Friday, September 29, 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.



He stood on the corner, cold rain dripping from his hat down the back of his neck, teasing. The breeze brought hints of garbage and rot from the alley, but the smell was almost comforting. It smelled like home. He pulled that idea out, turned it around. Played with it. Put it on the shelf. Let it ride. To be examined later. Yeah, boy, home smells like a garbage dump. For some reason, that made him smile.

He pulled a flat, glass bottle, wrapped in brown paper from his sport coat pocket and drank from it. It tasted like fire, but it wiped the smell away for a second. Pulled him further from home – to a place where he could think.

He’d been looking for the gash for two weeks now. Long after the cops gave up. Her husband was damn near frantic – had paid him ten grand in crisp hundreds, and he wondered about it. How deep would this run? How tight was the cliché? What were the sticking points? And who was he? 

A wannabe detective?

Naw, just a man who could do things in the neighborhood that other men couldn’t.

He knew she was alive. That was one of many differences between him and the cops. He also knew they’d never find her.


His apartment was small, but the walls were soundproofed.

#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...

87 comments:

  1. The boughs dipped gently into the water, and the water slipped around them, creating eddies and currents that twisted insects on the surface. Beneath the water-soaked leaves, there were trout. Higher in the tree, where it was dry, red-winged blackbirds swooped in and out.

    Kingfishers sang to the fish.

    On the bank, a small boy sat, hoping that the afternoon would last forever.
    It wasn’t that there was anything special about the afternoon. Just that it was mere weeks until his life would change. His parents called it a separation, but he knew how those things went. He’d seen it happen to his friends. Separation was a nice way of saying “about to get divorced.”

    The thing was, the boy didn’t know how to feel about it. He felt like he should be sad. Or angry. But he wasn’t. He was relieved. He was tired of yelling and sitting around a dinner table where no one talked. He was tired of squeezing his toes into the shoes in which other people walked.

    It might be bad. He knew that. But it might also be good. And, really, it didn’t matter. Not as much as the tree and the trout and the birds that filled the air with song. With them, he knew he’d be able to get along.

    They had never let him down.

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    1. Beautifully put. And spot on. I remeber exactly how relieved I was when my own parents split.

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    2. I like this so much! You SO captured that afternoon. So real.

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    3. Love for the opening story. I'm curious now. And this one...I could feel it. Loved this line: "He was tired of squeezing his toes into the shoes in which other people walked."

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    4. So beautifully done. Knowing precisely how that small boy feels. The turmoil of home and only wanting the refuge and peace of an afternoon to last, to linger with the fish and birds, leaned up against the tree. Barefoot, I'm sure.

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    5. This is flat out beautiful... the honest, and the pain, and the little boy's being grounded in nature... well done!

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    6. The rings very much like a biographical piece or at least a good fictional one with overtones of reality. So very well captured too - It's like I was there with him.

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  2. He was untested, but he was confident. He stood in the middle of the room and eyed every face around him. They were lined up like pineapples on a shelf. There was something about the man. Something in his eyes, or the way he maintained eye contact. Something about the slow, steady voice.

    Even the kids were quiet.

    He cleared his throat and continued speaking.

    “I ain’t much on public speaking, and I don’t like to interrupt any meeting…”

    And then the words fell over his captive audience like a spell. They listened, but more than listening, they felt. They heard the pain and the hard resolve in the man’s voice. They felt the justice in his words. It left them without their anger, which they so sorely needed.

    Old man Potter stood.

    “So, who pays then? Tell me that?”

    The man stared directly into his eyes. Maybe into his soul by the looks of it. Potter’s face turned red, then almost black as if the oxygen supply had been cut.

    “You get your blood where you need to old man. But not from my boy. Not unless you got proof that he and I are liars.”

    No one spoke as he left the building. Walking slowly. Meeting every eye brave enough to match his.

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    1. This one definitely leaves you wanting more!

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    2. Agreed! Powerful and I want to know more.

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    3. Yep, I want the rest of the story, too. And I swear I could hear that slow steady voice.

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  3. They never matched, and they rode too low. His ankles were skinny; he didn’t like to let them show. But there was no way around it. Short of duct tape, and he wasn’t that committed. And, really, screw them anyway. If they wanted to laugh at his ankles, let them laugh. If they wanted to be that petty, let them have their fun.

    He looked up when he heard footsteps. She was walking right towards him. Tab. That’s what everyone called her. He’d known her since he could remember. They were friends when they were young. Then middle school hit, and they weren’t friends anymore. They weren’t enemies either. It was more like he had ceased to exist.

    He saw her flip her hair, and his cheeks flushed. He could feel the hot anger. He wouldn’t let her shame him. He stood quickly, but then she smiled and it took the thunder out of him. He slouched against the fence and waited.

