Posts Tagged With: Master Class prompt

Just Visiting

Storch-Badge-Master

The amber shade on the desk lamp cast a gloaming dusk over the bedroom. It wasn’t the right light for reading, all the pages looked like yellow vellum and the type went spidery.

As it was the only lamp she had in her room, she pulled it’s chain and lay down. She heard the wolves howling outside, though she lived in a city and not anywhere wolves would find tasty hunting. Or shelter. Why were there wolves? With a shiver she burrowed under the covers.

She yearned, sometimes, for her days of beeswax candles and fur-lined coverlets, but she was not able to visit any longer. All she had left to her was books. There was television, to be sure; the skinny swarthy man had attached the satellite dish to her roof and Caleb had given her leave to order as many channels as they offered. Rarely did they have anything equal to the words. Television made her want things, let dissatisfaction seep into un-mortared cracks. Books just let her daydream, to splash happily in the rivers of imagination.

Someone knocked on her chamber (bedroom! she reminded herself) door, a thin knock on thin wood. ‘Anyah.’ A reedy whisper slipped into the air. ‘Anyah, I must speak with you.’

‘Enter,’ she sighed out, not bothering to hide her frustration as she slid a bookmark between pages and put her daydreams on hold.

Caleb grinned as he sidled around the crack he opened in the door. ‘Yes, yes, my queen, I know I’m interrupting your dreaming and I really do apologize.’

A smile tugged the corners of her lips up for this idiot man who knew her so well. She gestured theatrically, imperiously, beckoning him farther into the room. ‘Have a seat Caleb, and tell me what’s so important you felt the urge to drag me back into reality.’

‘Oh, it’s important Anyah. In fact, I think you would have been rather more cross with me had I not interrupted.’ The bed depressed around her feet as he wriggled back into a more comfortable position. ‘I believe that there may be a way to reinstate that visitor’s pass of yours.’

‘What!’ Anyah sat up from her plumped pillows and grabbed Caleb’s sleeve. ‘There’s a door? Truly?’

He held his hands up, palms out, a qualifier. ‘Yes, there is a door. I know not what waits on the other side.’

*******

The Master Class prompt this week was from Barbara Kingsolver’s Lacuna, and was to be used as the last line of our story. The line was chosen by the selected winner from last weeks class, and while I haven’t read a lot of her work, what I have read has been witty and funny (not always the same thing) intelligent and interesting. You can read her winning submission here: http://mycyberhouserules.com/2013/11/02/red-rover/

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Categories: Fiction | Tags: , , | 6 Comments

That Kind of a Day

Storch-Badge-Master

I woke up with a headache.  My brain engaged before my eyelids parted and it was the first thing that I consciously knew.  I felt the atmosphere like a leaded blanket, so close to the ground I could brush it with the top of my head like a low ceilinged room.  I didn’t know if it was morning or afternoon and I didn’t really give a shit; it was the kind of day where it didn’t matter anyway, seeing as when I opened my eyes it was grey and heavy like a picture bleached to a monochromatic blandness.  An invisible giant’s hands cradled my skull, exerting an inexorable pressure with gentle glee, squeezing slowly tighter.  An army of enthusiastic imps danced about, jabbing at the backs of my eyes with tiny pitchforks.

I bit back a groan, exhaled slowly through my nose, and vowed to not move an eyelash again for at least an hour.  What I would do, what I would do is I would lay here; I would lay here and try to stop my brain from spinning like an overwrought carousel so that it would tell me important things.  Things like, what the fuck happened last night; things like, why didn’t I feel the indent next to me in the bed that would tell me Melody was still here; things like what the hell gave me this forsaken headache on my day off.

As the merry go round began to slow and my mind stopped poking at me – Hey! You there!  Are you sure you know how bad your head hurts?  I can keep reminding you, lest you forget!  That’s what I’m here for! – pictures of last night began to emerge.  It was like watching someone shuffling through a slideshow without context, no professor announcing the topic of today’s lecture before jumping right into the lesson.

