Ben the Would-Be Cannibal (story snippet)

 I came across this story snippet as I was going through some old writing, and I was struck by how often cannibalism comes up as a theme in my work. Also, for every completed story, I have perhaps fifty or so partial stories. So it goes.

No picture for this one. I’m not terribly keen on Googling “cannibalism.”

“I’m supposed to care about something, you know,” Ben said as he chewed on a face.
“What if I’m a sociopath?”

“Well,” Donovan observed, “you’re eating a human head. And just because you’re
supposed to do something doesn’t mean you should. Shit, I’m supposed to go
to church, but I don’t. Also, I’m sitting here as you demonstrate you’re a cannibal, so
what does that say about me? I’m supposed to stop you, right? Or at least protest in
some way?”

Ben sighed. “I’m not really a cannibal. This is processed.”

“Doesn’t matter. You’re eating a processed human, which they say tastes like the real deal.”

“I guess.”

“You haven’t eaten a real person, right?”

Ben sighed again. “No.” He could have, of course. There was nothing stopping him
from exploring the black market and picking a body. It would be dressed-out and
ready to cook. Instead, he was gnawing on human-flavored gelatin face. What
respectable cannibal would eat a face, anyway? Could you even cook a head and have
the features stay in place? Maybe if you closed the eyelids and simmered it in broth,
Ben reasoned. The facsimile face he was dining on had gooey, sweet-flavored eyeballs.
He imagined the real deal was a bit tougher and more salty.

“So why are you worried you’re a sociopath?” Donovan asked. “I mean, the current
activity notwithstanding?”

“Because like I said, I don’t care about anything. Not school, not girls, or cars.
Nothing, man. It’s a scary feeling.”

“Which means you’re not a sociopath. Do you think a real sociopath pauses to
reflect on his lack of empathy?”

“Maybe. Like, early in their sociopathy.”

“Have you ever tortured or killed animals?”

“No.”

“See?”

“That doesn’t mean anything, Donovan. The mutilation of animals is only one
indicator in a wide variety of cues that might signal someone’s a sociopath.”

“Well, for someone who doesn’t like school, you don’t seem to have a problem
learning. At least about sociopaths.”

Ben shrugged and ate.

Donovan studied the beheaded false corpse before him. Eventually, Ben would have to
remove its clothes, and Donovan didn’t want to be around for that. Ben had
ordered a male corpse, which Donovan guess was better than a female corpse, but he
really wasn’t sure why…

 

The Pattern (short fiction)

In the spirit of Joyce Carol Oates. Please pardon any typos I may have missed.

 

The Pattern

If she looked closely, she could see a pattern, and she could see herself in the pattern. This didn’t happen every day, of course–she had to be in the right frame of mind and receptive to receiving the pattern and her place in it. Over the years since the accident, she estimated that she’d detected the pattern about fifty times. Of that fifty, she’d located herself in the pattern about twenty times.

She couldn’t talk about the pattern with anyone, not her husband, not her sisters, and certainly not her friends. But they weren’t really friends, were they? And as much as she loved her sisters and her husband, that weren’t of ultimate consequence. The accident had proven that she could live without them. She could live without anyone, or so the pattern indicated, and she believed the pattern over all things.

After the accident, she lay in a coma for three months, and that’s when the pattern had come to her. When she woke to her broken body, her torn and disfigured face, the pattern was burned into her mind. She remember the fiery way it came, like the tongues of flames that appeared above the apostles head on Pentecost, She’d known she was on the brink of death; that feeling permeated everything. In the coma, she had a series of dreams, all of which were lit by the fire of the pattern. It flickered over walls, highlighted the ground, filled the sky. Sometimes she dreamed she was a young girl, and other times she was a old woman. No matter the dream, no matter the non-sequiturs her mind strung together, the fire followed, and she felt peaceful.

Nearly a year of physical rehabilitation followed her waking, and she bore it with uncharacteristic stoicism. Her husband said she was remarkably brave, and she just nodded. He was afraid of her, afraid of her new-found strength and determination. Her doctors were skeptical that she would walk again, but she was walking after six months. She underwent two surgeries on her face but stopped short of cosmetic repair. The scars formed their own pattern, and she liked them. Her husband urged her to get the cosmetic surgery, but she wouldn’t be swayed.