    The next day, he didn’t remember what they’d talked about. But he wasn’t worried about his socks anymore.

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    1. What a lovely rush of emotion and a beautiful telling of it. Well done.

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    2. Damn... I love how you're getting into the heads of who we all used to be... and the duct tape, that brought back some memories... thank you...

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  4. Another two-parter... Part 1

    After a few months of house arrest, the shock frequency diminished, and Henry began to see his ankle cuff differently. He painted the silver finish dull with one of his daughter’s apocalyptically named nail polish colors—Irony or Acid Rain or Corporate Greed or something. Wore his shirt unbuttoned and pretended he was one of those old-time cartoon prisoners in Alcatraz, with their raggedy striped pants and a link or two dragging off his old, rusted leg irons. He let his beard grow and limped around the house talking to imaginary pigeons.

    His daughter rolled his eyes and started making more coffee. “Dad. Stop it. They’ll just shock you again if you try to do anything funny, if that even qualifies.”

    His shoulders slumped as he dropped his character. “Everyone’s a critic.”

    “She’s right, dear.” His wife had walked in, began fussing around with breakfast things.

    “You know”—he snatched a piece of bread before she could toast it—“I don’t think they’re even listening anymore. Maybe the guy in charge of that department quit again. Last night I recited about a dozen dirty limericks. Turns out a lot of things rhyme with ‘Trump.’ And…nothing.” He addressed his ankle. “You hear me? Nothing. Hello? Is this thing on?”

    It just sat there. He’d missed a few spots with the nail polish, a shade of grayish-black somewhere between a gangrenous limb and mold, and they glinted in the kitchen lights.

    “You owe me for that nail polish,” his daughter said. “That stuff costs, like, ten dollars a bottle.”

    “I’ll take it out of your college fund,” he said. “Or here’s an idea. Try to help your old man through this.”

    “Through what?” his daughter said. “You sleep half the day, then watch old movies, order pizza and go back to sleep. Throw in some beers and porn and that’s, like, a dream life for half the guys I know.”

    “You’re fourteen. What kind of guys you know drink beer?”

    But she just smiled and left the room, waggling her fingers goodbye over her shoulder. He spun to face his wife.

    “You think they’d let me watch porn?”

    Her eyes flattened. “Probably. From what I’ve seen of him, after Fox News, it’s probably the most popular channel in the White House.”

    He grinned and pointed a finger at her. “Ooh, you’re gonna get it. They’ll be coming after you next. Then you’ll be wearing one of these. Maybe we can get a matching pair.” He addressed it again. “Hello? Is this thing on? There once was a man from New York, who boasted of girls he could—”

    “Henry!”

    “What? Nobody’s listening. I could call him every name Jon Stewart ever dreamed up for him and nobody would notice. I could do twenty minutes on his weird bromance with Vladimir Putin. Hell, I could probably grab the Saws-All and cut this thing off and fling it into the dumpster across the street.”

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  5. Part 2

    He’d never seen her so pale. “Henry. Don’t you dare. Just because it might not be monitored twenty-four-seven doesn’t mean it might not have some kind of built-in—”

    “You worry too much.” He headed for the basement. “It’ll give you wrinkles.”

    Downstairs he rummaged through his tools. Several projects decorated his workbench, and he sighed at their varied states of abandonment. In the beginning, after an initial period of mourning, he’d thrown his energy toward creating things. A birdhouse, a set of bookshelves, a knife rack for his wife. But all inspired his comedy, became a stage for new routines. He imagined birds gathering, the cardinals scolding the finches, the crows telling dirty jokes. Each earned him a shock, so he’d stopped.

    Maybe he was finally free now. Emboldened, he grabbed the saw and hacked away. No shock. Not even a vibration.

    He took the severed anklet upstairs to show his wife. Alarm spread across her face. He half expected it to explode, or that any second now, he might hear sirens and the men in black would show up at his door. Like the first time. But no such thing happened that morning.

    He set the mangled, streaky device on the mantel. A trophy to his survival. Even if he could be arrested again for doing his act in public, he’d write jokes for that broken ankle cuff; he’d perform for it. After all, after everything, the show must go on.

    A couple weeks later, he finished a set, grabbed a beer, and was about to watch “Bird Man of Alcatraz” for the twenty-third time when he heard an odd noise coming from the broken ankle cuff—long then slow beeps, like Morse code. He inched over to it. Touched it. Nothing. Then a voice: “Are you still there?” It was a female voice. Tentative, with a thick accent.

    What the hell. “Yep. Still here. Paying my debt to society.”

    “Please do not stop. It is making me laugh and I need this so desperately.”

