoid her for the rest of the sixth grade—and all of grade seven.
The field was eventually subdivided into properties and large stacks of dirt were scattered around the area like giant Hershey’s Kisses. The neighbourhood boys frequently set up brown and green plastic soldiers on the mounds and bombarded them with lumps of dirt until the enemy was vanquished. As such war games progress with boys, the group eventually split into two camps and tossed our ammunition—dirt bombs—at each other.
“Take that, you Commies!” I shouted, lobbing a grenade.
“Get ‘em, guys. Let’s nail ‘em with these bombs,” shouted one of my other Allies.
The war games were a major source of amusement that summer until young Teddy took a direct hit to the forehead with a lump of dirt concealing a jagged rock. He stood stunned for a moment and eventually put his grimy fingers to the wound. A lazy stream of blood meandered to the corner of his eye. When he saw the red on his fingers he began to shriek and ran home to his mother. A ceasefire was declared.
As the summer progressed our mild climate blessed us with regular sunshine and minimum rain, typical for that region of the country. The shirtless boys played outside constantly; their pale skin eventually darkened to shades of chestnut brown.
The neighbourhood continued to evolve. Holes were dug, foundations poured and skeletons of new houses were soon erected. Large concrete sewer pipes lay stacked across our street awaiting their burial in the soil. One afternoon our front door bell rang, rousing my father from his afternoon nap. He answered the door. Nobody was there. He had just gotten comfortable in his chair when the doorbell rang again. Another walk to the door to find nobody. He sat down. Upon the third ring dad dashed to the door, again finding the entrance empty. He sprinted down the stairs and across the road. It took only a few moments to find a long-haired teenager hiding inside one of the pipes. He dragged the youth out by the scruff of his neck.
“If you ring oor bloody bell again I’ll kick your arse!” he shouted, pointing a nicotine-stained finger at the boy’s nose. “And if you tell your old man and he doesnae like it, tell him to come aboot and I’ll kick his arse an’ all!”
The youth, his eyes wide and his face ashen, nodded and fled through the construction zone. Truth be told, the kid probably didn’t understand my dad’s threats because of his thick, Scottish accent. In today’s world, the boy would tell his father who, in turn, would call the cops and have dad charged with assault and uttering threats.
Time crept past and the field was finally gone. Eventually the Pampas grass grew to such a size that small children could hide within its depths, ever mindful of the long, slender leaves that could slice their exposed skin. The cherry tree grew full and brightened the front yard for a couple of weeks each year with its fragrance and pink flowers. Somehow, though, its network of branches became an annual haven for wasps.
I release the curtain, losing my view of the street. The old neighbourhood is both many miles and many years away. I sip my hot chocolate but discover it has gone cold and wonder to myself: Where do all of the kids play these days?
Thursday, July 15, 2010
I know that seems a banal topic, but I had to post about something because I was getting sick of looking at the beardless photo of myself. Thanks for all the comments on that last post. Mostly. The jury is still out on whether the moustache comes off.
Back to wood chips. Why that's of importance to anyone else, I do not know. We bought a new dog bed for Jet and it lay on the floor in my office for a few days until V took the initiative to move it up to the living room. It's from Costco and apparently the filling is wood chips. I'm not complaining about that because there are worse aromas that could waft from an office. Like
I apparently lost a bet recently and the punishment is that I have to pimp out some sort of sleazy contest. Kat Del Rio over at Crooked Tales is running Smutfest 2010. Many of you who read the #fridayflash stories may already know Kat and her steamy fiction.
Perhaps you made a wrong turn in the bad part of town and ended up in that dark alley. Yeah, that alley with its overflowing trash cans and back entrances to seedy nightclubs. That's where you hear the Kat call. You can get all the contest information here. Drop by her blog and give her a hand (just make sure you wash it first). Spin your sordid tale. Let the eroticism spill forth. I know ya want to.