A bar.  A back room.  Melody walking through a door, looking hot enough to melt ice cream in Antarctica; me giving the evil eye to a guy at the end of the bar who stood to intercept her.  Smoking a cigarette in a back alley, strobe-like broken light flickering at the world’s worst rave and splayed feet on the ground sticking out from behind a dumpster. Flexing bloody knuckles. Melody murmuring thank you and planting sloppy kisses on my neck so I could feel the smile on her lips; the bar-back yelling in my face, telling me to go-go-go, NOW!  Slipping through a manhole cover, snicking down a slimy ladder into the sewer tunnels.  Throwing shoes that smelled of shit into the garbage can behind my house. Giggling like a drunken girl, leaning on Melody as she helped me to bed.  Did she stay?  I couldn’t remember that part.  Maybe the sex was just a dream.  Probably it was.  Son of a bitch.

Someone hammered on my back kitchen door.  “Saul!”, yelled a man’s voice that I didn’t recognize.  “Saul, sweetie, it’s time for you to get the fuck up!” The hammering continued unabated, until I heard my neighbor’s door open, his whiny voice complaining about the noise, the profanity.  I heard a laugh, footsteps, my back gate swinging open with a squeak.  There were heavy footsteps, one-two-three, up the neighbor’s porch steps, a hurried conversation carried on too low for me to hear much more than grumbles.  A door slamming after Bob the neighbor made a sound that sounded suspiciously like ‘eeek’.  The hammering resumed a moment later.

Shitfuckpissdamn.  I gritted teeth like fuzzy cinderblocks and propped myself up on my elbows.  A quick inventory told me that only my head and my hands hurt, so that wasn’t too bad.  As I swung my legs over the side of the bed my vision swam and the imps smoked some crystal meth before joyfully resuming their whirligig dance of pitchfork fun.

By the time I could open my eyes again, the hammering had stopped and there was a presence looming behind me in the doorway.  Lock picking criminal who isn’t afraid to walk into my house after calling me sweetie?  That this was someone that I should be worried about was an easy assumption to make.  People didn’t barge into my house.  I am the one that people are afraid of, the one known as Gladiator to the right kind of people, who most often were the wrong kind of people.

“Who the fuck is this guy,” I mumbled to myself, loud enough for the man to hear.  The looming loomed closer and as I turned my head to check out the man with the admirable set of brass balls, all I got was a glimpse of a Cheshire smile and a ham sized fist before the imps were silenced by a giant devil who took over their pain detail and knocked me the hell out.

*****

My head was lolling forward on a neck that felt like it was held on by limp spaghetti noodles.  This new pain was white hot and blinding, but they call me Gladiator because I’m a bad motherfucker, not because I cry every time shit doesn’t feel good.  My brain engaged before my eyes again; I smelled sewer rot.  What was with the sewer thing?  I had no idea why I had been in them last night and no clue why I was in them again, but the sickly smell was a sense memory that told me I most definitely was.

I tensed and flexed with as little movement as possible.  Minute tensions at wrists and ankles told me I was bound, but I couldn’t tell if it was to a thing or only to myself; a coppery taste and a quick dart of the tongue told me that the bastard had knocked out both my front teeth along with consciousness.

With an effort worthy of Atlas, I raised my head up and held it firmly in place with grit and orneriness.  I pretended that all was peachy keen with the world as I waited for the bright lights to stop spotting my vision and the waves in my stomach to slosh back to stillness.  I grimaced a smile that I hoped looked as awful as it felt.

“Thup?” I asked, and then grimaced for real.  My nonchalant ‘Sup was trumped by lack of front teeth.  Instead of sounding like a tough guy smart ass, I sounded like a second grader posturing on a playground.  I shrugged, hid the wince, and looked around.

