Tag Archives: fiction

Unbridled Fire (just a bit more)

The rest of the week passed quietly and slowly.  He spent his free time at home, packing in boxes the things he needed to take with him, looking for apartments online, drinking, reading comics, and watching anime.  On Wednesday night, after basketball and a mildly bitter argument with Susan, Claire called to complain about not hearing back from him after their date.

“Hey, Claire.”

“Jacob.  How are you doing this fine evening?”

“I’m having a bit of a crisis, actually.  I’m having serious doubts about the existence of vampires in animated films and tv series.  They just aren’t scary, and vampire slaying isn’t nearly as cool as ninja warfare, cyborg-tech related espionage, supernatural kung fu battles—I’m doubting whether vampires should have a place in anime at all.”

“Sounds like you don’t understand the significance of vampires in folklore and modern literature.  Were you going to call me again after our date Saturday night?”

“I was.  Of course I was…  You think vampire legends are important enough to make all these boring movies and tv shows?”

“Which ones are you referring to?”

Jacob thought for a few seconds.  “Pretty much every vampire story ever told.”

Dracula is universally considered to be one of the greatest novels ever written.”

“Never read it.  Are you sure about that?”

Nosferatu, Interview with the Vampire, Blade, Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust, all spectacular films.”

Bloodlust was okay.  I just don’t see the draw for all these fans.”

Claire shouted something incomprehensible, then checked herself and asked, in a calmer voice, “What is it you don’t like about vampire stories?”

“Good question…  I think the bad guys get on my nerves a little bit, in a way they’re not meant to.  Villains are evil, threatening, destructive characters, that’s what makes them villains, but vampires have this weird fog around them, like they’re supposed to be, uh…”

She heard him snapping his fingers.  “Seductive?”

“No, not seductive.  Intriguing.  There’s always some mysterious cloud surrounding them, and we’re expected to be so intrigued by them.  I couldn’t care less what they do in the catacombs of their shadowy old mansions, in Transylvania or wherever.  The main characters seem drawn to them, mesmerized somehow, I don’t get it.”

“You’re not suspending your disbelief.”

“I shouldn’t have to.”

“They can fly, sometimes, turn invisible, run super-fast, they’re incredibly smart and strong, not to mention immortal—”

“Not impressed.  Give Spiderman a few thousand stakes, he’d exterminate every last one in less than a year.”

“To each his own, Jacob.  When are we hanging out again?”

They decided Friday night would be good since he planned to start moving his stuff out the day after.  Because of Claire’s artwork, he thought she’d enjoy a visit to the Art Museum, but the suggestion made her laugh and say she’d seen enough portraits and naked goddess statues in grade school.  In her opinion the Potawatomi Casino was a better place to go.  She got paid on Friday and she’d been working extra shifts to have enough to buy Christmas presents for her family and some of her friends.  Jacob inquired as to whether or not it might be wiser to postpone their trip to the casino until after she had bought the presents, to which she replied by saying she’d be outside his house at eight, and if he wanted to come with, then he shouldn’t be so critical.

 

Unbridled Fire (second part)

It had surprised him that she’d consented to the date so quickly.  Susan treated him like a baby when it came to normal adult activities, like going out to have a few beers with his friends, crashing at someone else’s house for a night, and spending time alone with a woman.  He almost never did these things, but could remember a strange paralysis coming over her, a glassy-eyed intractability, when he wanted to do basic stuff like this in the past.  Last night was no problem for her, for some reason.  Maybe she finally realized he’s a real, live, grown-up human being.  Or was it something different?  Jacob double-checked the alarm time on his cell phone.  It’s possible she sensed the truth about him and Claire, that they were meant to be together, and she didn’t want to mess with fate.  Like playing with fire, he mused, dreaming off to sleep.

To the right of the black marble steps, the ramp led up to the revolving doors in three parallel segments, with a couple feet of space between them.  Pushing hard up the first section of the ramp, Jacob’s arms began to tire, shoulders and triceps aching before turning to ascend the second, which he climbed more slowly, gasping at the start of each new push.  Halfway up the third segment and less than twenty feet from the top, his right arm gave out, and the chair swung back to the left, and struck the metal railing with a low, percussive ring, a sound that tensed and uncoiled, sweeping out through his surroundings and permeating the ground, walls, and buildings as if they were merely air.

The front entrance had a single automatic door by the top of the ramp, yet it didn’t open when he pressed the button.  Jacob clumsily wheeled in using his elbow to prevent the door from closing on him, rolled weakly past the vacant front desk, and continued across the spacious, warmly furnished lobby toward the row of elevators at the far wall.  The effort required to convey his chair across the floor seemed to increase with each rotation of the wheels, his muscles felt like dead weight, his lungs began to choke on the sour air, and his head, sweating, nauseous, clouded by exhaustion and despair, sank forward and hung limply on his chest.  He kept pushing.  One arm, both arms, one again, both again…  The lamplight in the room grew dim, and in the oaken darkness Jacob sensed the presence of his family and friends, pale, luminous figures, like spectators on either side of him, faces growing clearer, his sister and brother-in-law, with their kids, his physical therapist, his bro Sunny, Mom, Dad, Claire…  They were smiling, and crying, some of them, watching him push.  He raised his head.  The elevators appeared, blurry and quivering, just a few yards away.  The wheels squeaked on the cold tiles as he inched his way forward.  Susan stood to his left, quiet like the rest, silently cheering him on.  He looked at her and smiled, faced forward again, and propelled the chair onward with a final, broken cry.

The elevator doors slid open.  In a moment he was strong again, and wheeled inside with ease.  Four vertical rows of square buttons, twenty-five in each row and numbered one to a hundred, with several for the lower levels below, shone with amber light in front of him.  He pressed the button for floor eighty-two.  The car jolted and rattled into motion, swaying slightly as it rose, while the grid of lights over Jacob’s head cast bright floating circles on him and the elevator floor.

The car stopped and the doors opened.  He rolled into a dim, high hallway where a woman sat at a desk in a cutout to his left.  Her hair was sandy blonde, straight with dark roots, and she glanced up from her computer and smiled as he passed her.  A conference room at the end of the hall, illumined by floor-to-ceiling windows, drew him to its glass wall and door, which he pulled open, awkwardly entering, and wheeling past the empty table and chairs, he parked before the center window and stared out at the city and sunset.

Above the staggered buildings, the clouds swept down in orange, pink, and purple waves, like the break of a cosmic surf, static, though imperceptibly flowing, crashing to the earth from a separate encompassing world.  Within his heart, the softest change, a watered seed first parting, then peace, eternal dreams—

Knock, knock, knock.

Jacob turned as the conference room door swung open, and a man in his forties, eyes brown and steady, stepped in and walked over.  “Hello, it’s nice to meet you.  My name is Buddy.”

“I’m Jacob,” he answered, reaching out to shake his hand.

“Do you mind if I sit down?  I’d like to speak with you for a few minutes, if that’s alright.”

“Your office, isn’t it?”

“No, it’s not,” said Buddy, pulling out a chair and spinning it around to face the windows.  “This is a sort of common space, for people who work in various capacities for the one who owns the building.”

Jacob leaned forward to peer down at the avenues and minuscule vehicles not quite a thousand feet below.  “He must be… rather comfortable, if he owns this place.”

“Well, yes and no,” he said thoughtfully.  “Sometimes I think he’s in worse shape than the rest of us combined.”  Buddy took a second to gaze up at the clouds.  “You could call it a tragedy, and I tend to think of it that way, then, almost as quickly, I realize there was no tragedy, and nothing that happens was ever really tragic at all.”

After a long, unburdensome silence, during which the sunset breathed perhaps its finest breath, Jacob asked, “What the hell are you talking about?”

The man looked at him as though irritated, but not by the question, nor by Jacob himself.  “We only have a little time here.  I’m not sure you’re going to remember this when you wake up.  If you don’t mind telling me, when you were younger, did you have many dreams about running, or flying?”

“Running, yeah.  I still do once in a while.”

“And did those dreams feel very real?”

