Friday, January 6, 2017

2 Minutes. Go!

Hey, writer-type folks. AND PEOPLE WHO JUST WANT TO PLAY BUT DON'T IDENTIFY AS 'WRITERS' - all are welcome here! Every Friday, we do a fun free-write. For fun. And Freedom!

Write whatever you want in the 'comments' section on this blog post. Play as many times as you like. #breaktheblog! You have two minutes (give or take a few seconds ... no pressure!). Have fun. The more people who play, the more fun it is. So, tell a friend. Then send 'em here to read your 'two' and encourage them to play.

The alarm clock pulled him out of bed reluctantly. There was the aftertaste of a dream, some simple scheme - he could feel the remnants of a smile lingering in the corners of his mouth. He wondered at it briefly before it poofed away into the cool, gray dawn. 

He pulled on a sweater and parted the blinds and greeted the day. The birds were not up yet, but he would wait. 

The envelope was on the table where he left it, his name in large, bold print. He looked at it sideways, felt a numbness in his chest. He smiled and thought of death. 


He knew what the letter would say, or at least the gist of it. All the lies, and all the things he'd missed, twisted. Reminisced. The corners of the envelope were Drill Sergeant neat, the paper pure white. He wondered if it had been delivered by hand one still, damp night. The postage stamp a ruse; had she been here?

He laughed out loud at this, but he wasn't sure why. He made coffee and sat in his old chair and tried to stop his brain from moving. He counted his breaths until he felt calm enough to approach it. You can't rip open a letter like that, so he slit it neatly with a pocket knife.

Inside there were fall leaves, pressed and preserved. And there were pages and pages. And he cried as he read. 


Because that's what you do when you get a letter from the dead.

#2minutesgo Tweet it! Share it! Shout it from the top of the shack you live in! I will be out most of the day, but I'll be back...

90 comments:

  1. Wow... you nailed that ending. This is truly beautiful... and sad... The leaves were perfect.

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    1. "...and tried to stop his brain from moving." Strike me dumbfounded. So much from such a simple turn of phrase. From someone who's brain rarely stops, this is perfection. And the ending, heartrending. Thank you, JD.

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    2. Poetic descriptions, as always, Dan. And of course, that gut-punch last sentence rings the bell!

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    3. Wow, bam. I was just lilting along, soaking up that morning and...love the ending. Love the Drill Sargeant envelope.

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    4. Oh man! I love this. Those leaves...wow

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    5. This is up there with my favourite of your pieces. It has a lovely pace to it, not hurried. I love it.

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  2. If you listen in a quiet place, in winter, and if the wind is still, you can hear the snow fall. Tiny crystal tones float through frigid air. Six-sided shapes touch other six-sided shapes and they sing.

    This night, their music was unappreciated. The man who might have heard it was deaf to the magic. He lay on the ground in a tattered bedroll, the smell of cheap whiskey seeping from his pores. The plastic bottle was empty.

    The man dreamed. In the land of Morpheus, he saw his wife again, and the brats she swore were his, despite their red hair. Their house was immaculate and every blade of grass in the lawn was perfect. From this alone he might have known it was a dream, but he did not wish to know.

    The dream ended when his wife kissed him sweetly on the cheek and whispered in his ear, but he could not hear the words.

    His body twitched. He turned on one side, searching for another dream, but none came. He was not afraid of the blackness that took the dream's place. He knew it by its width and depth and breadth and coldness.

    When morning came, and the sky bloomed red with dawn, he did not move, and the snowflakes sang his requiem, in tiny notes that no one heard.

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    1. <3 Bittersweet and so beautiful.

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    2. Oh my word, Leland. So poignant, heartbreaking. I'm having trouble finding the words to express what I'm feeling with any accuracy. Snow's crystal tones singing to a man lost in despair, as Death intones his requiem. Beautiful imagery, thank you for sharing it.

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    3. This is beautiful. So much rich language, yet I was struck by this simple bit of prose: "Their house was immaculate and every blade of grass in the lawn was perfect."

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    4. I'm with Dan. Language as beautiful and distinctive as a snowflake. Nothing forced, nothing but beauty, memory and depth of feeling, especially in that killer ending. A gentle version of "To Build a Fire."

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    5. Gorgeous. And what everyone else said. This sings.

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    6. I really like this Leland...it's beautiful.

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    7. of course, you had me at Morpheus :)

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    8. Thank you all kindly... and being compared to To Build a Fire is a HUGE compliment. Thank you.

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    9. You know you've read something good and right when every sentence seems essential. This is an example of that.

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  3. It is cold, and the wind is as sharp as the knife he carries in his pocket. Above, the sliver of a moon looks like a mother's two arms reaching for her daughter Venus. The sun set some hours ago, and he is not sure what called him outside, but he felt a tug on his heart, and he listened.