A cavernous room of dirty brick, seeping walls and a pitted cement floor.  A couple of bare bulbs hung from chains here and there, casting fitful circles of light.  There was a man awkwardly slumped against one wall and I recognized the shoes on the splayed feet as the ones I saw sticking out from behind a dumpster in that memory flash alley.

I laughed and pointed with one finger, tugging just a bit, discovering that my hands were tied together behind me but not to the chair I sat on.  “Did I do that?  Right now I’m kind of hoping so.”  I turned and looked up, and up, and up into the face that I had seen right before I got sent to la-la-land.

I’m no shrimp but this guy was a giant, 6’6” at least.  He had to run around 300 pounds and it was solid muscle.  Not body-builder show off muscles, but muscles that someone is born to, leaving them the choice in childhood to lean towards gentle giant or enforcer.  I don’t think this one had to make a conscious decision.

He nodded his large, round head.  “Yup, Leo over there is your work, kid.  You broke his neck.”  He flexed his fingers open, closed, open.  “Did you mean to kill him?”

The surprise on my face must have registered as genuine.  “I don’t remember what happened.  I remember smoking a cigarette in an alley, and there was someone on the ground behind a dumpster.  All I could see was their feet.  How did I kill him?”

The man considered me for a long and silent moment.  “You hit him.  Once.”

I nodded.  That sounded right; if it was necessary I knew how to do that.  “Do you have any idea why I found it necessary to kill your friend?”

Another long and silent moment.  His shoulders strained the sleeves of his jacket as he shrugged.  “No.  I came around trying to find Leo.  There was a girl running to the other end of the alley, some blond in a black dress with killer legs, and you two squared off.  Leo said something I couldn’t hear and pow,” he mimed a straight armed jab, “his head snapped back like someone yoked it with a leash and he hit the ground.”  Again with the stare.  “I’ve never seen anything quite like that before.”

Melody.  Melody running.  But I remembered her helping me, I remembered her leading me through the sewers and lifting the lid so I could throw my shoes into the garbage can.  So, obviously she came back after she ran.  Shit.  Did I kill a man for a girl?  My head started to throb like a rotten melon the harder I strained to remember, and the ache in my face from my missing teeth became grating.

Sausage fingers snapped in front of my face.  “Hey, pal, stay on task here.  Who was the girl?”

“Yeah well, why don’t you tell me who the fuck you are first?  Not that I don’t appreciate your hospitality and impromptu dental work, I’d just like to know who it is that’s being so magnanimous.”

He chuckled like graveyard bones dancing through gravel.  “You’re Gladiator, right?  Well.  They call me Scrapper.”

*****

I intend for this to have a conclusion, cleverly titled That Kind of a Night, but I haven’t quite figured out whether or not the mysterious blond is gonna be a good guy or a bad guy yet.  Probably bad, because, you know, blond 😉  I’ve heard they’re always trouble…

Anyhoo, this is my submission for Master Class this week – the line was chosen by Prof SAM from Chosen, by Ted Dekker.  Check out the prompt, the other writers, and SAM’s other stuff at www.frommywriteside.wordpress.com because all of it is completely worthwhile.

I would definitely be interested to know how the ‘tone’ of this piece read.  I’m not sure if it vacillates between tough guy and verbosity too much, so I’d be glad to hear opinions.  Thank you as always for reading 🙂

Categories: Fiction | Tags: , , | 15 Comments

Mort’s Graveyard Tour

This is my submission for this weeks Master Class.  It’s a continuation from Mort’s Tree, which explains how he ended up there in the first place.

Storch-Badge-Master

The dirt around the trunk of Mort’s tree began to shake.  He eyed it thoughtfully from his branch, looking down on clods jumping up and bouncing around, a pagan circle of soil in a ritualistic dance around his headstone.