“Sure, probably the most realistic dreams I’ve ever had.”

On hearing this Buddy turned away, pretending to survey the rooftops, level and angled surfaces to the right of their towering room.

“What’s wrong with that?”

“Everything.  And that’s exactly why you and I are here right now.  You have a terribly important job to do,” he said, meeting Jacob’s eyes.  “There’s an infinity of ways to accomplish this work, but I’m afraid you alone are qualified.  You’re the lucky one who is able to do it.”

“Because I’m special.”

“Yes,” he nodded eagerly.

“Because I’m the bravest boy in the whole world, and God loves me so much and He’s so damn proud of me?  I’ve heard that one before, Buddy.  The lady who said it ditched me to take care of someone else’s kids.  I don’t need to hear that from you, and you know what?  I never needed her, either.  What’s the quickest way to get out of this fake-ass building?”

He didn’t respond, merely watched him for a moment with the same unfocused irritation, before fading away into blackness with the building, the city, and the evening sky.  Jacob awoke to the shrill chirping of birds in the dark outside his window.

The early shift at Makermart was painful on Mondays.  The majority of the flow team, and the entirety of the management, moped through the store on autopilot, performing their duties with alternating vexation and stoic misery.  Jacob didn’t feel too bad on this particular morning, in part because Sunny would be picking him up at two and driving him across the river to Pointer Arena to see the MMA fights that night.  He’d been looking forward to this for weeks, and so had Sunny, who’d studied Jiu-Jitsu and fought in some amateur bouts himself.

It was almost two-thirty by the time he arrived, as Jacob sat in the cold debating whether or not to call Susan.  “I am so sorry, man,” he said, jumping out of the driver’s seat and jogging back to open the hatch of his Sonic LS.

“I was about to give up on you,” he laughed, “thought we were gonna miss the fights.”

“No way.”  He removed a narrow aluminum ramp from the back of the car, anchored one end on the pavement, and did the same with another identical piece.  “My nephew had to go to the hospital, he got food poisoning at school, toxic bologna or something.”

“Is he okay?”

“Now he is, now that he puked his guts out.”

“Thank God…  Beware the poison lunchmeat.”

As they approached the Kilbourn Street Bridge, they decided to park and grab a cup of coffee and some food, and kill an hour or two along the river.  “Sorry I’m such a pain in the ass,” he called back as Sunny unloaded his electric chair in the parking garage.

“You’d be worth the trouble if you bought the food more often.”

Stopping at a Ringman’s not far from the bridge, Jacob paid for their coffee and scones and they strolled down the riverwalk as they ate.  Two young women passed them going the opposite way, walking a black Pit Bull mix.  The taller one smiled at Jacob, who grinned and said, “Hello, ladies,” forgetting he had a mouthful of blueberry scone.

“Real smooth, bro,” said Sunny, and they veered to the right, parked and sat by the railing.  The river wasn’t icy at all, even though he was pretty sure it was below freezing.  The two of them sat quietly for a minute, finishing their coffee.

“I had a date the other night.”

Sunny turned.  “With Claire?”

“Yes, indeed.”

“How’d it go?”

“How do you think it went?  I swept her off her feet.  She’s in love with me.”

“Where’d you guys go?”

“Stayed in, watched a movie.  I cooked dinner while she told me her life story.”

“What about the Sub?”

“She agreed to spend the night elsewhere, believe it or not.”  He glanced to his right.  “Shut up,” he said, shaking his head.

“Tell me you at least kissed her.”

“No—”

“Awww.”

“That would have been nice, though.  No, we just watched the movie, talked a little, and then she left.  She had a good time, though, I know that.”

Sunny peered down at the dark green water.  “And you were worried about that stupid dream you had.  I knew you’d be alright.  When are you hanging out again?”

“We didn’t make plans.  I don’t know, sometimes…”  Jacob’s eyes seemed to darken as he stared down through the bars of the railing.  “I think sometimes it’d be better if I lived alone.  I mean stayed alone, forever.”  He glanced at Sunny again.  “I’m not sure I could make her happy, especially someone like Claire.”

“You said your equipment worked just fine.”

“I hate you, bro.  I’m talking about long term, everyday life.  Do you remember, The Death of Superman?”

“The comic book?”

“Yes, the comic book.  It starts with a spiked fist beating the hell out of this thick iron door.  A big dude in a green jumpsuit busts out, and starts tearing through the forest.  Well, the Justice League hears about the damage he’s doing, and they come to bring him in, but he starts pummeling those guys.  Later Superman shows up, and Doomsday punches him in the stomach, then turns around and kicks him through a house, clean through a house.  Superman.”

“What’s this got to do with Claire and you?”

A flash of anger reddened Jacob’s face.  “Because no matter how they try to crush him, the dude keeps getting stronger.  Even Superman can’t stop him, unless he dies too.”  He searched Sunny’s eyes again.  “I feel like that some days, like Superman in that story.  Or maybe like Doomsday.  I don’t know…”

He watched the current a second longer, reached over and squeezed Jacob’s bicep.  “You might be like Supergirl in that story.  Come on, let’s go.”

Less than half the seats in Pointer Arena had filled up by the starting bell of the first fight.  Their tickets had only cost thirty-two dollars a piece, which bought them a view from about three hundred feet away from the ring—worse than most of the people there, but neither Jacob nor Sunny was too disappointed.  The first bout ended quickly, the favorite, whose reach gave him a dominating advantage, kept his stronger opponent out of range with his jab, and when he began getting tired hammered his head and face with hooks and crosses.  The next few bouts lasted longer, the fighters more evenly matched, and the last fight they saw raged for all five rounds.  One of the guys could draw and dodge punches with blinding speed, then he’d either counter or take his opponent down to the mat, but the guy kept breaking free, landing elbows or kicks while he got away, and the process would start over again.  Both fighters were swollen, bloody, and barely conscious by the end of the fifth, when the faster guy won by decision.  Sunny admitted on the ride home he probably couldn’t have beaten either one of them.  As Jacob rolled in the house at just past nine, Susan asked if it was a fun trip to the art museum.  “Sure was,” he nodded.  “You’d be amazed how exciting flower paintings can be.”

His morning routine the following day took an extra twenty minutes, since he slipped off the seat in his shower as he was reaching for the conditioner, and in his efforts to pull himself back up, his foot got caught in the plastic suspension bands, and he fell onto the shower floor again trying to free his leg.  Once he had, Susan knocked on the bathroom door in a panic, asking if he was okay.  Jacob inhaled and exhaled five deep breaths before answering, “Yes, I’m fine.  A minor accident, that’s all.”  He lay still a while on the floor of the shower, until he was reasonably sure that she’d gone away, then resumed the attempt to climb onto his shower seat.  By the time he’d finished getting ready for work, and wheeled out to the kitchen, Susan had prepared a fresh, hot breakfast of steak and egg whites, scalloped potatoes, and avocado salad.

“This looks delicious,” he said, surprised.  “I haven’t lifted for a few days, I don’t need that much protein.  Thanks, though, I appreciate it.”

“Figured I might as well,” she smiled from the sink, “having awoken to a loud, mysterious thud in the direction of your bathroom.”

“Yeah, I slipped off the seat trying to reach my conditioner.  No permanent damage.”

Turning off the water, she placed the last pan in the dishwasher and came to the table to sit with him.  “Why don’t you keep it where it’s supposed to be?”

“I do, usually.  I was…  Never mind, please.”

Susan gazed out the window, through the open blinds at a sparrow perched on the bird feeder hanging from a lower limb of the pear tree in their backyard.  A female cardinal soon alighted upon the opposite side and frightened the sparrow away, and a minute or two later a round gray dove appeared and scared the cardinal away.  She let her eyes drift down to Jacob beside her, dividing the last of the egg whites with his fork.  Her left hand flew out to brush the damp yellow waves of hair back over his ear.  His arm shot up to block hers and force it away.

Please don’t touch me.”  Swallowing the food in his mouth and setting the plate and utensils aside, he looked down at the table, turned to her and said, “Will you help me pack my stuff this week?  I need to move out.”