When she was cleared to leave the rehab unit, she found her house stifling. It was no longer her home, she realized, and she convinced her husband to sell it. In the home’s place, they settled into a small apartment in a neighborhood that made the husband uncomfortable, but he found that he couldn’t tell his wife no. She had been returned to him, more or less whole, and every day was a gift, or so he told himself She wanted to move, and so they moved. He would grow accustomed to the neighborhood with its loud music and questionable young men who stood on the corner, laughing and smoking and hitting each other. He had been a young man once, but he had never acted like that.

She went for long walks, even though it was painful. She walked with a limp and would for the rest of her life, or so the doctors said. That was all right, she decided. Her new neighbors stared openly at her, disturbing by her ruined face. That was all right, too.

She couldn’t have explained the pattern to anyone, even if she felt they could be trusted. The pattern defied description, and it could be apprehended by her alone. It made her sad sometimes that she couldn’t locate herself always in the pattern, but ultimately she decided that was the nature of life and, indeed, the nature of the universe. The universe didn’t have to include you in its plans, but it was wonderful when it did.

As much as she could determine from the pattern, she had only to follow it when prompted. The first indication had been to leave her house, which she had done. The next part had been to walk through her neighborhood as much as she could, mentally mapping the terrain, and she did that.

She hadn’t worked since the accident. She found she hated her job and work in general, and she was relieved when she discovered her company had terminated her. What a horrible thing, work, she realized. Her husband was an investment banker and made more than enough money to support them both, but he wondered if she wanted to perhaps get a part-time job or maybe volunteer. She shook her head no. It’s not that there wasn’t time for such things, for there was, even with the promise of the pattern. But she had no desire to do anything unrelated to the pattern.

Her husband was more patient than most men, and he felt overwhelming guilt whenever he allowed himself to wonder What’s wrong with her? She’s healed physically, but it’s like the rest of her is just…elsewhere. She would have agreed with that sentiment, had the husband shared it. She was certainly elsewhere in her mind, her spirit. She was seeking the pattern, having seen it enough times to crave more. But she was not in control of that. She simply had to remain open.

The woman’s sisters and friends slowly separated from her, and they shared worried whispers about her less and less. Eventually, her husband took a job and Seattle and said he would return to move her there with him, but he never did. She didn’t mind. He still supported her. Her bank account was alway full and never need replenishing. She had more than enough money for food and the occasional item of clothing she bought.

All the while, she continued her treks through the neighborhood. As time went on, people developed stories about the strange woman who limped up and down the streets, her eyes scanning back and forth, sometimes talking to herself. The stories ranged from true, that she’d been in a terrible accident that affected her mind as well as her body, to patently false, that she was a cold-blooded murderer who had done away with her husband. Most people felt sympathy for her, but some hated her for no reason other than she was different. One day, some kids in a car threw rocks at her, one large enough to leave a jagged gash in her forehead. She fell to her knees.

“Crazy bitch!” one of the kids sang out from the open car window as it sped away.

She stared at the concrete, tracing its web of cracks with her fingers. “The pattern,” she whispered, knowing everything–the accident, her sisters and husband abandoning her, the cruelty of the world–was worth it.

The Severed Finger (flash fiction)

This scenario ran through my head as I drove to work. 

fingers

Image courtesy of Flickr and the Creative Commons license

They both stared at the severed finger on the kitchen table.

“Well,” Daniel said, “that’s not what I was expecting.”

“I can’t imagine any scenario in which a severed finger is what you’d expect,” Heather replied.

“You lack imagination.”

The two were silent were a few moments. The finger didn’t speak or move, but Daniel pretended it did. He couldn’t quite make out what it said.

“Look,” Heather said, “we just need to decide what to do. I vote we put it on ice.”

Daniel stepped closer to the table and inspected the finger. It looked to be an index finger, rather tanned, not terribly wrinkled. A youngish finger. “It depends on who it belongs to,” he said.

“Why does that matter? If someone lost a finger, we should save it for him, right?”

“Or her. Unless she’s a horrible person. Then we might be doing the world a favor by depriving her of the finger. Maybe she couldn’t get up to as much evil if she was a cripple.”

“Missing a finger doesn’t make you a cripple,” Heather said. “Besides, that’s not a nice term.”

“Cripple?”

“Yes.”

“I guess so.” Daniel scratched his chin. He was grateful to be in possession of all his digits. “Do you know,” he asked, “what a polydactyl is?”