I'm reminded of another steamy tale I recently read at Lerftbrainwrite, the blog of Linda Simoni-Wastila. But that's not why I'm mentioning her. Linda offered up a link yesterday at her blog taking you to 'I Write Like' where you can paste in a sample of your work and have the style and word choice instantly analyzed to reveal which famous writer your style resembles.
I pasted in samples from all 8 of my #fridayflash stories: Dan Brown, Stephen King, Dan Brown (at this point I'm waiting for Stephenie Meyer to pop up), P.G. Wodehouse, a Chuck Palahniuk and three Vladimir Nabokovs. I must admit that I have heard of Vlad but couldn't tell you any or his work. Apparently his biggest success was Lolita. Hmm...that was a bit erotic, wasn't it?
Sunday, July 11, 2010
Friday, July 9, 2010
It was wet out and Mr. White was glad to be home. He pulled the anorak off his back the moment he stepped inside, juggling the package in his hands as he wrenched his arms free, before flinging the coat on to the telephone table in the hall.
He careered into the front room, dropped his arse into his easy chair like a saggy depth charge, and expelled a gasp of breath still perfumed from the spicy curry he had eaten the night before. His wife had not yet acknowledged his existence. She was sitting in a chair the twin of his own, the space between them occupied by a table that heaved with glossy magazines, two over-flowing ashtrays and a selection of half-eaten snacks and candies, nestling amongst discarded wrappers. Peeking out from under the clutter was a copy of the self-help book, "Learn to Unlock Your Wit and Charm: Booze!"
His wife's attention was focused entirely on the enormous television, as the local news reported on an atrocity at the zoo.
Mr. White declared, "I WISH you wouldn't watch that rubbish... oh darn!" The television snapped off, while the package in his hands seemed to twist and turn as though alive.
"Hey!" his wife exclaimed, then she noticed that the remote control lay undisturbed on the table between them.
He held the package out to her now. "It grants wishes, Mother," he said. "Thr-two of them!"
Mrs. White tore at the wrappings until she held it, naked in her hand. A monkey's paw, soft to the touch and bloody at the stump. She turned her eyes to regard the now silent television. "Oh, Father, you're a celebrity."
"You know what this means?" he asked her.
Their son had died and today was the anniversary of his death, exactly five and one quarter days earlier. Losing him had sucked the joy and colour from their home. Their lives were meaningless - even more so than before.
"I wish our Herbert was alive." As his wife spoke the words, Mr. White silently mimed them, his blubbery lips quivering. "Now what?" she asked.
"We'll have to wait."
"Typical. Never did anything in a hurry, that boy." Mrs. White sniffed and dumped the paw on the table.
Eventually the knock came, the tremulous pattering at the door drowned out by the sounds of the soap opera the pair were watching. Finally, when the knocking grew louder, Mr. White heard it during a break in the action on screen.
"There he is, Mother," he said.
Another knock. Heavy now. "Well, go on then, let him in," Mrs. White said.
"Me? I've only just sat down... oh, fine."
He opened the door. There stood Herbert White, his hand cocked to rap once more.
Mr. White sighed. "Get in, you're letting all the heat out." He grabbed Herbert by his arm and pulled him inside, kicking the door shut behind them. He dragged his son into the front room, pressing him into his own seat. "Let's get a look at you. Well, Mother, what do you think?"
"Aren't his cheeks rosy," she said. "So lifelike."
"He looks a darn sight better than he did when he was alive, always wandering around like something half-dead." Mr. White squinted at Herbert and tapped his waxy forehead. "The mortician did a lovely job. That was money well spent."
"You get what you pay for," his wife agreed. "And considering what he had to work with... I mean, our Herbert was no oil painting. He got his looks from your side, Father."
"He wishes. Got a face like a dropped pie, he has. No amount of make-up's gonna hide that."