    The denim jacket he wears is fleece-lined and does little to keep him warm, but it's all he's got. The holes in his Wranglers aren't doing him any favors either.

    He keeps his ears open, for a voice, a cry, something. They say a mountain lion has a cry like a woman.perhaps it was that. Or perhaps it was an owl asking its perpetual "Who?" But he hears neither of these now.

    He makes his mind go blank, so as not to be distracted. He closes his eyes against the stars, plentiful as the grains of sand in this place. And now he hears it. A cry, but not a woman or a mountain lion. He walks toward it, silently, surely. It stops. He stops. It starts again. He walks again. The sound is coming from the culvert. Now that he stands at its opening, the cry is amplified instead of muffled. He takes a deep breath and sticks his ungloved hand into the dark opening, glad it is winter and that the rattlesnakes are asleep somewhere else.

    He feels the cold metal first, and then he touches something warm, something fuzzy. His fingers discover the creature's ears, and then its scruff, and he pulls it out into the faint moonlight.

    A black kitten. No collar. Maybe six weeks old. Alone. Shivering. It hisses at him. He ignores its tantrum and he tucks it inside his jacket and makes his way back to the cabin, toward the warmth of a fire.

    Once inside, he puts the kitten on the kitchen counter while he looks for the can of tuna fish he knows is here somewhere, because he hates canned fish. The cat stares at him, reading his actions, and maybe his mind.

    He opens the can, and the cat tilts its head, disbelieving the tantalizing scent. He places the can by the cat, who tentatively licks first the oil, and then, with Emily Post manners, begins eating the fish that gave its life some thousands of miles away. The kitten tail rises enough for him to determine this is a male cat. He watches the feline feast, and then watches again as the cat begins to clean its whiskers.

    He dares to touch it, and the cat allows it, even purrs.

    "You need a name," he says, and the sound of his voice startles them both.
    The cat's indigo eyes watch expectantly for a sign of his future.

    "Blue. Your name is Blue. For your eyes, and for how I feel."

    The cat brushes against him, satisfied that he had found home, for once a human names you, they cannot let you go.

    And for the first time in a month, the man allows himself to smile.

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    1. Oh! So not what I expected. I love this so much. The setting that draws you in, the little details, the subtle tension...but most of all that ending. <3

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    2. Agreed. Absolutely love this one. And it was frost cold this morning and there are holes in my wranglers. Interesting. Again, I'm struck by something simple and perfect: "while he looks for the can of tuna fish he knows is here somewhere, because he hates canned fish.

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    3. Lovely. Two lost souls who find each other. Healing and caring can begin. The bond is formed and won't break. Beautifully penned.

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    4. The details are the scaffolding, but the heart is the full story. That probably doesn't even make sense, but it's how I felt after reading this. :)

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  4. 2 Minute Write -
    2 Minute Write

    Jennifer searched the (gateway) looking for the new friends she had made online just a couple years earlier.

    "Just look for the tallest dude in the area along with the most petite little thing," she had been told a few days earlier when she had talked to Robert.

    "Excuse me," Jennifer said approaching a couple that seemed to meet the description. "Robert? Tabitha?"

    "Jennifer!!" the young lady squealed in delight, hugging her, "I can't believe you're finally here"

    Jennifer hugged Tabitha back then turned to say hello to robert, giving him a quick hug as well. It was then that she noticed another guy standing with them.

    "You must be Mark," Jennifer said, "I've heard so much about you."

    "Yes Ma'am". Mark replied, "That would be me."

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  5. Part 1
    ________________

    "Isn't that what matters?"

    The rest of what she had to say was drowned out by the falls.

    We gathered our equipment and began the hike back down to the trailhead.

    But yes, I thought. It is what matters.

    And also, that was the last time we or anyone else saw her.

    Spem in alium. Did you hear? The hidden choir, singing "Be mindful of our lowliness" in a dead language?

    ***

    Christmas Day. We found our way back into town and heard George Michael died. No one cried about it until later; one of those slow-burn things. Somewhere along the timescale we lost our freedom and our faith, and we never fully pieced those two together until now.

    Here in the bar, we drank to all the people we lost in this terrible, abominable 2016. Someone suggested karaoke, and to our eternal shame most of us cheered encouragement, when we really ought to have left that dire year to its abject misery. To dissolve in its own toxic juices. Not even sang about it.

    To me was allotted "Rebel Rebel," and however hard I tried, profusely cognizant some boy might be a girl, some mother was in a whirl, I could never do it justice, whoever tore their goddamn dress, even if I were telling this story from a fictional land. A story board. Some tawdry vision.