Susan flinched, almost invisibly, and sat up straighter in her chair.  Regarding, briefly, the kind certainty in Jacob’s face, and focusing on the bird feeder again, vacant now, the seeds reduced to dotted, uneven sand between the glass, she covered his look with her own, replying, “Only if you take me with you.”

 

Unbridled Fire (Buddy Glass scene)

Jacob turned as the conference room door swung open, and a man in his forties, eyes brown and steady, stepped in and walked over.  “Hello, it’s nice to meet you.  My name is Buddy.”

“I’m Jacob,” he answered, reaching out to shake his hand.

“Do you mind if I sit down?  I’d like to speak with you for a few minutes, if that’s alright.”

“Your office, isn’t it?”

“No, it’s not,” said Buddy, pulling out a chair and spinning it around to face the windows.  “This is a sort of common space, for people who work in various capacities for the one who owns the building.”

Jacob leaned forward to peer down at the avenues and minuscule vehicles not quite a thousand feet below.  “He must be… rather comfortable, if he owns this place.”

“Well, yes and no,” he said thoughtfully.  “Sometimes I think he’s in worse shape than the rest of us combined.”  Buddy took a second to gaze up at the clouds.  “You could call it a tragedy, and I tend to think of it that way, then, almost as quickly, I realize there was no tragedy, and nothing that happens was ever really tragic at all.”

After a long, unburdensome silence, during which the sunset breathed perhaps its finest breath, Jacob asked, “What the hell are you talking about?”

The man looked at him as though irritated, but not by the question, nor by Jacob himself.  “We only have a little time here.  I’m not sure you’re going to remember this when you wake up.  If you don’t mind telling me, when you were younger, did you have many dreams about running, or flying?”

“Running, yeah.  I still do once in a while.”

“And did those dreams feel very real?”

“Sure, probably the most realistic dreams I’ve ever had.”

On hearing this Buddy turned away, pretending to survey the rooftops, level and angled surfaces to the right of their towering room.

“What’s wrong with that?”

“Everything.  And that’s exactly why you and I are here right now.  You have a terribly important job to do,” he said, meeting Jacob’s eyes.  “There’s an infinity of ways to accomplish this work, but I’m afraid you alone are qualified.  You’re the lucky one who is able to do it.”

“Because I’m special.”

“Yes,” he nodded eagerly.

“Because I’m the bravest boy in the whole world, and God loves me so much and He’s so damn proud of me?  I’ve heard that one before, Buddy.  The lady who said it ditched me to take care of someone else’s kids.  I don’t need to hear that from you, and you know what?  I never needed her, either.  What’s the quickest way to get out of this fake-ass building?”

He didn’t respond, merely watched him for a moment with the same unfocused irritation, before fading away into blackness with the building, the city, and the evening sky.  Jacob awoke to the shrill chirping of birds in the dark outside his window.

 

Unbridled Fire (short story in progress)

Here are the first ten pages of a short story I’m writing, about a couple who go to Las Vegas and get married.

Unbridled Fire

Jacob sat slightly higher at the table than his friend, Sunny, with whom he was speaking.  Sunny’s hands were placed flat on either side of the cloudy orange tabletop as he listened intently to the dream being recounted.

“She was waiting for me in the back of a small restaurant, kind of like this one, at a table, opposite an empty chair, and her friend Barbara sat to her left.  She was smiling a hidden kind of smile as I walked up to her.”

“You could walk, in the dream?”

“Yes,” nodded Jacob, “and when I sat down Claire leaned back and crossed her arms, like this.”  He folded his arms against his chest and tilted his head back, peering at Sunny through distrustful eyes.  “I don’t remember how it got started, but I had a book in front of me, uh…”

 After ten seconds or so, Sunny said, “A textbook?  A paperback?”

Jacob raised his eyes to meet his friend’s.  “No.  A schedule book, you know, a—what do you call those things?”

“A day planner?”

“Yeah, one of those, all filled with events and plans.  Every day had a box filled with notes, the entire year was mapped out for us with dates, vacations, parties, family visits and stuff, even big celebrations like New Year’s Eve in Times Square.  I kept flipping through the book for the best days, and reading the day’s events to her, trying to convince her, but she didn’t smile or move really.”

“Convince her of what?”

“I don’t know,” he laughed.  “Impress her, maybe.  To make her fall in love with me.”

“What was Barbara doing?”

“She might have been helping me look for days.”  Jacob stared down at his plate, at the half-eaten pile of french fries and swirl of ketchup.  “I woke up before Claire gave me an answer.”

Sunny followed him past the counter and register, then helped push his electric wheelchair over the ridge in the doorway.  They listened to the Classic Rock station on the ride home while Jacob nodded to the music, throwing punches at the air and shouting, “Alright,” when the songs got good.

“God bless you, brother,” Sunny waved out the window and sped away, the taillights blinking on in the blue evening haze.  Jacob watched the grey Chevy shrink and blur into the stream of humming vehicles, then spun and motored up the walkway toward the ramp and front door.

 All he had to do for the rest of the day was shower, get dressed, eat dinner, and go to sleep before ten o’clock.  His job at Makermart required him to be there at six sharp so he could scan the boxes after the flow team unloaded the morning deliveries.  After work he had basketball practice on Wednesdays and Fridays, and if he didn’t get enough sleep he’d be drowsy and lagging on the court.

The simple task of showering and putting on clothes took Jacob approximately three to four times longer than an able-bodied person.  Once he completed this process, he checked his phone, and seeing no new messages or calls, wheeled over to his desk, removed a bottle of tequila and plastic lime from the drawer, and commenced watching an episode of Attack on Titan on his laptop.  A team of warriors flew through the trees raining hell on a malevolent giant who had the power to regenerate his limbs and organs.  Jacob poured another shot, threw it back, and squirted some lime juice in his mouth.  His thoughts drifted to Claire and the dream again.  There may be some truth to it, he thought.  Sometimes he felt like he was trying too hard, and if she wasn’t into it, so what, there’s plenty of fish in the sea.  Then the green of her eyes washed over him, melted his indifference into a renewed determination to win her.  “I love her,” he’d say to himself, “but she better know I’m liquid metal.”

The boxes dropped onto the conveyor and slid over the silver bars, the worn cylinders roaring, then faintly whistling, as the cardboard rolled past, and Jacob’s coworkers loaded the pallets on either side of the line.  He used his manual chair there since it was easier to maneuver in close quarters.  Once a pallet was ready to go out to the floor, the worker would raise a hand and he’d shoot over and scan the bar codes on each of the boxes.  Not the most awesome job in his opinion, but at least he could listen to music, and the people weren’t all unbearable.

“But it don’t make no difference,” he sang under his breath, “Cause I ain’t gonna be easy, easy.  The only time I’m gonna be easy’s when I’m, killed by death…”

“What you listenin’ to today, Jake?” his friend Shane asked, but he just kept singing and scanning the boxes.

When ten-thirty came around he grabbed his lunch and rolled outside to the employee smoking area on the south side of the building.  Early December in Milwaukee, the clouds of vapor billowed out from Jacob’s lungs as the turkey sandwich on his lap began to freeze.  He watched the cars gliding past beyond the creek encircling the hill on which the Makermart sat, and let his eyes drift down to the icy water.  The edges were frozen, jagged white borders constricting the dark green current, winding through the dense woods before the highway.  He didn’t move for a while, only sat, listening.  Then, at ten fifty-five, he quickly ate the frosty sandwich and wheeled back in to help stock and zone items on the lower shelves.

The Dial n’ Go shuttle picked him up at two and took him straight to basketball, and his mother’s friend, Susan, the woman he lived with, picked him up from there.  “How was practice?” she asked, folding the wheelchair and preparing to stow it in back of the van.  “You look exhausted, did you eat your lunch?”  Jacob hoisted his right leg inside and reached out to close the passenger door, pausing a moment to consider answering her question.  “Never mind, then,” she said when the door slammed shut.

“I got you those elbow sleeves you asked for, the kind with the pad.  They’re on your bed,” she called from the kitchen.