"I wish..." The words were wrung from Herbert's throat like barbed wire from a barrel of custard, as he, haltingly, reached for the monkey's claw with his own curled and quivering hand. "... I was de-"
Deftly, with hardly a sidelong glance, Mother White swept the paw from the table. "Typical him; only here and he wants off."
"No time for us," Father agreed, shaking his head sorrowfully. "I expect he's somewhere better to be."
"Off to see his fancy friends."
They nodded, together.
Once more the little terraced house was alive with conversation, as Father and Mother batted epithets back and forth with the ungainly vigour of top-ranked British tennis players. For Herbert White, recently plucked from the jealous talons of an abominable Hell, the nightmare was only just beginning.
Thursday, July 8, 2010
In the gutter, you tend to
notice things normal
people wouldn't dare dream.
You notice puddles;
And that befriending a hungry
pooch can be your biggest
mistake or quite
frankly, your only hope;
Nerf footballs make the
oddest shapes when each
end is chopped off and
they make damn fine pillows;
Blended beers from different
bottles don't taste all
that bad once you get used
to the initial warm jolt;
If you think women are hard
to come by in the waking world,
brother, just wait until you
haven't showered for a fortnight;
You realize that the time
of day doesn't seem all that
Bums celebrate Christmas;
You hair can hurt;
A small radio tuned to a lonely
talk station will get you through
the coldest of nights;
Oh, and a can of soup won't hurt;
You remember your best job
and wonder how it all went
And then you remember;
You start to blame people;
Your shitty company;
that fucking president;
And then you take another
sip of that glorious hooch
and hope you pass out
before the wind keeps you awake;
You look at children walking
to school and that makes
you weep on so many different
levels that it's incomprehensible;
Their bounce reminds you
of promise and that's
something long gone;
You savor matchbooks;
You consider knocking that
old lady in the head just to
get off the street and land
in a nice warm cell, but then
you remember your mother and
hear her soothing voice;
After a time, the gutter
makes you read people
much better than you would
normally; you can see
where they went wrong;
It's in their eyes.
John is a regular contributor to the #fridayflash scene. He is also one of it's most popular contributors, as evident in his essay Exposure by Community recently winning the first #fridayflash writing contest held by its founder Jon Strother at his blog Mad Utopia.
His humour is very slick and subtle and, if you're not paying attention, it may pass you by. Such was the case with his entry in the Land's Edge flash fiction contest. It was most obvious (Duh!) that his story was about the Christmas holiday. My initial reaction to this tale was, "Big hairy deal, I get it...white beard, rosy cheeks...pretty obvious who the dude is!" The other judges promptly smacked me up the head with a half-eaten pastry. "Read it again," they said. I did. You know what, there is an entire substrate there I hadn't noticed. I challenge you to read the following story carefully. Again if you must, and appreciate the writing of John Wiswell.
He moved north at the first opportunity. Way north. He cut all ties, even to his mother, which was the hardest on him. He was a mama's boy. His hair went white from all the stress, including his beard. He took that as a sign to change his appearance and began dressing in pants as soon as they were invented. He spent so long in sedentary hiding that he put on tremendous weight, face filling out, giving him rosy cheeks in the snowy environment. He stayed in doors as much as possible, but always came out around his birthday. It was too lonely, even with the elves that had found him and made camps all around his house. They fashioned him thick boots and gloves that comforted his scarred extremities so much he took up carpentry again, making little wooden toys. The gregarious wee folk did so much for his spirits that he reached out to a similar-sized people - children. He only went out on his birthday, but brought a sack of the toys with him for those boys and girls who had the right attitude. There were always more gifts to give, too, as the elves copied his work and began production for every good child. And associating with children turned out to actually help, for in his old life he had been an average-sized Jew, but to children he was a giant. So his new identity was a jolly mammoth with a white beard and a bag of presents. Even though he only went south on his birthday, no one made the connection. He was safe. No one down there ever guessed that Santa Claus was an alias.
