Archive for short stories

Beth, Clary, and Ben (a scene)

Posted in creative writing, dialogue, fiction, flash fiction, short stories, short story, Uncategorized, writing with tags , , , , on December 14, 2017 by Robert Crisp

After a long bout of freewriting (which included trees exploding into instant bloom, a computer coducting a therapy session with a teenager, and all manner of peculiarities), this scene emerged. I don’t think there will be a second part, but who knows?

“Hey, you remember when we all had phones?” Clary asked.

Ben popped his head up from behind the sofa. God only knew what he was doing back there. Looking for change? Scraps of food? His dignity? “You mean landlines?” he asked.

“Yeah,” Clary said. “Those were good days.”

“How?” I asked. I didn’t want Ben in this, or any, conversation. In fact, it would have been nice if Ben had found a discarded piece of pizza crust, popped it in his mouth, and then choked on it. Such are my fantasies.

“Because you had to answer the phone if it rang,” Clary said. “You couldn’t just ignore it.”

“Well, there were answering machines,” I pointed out.

“Okay, Beth, before answering machines. Those were the days.”

“I think I’m stuck,” Ben muttered from behind the sofa.

Clary and I ignored him. “The good old days were never actually good,” I said. “At least, not as good as we remember.”

Clary shrugged. “I think they were objectively better than now,” she said. “People were more connected. We weren’t all stuck on our phones and Facebook and Instagram and all that shit.”

“A little help here?” Ben said, a little more loudly.

“Yeah,” I went on, “but we still had problems. People may have been more connected, but as long as we’re all big, walking bundles of neuroses, there are issues. I think things are better now. We can segment our craziness and choose to not inflict it on others. That’s why I don’t have any friends. Present company excluded, of course.”

“You’re such a cynic.”

“I’m literally stuck behind the couch!” Ben wailed. “Will one of you get off your asses and move it so I can get out?”

“Fine,” I sighed. Clary hopped off the sofa and she and I moved it forward a few inches. Ben, sweat dripping into his excuse of a beard, crawled free. “Jesus, that was awful,” he panted.

“You’re such an idiot,” I said, shaking my head.

“Hey!” Ben protested. “Why are you being so mean tonight?”

“It’s my talent,” I said and walked toward the door. My people meter was full, and it was time to make myself scarce.

Leaves for a Pillow (short fiction)

Posted in character development, characters, creative writing, dialogue, fiction, flash fiction, short stories, short story, story telling, surreal, Uncategorized, writing, writing craft with tags , , , , on November 27, 2017 by Robert Crisp

I remember writing this creepy little story while at my son’s taekwando practice…and then, as I do with so much of my writing, completely forgot about it. I did a little tweaking here and there and am mostly satisfied with it. Why you would gather leaves for a pillow is beyond me, but that’s what the character insisted on doing, both during the first draft and this morning. So be it.

Now that my health is back under control, I’m writing again but not as frequently. I have zero interest in submitting poetry, so I’m taking a break from that. Instead, I’m combing through stories and poems written during the last year and seeing what can be salvaged.

Here’s the story. As always, thanks for reading.

 

leaves.jpg

Image courtesy of Flickr and the Creative Commons license

 

“You’re very kind,” the girl said, kneeling on the ground and gathering leaves.

The boy watched. He wasn’t kind, but the girl didn’t need to know that yet.

When she had enough leaves, the girl walked back toward the farmhouse. Not enough for a pillow, but a good start. The boy followed but stopped on the porch while the girl opened the door and went in.

“Do you want to visit for a while?” the girl asked. “Mama won’tt mind. She’ll be in the kitchen, fixing supper. Daddy’s gone to town for the day.”

The boy studied the girl. He liked her bone structure, her fine ankles, the tilt of her head and the slow blink of her eyes. She dazzled in a bar of sunlight. He nodded.

“You don’t say much,” the girl remarked, turning and facing the boy. “Or anything, really. Can you talk?”

The boy nodded.

“But you don’t have anything to say right now?”

The boy nodded again.