His head bowed, almost dropping on the empty plate.  “How many times have I told you—politely—to stay out of my room?”

“Oh, I know…”  Her attention focused on the task at hand, cracking and straining the yokes out of five large eggs for Jacob’s dinner omelet, part of a high-protein, low-calorie diet he’d started for basketball, and to help him get “insanely ripped” by New Year’s.  “I thought it’d be easier than having to carry them yourself.  Couldn’t help seeing those empty bottles in the trash.  I wish you’d quit drinking so much, young man.”

He raised his head, stared wide-eyed at the ceiling.  “Nine years, I’ve been old enough to drink.  I’ll be—”

“Thirty years-old in March,” she finished the sentence with him, rounding the counter with a plate of turkey bacon and a glass of milk.  “Please take it under advisement,” she smiled gently, “you drink enough tequila to drown a mariachi band each week.”

“And she’s racist, too.”

“Winters are rough sometimes,” she said, returning to the kitchen.  “The soul tends to weep and yearn for light.  Spring will be a time of waxing joy and renewal.”

“I’m happy to hear that, Susan.”

He deliberately waited until 8:05pm to call Claire.  She picked up the phone after one ring.  “Hey, Jacob!”

“Claire, how’s it going?  How was—”

“Not bad, you know—sorry, didn’t mean to interrupt.  I’m in the middle of inking the next SkyWench issue and it’s stressing me out.”

Jacob paused a second.  “I saw the sample pages on your blog the other day.  It looks amazing.”

“Well, thank you, sir.  Should be one of the best ones yet.  Now all I need is some readers.”

“Hey, Claire.”

“Yeah?  Present.”

“Would you want to have dinner with me Saturday, at my place, maybe watch a movie after?”  He almost added, “I can cook a mean roasted chicken with sauvignon blanc,” but kept his mouth shut.

A few hours passed, and Claire said, “Sure.  I’d love to.  What time should I be there?”

“Eight, eight-thirty.  I’ll start cooking around eight.”

“Sounds great, Jake,” she said, possibly smiling.  “I’ll see you, Saturday night.”

After work the next day he hit the gym, but not too hard since he had practice the day after that.  He wondered if Claire might want to go to his game Sunday.  Depending on how their date went, asking her to the basketball game could be a smart move, but if he came on too strong she might brush him off like a charity case who got too clingy.  “Cute little Jacob,” he groaned, pulling himself up into a seated position on the workout bench.  “He thinks Claire’s gonna be his girlfriend.”  Opposite the incline and decline presses, a woman in dark grey spandex pants and a sports bra was doing alternating curls and watching herself in the mirror.  He eyed her for a moment, checking out her body.  Curvy and muscular, a large chest but not huge, a moderately pretty face, and straight black hair.  She caught a glimpse of him, glanced at his shoulders and arms, and smiled.  He smiled back, then her eyes moved to the wheelchair parked beside his bench, she flashed a confused expression, stole a glance at his legs, and turned back to her own reflection.  Jacob lied down and started his next set.

Tired, tired, tired.  So tired of this…  Waking up to pitch black alarm, smelling filth in a soiled diaper, dragging self out of bed, washing, grooming, dressing, for another day like every other God-damned day.  Another day of crawling.  Susan loves, cares, and toils for him.  Sunny loves him like a brother.  Claire laughs and gazes at him from time to time, soft beaming starlight in her eyes, soon to fade, or fall, displaced by cloud or shadow, unknown amusement shaping lips into a grin.

“Hold up, let me scan those,” he barked at Richard, who’d started jacking up a pallet near the back of the truck.

“Sorry, Jake.  Kind of want to get these done in a hurry.  They should let us scan our own boxes, it’d be way faster.”

“Management wants it this way,” he said quickly.

“You’d be out of a job though, huh?”

“And what a tragedy that would be.  Kay, you’re good to go, Dick.”

Half of practice was drills, exercise, and strategy, while the second half was a scrimmage game.  His team went all out during practice games unless they had an important real game in the next few days.  Sunday afternoon they were playing the West Allis Porcupines, so no one on Jacob’s team was very worried.  The scrimmage began as usual in a fun, even brotherly spirit of good-natured competition.

“Once in a while it’s the right play to pass the ball, lame legs.”

“I’ll make sure to tell your mom that later.”

“At least Jake actually makes a shot sometimes, Danny.”

“Yeah.”

“Yeah,” his teammates laughed.

Jacob spun and launched down the left side of the court, hoping to snag a rebound and sail the ball to Nick or Max for a shot.  He locked chairs with Elliot at the three-point line and fought to break free, but by then his team had possession, storming up the court where Max lobbed one in from under the basket.

Susan waited in the parking lot at four, folded his chair, stowed it in back, climbed into the driver’s seat, and started the van.  “Your friend dropped by today,” she said quietly.  “She left you a comic book.  Said you’re cooking her dinner tomorrow night?”

He rolled down the window, spat on the pavement, and rolled it up again.  “Is that alright?”

They already had the soy sauce, vinegar, and carrots at home, but they still needed soy beans, soba noodles, and salmon filets, so they stopped at the EarthWay grocery by their house.  He had found the Ginger Salmon recipe on a gourmet cooking site, he told her, and thought a Japanese meal would go well with the film they were watching, plus Claire liked anime, sushi, and some Shibuya-kei music.  He appreciated Susan taking him to buy the groceries.  He also appreciated her finding someplace else to be tomorrow night from seven o’clock onward, so he and Claire could have the privacy they’re entitled to as responsible, non-threatening adults.

The comic she’d given him, the latest issue of SkyWench, wasn’t her best work, although Jacob respected what she was trying to do.  Previous issues focused more on the clashes between Mina’s skyborn clan of sister warriors and the rock-dwelling Scorporanths that fed on human beings, often indulging a nigh unquenchable thirst for human spinal fluid.  In this one all she did was fly from mountain to mountain on her Sordes, with a few of her warriors, on a quest to locate a floating island where the land was fertile and the Scorporanths couldn’t reach them.  Mina ends up finding it, then changes her mind, saying life there would be, “A thunderless dream, and hence a virago’s nightmare.”  Claire’s other readers might enjoy it, either way he intended to keep any negative opinions to himself.

She showed up just after eight while he was grating the carrots.  On his way to the door he hit play on the stereo.  He had considered listening to an album that he knew Claire liked, Stereo * Type A or This Will Destroy You, but before he started cooking went with Use Your Illusion I, not wanting to look overeager to make her happy.  She stood on the doorstep, smiling, for a couple seconds, and he said, “Hey, Claire.  You look…  Hazardous.”

Black sweater unbuttoned down the front, white v-neck t-shirt, faded jeans, frayed at the bottom, over a new pair of sambas.  No purse in her hands, gently resting at her sides, and a calm, radiant, almost sarcastic look in her emerald green eyes.  Dark brown hair streaked with blonde fell over one side of her face, curled slightly beneath her chin, and flowed in a crescent to the back of her neck.  Pale rose lips, round above with softly dimpled corners, delicate, ivory cheeks, and the faintest freckles on a nose sloping bravely from the quiet shadows round her eyes.

“Invite me in at your own risk,” she said impatiently.

He poured her a glass of the Merlot that Susan drank, set it on the counter in front of her, and resumed prepping the ingredients.  Most of the tables and counters were about half a foot lower than usual, part of the renovation done after Susan bought the house.  In spite of this, and the feature of Jacob’s electric wheelchair allowing him to elevate or lower himself somewhat, he couldn’t shake a nagging embarrassment as Claire watched him cook and talked about her friends, the work they were doing, their plans for the future, and hers, which were more like vague wishes really because she still didn’t know what she wanted to do, but she’d rather live overseas and teach English than keep slanging shirts and keychains at the mall, and listening to the same fake-azz pop songs all day.

“Don’t you have to speak a foreign language to be able to teach overseas?”

“Not really.  Besides, I could always learn.”

“Where would you want to live?”

“Europe, China, South America…”

“Why not Japan?”