Wednesday, July 7, 2010
Cathy writes in an with an 'earthy' flair and tells tales about regular folk thrust, sometimes, into unusual situations. Her entry in the Land's Edge flash fiction contest was no exception. The Blue Swimsuit is a story about a man's memories of a little girl he met years ago at a popular Ontario beach. Let's take a short walk through this man's thoughts. This timeless story is set in 1966, but it could just as well be 2010. Heck, the beach may be just down the road from you.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The Polaroid is like a home movie frozen on one frame in the projector.
Faded almost to white.
Even her navy blue swimsuit is faded. But you can still tell it's blue.
Her light brown hair, caught up in a strong breeze, shining in the midday sun, is lighter. But you can still tell it's brown.
Her smile is enormous. Beatific. Contagious. And she's got these crazy sunglasses on, perfectly round, clamshell pink.
He fingers the edges of the photograph. The date is handwritten on the bottom.
July 14, 1966.
A perfect summer day.
He remembers seeing Cheryl for the first time.
He is at Wasaga Beach, stretched out on a towel, a bottle of Pepsi and a John D. MacDonald paperback lying in the sand beside him, a camera in his hand. He ignores the hundreds of bright young women who walk by him in their best bathing suits, a parade of taut, tanned skin and sprayed curls, stepping lightly to impress the hundreds of young men who gawk openly as they go by.
He barely notices them.
But he sees Cheryl.
She is running pell mell down the beach, sand flying up from her feet in every direction. She is chasing a plastic beach ball, coloured like gas station flags, and she is squealing because some other kid is in hot pursuit. Likely a brother. He watches. The kid chases her for a bit, to make her happy, then dekes out and goes to where a bunch of girls are hanging out at the hamburger stand.
Cheryl takes the ball over to a young couple who might be her parents and tries to get their attention but they're talking to another couple, laughing and drinking Labatt's 50. They scold her for interrupting, then shoo her away.
Unconcerned, she picks up an orange pail with a white plastic shovel, and starts wandering down the beach.
He watches her meander further away from her parents. Nobody but him is paying attention.
He gets up from the towel and walks towards her.
When he's close enough he begins to take pictures.
He smiles as the shutter clicks.
She is so happy.
Soon she will be a headline in newspapers across the country. "CHERYL THOMPSON, 6, MISSING" will be replaced after a week by "BODY PARTS FOUND IN GEORGIAN BAY" and finally "TRAIL GOES COLD IN SEARCH FOR CHILD KILLER."
For a few minutes more she is still a little girl playing in the sand on a pristine summer day.
He walks up beside her and gets down on one knee, like he is proposing.
He is blocking her sun so she looks up.
"Hey mister," she says.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The window flapped and clattered in the wind, but it didn't bother her. When Gina was little she'd have flinched and whimpered at the sharp noise. She would have welcomed any excuse to stay awake, any excuse to have her father lift her, hold her tight and whisper warm assurance in her ear.
She lay on the cold bed clothes, listening. They were arguing.
The wind blew the casement, slapping it against the frame with a dull shiver threatening to burst the glass. Inside, papers flapped under a pyramid of crayons, a rag doll shivered in the breeze, and silk flowers bowed and curtsied frantically.
She heard. "Leave those alone!"
She heard. "Get that fucking dog out of here!"
She heard. "Why is this so easy for you?"
Chancy scraped at the door. He whimpered and puffed wetly at the gap, paws scrabbling on the wood.
She heard her father. "It isn't healthy. We can give them to charity. Christ, Joanie, it's February. We have to take the tree down, at least."
Gina pulled herself to the edge of the bed when she heard her mother's first raucous sob. She twisted inside, feeling her mother's anguish. There was so much emotion that it bubbled through her, rather than finding a place to lodge. It was too much. Her eye's bulged with greasy tears, even if she did not fully understand why.
Her father's voice came, soothing and strong. "Let's get these away. We'll go see your mother tomorrow."
Chancy huffed and blubbered at the space between door and floor, black nails skittering off the cheap wood.