    The thing is, we still had the mud and water from those canyon trails sluicing from our hiking boots. Our dreams were still unfolding. I recall watching Michael Stipe on some talk show, withdrawn into his guru beard, his pain at the outcome of the world so plain and so wretched I could feel my actual heart shrink within the cavern of my chest and quietly implode. This isn't what we envisaged in 1991. Or 1999. At what point did the dream end?

    If I could say anything, I would say this: stop being afraid. Stop being fearful. And quit blame. Reject potato peelings. Spurn astroturf. Reduce dead fledglings to tiny rubber dinosaurs. Fucking stop it, you weak-kneed, spineless fucks. Taste the dirt. Either we're right or we die. Don't pretend. Take a stand.

    ***

    Anger and graciousness. You don't deserve us, and vice versa. Cardboard signs at four-way intersections kitty-cornered by Target and Kmart, Costco and Walmart. Vast static confluences of concrete-and-asphalt rivers occupied by grubby penitents holding Sharpied cardboard pleas, each one more desperate—Need work. Please help. Will work for food. Will work for weed. Will work for sex. Homeless, anything helps. I used to be your neighbor. Please help me I have nothing. God bless—people staying, people moving on, not so permanent markers. Impregnable suburban tanks gliding by. Such rootlessness in a land of generic signs, identical to the next town and the next, long as they're on an interstate. Less so off the beaten path.

    But then the shocking moments of beauty, the dream blue of the sky with fantasy clouds scudding above a smoky mauve-into-cerulean range of distant peaks. A hawk spit-crying and spinning slo-mo in the afternoon thermals. A coyote loping quick-step anxious in scrubland. Mile-long trains blaring like lonesome creatures seeking their lost herd. Made antlike by tawny distance. Rare punctuation in the endless sentence of a narrative yet to be fully told.

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    1. The beautiful dichotomy of living. Seeing the atrocities and the miracles. So beautifully described. I felt the pain and the elation. Feel them still. Thank you, David.

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  6. Part 2
    ________________

    "What's that movie? You know the one."

    "Uhm, no."

    "With that actor, you know? She was in that other show, yeah? One with the trailer in the desert."

    "I sure don't have a single idea what you're talking about."

    "Aw, fuck, you ain't one bit helpful."

    It don't have to be some big drama. We can just get away. Leave while the pulse of a hip-hop beat makes of the walls a drumskin. While the smell of fried food coats the air and inside our noses right after we let out the blockhead dogs to piss in the overgrown weeds out back.

    I don't know anymore what's good or not. Or I think I know. I just ain't sure. My fingers look like they belong to someone twice my age. Daren't even look at my face no more.

    My mama come from Lisbon and my daddy mighta been Moroccan or Malian or something, Mama's story always changed, but I'm an American girl, bathed in American light. That was a joke. The only light I mostly ever knowed was held under a spoon so the drugs would cook. Somewheres between the two half-jokes lies my real tale.

    We are what's known as itinerant, living in the places in between the other places, Red Bull our fuel and Mark One vodka our lube, refusing to dream, middle-fingering all a y'all. Dancehall and trap, sometimes even country. Metro Boomin. Vybz Kartel. Lady Antebellum. The world is made of gauze and crepe, draped over syncopated yelps of nothin' much, dissolved by the sound of a thousand funnel storms harsh-disciplining flat annihilated land.

    ***

    "I ain't interested in where you come from, I'm interested in where y'are now."

    "That's good."

    "I mean no disrespect, but your story's like a million other stories. I only wanna know if you can help me now, this moment. Don't mean I ain't interested in you."

    "Right. I understand. You know how people chase twisters?"

    "Yeah, I seen that on YouTube."

    "Well, I can get behind anything, you know?"

    "I know it."

    "Did we hurt someone back there? Back in Sioux Falls?"

    "Best not talk about that."

    "A'ight. You know it."

    We did, though. Things got accidental. I hope someone didn't die. Afraid they mighta.

    ***

    We'll return to those falls one day. Some requiem playing in our earbuds. Under a grey dystopian sky. We'll carry our hope by the shoulder straps and look for signs of her, not find them, our faces wet in the relentless spray. We'll listen for her echo in the tumult, and we'll hear nothing. Gone as if she hadn't lived. The script of her life part written. A dull place in all our hearts that sometimes still aches on certain calendar dates. Earlier I said, "That was the last time we or anyone else saw her." But how can I be so sure of that? Melodrama's never a complete truth. What did she meet that day that quietly and effectively and manifestly obliterated her? I could keep on dissembling, but fact is, truth is, we won't ever know, and given the times we've turned our stricken faces toward the abyss, why on God's dark and gleaming earth should we?