“Well, then,” the girl said, “I need to get these leaves in a pillow case and gather more. I’ll introduce you to Mama first. Come on.”

The boy followed the girl into the kitchen, where a tall woman stood over a sink snapping beans. She turned and regarded the girl and boy.. “And who’s this?” she asked.

“I don’t know his name,” the girl said. “I found him in the woods. He’s very kind.”

The boy studied the girl’s mother. He didn’t like her bone structure. The girl didn’t favor her at all, lacked the woman’s long face and protruding brow.

“We don’t take in strays,” the woman said. “We don’t have an extra plate, if it’s food you’re after, and we don’t need help on the farm.”

The boy didn’t move. The girl said, “He doesn’t talk.”

“I can see that,” the woman said. “Is he deaf?”

“No,” the girl answered.

“This is my house, you understand?” the woman said, tossing the beans into the metal colander and closing in on the boy. “You’re not welcome here, no matter what my daughter says. Go back to where you came from.”

The boy still didn’t move. The girl said, “Can he help me put leaves in my pillow.”

“No, he can get himself out of here.”

The boy flicked his right hand and the woman disappeared. The girl gasped. “Where’d she go?” she demanded.

The boy shrugged.

The girl thought for a while. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad with her mother gone. She could be quite cruel, and the boy was very kind. Her father might be a bit put out. Maybe the boy could make him disappear, too.

“Would you like to help me now?” the girl asked.

The boy nodded and followed the girl upstairs to her room.

Time to Read

Posted in creative writing, fiction, short story, story telling, writing craft with tags , , , on June 16, 2017 by Robert Crisp

One of the benefits of being a teacher is having summer break, and even though I have both my children home with me, I have more time to read than I do during the school year. After teaching all day, making supper, dealing with baths and breaking up fights, my wife and I make a little time to watch a show and then get in bed to read. I can usually devote thirty minutes to reading before I’m ready to sleep (while my wife, if she’s really into the book, can read until one or two in the morning).

This morning, I woke up and continued reading Stephen King’s Bazaar of Bad Dreams. stephen kingI haven’t read Stephen King in quite a long, and it’s been even longer since I’ve read one of his short story collections. I bought this after reading a book I just couldn’t get into. And then I remembered seeing King’s story colletion, so I got it and jumped right in

I love King’s prose, but it can bog down the story in certain novels. He’s a master of the short story craft, even though in the book’s introduction, he says that he’s still an amateur at 62. It’s comforting to hear that, given how much I struggle with fiction.

I always write better fiction when I’m reading something good, and even though horror is not my genre, I used to write fairly good “speculative” fiction. I haven’t tried my hand at it in a long time…and I also haven’t bothered finishing a story. Poetry is easier for me because I can finish one in a relatively quickly. Fiction takes time, and I’m usually pressed for time. While I like flash fiction, it doesn’t call to me. I still believe a good short story should run about twenty-five to thirty pages, double-spaced (I’ve forgotten the word count I used to shoot for). I could do that before I had children. It’s a lot harder now.

But I have more time this summer, and I’m thinking of going back to some short stories I started. I’ve kept them in a file called “Stories Worth Finishing.” I’m not sure if they’re worth finishing or not, but I’m not going to learn anything more about fiction writing unless I actually finish a damn story once in a while.

So don’t hold your breath for some exciting, ground-breaking, awe-inspiriting story to appear on the site in the next day or two. Expect something messy with some decent dialogue and a rushed ending; that seems to be my speciality.

Leaves for a Pillow (a brief story)

Posted in characters, creative writing, story telling, writing with tags , , , on April 27, 2017 by Robert Crisp

After the first line, this quite short story wrote itself. It’s not perfect, but it sent a chill up my spine, so maybe it’s on the right track.

Leaves for a Pillow

“You’re very kind,” the girl said, kneeling on the ground and gathering leaves.

The boy just watched. He wasn’t kind, but the girl didn’t need to know that yet.

When she had enough leaves, the girl walked back toward the farmhouse. Not enough for a pillow, but a girl start. The boy followed but stopped on the porch while the girl opened the door and went in.