Gina heard her mother, but the voice was too low to make out. She strained forward on the bed, hoping to hear what she said but the words were muffled.
Her father's voice was stronger. "I'm taking him out, Joanie. You know, he just misses her too."
Chancy was no longer scraping at her door. There were no voices. Gina strained to hear anything, but toppled from the bed instead. She landed wetly.
Eventually, her father spoke again. "He's outside. Please, babe, you have to be strong."
Gina dragged herself forward. She wanted to hear what was being said.
"We'll throw it all away, or give it to whoever needs it."
Hand over hand, Gina clawed her way to the door. She pressed her ear to the wood, hands pressed either side of her head. Her fingers bunched with excitement, dragging at the door loudly.
She gasped when she heard her mother say, "what's that scratching? Are you sure Chancy is outside?"
A long moment passed. She had heard her mother walk to the door, touch the door knob, could almost hear her strangled breath as she fought away the tears. Her mother did not open the door, instead she held her hand to the handle.
Gina reached up and thought she felt the warmth.
Tuesday, July 6, 2010
"Where other girls were having tea parties, dressing up and playing barbies, running around carefree willy-nilly, I was playing funeral, Go to The Hospital and Die, and my barbies were kidnapped, tortured and then they managed to find their way out of the horrid mess all on their own."
Kara is a charming woman who can post blogs about horror with great humour and imagination. Though when you read her poetry and short stories you discover that she's all about the business of horror and to her it's no laughing matter. The judges were impressed with Kara's story The Light and Shadows of Independence. She took as for a tour through the thought process of a person on the edge...perhaps even over the edge. Her tale was dark, in the evil sense, and the descriptions of light and dark were well done throughout the story. I present to you the third place entry in the Land's Edge flash fiction contest.
You sit in your bedroom, double-edged memories slice through your mind as fireworks burst outside, boom in the night sky, crackle with searing shot. They remind you of her.
You remember the Fourth of July when you met her so many years ago, before she’d become your wife. Her auburn hair slicked into pigtails, freckles dashed over full cheeks; life’s light flashing in her gaze, drawing your eye, until you wanted nothing more.
You wish you could tie your heart to the next explosive to make up for the pain you’ve wrought her and your children. Lights dance across the window and faraway people murmur, excited. It will be better if they see you, instead of the kind and friendly person they think they know. You struggle against shame and guilt. Your insecurities a fuse, she the match that lit them. She burned so bright, magnifying your doubts until you weren’t sure if you were good enough.
You place your head in your hands, rocking the chair forward with a squeak. Groaning with succinct harmony.
Rockets flair outside, explosions rain through the dark.
Boom. Crackle. Sizzle.
You didn't realize the depths your piety selfishness ran. Now you do.
A fist to squelch her flame. A word to smother her light. You know it should have never been, but you feared being eclipsed, despite your love.
So, you pushed: to break her, to trip her, to tick her off. Each time ignoring the voice whispering, ″Let her rest, she's a good girl, she needs a break.″
No! Your mind had cried. She doesn't deserve a break!
If you allowed her an inch, a breath, she would leave. You couldn't have that. She was yours, no one else’s.
Colored lights flicker through sheer drapes.
She grew wary of your pushing, she was ready to leave. You'd blown it. Ten years of marriage. But you’d told her, “You’re not leaving. All I’ve ever offered is your protection…”
A sigh escapes your lips. You wait for the fireworks to end but they keep coming, combusting.
The Fourth of July: Independence Day.
Her Independence Day.
You don't want independence; you want your wife, your family. You had thought: How will my sons grow without their father? And once the moment calmed, you’d told her, “I'll go to counseling. Is there a way you can ever forgive me?” Because you had stomped her into nothingness. You see the error of your ways. You must say anything to make her stay, to keep her shackled to this life, your heart.
The spark you thought you’d snuffed out flickers to life once again in her eyes. The flame says, “I'll try.”