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    1. When I read your words, something strange happens to me... when I reach the last sentence, I always realize I've been holding my breath... something akin to watching a juggler with 23 pins in the air afraid that my breathing will cause them to come crashing down. It's more than suspending disbelief. It's knowing that all the threads will come together, and that I as the reader get to help. Your description of the train alone, succinct as it is, would be reason enough to love this piece... but all that you build around it... it's beautiful.

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    2. So many great turns of phrase in these pieces. I especially like "Things got accidental."

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    3. Man, this is astounding. I highlighted so many lines I lost track, but I especially love this: "Cardboard signs at four-way intersections kitty-cornered by Target and Kmart, Costco and Walmart. Vast static confluences of concrete-and-asphalt...

      A little beat, a lot literary. Magic, man.

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    4. A lesson in language, voice, the power of words loaded in short-barreled sentences, as well as the sinuous impact of the longer ones. Each playing with time, image and emotion. Just beautiful stuff, David.

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    5. You all just made me damn near cry. Not even kidding. Just writing what I can, when I can. I love the sound of words in their infinite order.

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    6. I find myself so often stopping after sentences. Not because I don't want to go on, but because I want to absorb what I just read. To let them linger, expand and warm, or sometimes, chill me. The words you choose, in their infinite order often overwhelm the senses and to pass over them too quickly doesn't do them, or you, justice. "The world is made of gauze and crepe, draped over syncopated yelps of nothin' much, dissolved by the sound of a thousand funnel storms harsh-disciplining flat annihilated land." How can one not be flattened by that? Thank you David.

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    7. I was just saying in one of the Facebook writers' groups how this must be the most welcoming and supportive place for flash fiction on the internet, and y'all just proved me right! Thanks for all your kind words.

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  7. “What have you got against me?”
    An excellent driver, his eyes were focused on the road ahead. She knew he’d heard her though from the way his head tilted then his chin jutted up, like her words had slid into a slot in his head and he was letting them drop like noisy coins in his mind. He’d heard for sure, but his response was cool and unexpected.
    “I have never had anything against you.”
    “That’s just bullshit. I can tell from the way you answered me that you’re lying.”
    “Elaborate.”
    She had an overwhelming desire to punch him in the nose. She could probably do some damage too since he’d be distracted with his hands on the wheel. Unfortunately the outcome might harm them both so it was too foolish to contemplate for long. But boy did she want to.
    “I just know from your tone and your… well… the way you said never.”
    His lips pursed as his brows drew together. She could tell he wanted to smile. He might have laughed, if he were the laughing sort but then she really would have punched him.
    “How do you know from the way I said never?”
    “You’ve had a problem with me for years. You know it. I know it. It… it just seems so silly that you still feel that way. “
    “Wait, you’re talking about—“
    “Don’t say it. I don’t need to talk about it.”
    “You need something.”
    “No, I don’t.”
    “You think there’s a problem between me and you. From as long ago as when we were kids. You brought it up. You must need to discuss it.”
    She could feel herself sinking in the seat, wishing she hadn’t said anything. Wishing things were different and she didn’t need his help on this case. Wishing she wasn’t so worried about her family. Wishing she was anywhere other than in this car with him of all people. Her dark needs swirled around so profoundly in her head she was flinched when he spoke again.
    “I’m going to stop the car.”
    “What?”
    “I’m pulling over.”
    “Why?”
    Her heart quickened because she knew what he was going to say and she wasn’t ready. She realized too late she’d started all this in the car on purpose. It was absolutely not because she wanted his full attention. She just wanted to annoy him as much as he irritated her. It was petulant and childish. Of course he’d seen right through it. Right through her.
    “It’s about time we settled something. You are under some gravely false misconceptions about me,” He said as he deftly maneuvered the car to the right side of the quiet road, “and I think we need to clear the air. You need to know exactly what I think about you. About us, so there will be no room for doubts or your wild misinterpretations. “
    The car swerved as he pulled onto the shoulder of the road and stopped the car. They hadn’t seen another vehicle for almost twenty minutes and it was almost dark.
    Oh hell.

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    1. This builds and builds and builds, and then you ask us to dredge our own memories and imaginations for what the talk is about... really, really well done. I think one of the powerful things about short fiction is that the reader becomes a collaborator in what is left unsaid.... and you did it well.

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    2. Yep, gotta ditto Leland. But also the way you maintain the tension is so impressive.

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    3. Totally. I love the ominous mood as it builds. And now I need to know what happens.

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    4. Wow, I missed Leland's comment first time around, but this "one of the powerful things about short fiction is that the reader becomes a collaborator in what is left unsaid" is so spot on, and Lily's story's a perfect example of it.