“I think most people already have a working knowledge of English there.  If not they probably don’t need more teachers.”

“Wouldn’t you miss this place?  Milwaukee isn’t the best city in the world, but it’s way better than Chicago, or St. Louis.”

Claire laughed a single, ecstatic, “Ha,” and let her head fall on her forearms, lifted it again, and finished her wine.  “I just know my life here has been a tragedy.”

They ate quickly, laughing now and then at each other’s jokes.  The salmon was delicious, perfectly cooked according to him, though Claire thought it was too well done.  “I agree,” she told him, “couldn’t be better.”  The tv in the living room emitted an obnoxious buzzing sound when the previews started.  He nearly fell out of his chair trying to get to the entertainment center to adjust the wires.  Unplugging and plugging them back in fixed the problem, and the film began.  The Wind Rises, directed by Hayao Miyazaki.  He’d almost chosen Ninja Scroll, but after some deliberation ordered this one, not wanting to risk Claire getting freaked out—uncomfortable, rather—due to the abundant violence.  The movie amazed her right away, she slid over next to Jacob, who’d moved from his wheelchair to the couch, and put his arm around her.

“Farewell, Mina,” he called from the doorway, instantly regretting it until she turned, laughing, and blew him a kiss.  Later, as he was falling asleep, he assured himself that it was better not to have asked her to go to his game on Sunday, better still not to have made any plans at all.  Their date was good.  Maybe in a few days he’d call her again.

The game was a blowout, as expected.  His team, the Badgers, dominated the West Allis Porcupines for a 43 to 17-point win, then Jacob and a few of the guys drove to a nearby sports bar for burgers and beers.

“I’ll buy the drinks today, boys,” he said as they rolled up to their table.

“Why you gonna do that, Jake?” asked Nick.

“I feel like being nice, since when do I need a reason?”

Danny eyed him for a second.

“In that case I want the most expensive whiskey they’ve got,” laughed Tyler.

“Did you get lucky last night, bro?” asked Danny.

Everyone at the table stopped talking, and looked at him.

“I told your mom to keep quiet about tha—”

“Yeah, yeah, just answer the question.”

He stared back at Danny and looked around at everyone.  “None of your business, but yeah, I had a date last night.”

All the guys said, “Oooooh,” and started making dumb jokes, when the server walked over.

“You sound like a bunch of tween-age girls,” he yelled.  “Look, the waitress is here.”

They ate, talked, and laughed for almost two hours, watching the Admirals and some other games on tv.  Jacob and Danny drank shots of Jack until Danny threw up a little on his plate and disqualified himself.  At home later, Susan asked how the date had gone.  He declined to answer, only said, “Thank you,” and wheeled into his room.

 

Fyodor Dostoevsky Quotes

“Above all, don’t lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love.”
― The Brothers Karamazov

“Pain and suffering are always inevitable for a large intelligence and a deep heart. The really great men must, I think, have great sadness on earth.”
― Crime and Punishment

“To go wrong in one’s own way is better than to go right in someone else’s.”
― Crime and Punishment

“What is hell? I maintain that it is the suffering of being unable to love.”
― The Brothers Karamazov

“The darker the night, the brighter the stars,
The deeper the grief, the closer is God!”
Crime and Punishment

“Man only likes to count his troubles; he doesn’t calculate his happiness.”
Notes from Underground

“I say let the world go to hell, but I should always have my tea.”
Notes from Underground

“Talking nonsense is the sole privilege mankind possesses over the other organisms. It’s by talking nonsense that one gets to the truth! I talk nonsense, therefore I’m human”
Notes from Underground

“The soul is healed by being with children.”

“People speak sometimes about the “bestial” cruelty of man, but that is terribly unjust and offensive to beasts, no animal could ever be so cruel as a man, so artfully, so artistically cruel.”

“We sometimes encounter people, even perfect strangers, who begin to interest us at first sight, somehow suddenly, all at once, before a word has been spoken.”
Crime and Punishment

“I love mankind, he said, “but I find to my amazement that the more I love mankind as a whole, the less I love man in particular.”
― The Brothers Karamazov

“It takes something more than intelligence to act intelligently.”
Crime and Punishment

“But how could you live and have no story to tell?”
White Nights

“Taking a new step, uttering a new word, is what people fear most.”
Crime and Punishment

“The mystery of human existence lies not in just staying alive, but in finding something to live for.”
The Brothers Karamazov

“Much unhappiness has come into the world because of bewilderment and things left unsaid.”

“Right or wrong, it’s very pleasant to break something from time to time.”

“I am a dreamer. I know so little of real life that I just can’t help re-living such moments as these in my dreams, for such moments are something I have very rarely experienced. I am going to dream about you the whole night, the whole week, the whole year. I feel I know you so well that I couldn’t have known you better if we’d been friends for twenty years. You won’t fail me, will you? Only two minutes, and you’ve made me happy forever. Yes, happy. Who knows, perhaps you’ve reconciled me with myself, resolved all my doubts.

When I woke up it seemed to me that some snatch of a tune I had known for a long time, I had heard somewhere before but had forgotten, a melody of great sweetness, was coming back to me now. It seemed to me that it had been trying to emerge from my soul all my life, and only now-

If and when you fall in love, may you be happy with her. I don’t need to wish her anything, for she’ll be happy with you. May your sky always be clear, may your dear smile always be bright and happy, and may you be for ever blessed for that moment of bliss and happiness which you gave to another lonely and grateful heart. Isn’t such a moment sufficient for the whole of one’s life?”
White Nights

“Nothing in this world is harder than speaking the truth, nothing easier than flattery.”

“To love someone means to see them as God intended them.”

“Man is a mystery. It needs to be unravelled, and if you spend your whole life unravelling it, don’t say that you’ve wasted time. I am studying that mystery because I want to be a human being.”

“The world says: ‘You have needs — satisfy them. You have as much right as the rich and the mighty. Don’t hesitate to satisfy your needs; indeed, expand your needs and demand more.’ This is the worldly doctrine of today. And they believe that this is freedom. The result for the rich is isolation and suicide, for the poor, envy and murder.”
The Brothers Karamazov

“I swear to you gentlemen, that to be overly conscious is a sickness, a real, thorough sickness.”
Notes from Underground

“Man is sometimes extraordinarily, passionately, in love with suffering…”

“The awful thing is that beauty is mysterious as well as terrible. God and the devil are fighting there and the battlefield is the heart of man.”
The Brothers Karamazov

“You can be sincere and still be stupid.”

“If you wish to glimpse inside a human soul and get to know a man, don’t bother analyzing his ways of being silent, of talking, of weeping, of seeing how much he is moved by noble ideas; you will get better results if you just watch him laugh. If he laughs well, he’s a good man.”

“I can see the sun, but even if I cannot see the sun, I know that it exists. And to know that the sun is there – that is living.”
The Brothers Karamazov

“It is not the brains that matter most, but that which guides them — the character, the heart, generous qualities, progressive ideas.”