He experimented with his new phantom molecules.  Instead of clambering from the tree, he imagined himself boneless, a liquidy bag of pictured skin.  He elongated and dripped to the ground in a puddle of Mort.  He imagined again and in a blink of non-existent eyelids he was standing upright.  An average sized fifteen year old boy, maybe a little on the skinny side.  Dusty brown hair flopped over one chocolate brown eye and he shook it off his face.

He watched as the dervish began to coalesce, chittering bits of flotsam from the air pulling together into barely discernible shapes.  Leaves whipped from Mort’s tree and joined the fray, filling in empty spaces, offering a leafy clarity to the outline of what was quickly becoming a rickshaw-like contraption, complete with ghostly driver, floating a few inches from the grass.

Mort felt the smile spread across his face and resisted the urge to clap like a pre-schooler at the circus.  Then he figured resistance was useless and clapped anyway, the sound a beat behind the action as spectral hands tried to remember what noise they should make.  “Hi,” he grinned.  “I’m Mort.”

Dust mote beginnings notwithstanding, the driver and his carriage were now as solid as they could get.  His top hat, a band of moldering leaves wrapped just above the brim, was cocked at a jaunty angle on top of what appeared to be half a head.  The other half was staved in, empty space where an eye socket should be.

“Aye, I know who you are son.  Mortimer Ramsey, just moved in today.  I’m what you might call the welcoming committee.”  He smiled a smile that would be disconcerting on a living man.  “My name’s Sneed.  I’ve been the real caretaker here for the past, oh, I guess we’re coming up on ninety years now.”  He pointed a finger at the concave side of his skull with a rueful shake of his head, a fine spray of dust floating from it.  “I got a tad sloppy with an ace up my sleeve.  Can’t say they took it too kindly around the table.”

Mort took a few steps closer.  “So what do you do, exactly, in your capacity as welcoming committee?  Make sure I’m comfortable, happy with my view?”

Sneed stared at him for a moment before roaring with laughter, the same half a beat behind sound as Mort’s clapping had been.  “Well, I gotta tell ya, son, I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone take this in stride the way you are.  Most people go about moaning or acting all confused.  Oooo, what’s going on, why can I see through my hands, where am I?!?”  He swooned dramatically, the back of his hand to his forehead.  “What the hell, is what I say.  If you can see through yourself and you’re surrounded by headstones, give up the ghost (pardon the expression) and admit that you’re dead.”

Mort looked at his headstone.  There was a weight where his heart used to be when he saw his name on the stone; when he thought of his parents it got a little heavier, and when he thought of ice cream and kisses and scratching his cat into a purring ball of furry ecstasy it got a little heavier still.  He imagined that it always would.  He hoped that it would.

“I dunno,” he said, scuffing a toe in the dirt.  The disturbed particles immediately zoomed to Sneed and became a part of the flux that made up the man and his ride.  “I mean, it sucks.  I’d rather not be dead.  I’d rather be eating dinner at home with my mom and dad right now.  It’s not like I have a choice.”  For a moment the expression on his face was that of a much younger Mort, a child who wished for a band-aid for his boo boo and a warm blankie to snuggle under.

Sneed’s face fell.  He hadn’t meant to bring this on, he hadn’t wanted to make this laughing boy sad.  He started to reach out, but what was there to say?

Mort’s form shuddered and he offered Sneed a wan smile.  “I’m okay, really.  This is just a different adventure.  I’d never imagined it would be anything like this, I have to admit.  I don’t know what I thought it would be, heaven or hell or nothing or whatever.  But I definitely didn’t think that it would be like this.  Watch.”

He twisted himself around, turning his torso in tighter and tighter circles until his middle resembled a knotted rope.  His arms stretched out to either side, growing longer and thin as strands of spaghetti.  “I’m like Mr. Fantastic,” he laughed.  At Sneed’s blank look, he laughed harder.

“Anyway,” he said, slowly unraveling back to normal, “what do you do?  What’s this contraption?”  He patted the side of Sneed’s ride.