“Do you want to visit for a while?” the girl asked. “Mama may not mind. She’ll be in the kitchen, fixing supper. Daddy’s gone to town for the day.”

The boy studied the girl. He liked her bone structure, her fine ankles, the tilt of her head and the slow blink of her eyes. She dazzled in a bar of sunlight. He nodded.

“You don’t say much,” the girl remarked, turning and facing the boy. “Or anything, really. Can you talk?”

The boy nodded.

“But you don’t have anything to say right now?”

The boy nodded again.

“Well, then,” the girl said, “I need to get these leaves in a pillow case and gather more. I’ll introduce you to Mama first. Come on.”

The boy followed the girl into the kitchen, where a tall woman stood over a sink snapping beans. She turned and regarded the girl and boy with narrowed eyes. “And who’s this?” she said coldly.

“I don’t know his name,” the girl said. “I found him in the woods. He’s very kind.”

The boy studied the girl’s mother. He didn’t like her bone structure at all. The girl didn’t favor her at all, lacked the woman’s long face and protruding brow.

“We don’t take in strays,” the woman said. “Get gone, boy. We don’t have an extra plate, if its food you’re after, and we don’t need help on the farm.”

The boy didn’t move. The girl said, “He doesn’t talk.”
“I can see that,” the woman snapped. “Is he deaf?”

“No,” the girl answered.

“This is my house, you understand?” the woman said, tossing the beans into the metal colander and closing in on the boy. “You’re not welcome here, no matter what my daughter says. Go back to where you came from.”

The boy still didn’t move. The girl said, “Can he help me put leaves in my pillow.”

“No, he can get his ass out of here,” the woman said.

The boy flicked his right hand, and the woman disappeared. The girl gasped. “Where’d she go?” she demanded.

The boy shrugged.

The girl thought for a while. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad with her mother gone. She could be quite cruel, and the boy was very kind. Her father might be a bit put out. Maybe the boy could make him disappear, too.

“Would you like to help me now?” the girl asked.

The boy nodded and followed the girl upstairs to her room.

Writing Prompt (fiction)

Posted in creative writing, fiction, short stories, short story, writing, writing craft with tags , , , , on July 13, 2016 by Robert Crisp

I think I wrote this last year using the book The Amazing Story Generatorthough I’ll have to check.  In any case, the story is funny…which is a nice change of pace. 

Prompt – The night before the wedding, an avid comic book collector grows an extra arm.

Suddenly, there it was, jutting out slightly below his right arm-pit. A rather pitiful limb, to be sure, but a limb nonetheless. A little arm with a little hand, which waved at Norman.

Norman closed his eyes, wishing the whole thing away, but the extra arm remained on his future brother-in-law, Harry, when he opened his eyes. There they were, a mere hour before the wedding, standing in a stuffy room in the back of the church with their tuxedos draped over chairs, and Harry had three arms. “Bloody hell,” Norman said. “Holly’s not going to go for that.”

Harry struggled to put his shirt back on, sighing. Thus covered, his torso looked bumpy, even with the small arm firmly pressed to his side. He certainly didn’t look normal, and Norman doubted that even a tuxedo would draw people’s attention away from the sight of Harry’s ungainly midsection. “I could tell people I have the gout,” Harry said.

“Gout affects your feet,” Norman pointed out. “It’s not known for causing one to sprout an extra limb. What exactly did you get into last night?”

“You were there,” Harry said crossly. “We shut down the bar and then tramped over to the park to howl at the moon. After that, I stumbled back to the hotel. When I woke up, I had another arm.” Tears came to Harry’s eyes, and he tried unsuccessfully to blink them back. “I’m not getting married today, am I?” he asked.