“‘Not one people,’ he began, as though reading it line by line and at the same time continuing to look menacingly at Stavrogin― ‘not one people has yet ordered its life in accordance with the principles of science and reason.  There has never been an instance of it, except only for a moment, out of folly.  Socialism is by its very nature bound to be atheistic because it has proclaimed from the very first that it is an atheistic institution and that it intends to organize itself exclusively on the principles of science and reason.  Reason and science have always, today and from the very beginning of time, played a secondary and subordinate part; and so they will to the end of time.  Peoples are formed and moved by quite a different force, a force that dominates and exercises its authority over them, the origin of which, however, is unknown and inexplicable.  That force is the force of an unquenchable desire to go on to the end and, at the same time, to deny the existence of an end.  It is the force of an incessant and persistent affirmation of its existence and a denial of death.  It is the spirit of life, as the Scripture says, ‘rivers of living water,’ the running dry of which is threatened in Revelation.  It is the aesthetic principle, as the philosophers call it, an ethical principle, with which they identify it, the ‘seeking of God,’ as I call it much more simply.  The purpose of the whole evolution of a nation, in every people and at every period of its existence, is solely the pursuit of God, their God, their very own God, and faith in Him as in the only true one.  God is the synthetic personality of the whole people, taken from its beginning to its end.  It has never happened that all or many peoples should have one common God, but every people has always had its own special one.  The first sign of the decay of nations is when they begin to have common gods.  When gods begin to be common gods, the gods die as well as the faith in them, together with the peoples themselves.  The more powerful a nation, the more individual its god.  There has never yet been a nation without a religion, that is to say, without the conception of good and evil.  Every people has its own conception of good and evil and its own good and evil.  When the conceptions of good and evil become general among many nations, then these nations begin to die out, and the very distinction between good and evil begins to get blurred and to vanish.  Reason has never been able to define good and evil, or even to separate good from evil, not even approximately; on the contrary, it had always mixed them up in a most pitiful and disgraceful fashion; as for science, its solutions have always been based on brute force.  This was particularly true of that half-science, that most terrible scourge of mankind, worse than pestilence, famine, or war, and quite unknown till our present century.  Half-science is a despot such as has never been known before.  A despot that has its own priests and slaves, a despot before whom everybody prostrates himself with love and superstitious dread, such as has been quite inconceivable till now, before whom science itself trembles and surrenders in a shameful way.  These are your own words, Stavrogin, except only what I have said about half-science; that is mine, because I represent only half-science, and that’s why I hate it particularly.  As for your own ideas and even your own words, I haven’t changed anything, not a single word.'”
― Demons

 

The Real Eternal Friday

     They decided to meet at the Chinese restaurant next door to the bowling alley, because the food there was great, and although the bowling alley hosted a league on Thursday nights and got super crowded, almost no one dined in at the restaurant.  Most of the business came from takeout orders, so the four of them could eat and talk in peace.

     Jessica and Sathvik showed up at about the same time and requested the booth in the corner by the window.  “Let me get that for you,” he said, helping remove her coat.  “How’ve you been, Jess?”

     “Oh, not bad.  I have a thousand different things to do by the end of the week, and I haven’t started on any.”

     “Sounds like a typical week, then,” he smiled.

     “Yep, pretty much.  How are you doing, Sathvik?”

     “I’ve got two thousand things to do this week, and I actually have started a few of them.”

     “You overachiever,” she scowled.

     “Really?  You guys want to sit by the window?”  A tall guy with a blonde semi-mohawk stood by the front door.  “Hello, I’m with them,” he waved to the hostess.

     “Stanley, what’s up, broseph?”

     “Sathvik.  Jessica,” he nodded, tossing his jacket on the window ledge.  “Have you guys ordered yet?”

     “What’s wrong with by the window?” asked Jessica.

     “It just feels so… public.”

     “We are in public, restaurants are public places,” said Sathvik.  “No, we haven’t ordered yet.”

     “Let’s get some fried wontons.”

     “Ugh, no thank you.  I’m fat enough as it is.”

     “You’re not fat, Jess.”

     “Yes, I am, Stan.”

     “No, you’re not.”

     “How about spring rolls?  Those are pretty healthy.”

     “Okay.”

     “Sounds good.”  Jessica motioned for the waiter.

     “Are you ready to order?”

     “We’d like some apps, and drinks,” said Stanley.  “Our friend is running a little late.  We’ll wait till he shows up to order our entrées.  Jess, what do you want to drink?”

     “I’ll have wine, please.  Red, merlot, or whatever is cheapest.”

     “Sathvik?”

     “Dr. Pepper, if you have it.”

     “What if they only have Pibb?”

     “We have Dr. Pepper,” said the waiter.  “For you, sir?”

     “I’ll have a Tsingtao.”

     “What if they only have Sapporo?” asked Jessica.

     “Don’t speak,” said Stanley.

     Jake arrived as they were arguing over who should get the last spring roll.  “Sorry, guys, my mom threw a bunch of work at me, like she does every time I go over there.  Hey, is anyone gonna eat that spring roll?”

     As soon as they’d ordered their food they started the meeting.  Sathvik suggested they each take a few minutes to present their work so far, including a brief summary of their sections, their focus, themes, what they’d written, the tone and perspective of their writing, etc., and after everyone had gotten a chance to talk they could address specific concerns and discuss the big picture of the book in light of what they’d heard.

     “My section begins with the last date I had with Laura.”

     “The one when—”

     “Yes, when she broke up with me.”

     “Good call,” said Jessica.

     “I tell it like an action piece, put the reader in my shoes, my mind.  It’s graduation, we’re launching out into the world, no more school, new jobs, high hopes for the future, and then, bam.”

     “Bam.”

     “She drops the H-bomb.”

     “What’s the H-bomb?” asked Stanley.

     “You don’t know what the H-bomb is?”

     “The Hydrogen bomb,” said Sathvik.  “The most destructive weapon known to man.  It’s a metaphor, Stan, she told me she wanted to break up.”

     “She broke his heart,” said Jessica.

     “She crushed my heart.  And that’s how I introduce my life since then.  I talk about my work, the shift from college to career, my social life, my perspective on romance and dating, and go through some of the experiences I’ve had since breaking up with Laura.”

     “It sounds like a journal,” said Stanley.

     “It’s more objective than that.”

     “Do you mention specific people?”

     “I describe a few of the dates I went on.  Where we went, what we discussed, good and bad vibes, how the nights ended.  I changed all the names of course.”

     “How many women have you dated?”

     “Since Laura?  Two, one of whom is… ongoing.”

     “Girlfriend?”

     “Not officially.”

     “Does she know about the book?” asked Jake.

     “Of course.  Alright, who’s next?”  He pointed at Jessica.

     “Why me?”  She rolled her eyes.  “Fine.  I begin with my first kiss.”

     “Aww, how sweet.”

     “Shut up, Stan.  Twelve years-old, my last year at summer camp, spin the bottle with the boys in the pavilion.”

     “What was his name?”

     “None of your business.”

     “Dang, someone’s touchy tonight.”

     “Let her talk, Stan,” Jake grumbled.

     “Thank you.  Start with my first kiss, jump from there to my boyfriends in high school, juxtapose that with the dreams I’d acquired from books, movies, imagination.  I’ve only really outlined the piece so far.  It’s good, but it’s…”

     “Sad.”

     “Miserable.  Quite fitting in fact, for such is my love life.”

     “What about Todd?”

     “I’ll reference that as a transitional period, when I realized not all men are evil.  It’s a work in progress.  I intend to mine a nugget of hope from the dark solitude of my existence.  Okay, who’s next?”

     “Fair enough,” said Sathvik.  “Jake, how about you?”

     “Look at that smile,” laughed Jessica.

     “Y’all already know what my section’s about.”

     “The coolest lady on the planet,” she and Sathvik said in unison.

     “Great, so it’s a love letter,” said Stanley.

     “It’s about love, it isn’t a love letter.”

     “How did you start?”

     “With something my dad told me when I was a kid.  On the way home from junior high one day, he turned to me when we were stopped at a stoplight, and said, ‘Jacob, a man’s got two jobs to do in this world.  Serve the Lord, and love his wife.’  I start with that and go on to talk about Abbie.”

     “What do you focus on?” asked Stanley.

     “Everything.  Her eyes, her hair, her nose, her lips…”

     They all laughed.

     “Do you talk about race at all?” he asked.

     “Here and there.”

     “Why is that important?” asked Jessica.

     “It’s not,” said Stanley, “but it’s interesting.  He’s black, she’s white, it could provide some good material for a book about relationships.”

     “I mention race in my section,” said Sathvik, “the cultural aspect, my parents’ views on dating, establish a background for where I’m at now.”

     “He shouldn’t have to write about race if he doesn’t want to.”

     “I’m not saying he has to, I’m just saying readers might find it interesting.  The conflicts, social stigmas, prejudice, stuff like that.”

     “I get it,” said Jake.  “I considered going that route, but honestly I’d rather make it about Abbie and me, more than about Abbie and me and the world.  We’ve been together for three and a half amazing years, and yeah, the race thing has been a factor, but it’s not what we’re about.”