    Wow. He had a fan. “I didn’t think the administration hired anyone with a sense of humor.”

    After a long pause, she said, “I am not exactly hired. I… I feel like a prisoner here.”

    You and me both, sister. “All right, then. For you, I’ll keep the act going.”

    “I am grateful,” she sighed. “I just have a question. How did you get your ankle thing off? Mine itches like I cannot believe.”

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    1. Oh man. This is dope. I gotta give you props for the nail polish names (Irony or Acid Rain or Corporate Greed) - perfect. All the little details make this horrifyingly realistic.

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    2. This is SO great! Love it, love it, love it! Concept, comedy, everything!

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    3. For some reason I really liked "talking to imaginary pigeons"
      Really good!

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    4. Love it, and now you've got me thinking of words like rump, chump and lump. Guess my house arrest will be forthcoming. But dare I hazard a guess at the thick accent?

      Delightfully done!

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    5. OMG... this may be the most hopeful thing I've read all day! RESIST! and your genius imagination is showing again, with the whole set-up AND the nail polish colors...

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    6. This is so funny. I especially love the interaction between the father and daughter. Just brilliant.

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  6. The ground is saturated after three days of rain and tears. His feet squish through the muck as he carries the shovel. The rain has spawned fog this morning, and it is an eerie yellow-gray.

    He is glad he doesn't have to dig a big hole. He'll dig deep, but not wide.

    Pluvian. That's the word he was trying to remember. Anything that has to do with rain, it's pluvian. Stupid word. Good for crossword puzzles, for Scrabble, but he has no one to play games with.

    The fog makes everything quiet. Muffled. Like he's in a recording studio, the echoes swallowed up. He listens for birds. Silence. Perhaps they've tired of the rain, too.

    Squish, slosh, squish. His feet make these alien sounds. It's supposed to be a desert, this place. Neither he nor the place is used to so much water.

    He arrives at the place where he will dig. Listens again for birds. Still none.

    He hangs his backpack on a tree limb. And begins this task. Each shovelful of dirt, of mud, makes him feel older. Water seeps into the hole. Two feet deep. Then three. He stops at four feet. That ought to be deep enough.

    He catches his breath. Only for a moment. He climbs out of the hole. His hands are mud-colored. He wipes them on his soggy jeans.

    He should say something. Something profound. But he's got no words left. He looks into the hole, the walls already starting to collapse, to fill with water and mud.

    His right pocket. He reaches in. He doesn't need to look. It is familiar to him. He throws it in the hole. Watches the splash. Reaches for the shovel, and begins returning the mud to its resting place.

    After the second shovelful, he hears it. A mourning dove
    .
    Had there ever been a grander requiem for a wedding ring?

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    1. Brother, this is so vivid and tactile. And the build up is perfect.

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    2. what JD said and more. You're really good at making things feel real.

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    3. Yes. It's so powerful and tactile, so nicely done with the short sentence and spare descriptions.

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    4. He'll dig deep but not wide. Love this. Great foreshadowing. And as the others said, it's powerful and so vivid we're right beside you as you shovel.

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    5. As always Leland, what she said...we're right there with you!

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    6. Thank y'all! I've been short on time this weekend, working on stupid word book... I think I've got one more story in me, then I'll be back tomorrow for more commenting... sorry I've been absent...

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    7. So real and so poignant. I love this!

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  7. Wow, you guys are surely on your games today. Incredible. A seed of darkness, a touch of anger seems to be running through some of them. I'm always bemused when a common theme looks like it's taking root.

    To Leland, I have to say "thank you" once again. Almost a year ago I posted a short written for here and encouraged by a good friend (thanks also to you, J Winter) who told me to "go dark, then darker still." I did and all the comments emboldened me to embrace that part of myself more often. But one phrase in particular, "Illuminated by Darkness," Leland, you said would make a good book title and I hope it does. That's what I'm calling the dark, deviant and demented collection of shorts and poetry coming out next month. Shadow Demon will be the lead story. Here's a poem I think will fit nicely as well.

    Run and they'll catch you.
    Hide and they'll seek.
    Chance of survival,
    Looking quite bleak.

    Once they have found you,
    You're there to stay.
    Perverse, psychotic,
    They like to play.

    Quick and quite painless,
    Or tortured fun.
    They won't be stopping,
    Until you're done.

    How long you last though?
    Up to their mood.
    No longer human,
    Now you're just food.

    ~Tamara McLanahan



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    1. Oh, snap. I love the simplicity of the rhyme scheme contrasted with the darkness. Almost Seussian in rhythm and feel, but dark.

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    2. yep, dark stories and simple words are MAGIC... this is good stuff... and I'm really glad you're going ahead with the book! Congrats!