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    5. Less is more, and what we fill in as readers pulls us in, engages us in such a wonderful way. Yes, I want to know more. I already have an idea and knowing that each reader may have a different interpretation just makes it that much more compelling. Love it.

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  8. Still in poetry mode. My muse is a poet and it's having an effect on me. This too shall pass but while it lasts...

    Who am I when the sky is awash in a blazing cerulean blue,
    Or when the pitch darkness consumes all light?
    Who am I when I'm weak from joyous laughter,
    Or mired in grief, a near inconsolable sadness?
    Who am I when my stomach lies empty, craving even the tiniest of morsels,
    Or full and satisfied from a four course feast?
    Who am I when my lips are parched, needful of moisture,
    Or bubbling over with a frothy concoction that clings to my lips?
    Who am I in quiet solitude when thoughts turn inward,
    Or standing in a raucous room of friends, a cacophony surrounding me?
    Who am I when I crawl into my lonely bed, pulling covers tight about me,
    Or when the sound of your breathing beside me lulls me to contented sleep?
    Who am I always, no matter what, no matter where?
    Yours.
    Ever and always yours.
    Until the stars wink out of existence,
    And then one day more.

    -Tamara McLanahan

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  9. Unspeakable yearning, alone in the night.
    Awaking despondent, worn out from the fight.
    Paroxysms of doubt are assaulting your mind,
    No answers forthcoming as questions unwind.
    There was light at the end, as you took a step forward.
    But it quickly extinguished as you moved toward,
    That beacon, salvation, the end to all means.
    Now bloody and broken, your beating heart keens.
    Enslaved by misgivings, enshrouded in pain,
    Engulfed as you lose all the ground you had gained.
    In darkness, in torment, that heart finally rends.
    It never was destined, just a means to an end.

    -Tamara McLanahan

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    1. Damn, equally beautiful, but tinged with pain.

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  10. “The hours pass like minutes
    The minutes pass like days
    Tick-tock, tick-tock
    Cradle to the grave…”

    He slaps his spiral notebook closed, but the soft sound isn’t enough to satisfy his urge to break something. He snatches up the book and sends it hurtling across the room where it hits the wall with a quiet splat and flutters to the floor, pages rumpled.

    “Fuck you,” he says, lurching from his chair on feet gone tingly from sitting too long to kick the offending notebook.

    For a long, tense moment, he glares at the notebook. Then he sighs and bends to retrieve it, smoothing out the pages.

    “Sorry,” he says, as if the bundle of pages has feelings. Or ears to hear the apology.

    But it’s important, somehow, to acknowledge aloud that it’s not the notebook’s fault that he can’t find the words, that only the vague beginnings of his poem have found their way out of his foggy brain and into the world of ink and paper.

    He lays the notebook on his coffee table and gives the cover a friendly pat.

    “It’s okay,” he says. “We’ll try again tomorrow.”


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    1. I love this one. "He slaps his spiral notebook closed, but the soft sound isn’t enough to satisfy his urge to break something." So good. And a notebook CAN punch a hole in a wall if thrown hard enough. I've heard....

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    2. Not that I can totally identify with this or anything . This is a powerful, and I think universal to writers, story. Well done!

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    3. We'll try again tomorrow. I love that so much!

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    4. A great anthropomorphic moment captured eloquently. *Looks at her notebook and winks, gently pets the cover*

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  11. All the answers worth knowing, you can never seem to find.
    All the questions worth asking trapped in silence in your mind.
    All the knowledge you had gained slips elusive from your grasp.
    All your carefully laid plans lay in tatters as you gasp.
    Barely breathing now, in solitude, the tears all fall like rain.
    No more thinking, no redemption, all you'll ever know is pain.

    -Tamara McLanahan

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    1. ah, despair... beautifully painted.

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    2. Yep, you nailed it. And it is beautiful because it is true, not just because of the beautiful language. I'm so glad you've joined us. :)

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  12. Welcomed to the land of the discontented multitudes - take off your coat and stay a while. There's plenty of ball gags and a bowl full of Quaaludes. Don't feel rushed, stay as long as you want to.

    Smell the burning flesh and try not to recoil. Check the freezer first, we don't want good meat to spoil. We must have something to show for our toil. And most of it is hidden deep in the dark, rich soil.

    There's no reason to be afraid. The piper is here, and he always gets paid. The frat boys showed up, and they always get laid. And later they'll find out the price they paid.

    No room for humanity here, my friend. This is a dungeon built for graft and sin. Hell, you're lucky we let you in. Now pick up a shoved and get to diggin'.

    Ignore the screams and the crawling terror. Blame it all on pilot error. The world is a stage, and it's drowning in rage. You can try, but you'll never get us back in the cage.

    So, fuck it. Revel. Rebel. Scream. Yell. No one can hear you when they don't want to tell. You want justice? This is an affront to...what? Everything? Let's talk about why the caged bird sings.