Mostly likely not, Norman thought, but he put on a brave face for Harry. He liked the man, after all, and thought he and Holly were a good fit…or as good as either would get in this lifetime. Holly bore a frightful resemblance to an ostrich, all wobbly neck and a beaky nose and a tendency to hide her head in the sand when life threw problems at her. Harry was a fat, terminally unemployed man who adored comic books; he could ramble on for hours about the blasted things if you let him. The two professed undying love toward one another scant weeks after they met, and Harry sought Holly’s hand in marriage from Norman and Holly’s father. That was a sight to behold–enormous, unshaven Harry hopping from foot to foot, sweating mightily, as he stuttered his way into asking for Eddie Turnbolt give his only daughter to Harry in marriage. Eddie had been drunk, as usual, and weaved his head back and forth, trying to focus on Harry.

“You want to marry Holly?” the old man had asked. “What the hell for?”

“Because…because I love her very much,” Harry replied haltingly.

Eddie shook his head, his massive jowells swinging back and forth like a bloodhound’s cheeks. “It’s a bad idea, I’ll have you know. That girl is naught but trouble and hasn’t more than a few pebbles rolling around in her brain pan. I swear her mother knocked the sense out of her one too many times when she was young. Me, I could never raise my hand to my kids, no matter how terrible they got. But their mother…sweet Mary, mother of Jesus. That woman had a punch.”

“Is th-that a yes…or a n-no?” Harry asked, sweating even more. The entire top half of his shirt was soaked; droplets of perspiration darkened the dingy carpet of the living room.

“What?” Eddie howled. “Oh, that. Yes, good for you two, be happy and blessed. Just make sure you wrap it up, son, because neither one of you have business siring any offspring. Now leave me the hell alone.”

Norman re-appraised the current situation, hoping some brilliant plan would spring to mind, a plan that somehow included his sister looking at Harry and saying, “Oh, that? Just an extra arm? That’s nothing. I love you for who you are inside, dear.” He supposed it was possible, since Harry’s exterior didn’t recommend much. Still, his mind turned up zeros when he wondered how to brooch the topic with his sister…and on her wedding day, nonetheless.

“Well,” Norman said, clearing his throat, “we’d best get about it. Come on.”

Harry clung to a chair in front of him. “I can’t leave. It’s bad luck to see the bride before the wedding.”

“That’s your biggest concern? That seeing Holly is going to somehow going to cast a pall of darkness over your otherwise blessed day? You have no reservations whatsoever about your additional appendage?”

Harry hung his head. He looked very much like a boy rather than a man in his mid-forties, regardless of the number of his arms. “I don’t know what I’m going to say, Norm, or what I’m going to do if she rejects me. I mean, I couldn’t blame her, with me being a freak and all now.”

“Let me talk to her first,” Norman suggested. He turned to leave, and then asked, “Are you absolutely certain nothing out of the ordinary happened last night?”

“No, not at all. Now, if you’d asked me about yesterday morning….”

“What happened yesterday morning, then?”

“I got into a bit of a row with a gypsy.”

“A what? Did you say a gypsy?”

“Yeah.” Harry sunk into the chair, his large, sweaty back covering the front of the tuxedo and wrinkling in. “They don’t care for that term anymore, you know. They prefer to be called–”

“I don’t care what they want to be called. Are you saying you were cursed?”

“Looking at this,” Harry replied, sticking out his third arm from under his shirt and wiggling its fingers, “makes me wonder.”

“Good God. You said it was a row. What happened?”

“Well, the old woman asked me for some money, and I said I didn’t have any. It’s true, I don’t carry money with me, just my card. If I have money in my pocket, it’s going toward comic books, and I’m trying to cut down.”

Norman flashed to an image of Harry sitting in a room full of comic book addicts, all drinking awful coffee from styrofoam cups and muttering sympathetically to each other about the siren song of super-heroes they all found so hard to ignore. “And then what happened?”

“Well, then she spit at me–not the first time that’s happened, mind you–and babbled something in another language. Then she made some weird gestures with her hands and moved along.”

Norman’s face sank into his hands. “And this isn’t the first thing that sprang to your mind when you woke up with an extra arm?”

Harry looked out the small window. A few people had gathered outside to smoke in the chilly air. “You know, I’m only guessing the woman was a gypsy. I just know gypsies from shows and movies. She could have just been a crazy, homeless woman.”