Trying is not enough because it doesn’t change anything, it will only make her stronger. And it kills you—this tearing inside, the choice covered in a veil of shadows. The fireworks, her smile, her promise, they flint your fear and fuel the panic inside your chest. She'll be too independent, too ready to give it to everyone, willing to share what is yours. You hate that she’s stronger than you. A seizure of despair grasps your heart, jerking it again and again until you can barely breathe. Her light will leave you in the dark, it is what suffocates you, lifeless. It is her fault. Not yours.
You must do something.
Her or you. You or her. What will the choice be?
Light is too distracting, water moistens your eyes. It is too much, you kn-kn-know...it's your fault. Someone brilliant couldn't love you with the shadows playing over your heart. You should have stopped it, never allowed yourself to feel her heat. It is too much, too intense, and now you will never kn-kn...know, what your life would have been like.
You turn your head, it hurts even to look at the flashes of fireworks. Too much like her. So much greater than you. Finally they end and people sigh in joy and leave. It soothes your soul to know that it was right, to extinguish the light because there is no peace in a blazing flame.
The darkness is your solace.
You turn slowly and your gaze falls across the bed. There she lies: belly bloated, dead eyes, light extinguished. Nothing more to share with the world, no power left to drive you crazy. You breathe a sigh of relief, at peace, finally.
You are a good husband.
She has her independence.
Monday, July 5, 2010
David regularly posts gritty, noir-type stories to the #fridayflash scene and I have come to enjoy his 'working class-guy' style. I present now The Millennium Princess by David Barber, second place finisher in the Land's Edge flash fiction holiday contest. All I can tell you about this tale is that it occurs on the eve of the Millennium...and a princess is involved. Please give it a read and then talk amongst yourselves.
Note that the princess photo is courtesy of Costumes Inc. and you can link to their website here.
“This is supposed to be a fancy dress party,” the Vampire at the door said, “What have you come as?”
I looked inside and saw all kinds of characters milling around, talking and dancing. I grabbed a woman and told her to jump on my back.
“There. I’ve come as a snail, and this is Michelle,” I said pointing to the laughing woman on my back. “Now get out of the way and let me in.”
The Vampire, speechless, stepped aside and I walked into the party. The woman jumped off my back and I thanked her, only realising as she walked away what a fine looking arse she had.
I made my way through the throng of people. Mary Queens of Scots was chatting to Charlie Chaplin while The Statue of Liberty was dancing with Batman. I’ve got to say, it was one of the best fancy dress parties I’d seen in a long time, probably because it was Millennium eve, though.
Anyway, I wasn’t there to assess the costumes, although one of the characters before me was of importance. You see, I’m in the private security business and, New Years Eve or not, I had a job to do: even if that meant being in the biggest gay club in London.
I made my way towards the bar area, the music bellowing out from the DJ’s platform to my right. Prince was telling everybody it was 1999.
No doubt in another hour or so, Robbie Williams will be telling us it’s a Millennium, I thought to myself as I approached the bar.
“A large whisky on ice,” I asked. The bartender, dressed as a cowboy got me my drink. As he turned to fill my glass from the optic two eyes, tattooed on his bare arse cheeks, stare back at me.
The barman turned and brought back my drink, a flirty smile on his face.
“It’s the tattoo’s mate, not your arse. Don’t flatter yourself.” I said, turning and leaning against the bar.
The place was buzzing, the music was thumping and I had a job to do. I scanned the faces around the room. Everyone was here. Marilyn Monroe was on the dance floor kissing with JFK, albeit two blokes. Elton John was getting down with David Bowie, while Madonna was dancing with the ugliest version of Wonder Woman I had ever seen. The usual fancy dress suspects adorned the rest of the place.
I walked away from the bar, sipping at my drink. I got a few stares from guests, as my attire quite obviously didn’t blend in with the general theme of things. The Village People, one by one, filed out of the toilets to my right. Almost in unison they wiped white powder from their noses, sniffing loudly as they passed me.