     The waiter set a large tray holding the group’s entrées on a foldable stand next to the table.  “Moo Shu Pork?  Okay.  Chicken Lo Mein?  Okay.  General Tsao’s Chicken?  Okay.  Mongolian Beef?  Okay.  May I refill your drinks?  Yes.  No.  Yes.  Yes.  Okay, thank you.”

     “This looks uber-delish,” said Jessica.

     “Uber-delish?” said Sathvik.

     “You’re a bunch of uber-dorks,” said Stanley.

     “What are you writing, Stan?” Jake asked as they dug in to their meal.

     “Confessions… of the Studliest Stud in Studderton.”

     “Sounds delightful,” said Jessica.

     “Sounds fictional,” said Sathvik.

     “Very funny, Vik.  No, I’m actually doing a story about the future.  I’m writing about my wife, whoever she is, and how I’d like it to be someday.  We wake up in the morning, eat breakfast together, joke and laugh and kiss each other.  How marriage is supposed to be, you know, through my eyes.”

     “That actually does sound delightful.”

     “What are you going to call it?”

     “The Real Eternal Friday.”

 

The Corner Club Press, Issue 21, Vol. 6

http://thecornerclubpress.weebly.com/issues.html

From Issue 21, Volume 6:

Games
by Robert Lampros

The breath, before the starting whistle,
open air over grass or dust,
teams in formation, crashing forward
in halting visions of their minds,
a stillness captured by the light.

Days when battles stormed the earth
like rumbling torrents of hailing skies,
when shields landed silently
on the dark red ground, survivors
cried to each other, lifting their eyes.

What people do for sport, for glory,
power, money, fame, might haunt them,
cast them in a towering flame,
the victories of yesterday may crumble
into glowing ashes of one’s own shame.

Rising into sight above the field,
does the sun perceive the bodies,
fallen temples of lost and angry souls?
Will the winners sense the shaded eyes,
or feel the warmth that makes us new?

 

The Perfect Day Short Story Contest

The first year of The Perfect Day Short Story Contest is now open and closes for entries December 31, 2017, at 11:59pm CST.

First Prize:  From $0.00 to $25,000 (Depending on contributors)

Word Count:  1500-8000 words

Entry Fee:  Free

Submissions:  Email submissions to rlampros27@yahoo.com by New Year’s Day, 2018.

All stories are welcome, provided they are works of fiction, are previously unpublished, and fall within the designated word count range.  No prize is as yet guaranteed, however the winner will probably get some amount of money (up to $25,000) at some point in time, and the story will probably be published by an established literary journal.  First and second runners-up will probably receive a monetary prize as well, but like I said, nothing is certain.  Entries shall be judged by myself and twelve other qualified, honest, and unbiased readers.  Write from the heart.  All stories are welcome.  Happy writing, and have a blessed 2017.

word, pdf, rtf documents accepted

 

Last Year’s Resolution, Ch. 12

A couple weeks before Solitaire High School’s winter break, Eddie stopped by for a quick talk followed by a question and answer session with the students. The school enrolled about a hundred and fifty kids, who all gathered in the gymnasium with the administration and faculty after lunch.

The principal introduced him as, “Mr. Edmund Stovender, the most talented writer of his generation,” an epithet that embarrassed him but succeeded in rousing the attention of the distracted students. After speaking for half an hour about his childhood in Iowa, his love of books as a teenager, his early career, and the lessons he’d learned from his novels, he concluded on a note of encouragement, stressing the importance of faith and perseverance in one’s quest for achievement in any field. “Does anyone have any questions?”

A young lady in the second to last row raised her hand. “Hi, Mr. Stovender, my name is Margaret, my friends call me Marge. What are you working on now, if you don’t mind telling us?”

“Oh, not at all. It’s a new type of project for me, a medieval science fiction novel about a space knight, Sir Remo Daggenthorp, who travels the galaxy protecting civilizations from attacks by various plagues, predators, invasions, and things. It’s kind of a metaphor for my own spiritual journey. Who’s next? You there in the red hat.”

“How much money you got?”

“Excuse me,” said one of the teachers, “do you mind elaborating on your last statement? How exactly is that a metaphor for your spiritual life?”

“Sure, sure. Well, it’s no secret that there’s a war happening right now, in our country, the world, and the universe, and like any good human I’m trying to do my part to crush the devil. Good vs. evil, Light vs. dark, Love vs. hate, you know how it goes. ‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.’”

“Are the aliens like the locusts from the Book of Revelation?” asked a young man in the first row.

“Not necessarily, although there is a species of mutant condor from the planet Taldrathon which bears certain similarities. No, I think of the alien invaders as evil influences, such as hatred, anger, jealousy, lust, greed, carelessness, unrighteous fear, anything that threatens our peace and safety here… Including the monsters from Revelation, of course.”

“My neighbor saw one on the roof of the Makermart last week. He said it was big, and had giant knife-teeth.” A number of students gasped.

“It’s alright,” he said, “don’t worry about the hell creatures. They can not touch us who have faith. Are there any more questions?”

“How long have you been married to Ms. Altnikov?”

He laughed nervously, “Actually, Marie and I aren’t technically married in the official legal sense of the word, although we do plan to marry soon, at some point. With all the fire and wrath this past summer it’s been difficult to set a date—”

“Christmas,” called Marie, and the students turned and looked.

“Sorry, what?”

“You and me, let’s get married on Christmas.” Shrieks and laughter arose from the crowd.

“Okay, if you wish. Christmas Day. And you’re all invited,” he raised his voice as they broke into cheers and applause. “Everyone in Solitaire is invited!”

“Ed-dee, Ed-dee, Ed-dee, Ed-dee…” They clapped and cheered as he walked over to hug Marie and kiss her cheek on his way out.

“Thank you, students,” he waved from the door. “God bless you all, and God bless America.”

*         *         *

A few days before the wedding she interrupted one of his writing sessions to see if he wanted to go sledding. “Marie, check this out, come here.” On the desk lay an open Bible, an open magazine, and Eddie’s phone with words on the screen.

“What is this, research?”

“Sort of. Not for the book though. Listen to this, Revelation, Chapter 22: ‘In the middle of its street, and on either side of the river, was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. And there shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him. They shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads.’

“Okay, now listen to this, this is from a story by Vladimir Nabokov they published in The New Yorker a while back: ‘Embracing my shoulders for an instant with his dovelike wings, the angel pronounced a single word, and in his voice I recognized all those beloved, those silenced voices. The word he spoke was so marvelous that, with a sigh, I closed my eyes and bowed my head still lower. The fragrance and the melody of the word spread through my veins, rose like a sun within my brain; the countless cavities within my consciousness caught up and repeated its lustrous edenic song.’

“Now, last one, here are the last two verses of John Newton’s ‘Amazing Grace’: ‘The earth shall soon dissolve like snow, the sun forbear to shine, but God, who called me here below, will be forever mine. When we’ve been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun, we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we’ve first begun.’” He took a deep breath and smiled up at her.

“I thought you were working on Nebulaic Stormrider today.”

“I was, I got sidetracked. Did you follow my reading? I think the name of God we receive in the New Jerusalem is going to be like the word in Nabokov’s story, a word of eternal praise to Christ, like John Newton describes, having no boundaries in time or space, and by receiving that name on our foreheads it’s like we merge with Him, and we become eternal too, like divine Light or Spirit.”

“Sure sounds nice,” she nodded.

“It’s better than nice,” he laughed. “It’s… Perfection.”

“Right, perfection. So how about it? You, me, a couple plastic tubs, and a hill full of frozen water. Sound good?”

“You wanna race me?”

“Pshhh, you know I’m gonna race you.”

Eddie stared intensely at her. “You wanna race me?”

She bent down so her face was directly in front of his. “You know I’m gonna race you.”