    The singing won't stop, no matter how hard you try to silence it. You care for a bit of violence? Sit. I don't hit. But I've got a voice and I'm not afraid to use it.

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    1. Classic MaderRap™ and an invitation to horror..

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    2. I've found few writers who can add such an incredible lyrical quality to their prose. I can almost hear a melody winding it's way through the words. It's astonishing and compelling. Leland is right, it is almost a rap. You may want to trademark his suggestion after all.

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  13. You can sit at the table, but your feet won't reach the floor. It's always been like this. Big heads with big mouths screeching. You don't make eye contact because you learned your lesson. You eat, chew fast and swallow. Try to get away from it.

    May I please be excused?

    It's a gamble. The gamble depends on how many bottles of wine stand empty on the table. And even that's not a sure thing. Too much of anything can mean anything. Not enough is even worse.

    This is your birthright, cursed.

    Once you're upstairs you can think about Tom Swift and his motorcycle, but, until then, you're stuck. Pinned in. Too short, like the pants your mother hems.

    Go to sleep when you can't fight it anymore. Try to ignore the creak of the opening door. Keep your eyes closed. Feign sleep.

    You'll have decades to unearth the secrets you keep.

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    1. Ooh. Hit me in the feels, and unexpectedly! Crept up on me.

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    2. So much unsaid and the heartache is palpable. Very emotionally charged, yes, David is right. The feeling grows even after you've finished it.

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  14. It’s so cold you can feel the fabric of your pants stiffen around your legs when you tip-toe-slide on the ice from the front door to your car. It sits there shivering and panting steamy like an exhausted asthmatic who’s just finished a 400-meter dash on this below-zero morning.

    You grunt your manly huff, grasp the door handle and break the grip of new ice that wants to lock you out of both your house and your ride, while your keys sway and sweat condensation in the ignition. With two cracks–of door and spine–you stiffly fold into the seat, trying not to sigh a blindfold spot onto the windshield at the thought of struggling through another upstate winter, braving the cold drive from one warm place to another for three months.

    At the end of the road, while you wait to turn onto the slick roadway, you notice how different the roots look across the way in the sun-dappled sugar bush down by the stream. That’s when you notice three of the maples’ bases turn and stare at you, stand on spindly legs to bound across the road from their snow beds, and wave white mittens on their way deeper into the long, frozen shadows, where everywhere is cold to cold with freezing in-between.

    For a second you feel a rush of heat upon your cheeks, a shiver up and down your spine. You adjust the defroster and lose your train of thought as a fourth deer joins her comrades in a different kind of morning commute. With a shrug, you hear the radio voice warn of six more inches tomorrow and figure it could always be worse.

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    1. The resignation and frustration are so palpable. All wrapped up in realism, some of it damn near magical. So good, Joe.

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    2. This may be the best description of a morning commute I have ever read... filled with magic and beauty and a smidgen of fear....

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    3. Yes, what those guys said^^^^. I can so relate to this winterscape already right now, but the magical realism is an awesome addition. Gorgeous.

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    4. Your story puts things in dynamic perspective. I can feel the ache in my bones, see the landscape as if I was breathing it in myself. Lovely and poignant.

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  15. The TV sits in the corner squawking - not one of those flat screen wall-hangers, this TV is as old as the house it calls home. And it rarely says nice things these days. When did the world go insane? The world has always been insane. You're just growing up now, and you see it.

    It's too cold for cold beer, so the case never even went into the fridge. The gulps go down gassy, but they serve their purpose. The smell of dinner cooking from next door is a slap in the face. There are frozen dinners in the kitchen, but the warm beer will do.

    The TV is talking about another atrocity and you think: ten years ago, this would have blown my mind. Now, it's just another sad shake of the head. And that is tragedy. The tragedy that man has always known. The seeds that we have always sown.

    Get away. Get away while you can. Go to some far and distant land. But try to think of someplace that isn't fucked, and you'll be thinking for a while. Either that or you should grab a geography book from the pile.

    There has to be a place where it's still the human race. People. Not the kind of race where they give prizes. The kind where just participation makes you a winner.

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    Replies
    1. So timely as the world seems to be in particular chaos and no matter the politics, we feel the peril. And it's age as we mature that these things hit us more, but also a cumulative effect, and so we try to dissociate to survive. Beautifully profound, and so very well written.

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  16. I'm kinda rusty at this!