‘There’ll be no stopping the music for them tonight,’ I thought, draining the rest of my drink. I left my empty glass on a table I passed.
I knew who I was looking for, but at the moment my target was nowhere in sight. I made my way round the room, rubbing shoulders with every celebrity under the sun. I checked my watch.
Desperate times called for desperate measures. I had to cause a commotion. I walked straight into the main crowd of revellers and started ripping masks off of the people who wore them. Screams and yells of protests were drowned out by the music the DJ was playing. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw my target. I should have guessed, the costume was so obvious. Cinderella made her way to the back exit and I followed as quickly as I could. She ran awkwardly in her stiletto’s, holding the huge dress up with both hands. It was a comical sight.
As I reached the back of the club, I saw the emergency exit closing shut. I ran, caught it before it closed and stepped out into the cold night air. Fifty or so yards away a figure stood leaning against the wall on the other side of the alleyway, smoke bellowing from its mouth. I walked towards the person I’d come for.
“It’s getting close to midnight,” I said.
“Yes, and I’m going to turn back into a little slave girl when the clock strikes twelve,” The figure dropped its cigarette and ground it into the concrete with a stiletto clad foot. “OK, Prince Charming, I’m coming.”
“I think that’s best, Prime Minister.” I advised.
Sunday, July 4, 2010
I was not familiar with Mr. Robertson prior to the contest but I'm aware that some within the #fridayflash circle are. He is a self-taught musician, composer, writer, poet and philosopher. Some of you may have read his entry this weekend as he posted it as his #fridayflash story for this week. For those that haven't read it, I present it to you now. Enjoy.
Festival of the Lift
None of us knew why they called it the Festival of the Lift. Word went out, be ready on this date. Settle whatever you need to settle because we're lifting off. We didn't really care what it meant, Jackie and me. It was a party, no question. We were ready for that.
Of course, things had been getting strange for some time, what with the sounds coming from everywhere, deep whines and sighs and hums, indistinct at first, then louder and clearer, a buzz in our ears that everyone got used to because we had to. No one knew what it was, and truth is, no one cared that much, because what came with it was a rising sense of … what? Peacefulness, a kind of relaxed cheer that held a sense of optimism.
We talked less as the Day approached. Some of us, Jackie included, stopped speaking completely. She didn't need to, at least not to me. I knew what she meant by every gesture, every expression. As she grew silent, her eyes seemed to grow larger and to shine. It seemed to me she was seeing something, maybe many things, that the rest of us could not see.
On the final day the bells began, chiming away the hours, then the minutes. The colors of things, which had been growing brighter and sharper daily since the announcement, began to mix with each other, to shimmer and glow. Night had been gone for some time now – the light and colors had been different, but always present, always visible.
Our imaginations were in high gear for this event. It felt like every thought we had, every memory, every fantasy, could become real at any moment.
The morning of the Lift, the sky changed from flaming yellows and oranges of the night to morning's magenta and pink. It was like the changing hues of the wings of a monarch butterfly caught in the morning sun.
Vague motions near the horizon. My body felt ever larger and lighter. My mind too. Conversation was getting a little hard to imagine under the circumstances. “How you feeling?”
Jackie grinned at me, her face like a piano wire being drawn tighter. “Ha,” she said finally. “Ha!”
Things began lifting around us, rising gently into the air. An old hotel model armchair, overstuffed and dusty, rose without rocking from the front yard of a house. In it sat a tiny woman, hands clasped, body relaxed, a comforting aura about her, wearing a beatific smile. She looked down on us as she rose. The chair turned like a leaf in an eddy until she had beamed her smile down on all below. We smiled back at her, sensing that our turn would come. Then a bench rose, and stones and a tree, and then … everyone.