*         *         *

The days leading up to Christmas were busy and stressful with wedding preparations. Both the ceremony and reception would take place at the highest point in Solitaire, the rooftop of the Makermart Superstore. He paid the tent people and the superstore people an extra twenty-five thousand each and hired the staff of the hardware department to stake an orange safety fence around the roof’s perimeter. He and Marie agreed to spend Christmas Eve apart, so he slept in the guest room of Frank Drummond’s house. Frank was the town sheriff.

 

Happenstance

The arched ceiling lent the public library an air of tranquil liberty, as if it were easier to breathe inside than it was out on the street.  Jerry sat down at one of the large rectangular tables between the rows of bookshelves, removed his notepad, his pocket Thesaurus, and three Bic pens.  This day marked the commencement of a new kind of project for him.  Moderate success as a novelist and short story writer had helped to supplement his VA benefits in recent years, but lately he’d felt like trying something new.  Instead of another suspense novel or historical short fiction collection, he would embark on the creation of an epic poem in the tradition of Homer or Milton, a work to further distinguish him and solidify his literary legacy.

Forests of the Meremac,” he wrote on the top line of his notepad, “Part I.”  While contemplating the first image of the poem he noticed a woman three tables down, staring at him.  A beautiful woman, relatively young, sad-looking, the skin around her eyes slightly puffy as though she had been crying.  Upon making eye contact with him she smiled, awakening a brightness in her face that prompted him to smile back, and kindly nod a greeting.

The woman stood up, passed quietly up the aisle toward him, letting her fingertips graze the cotton fabric on Jerry’s shoulder, then proceeding out the door into the side lot of the library.  After making love to her in his car, he learned that her name was Lana and she worked at the Thai restaurant about a mile away.  She visited the library on her lunch break to enjoy its peace and quiet.  She told him goodbye, she had to get back to work, and maybe she’d see him around sometime.

Returning to the table and unpacking his things, Jerry recommenced the writing of his poem, envisioning the landscapes he’d seen, the oceans, cliffs, rivers, plains, and forests in all the places he’d traveled to throughout the world.  Finding no sufficiently powerful image to begin the piece, he turned to some of the books from which he hoped to draw inspiration.

First, he quoted Homer, the war metaphors of Agamemnon and his soldiers overwhelming the Trojan Army in The Iliad.  “Even as a lion easily crushes the speechless young of a swift deer, coming into its lair, seizing them in its powerful teeth and taking away their tender life—”

Next, he drew from The Odyssey, Circe’s warning to Odysseus to resist the Sirens’ song.  “If any one unwarily draws in too close and hears the singing of the Sirens, his wife and children will never welcome him home again, for they sit in a green field and warble him to death with the sweetness of their song.  There is a great heap of dead men’s bones lying all around, with the flesh still rotting off them.”

Third, he recalled the envious cry of Satan upon seeing Adam and Eve for the first time in Paradise Lost.  “Into our room of bliss thus high advanc’t/Creatures of other mould, earth-born perhaps/Not Spirits, yet to heav’nly Spirits bright/Little inferior; whom my thoughts pursue/With wonder, and could love, so lively shines/In them Divine resemblance, and such grace/The hand that formd them on thir shape hath pourd.”

Again he tried putting his pen to paper, and again he found no image, nor even one word, to start with.  Opting rather to devote the afternoon to promotional work, he collected his things and drove home to use his office computer.  He lived alone, and that evening he thought of Lana, replaying the details of their encounter outside the library.  He wondered if she might meet him again.  It was possible she’d intended it as a one-time, no strings attached type of connection, although she did say, “See you around,” when they said goodbye.  Jerry scratched the neck of his overfed border collie.  “Same deal tomorrow, Saucer.  We’ll try the poem again tomorrow.”

No sign of her the next day, or the next, or the next, and no matter how he struggled Jerry couldn’t produce a single line of his epic poem.  He’d sit there pondering, for hours some days, mining his intellect for the ideal words, moods, and images to catapult his readers into a grand thrilling adventure.  His fiction had practically written itself in the past, but poetry was different.  With fiction all he had to do was ramble on like he was telling a story to a group of friends around a campfire.  With poems each word had to count, every line had to radiate aesthetic power.

A week of fruitless writing sessions elapsed before he decided to stop by the Thai restaurant where Lana worked.  Worst case scenario, she wouldn’t want to see him and would ask him to leave.  Best case scenario, she’d be happy to see him and would go on a date that very evening.  The restaurant was empty, which wasn’t surprising at two forty-five.  No one at the desk to greet him.  Behind the desk an enormous golden dragon, the length of a small car, sat mounted on a base of elaborately carved jade.  The base rested on a wide cutout in the wall that looked designed to hold an aquarium of exotic fish.  He stood admiring the dragon for a moment, beholding its dynamic posture, intricate features, and shiny gold scales, its blazing yellow eyes fixed on him.

“Can-help you, sir?” a man shouted through the cutout.  One of the cooks, perhaps the only cook, had spotted him from the kitchen.

“Oh, hello.  Is Lana here?  I’m looking for Lana.”

“Lana went home.  She gone today.  Come back, tomorrow.”

“Do you happen to have her phone number?”  Jerry raised his thumb and pinky to his ear.  “Phone number?”

The cook peered over the dragon through the cutout.  “Ah, yes.  Wait a minute.”  A minute later he marched around the wall to hand him a slip of paper.  “Lana house.  You friend.  See you now.  Bye.”

Jerry left, unfolding the paper as he walked down the sidewalk.  It read:  Lana Kendrol, 2103 Sentry St., Apt. 3-D1.  He consulted his phone for directions.

The beige brick building was located in a courtyard with seven other identical buildings.  The buzzer for 3-D1 had a blank plastic strip beside it, and made no sound when Jerry pressed it, so he started up the steps.  Rounding the banister between the second and third floors, the words, “He who does not gather with me scatters,” spray-painted in tall black letters, halted him at the foot of the final set of stairs.  “He who does not gather with me scatters,” he said slowly, lightly wheezing.  The source of the words eluded him.  They reminded him of a bedtime story his grandma used to read.  Scratching his head, he carried on up the stairs and knocked loudly on Lana’s door.  No sound inside, no music or voices, until she appeared.

“Jerry?”

“Hi, Lana,” he smiled.  “I’m sorry to surprise you like this.  You never gave me your number.  The cook at your restaurant, he told me where you live.  I just wanted your phone number, but he—I’m sorry, are you busy right now?”

“Well, it is my day off.  I was trying to relax a bit.  Food service is no joke.  The pay isn’t bad, though.”  Noticing his breathing, she invited him in.

“Nice place,” he said, glancing around the small yet stylishly decorated living room.

“Thank you, sir,” she handed him a beer.  “So what brings you here?”

“Good question,” he laughed.  “I’ve been trying to write this poem, it’s an epic poem, you know, like The Odyssey or Paradise Lost.  That’s what I was doing at the library last week.”

Lana sipped her beer.  “How’s it going so far?”

“Not well.”

“No?”

“No.  For the first time in my career I can’t seem to start the damn thing.  Usually the words just roll out like, like the gears of a clock.”

“Quite the metaphor,” she smiled.

“Simile, actually—not really important.  Look, do you wanna go out sometime?  I had a great time the other day and I’d like to see you again, more formally, hopefully, like a date.”

Lana froze with the glass halfway to her lips.  “Jerry, I have a boyfriend.”

“What?”

“Sorry, yeah, I thought you knew.  What happened last Tuesday was…  I just needed to feel better.”

He sat still for a second as the words sank in.  “You mean your boyfriend doesn’t care if you…”

“It’s not like I tell him about it, but yeah, he knows.  We have an agreement.”

“Huh… Alright.  In that case, I guess I’ll be leaving.”  He set his beer on the table and stood up.

“You’re not upset, are you?”

“Me?  No, why should I be?  I’m sorry to show up like this.”

“Don’t be.  Please.”  Lana’s eyes were kind, sincere.

On his drive home he switched the radio to the Classic Rock station.  He drove slowly, carefully rounding corners, gradually applying the brakes and gas.  One of his all-time favorite songs started playing, and he turned it up until it hurt his ears.  Hey Jude, don’t make it bad. Take a sad song, and make it better…