    -----

    The day is long and thirsty and you have far too long to go before you can stop and exhale. The weeds wave as if saying sorry about your dad but goodbye and don’t let the door hit you on the ass on the way out. You never want to see that town again. Too many ghosts, too many wagging tongues, too much, always too much. It closes in around you, every time you step into a store, every time they look at you as if they know. They know what you did. They know what your father had done, they know how many at the funeral were there just to make sure he was really dead. And they will never forgive you, ever. You can marry the preacher’s daughter, have seventeen children, all brilliant towheaded beauties; they could cure cancer and land a man on Mars and bring about world peace, and it will never be enough. You will always be that family. You will always be the ragged, dog-chewed puzzle piece that never fit into the picture.

    You turn back. Once, twice. Turn back and it looks so damn small. It could be any small town in any county, in any country for that matter. A church steeple, a clock tower, a few other buildings. A mountain behind it, the insipid blue sky and floating clouds. Postcard perfect on a good day, a bad cliché at any other time.

    You think, have you made it out to be worse than it really was? That little town? It’s so small and innocuous in the distance. You can’t see their eyes anymore, you can’t see them travel just to the left of your head when you pass, seeing but not seeing you. As if they all had a meeting and decided how to handle your return. Most of them faked sympathy well enough, passable to anyone else, but you could see behind their eyes—the scorn, the pity—and you try to grind that memory into your pores so you won’t look back at the twinkling charm of the damn place and forget what it did to you. What they did to you. You turn. You keep walking. You stick your thumb out as a car approaches. And it, too, passes you by. For a moment. Until it slows. Could it be? Someone who wants to help. Or just someone who wants you gone so badly they’re willing to drive you straight into the next county. You don’t recognize the car. It stops. It waits. You trot to the passenger side door.

    It’s a girl. One you know. Or one you used to know. You thought you spotted her at the edge of the gathering at the gravesite, but you wrote it off as another ghost. Her face is thinner, the bones giving it elegance, depth. But the eyes are the same. She smiles a slow, world-weary smile, as if she were another ragged puzzle piece, too, behind her white picket fence and apple pies. She says “hop in, stranger” and you do.

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    1. The claustrophia of the first paragraph... I know that place... and then you keep going... and you let us see the narrator... and then the rescue... this is good stuff. Perfect for a cold winter day... thanks for sharing!

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    2. I don't see a bit of rust. Just that good ol Boris storytelling. Also, I agree with Leland. :)

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    3. Yeah, this one unfolds as it goes, like a time-lapse flower. Like Dan, I saw no rust. :)

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  17. I don't do regrets much, but there are a few things I'd change. A few times when my gumption failed me. I don't know. Reflection and refraction distort everything. I feel the bite of the blade. How many times? Too many. Debts unpaid.

    You didn't even blink. Kind of makes you think. You can't have been that blind. That stupid. That caught up in it. What? You have no sense of smell, taste, sight? No vision? Too trapped in the maze of derision?

    Whatever. You made your decision. And I made mine.

    It left scars.

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  18. Part One

    In the cool night beneath light tower 13 of the near-empty Target parking lot, the two of them sat in her boyfriend's car, the motor off, its windows only just beginning to fog from the slow, thought-filled breathing of their long-held simmering silence. It was Erin, who sat behind the wheel, who finally opened the relief valve.
    ”You never told me you loved me in any of your letters the whole time you were away,” Erin said to Jack.
    “I wrote you every week, Erin, even while I was in the hospital ward. Just because I didn’t…”
    “Look at you. Your face is turning red. You know I’m right and you’re embarrassed by the fact you never could admit you loved me. Even from 180 miles away. Even while you had nothing but time to think about it,” Erin said.
    Jack turned and grabbed Erin by her arm and twisted her closer to him. One-time muscle for an upstate criminal crew, Jack was a mountain of a man whose mere prospect of a thundering avalanche was enough to frighten other large men into obeisant compliance with his or his benefactors’ wishes. But Erin was his sole conqueror. Only she knew the safe way to the top.
    “You’re hurting me again, Jack. Please let go of my arm,” she said with a calm certainty. “I’m driving back to the halfway house. This conversation is going nowhere, just like our relationship. In fact, that IS our relationship. I do the driving and you go halfway.”
    “Baby, you gotta understand. They read every letter that comes in and goes out. Emails, especially. Just think about that. I was trying to protect you,” Jack said as he released her arm.
    “From what, Jack? I mean, really. Who gives a shit about me? Including you. Besides, you know I can take care of myself.”
    “Honey, it’s different this time. You don't really know what I did this last time. The simple assault beef was my short-time payoff. Trust me, you just can’t…”
    Swirling red and blue lights bounced off the car’s interior, blinding Erin and Jack with their reflection in the mirrors, stopping the conversation. Jack’s attempt at softness pivoted from the embarrassed pink to a cold blue, as well.
    “You let me handle this, Erin.”
    "You aren't in the driver's seat here, Jack, in any sense at all," Erin said. "You just do what you do best. Act dumb."I'll do what I had to learn to do while you left me.”
    The bright white beam of a flashlight ignited at the police cruiser's driver side door and swung from Erin's rear license plate through the back as the cop approached the driver’s window. He tapped on it and Erin rolled it down, echoing the flashlight's brightness with her own radiant smile.
    "Good evening, officer. I don't suppose I was driving over the speed limit, so is this one of those "protect and serve" situations?" Erin said.
    The name plate on the cop's chest read R J Diaz, and he replied, "License and registration, ma'am. Just trying to keep the parking area clear of teen make-out sessions and other...." He swung the flashlight beam over to Jack in the passenger seat, who was opening the glove box to grab Erin's registration.