I felt colors playing over my skin, under and through me, like music. I realized I wore no clothes and couldn't decide if I had actually been wearing any before, maybe not for a long time. All around me people arched their backs, facing the eastern sky and then I realized there was no direction; there was only up. The earth had dropped away, or gone transparent, and in that boundless sky, I saw there were planets, it seemed you could touch them, all lined up in an arc, Jupiter leading Saturn and Venus and the rest, moving closer in perfect time to the music we sensed but could no longer hear. I realized that was it, it was the music from the planets, we heard it all the time without knowing we heard it and it made all other music comically weak by comparison, making us yearn to hear more and join in that song, hearts ringing like bells and and yes! we were bells ringing joyously to this music ... and I was happy yes! except there was no longer a me, we were a union just perfectly happy to be moving toward those spheres, toward a body I could find no words to describe, could not even imagine, but I could see Jackie's face, a cloud of joy before me, and she knew ... she knew ... she knew.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Mike has been rarely published but has been writing fiction since age twelve. He turned from word to music in his twenties, having realized he wanted to be a writer more than he actually wanted to write. Music (and zen) seems to have cured that malady over time, and having raised his family and finally retired, he has returned to his first creative love. He has written a number of short stories (all unpublished), a novelette and most of his first novel. You may find more of his flash fiction at http://lazlokovaks.com/Flash%20Fiction/FridayFlash_Story.php?ff=4.
Saturday, July 3, 2010
- My last minute
beggingappeal for stories, combined with the Tweeting by fine friends, resulted in quite a few last minute entries. The judges were pleased at the high quality and entertaining submissions. With that in mind, I will be announcing first, second and third place winners (recipients of book prizes) and also six honourable mentions. I'd like to thank every one of you who took the time to write these wonderful tales and enter them in the contest. I am sorry that I can't use all of them here, so please don't be offended if your story wasn't mentioned. As noted, the competition was stiff.
- I'd like to thank the other two judges who 'blind read' all of the stories. Fellow islanders Laurita Miller of Brain Droppings and Ellen O'Toole of MyMentalPicture joined me in an evening of lively discussion of the stories submitted. There was hardly any wailing and gnashing of teeth. We had to narrow five very strong stories down to the top three and reach a compromise on the order. I must say that co-operation was the order of the day and my facial scars are barely noticeable in a dimly lit room. I likened their impassioned plea for their favourites to the beatings I used to suffer at the hands of my three younger sisters. But we're all still friends...they were easily placated with copious amounts of coffee, cheese danishes and caplin flavoured bran muffins.
- Umm...my last point was so bloated and long-winded that I can't remember the third point that I was going to make. I guess I'm just a forgetful ass. Let's forge on.
One thing many know about me is that I hate to get dressed up in a shirt and tie. Since I'm in this outfit, I have to get a lot of mileage out of it so I'll start with a little joke...
This American, Canadian and Scotsman go into a pub...um, scratch that! Not very PC. *Looks in son's big old joke book* ...
To some, 'marriage' is a word ... to others, it's a sentence...Har!
Anyhoo...without further ado, the winner of the Land's Edge flash fiction contest is Mike Robertson of Columbia, Missiouri for his story Festival of the Lift. Second place goes to David Barber of Crieff, Scotland for his story The Millennium Princess and third place is K.M. McElhinny of Ohio for her story The Light and Shadows of Independence. I shall be in touch with the three winners shortly to get mailing addresses.
I shall post The Festival of the Lift tomorrow the 4th of July, The Millennium Princess on Monday, July 5th and The Light and Shadows of Independence on Tuesday, July 6th. In no particular order, the honourable mentions go to Pablo Gully and Cathy Olliffe (stories will be posted on Weds, July 7), Anthony Venutolo and John Wiswell (Thursday, July 8), and Michael Solender and Anton Gully (Friday, July 9). Thanks again to everyone that took the time to both write and submit such great stories . I invite everyone back this week to read the writers listed above.
Excuse me, must run and get out of this damn outfit!