“I think we have sufficient proof she was a gypsy.”

“So now what?”

“Well, if this was a show, we’d track down the gypsy woman and beg her to remove the curse, but that can’t happen today. You’re due to get married in less than an hour, depending.”

Harry groaned. “She’ll hate me! She’ll hate me and never want to see me again!”

“Okay, chuck the first idea of me talking to her first,” Norman said. “Come on.”

“Now?” Harry squealed.

“Now. And hide that damn thing as best you can.”

The two men wound their way through the church to where the bridesmaid were, most of them sneaking drinks from flasks and tittering to each other. One girl with frizzy black hair like a poodle said, “Hey, you can’t go in there! It’s bad luck for the groom to see the bride before the big moment!”

“We have a rather pressing matter that can’t wait,” Norman snapped and opened the door where he presumed Holly was. And right he was: she and her maid of honor, some distant cousin from Leeds they’d scared up at the last minute and pressured into the job, were standing before a floor-length mirror. The cousin was carefully applying what seemed to be a third layer of makeup on Holly’s bone-thin face.

Holly’s eyes blinked rapidly when she saw her brother and Harry, and the cousin fussed around her cigarette, “Now I’ve got to do your bleeding eyes again. Christ on a crutch.”

“Harry, what’s wrong?” Holly sounded alarmed. “You not having second thoughts, are you?”

“No, of course not!” Harry protested. “It’s just…this.”

Harry unbuttoned his shirt, and Norman averted his gaze. With just two arms, a shirtless Harry wasn’t exactly a balm for the eyes. He, like his name suggested, was enormously hairy. Ape-like, Norman thought on more than one occasion, which prompted further speculation as to why he’d seen Harry without a shirt so many times. Certainly that wasn’t normal…then again, neither were gypsies cursing people with third arms.

“What?” Holly said. “Oh, dear, you’ve grown an extra arm.”

“I have, at that,” Harry said, looking down at his body.

“Bloody hell,” said the cousin as she lit another cigarette from her dying one.

“Those were my words,” Norman added. He studied his sister closely. She didn’t look as revolted as she did stunned. Stunned and curious, but possibly accepting.

“Well, that’s all right, then,” Holly said. “You got two arms for holding me and one for grabbing my titties or woo woo. That all works out.”

“It does?” Harry exclaimed in wonder.

“Sure it does. You’re kind of like a superhero now, aren’t you?”

Harry beamed. “Yes, I am,” he said. “Right. I’ll go slip into my tux and meet you later, you sassy thing.”

Holly winked. “Can’t wait to see what that hand gets up to tonight.”

“All right, that’ll do,” Norman said and ushered Harry out of the room. He turned and looked at his sister, ready to thank her, but she and the cousin were already back at the makeup game, staring intently at Holly’s reflection.

When he was out of eyesight of the drunk bridesmaids, Norman lifted his shirt to check if everything was squared away, making sure there were no burgeoning handlings pressing through his flesh. There were none.

And he was surprised to feel a slight pang of sadness at that fact.

Experimental Writer?

Posted in creative writing, fiction, flash fiction, freewriting, short stories, short story, writing, writing craft with tags , , , , , , , on February 29, 2016 by Robert Crisp

The writer Lydia Davis, with whom I’ve just become acquainted, said in a 2007 interview with the Boston Globe,

“I haven’t met a so-called experimental writer who likes the term. It must be people who aren’t experimental writers who call people experimental. It’s just the wrong word. ‘Experiment’ carries the suggestion that it may not work. I prefer the idea of being adventurous, exploring forms.”

Davis’ quote keeps ringing in my head and makes me wonder about the fiction I write. Is it experimental? Maybe. Most of my pieces aren’t “finished” in the traditional sense, and most of them flow from brain to fingers to keyboard. I write and then usually I have to go teach, or change the laundry, or make supper, or tend to one of my children. I rarely have hours stretched before me in which I can write. I would love to believe I’d fill that time with writing (now that I’m sober, I have a better shot at that), but I’m not sure if I would. 