Heather thought and then said, “Someone with an extra digit.”

“If the person that lost this digit is a polydactyl, then he doesn’t need this finger.”

“Or she doesn’t need it, as you pointed out. I find it funny that you’re concerned about the gender of this person but you’re quite cavalier about using the term ‘cripple.’”

Daniel smiled. “I’m a mystery wrapped in an enigma.”

“Something like that.”

The two continued staring at the finger, no close to deciding what to do than when they first entered the room.

Writing Prompt (fiction)

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.

A Couple of Swells (short story)

I suppose one day I could submit stories for publication, but I know nothing about the market…and I have enough to do with submitting poetry. In the meantime, I’m happy to post fiction here.

Since my time to writing is limited (usually forty-five minutes a day), I’m trying to write a complete draft rather than writing for a bit and leaving characters in permanent limbo. This one came rather easily after the first line.

A Couple of Swells

“What the fuck was that?” Judy Garland’s ghost asked, looking up at the ceiling. “What do you have up there, a team of wild horses?”

That time, she appeared as young Judy Garland, right at the start of her career. Sometimes, when she was feeling cranky, she showed up as she was in the 1960s. Still larger than life, still able to command an audience like none other…but tired. Wearing thin at the edges.

I sighed. It was just more ghosts, but I didn’t want to get into with Judy. She was something of a drama queen, which probably doesn’t surprise you. I was just glad that Mickey Rooney’s shade hadn’t shown up because God knows it would have been a bitch-fest broken up by sporadic dance numbers. The whole thing was just plain uncomfortable.

“I asked you a question, Darren,” Judy said in her most imperious tone. She stamped her foot on the ground, which didn’t make a sound. Unlike my guests upstairs, the only noise Judy made was from her voice. The woman could still belt it out, but it was clear to me that night she had no interest in singing. At least, not at that moment.

I could have lied, which I did sometimes, but she often found out the truth, and then she was pissed.”It’s a dinner party.”

“Oh, delightful,” Judy purred. “Shall I go up and entertain?”

“No, I don’t think that’s wise. Just stay down here with me.”

Judy pouted, and it was hard to take her seriously. “And why must you be the only one to enjoy my presence tonight?” she asked.

“Because I know those ghosts up there, and they probably don’t want anything to do with you. They’re more into punk.”

“Oh, they’re ghosts,” she said, drawing out the word as she lowered her head as if ready to weep. “And here I thought you’d actually gotten some friends.”

Judy didn’t like competition, but at least the ghosts stayed upstairs that night. She’d gotten into terrible fights with other ghosts who’d showed up on what she referred to as “her nights.” When that happened, she demanded everyone pay attention to her or get the hell out. She’d look at me, demanding my help, as if I could disperse the other ghosts. I could not more do that than I could summon them. They came and went as they wished.

Judy, on the other hand, could clear a room. There were notable exceptions, of course, including those she didn’t want to leave. Frank Sinatra was always welcome to stay, as was Sammy Davis, Jr. Of Dean Martin, she said, “That man is deplorable, and I’d rather drink a gallon of kerosene and swallow a match than spend a mere moment of my afterlife with him.”

Judy perched herself on my sofa, crossed her legs, and scrutinized me. “Darren, you look horrible,” she pronounced. “Are you getting enough sleep? Eating well?”

“I’m fine, just a little worn-out from the day,” I said, keeping the real reasons to myself. So far, and to my great surprise, I’d been able to keep from Judy the girlfriend I’d had for the last few months, but that secrect wouldn’t be a problem anymore.

“No, there’s more to it than that,” she said. “But if you’re not going to be honest, what can I do?” She snapped her fingers. “I’ll sing to you! That’ll at least make you feel better!”

“Oh, no, Miss Garland,” I tried protesting, “that’s not really necessary to–”

It was too late, as always. Judy blasted into “Zing! Went the Strings of my Heart,” and zing, came the headache. I don’t mean to sound cruel; she still has an incredible voice, but you haven’t been two feet away from her when she’s singing. Her voice is like a physical object in the room, forcing itself on it whether or not you want it. I pulled a happy-ish face. When she finished the song, she slugged me on the shoulder and said, “Still glum, chum?”

“No, I feel better,” I said, convincingly, I hoped. “I always do after you sing.”