“Oh, well, this here is my carriage.”  Sneed was glad to be back on lighter ground and happily began to espouse the many uses he put his carriage to.  “I pick up the new ones and take ‘em around, introduce them to other ghosts they’d prolly get along with.  Show ‘em the boundaries and all.”

“Boundaries?  You mean I can’t leave the graveyard?”

“No, m’boy, I’m afraid that you can’t.  Don’t worry, after a while it kind of becomes, like, a whole world all on its own.  You won’t even notice.”  Before the kid had a chance to process this new limitation, he patted the seat behind him.  “Hop in.  We’ll be just in time for the sunset.”

Sunset had always been Mort’s favorite time of day.  His phone had been filled with pictures of them, ugly grey clouds sliding into darkness without fuss, brilliant explosions of pink and orange streaking the sky as if fighting the night with every color in their arsenal.  He wondered if it would look any different tonight.

“Sure, why not.”  He climbed in and settled onto the seat, which had somehow even produced the illusion of a spring popping through the ripped cushion.

Sneed noticed him looking and chuckled.  “Graveyard joke.  Can’t have things looking like they aren’t in ruins, it would wreck the ahhhmbience.”  They were flowing smoothly over the ground, hovering a few inches in the air.

Mort was watching the landscape so intently that he didn’t immediately realize that Sneed was no longer seated next to him.  He craned around and saw the funny little man standing a few feet away, falling farther behind every second.

“This moment’s just for you,” he called out.  “A minute to enjoy the quiet you won’t always be able to find around here.”

The sunset struck so brilliantly into the traveling carriage when it gained the hilltop, that its occupant was steeped in crimson.

The journey stopped with a thought.  Mort turned his face up towards the sky, face illuminated by an inner light that rivaled the show the sun put on.  He smiled and settled down to appreciate the calm, and an adventure begun.

*****

This weeks Master Class line was chosen by the inestimable David Wiley at Scholarly Scribe: http://scholarlyscribe.wordpress.com/ – check him out, this dude can write.  He chose his prompt line from one of my all time favorite books A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens:  The sunset struck so brilliantly into the traveling carriage when it gained the hilltop, that its occupant was steeped in crimson.

Prof SAM let the inmates rule the asylum and place the line wherever we wanted it in our story (CHAOS!!).  Thanks, teach 😉  Check her out, and the other writers who link up (because they’re all awesome, seriously) here: http://frommywriteside.wordpress.com/

Thanks for reading 🙂

Categories: Fiction, Mort's Graveyard Tales | Tags: , , , , | 20 Comments

The Art of Winning An Argument With Yourself

Storch-Badge-Master

 

 

 

 

The great revelations of my adult life began with the shouts of a lost soul in my neighborhood breakfast joint. I couldn’t see what was happening, what with my head hovering an inch or so above the coffee cup clasped between my hands. I could hear plenty.

One voice, rising and falling in plaintive wails. A beg for help, a screech for mercy, this guy was all over the place. There was the definitive sound of snot being sucked up as racking sobs collapsed him into himself, a soul with some new cracks in it, if it wasn’t completely broken apart.

The contradictory voices inside had a split second collision as they shoved each other aside to get to the forefront. Seeing as it wasn’t a question of whether or not they would get their say, their incessant need to play tug of war inside my head was infuriating and exhausting. The only conclusion their cacophony ever accomplished was lethargy anyways, so what was the goddamn point. That’s what I never could figure out.

The inner dialogue had blocked out the sounds of a waitress walking over to the man. As the real world filtered back in, I heard a genuinely empathic voice ask the man if there was anything that she could do. “Even if it’s just a glass of water, hon, I’d like to do something for you.”

The snickety voice snarked out. “Really? A glass of water. Crazy helpful, waitress lady, that’ll solve all the world’s problems. If that’s really the best you have why would you even say anything? Just leave the dude alone, if he actually wanted help he wouldn’t be sitting around with a bunch of people he doesn’t even know.”