I suppose Davis is right when she says that experiment may carry the idea that the piece may not work. Another way of looking at that “not work” is failure, and that’s not something I apply to my writing anymore. I like some pieces better than others, but none of them are failures. The only failure is when I don’t write. 

Shifting gears slightly, a colleague of mine asked recently what I wanted to be when I grow up. My truest answer is a full-time writer. Since I’m only 42, it’s an achievable goal. In the meantime, I’ll continue to teach, write poems…

and “experiment” with pieces like the following.

Dr. Bee and the Nurse

He couldn’t tell if there was going to be an end to the meal this time, but he knew if there wasn’t, his daughter would have something distracting to say about it. He supposed he was programmed for that, so he shouldn’t complain? Right? Like he was a yes-man to everything else in this god-forsaken world, so why not that? Why not when it came to his little deaths, his children? King Lear never had it so bad.

Now, why did he go and say something like that? For one thing, he had sons, not daughters so there was one huge difference between himself and King fucking Lear. There were others, he knew, but he couldn’t remember more than the gist of the play right now. That was happening more and more lately, his inability to recall poems, plot lines, entire plays he used to teach, year after year, to classes of mouth-breathing Philistines who wouldn’t know good literature if it reared up and took a money shot to their balls or wee little pussies, so pristine and good, pure stock from the Puritan passed down and watered through baptisms and Baptist fellowship chicken bakes, where fat fathers stuffed their sweating bodies into ill-made suits and Mamas bathed in cheap perfume because you never knew who was looking or smelling. One couldn’t be too careful, even the Holy Spirit picked up on whiffs of sin, and what better way to mask that than with oie de toilette and bacon fat?

Oh, to be forty again, he thought, moaning a little. Was he asleep or just comfortably reclined? Who the fuck knew? “Comfortably Numb,” his oldest son, Falcon, would say, trying his damnedest to sing. The old man didn’t care for the original, let alone his idiot son’s butchering of the song. Jesus Christ, he was thirsty! And not for water, which is all the headstrong and head-banded nurses, seriously suffering in the art of beside manner and tender ministrations, seemed to bring. What about some whiskey, for God’s sake?! Something with some fucking kick to it, not just water, and for the food! Jello which shook like some red lady’s pock-marked ass, and some kind of torture-gruel that looked unfit for prisoners-of-war.

What was that dream, where I was the hero? What fucking war was that? Korea? Vietnam? The Big One that left Owen in a wheelchair, covered in his own shit half the time until his cross-eyed whore of a wife thought to change him? Jesus, so much suffering, so much pain on this blasted rock, and most of it never documented in pages, just left to rot in the minds of rotting bodies in the rotting ground. None of it matters.

He was sure he was awake now. The lights were brighter, poppier, and noises had the acute taste of metal. A fine meal to satisfy this craving, he told himself, and then he said it aloud, his voice a rusty pipe banged on by a screwdriver.

“Say what, Dr. Bee?” asked the nurse absent-mindedly, hovering somewhere near him, her giant, pillow-like arms able to suffocate him in a snake’s split-second. Oh, he knew! He knew! How could he not know?

“Say what, Dr. Bee?” the nurse asked again, taking a moment to cough up something extreme and hideous, her chest vibrating and nearly exploding with juice, the kind that made the Good Doctor wonder what the hell was next. Some drugs, he dared hope. Anything to take the sting of this pitiful existence away.

Did he have daughters? He did not. “I do not,” he said.

The nurse craned her head, big as a child’s balloon about to pop, toward him. “I gotta change you now,” she said. “Time to get and see if them britches is clean or soiled.”

“If you come near me,” said The Teacher, clear as a newly forged, bronze bell–the kind that’s inscribed with philosophy, its tongue made of some kind of amazing metal that never fades nor loses its ability to coax dulcet tones from its outer shell–the lip, shall we call it?–and therefore, the peals would go on and vibrate into eternity–“I will cut your jugular and watch you bleed like a stuck hog.”

Well…that took care of absolutely nothing. The nurse changed him and out the door she went, muttering curses.