We heard another crash upstairs, followed by raucous, drunken laughter. Judy scowled at the ceiling, saying, “Listen, if you want me to man-handle those bastards up there, just give me the word.”

“It’s okay, really. They’ll settle down and be out of here before you know it. How about another song?”

Judy’s face lit up. “Now we’re talking, buster. Which one? I got a million and two, you know.”

See, that’s my real job. I’m here to make sure they’re okay, and even though I had a splitting headache that night and bummed out about Tiffany, I knew Judy showed up because she needed an audience, just as the ghosts upstairs needed to have a crazy dinner party. I offered sanctuary of a sort, and I took my role seriously. Too seriously, probably, because I’m sure that’s why Tiffany ditched me. I never let her come over to my place, and I cancel dates left and right when ghosts showed up, needing something.

“You certainly do, Miss Garland,” I said. “How about ‘By Myself’?”

Judy wrinkled up her nose. “That’s a little blue, don’t you think?”

“Well, maybe, but you sing it so well.”

That was all it took. “Anything for you, darling,” she cooed and began singing softly.

I closed my eyes and leaned back, reminding myself that no one else on Earth was as lucky as me at that moment, having a personal concert given by Miss Judy Garland herself, dead nearly 50 years…but with me at that moment. A little transparent, a little monochrome, but beautiful as could be.

Experimental Writer?

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.

The (Tough) Art of Creating a Short Story

For some reason, I expect writing good short stories to be relatively easy. I don’t know why, at 41, I still think that since I’ve struggled with the short story form since I began cranking them out in my early teens. As I’ve said before, the entire process of poetry–the imagining, workshopping, revision–has been simple compared to writing short stories. Ideas pop into my head all the time, and those ideas usually find their way into my poems. Sometimes, though, characters and their voices show up, and I know to do them justice, I need to write prose.

Aside from my tendency to abandon stories after ten or so pages, I also acknowledge that my strength isn’t in description. I’m also not particularly good at pacing, either. I excel at dialogue, and I’ve heard as much from editors back when I was submitting stories for publication. I received personal rejection slips telling me that dialogue was spot on, but the rest of my writing was flabby. I took that as an encouraging sign, and I still do, despite the number of years that have passed between those rejection slips and now.

For help, I decided to buy the Gotham City Writer’s Workshop book on writing fiction. I like it so far, and while the first section seems geared more toward beginning writers, I still find it helpful. The exercises in the book have been useful thus far, too.

I’ve also returned to using Scrivener writing software, but not for a novel writing (though I’m also tempted to use Scrivener in conjunction with the beautiful word processing program Novlr), but for short stories. Scrivener helps me plan a story, much like I used it to plan my last novel. I realized over the weekend that I can’t continue treating short stories like poems. I need more time with stories, and some stories (like the one I’m currently working on) require research. Scrivener has a wonderful built-in feature to store research, and it allows you to visually plan scenes for a novel, story, or screenplay. Novlr is gorgeous and gets my fingers itchy to fill a blank page.

I can knock out at least one quality poem a day during my writing time, but the first draft of a story takes me at least a week if I tackle it every day. I have the time, and though it can be grueling, I’m willing to show up at the page and take the project on, even if I feel discouraged. Discouragment is just a feeling attached to a useless thought; it has nothing to do with my dedication to the craft or my ability as a writer. I think setting writing goals for myself is a good idea, too. One of many things that quitting drinking has taught me is that I’m a hell of a lot stronger and focused than I sometimes give myself credit for.

I’m also going to re-read Stephen King’s masterful On WritingIf you’re a writer and haven’t read it, I highly recommend you check it out. It transformed the way I wrote, and I’m sure I’ll glean more wisdom and encouragement this read-through.

For the curious, the story I’m working on came from a prompt in the Gotham City book. To paraphrase, it was something like: “Sam knew either it was a lucky sign or a sign of disaster when….” After some freewriting, that prompt led to a strange and touching story about a man who works with chimps, teaching them to sign, and in particular his relationship with a troubled chimp named Roscoe. I like where the story’s going…I just have to remind myself (several times a day) not to abandon it because the words aren’t lining up like obedient little children. They rarely do, anyway, and just because the writing is hard doesn’t mean it isn’t worth it.

Whew, this was a longer post than I intended. Thanks for taking time to read.