A softer voice murmured, no less strong for its quieter tone. “It’s another human being in obvious distress. Why would you not try to help? Maybe just the kindness itself is what he needs. Or maybe he wants a fucking glass of water. How would you know if you didn’t ask? What in the world could it possibly cost you to ask him if he needs help?”

“Well, but what if you asked him if he needed help and he needs, like, a ride somewhere far away? Or what if he needs money? Or what if something really awful just happened to him and he wants to talk about it?” Fretting and fussy, worried. “I never know what to say when people are like um, I have cancer, or, or my mom just died, then I look like an idiot, I don’t want to look like an asshole just because I don’t have the right thing to say, I can’t help with anything like that!”

The softer voice came back a little stronger, with a touch of exasperation now, a mom whose toddler did not listen to Samuel L. Jackson and shut the fuck up and go to sleep. “How in the world are you supposed to know what the man might need if you never ask him? If someone was lying on the ground bleeding out in front of you would you what-if him to death before helping him?”

Snarkasm jumped back into the fray with a scoff. “Please, that’s a life and death thing. You know damn well we do fine in crisis situations. That’s Logic and Practicality, that shit’s easy. This guy is freaking out, who knows, he’s probably crazy. Who the hell else is going to come in for breakfast and a meltdown? So let him freak out, someone will kick him out or call the cops or something, it’ll get handled.”

A grey voice threaded through the fray, hardly noticeable at first, until you couldn’t notice anything else. “It’s possible that this man will lose his mind and pull out a gun. Or a knife. Or go insane. It’s possible that there may be a mob looking for a door in a minute, so I suggest you notice viable exit routes. The man may pick up a fork and stab it right into his eye. Are you aware of the awful potential outcomes this situation has? I suggest that you drag your nose out of your coffee cup and go home.”

The other voices fell into a stunned silence. You never realized how long the insidious grey voice had held the mic until you were listening in rapt and horrified fascination to his stories, rooted and rotted in place.

Logic puffed up his chest and muscled his way to the front, prepared to end the debate. “Everything that you said is not only ridiculous but highly unlikely given the current circumstances. God, you’re such a dick, seriously. Why do you do that?”

Huffy now, the grey voice retorted snottily. “I’m not doing anything but trying to make sure that all possibilities are taken into consideration. No one wants to be caught unawares; you have to be prepared for any eventuality.”

“Not for a fork in the eye, you don’t. I’m pretty sure that we can safely leave that one in the don’t worry about it category. Anyways, all of this is merely academic, seeing as we don’t even have a situation anymore. The man is gone.”

I swung away from the counter and looked behind me. It was once again a quiet diner, a couple people eating some breakfast, reading the paper, conversations in booths maybe a little more intense than they had been before. I had no idea what had happened.

I waved vaguely at the same waitress who had offered the man a glass of water. “What happened to the guy that was just here, the one who was freaking out?”

She looked at me with a hint of disdain. “He wouldn’t tell me what was wrong, but he wrote down a number for me, so I called his son and got him to come pick him up about twenty minutes ago.”

********************************************************************

I was honored with the choice of the Master Class prompt this week, and while I originally reallyreallyreally wanted to use something of Guy Gavriel Kay’s I found that all of his first lines belong solely to him. So I went in a completely different direction with Peter Straub’s A Dark Matter.

I swear in real life. A lot. I get that some writer’s use curse words as a tool. I use them when it’s what I hear. It’s not to make a point, or to try to be cutting edge, it’s just how I talk. Not all stories are conducive to them, so they don’t come out, but when they do I use them. To me, they’re still just words that were made up like all the other ones, and just because someone once decided to call them bad doesn’t make them so. In my opinion 😉 I also realize there is some disparity in the ‘voices’, that some of them have names and some don’t. Some don’t deserve to be named, ha. Dirty little rats…

Written in tune with Lungs, Florence and the Machine

Categories: Fiction, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | 3 Comments

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