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  19. Part Two

    "Hey, Jack, good to see you. Now you just put your hands on the dashboard where I can see them."
    Diaz's free hand didn't pull his 9-millimeter service pistol from its holster. Instead he retrieved a .22-caliber Beretta 71 from inside his jacket and trained its business end, for Diaz was in the business, on the new parolee. He clicked back the hammer and said, "Papi Esteves sends his regards. Congratulations on your parole. Hands where I can see 'em! Thank you, baby."
    The phony cop was about to squeeze off the quiet round or two of head shots above the eyes that was his trademark, when the crack-crack of another .22 dropped Diaz to the oil stained black top. Erin placed the pistol she’d pulled from beneath her seat onto the center console and turned toward Jack.
    "Honey! What the hell? You capped that guy like a pro. I told you I was worried about you. Esteves swore he'd get me for busting up his son for Primo Donatelli. Let's get the hell out of..." Then a dim light switched on in Jack's cold dull eyes. "Wait, what the hell did he thank you for?"
    Another pair of small-caliber shots rang within the car and blood flowed from between Jack's eyes, which went wide and ultimately dull. Diaz’s Baretta had fallen into Erin's lap and she couldn’t let the opportunity slip by after all Jack had put her through over the years.
    "You were dumb as a box of rocks, Jack. I’m sure Papi's offer was a sweet one for Diaz, or whatever the hell his real name was. And Primo? The guy who was your rabbi and protector? He knew you for what you were, a low-life, blabbermouth loser. Either one could’ve ordered this hit.” Erin said.
    She thought about how Jack always refused to believe the baby was his and about the botched abortion and how it left her. She really had learned to take care of herself. Erin positioned her .22 Beretta in Jack's hand. She then dropped the thoroughly wiped down preferred pistol of the assassins’ class next to its owner’s gloved hand.
    Before she walked away from the scene, she poked her head into the car once more and said, "All you ever asked you to do was tell me you loved me, you stupid prick."

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    1. of course that last sentence should read, "All *I* ever asked..."

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    2. I'm reading a collection of the best American noir right now, and this would fit right in with the rest, no lie.

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    3. Now your scaring me, Dave. At this moment I'm giving the penultimate revision slog through my first story collection. They're all stories set on the American (and one the Canadian) frontier, from 1600s and 1700s New York (I know the territory) to 1800s Great Plains and Southwest. I do, however, have just shy of a cart load of gritty city and "alienated guy" stories waiting in the wings. They're consuming all my time and soul. Thanks to you wonderful, kindred and understanding folks for all your support in my second life as a writer no longer writing for The Man, but for THIS man.

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    4. Hey, let us know when that story collection is published.

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  20. It wasn’t even that big a deal. Terry hardly even felt bad about it, at all, the first time he killed someone. He didn’t really have time to feel feelings. He was chillin’ on the corner with his brother Tim, and their boy Jacob. Jacob was the man with the hookup, who was buddy-buddy with the local kingpin. They were just his backup, helping hold the money and the dope. When some nobody tried to snatch the bag from Jacob, Tim nudged Terry and snapped, “yo, drop that fool!”

    He hardly even thought about it, just did it: raised the pistol, aimed, and fired. Dude went down right as he was stepping off the curb and into the street; a passing car braked hard to avoid hitting him. The driver was probably horrified by what they saw next: the hoodrats rushing over, grabbing the stolen backback back, and finishing the boy off.

    He was seriously wounded, but not dead. Tim snarled at his brother, “nice shot boy, you winged him. Now finish this muthafucka off.” Terry paused and waffled, but Tim snapped, “fuckin’ DO IT, faggot! You want this nigga describing you to the cops?” He struck the hood of the car and shouted, “Move along! This ain’t none of your business!”

    The car nervously lurched around them, pressing on to wherever it was going, while Terry aimed and fired again, finishing off his quarry. He didn’t feel guilt, or regret. He was just glad it was that guy, whom he didn’t know or care about, and not him or someone he did care about.

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