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    3. So dark and twisted and hypnotically direct. I can imagine a child with a lisp intoning this in a Stephen King movie. Excellent.

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  8. The street was shorter than it had been a month ago. She could remember there being more to it; it had stretched for miles, houses giving way to shops and stores until eventually they’d reached the centre of the town. She could recall some of them still; the newspaper shop and the small grocers that had been on the corner of McConnell and Doughty, the one that had been managed by that Polish couple with a name she could never pronounce. He’d been tall and gaunt and she’d been shorter and more amply fleshed – amply everything, she could never stop talking once she’d begun but he’d always seemed more reserved and quiet. Like he was there but not; his eyes lancing through skin and flesh and bone but never seeing anything to inspire him enough to cause him to comment. Hanna she’d been called, that was it. His name had begun with an ‘S’…or was it a ‘Z’? She’d said it often - his wife, that was - but his name had just slipped in though one ear and then out the other; the memory of it liquid and reluctant to be held.

    Delores pushed the wheelchair along the path, refusing to give in to the time of the day. It was still light and the street was peopled, many of them familiar but others, teasingly, much less so. They’d passed Jim and Barbara and Tom and Elaine, the Watsons just getting in their car to go somewhere else, but after that there’d been fewer she’d known, their faces losing definition, becoming a uniform shade of grey. Even their clothes had changed. The Goods had always been ones to dress smartly, Jim with his blue tie and his suit and Barbara with her dresses, in pastel prints, that some of the younger girls now wore. Although they’d be women now, she supposed. She could remember being that age once herself, many years ago, before George had happened. But George hardly happened at all now, poor thing.

    George sat atop the foam pad on the top of the seat between the wheels, his hands crossed in his lap. He never lifted them up now, content to just be, his world smaller than it had ever been. Even his eyes were not what they’d been before and his hearing was much worse. He could barely make out four words in ten – less if it wasn’t a voice he knew and he was feeling uncomfortable. He became impatient so very quickly now and his moods could be charted by how long it had been since the last set of doses of the increasingly large selections of tablets he had to take.

    “George? George?” Delores stopped, snicking the thumb-control for the wheelchair’s brakes to the ‘engage’ setting. She leaned down and then around, making sure he could see her lips. “You have to keep trying,” she said. “It’s important.” She nodded reassuringly and then mouthed the last word again, hoping he was still listening. She looked back toward their home, still in view despite their having been out for an hour already.

    Her husband nodded, closing his eyes again. She wondered what he was thinking: he could have been a child for all the reaction he gave her. Their time was drawing short, she knew that. If only she could have died first, she thought, feeling guilty even as she did it. That would have left George on his own. How could he have coped alone? She looked back up again, seeing nothing that looked familiar. The street was now just buildings; all vague and nondescript.

    Was this how it would end, she wondered. Just confusion and loneliness? She disengaged the wheel-brake and moved forward again, not knowing where she was going.

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    1. Mark, this is a super strong piece. I'm most impressed by how you lead us, let it build. This is an excellent example of the power of showing vs telling.

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    2. Man I like the way you write! So many lines that grabbed my attention.

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    3. "...slipped in though one ear and then out the other;the memory of it liquid and reluctant to be held."
      Your words have always dazzled. They continue to do so.

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    4. Their vulnerability in this piece cannot help but evoke compassion. Wow!

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    5. Absolutely strong... reaching into what we fear to become, the losses... and what Dan said... the showing was far stronger than any descriptions...

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  9. Other things I found on the internet…

    A cat in a tutu, a skateboarding dog
    A Nigerian prince with much money
    Conspiracy theories about the end of the world
    A thousand and one uses for honey
    I saw books I must buy that I’ll never read
    An exercise plan to build bones
    A deep dark-web auction for a trainee hit-man
    And a man who can grow your own clones
    I found porn for all species, every gender and race
    I saw a horse who could speak Cantonese
    I raced an Italian on Mars in a computer game
    While ordering a delivery of cheese
    I read diaries that were penned by a Satanic muse
    And researched building collapses in Crete
    Shared quips with a time-lord from three series ago
    And a Dane with dragon's scales on his feet
    But every minute I spent while searching online
    I should have been using to write
    Although, given that it’s now turned a quarter past three
    I’ll have to give it up for the night

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    1. Ha! Well played. I'm never as productive as when the our internet is down. ;)

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    2. LOVE it! The interwebs is a strange and beautiful place.

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    3. LOL, this is the story of half of my life, but your telling of it is better than the reality Hey, you wouldn't happen to have the URL for the horse speaking Cantonese... I'm asking for a friend...

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  10. I got me an epic poem
    But no one reads those anymore. The story of a country that I’ve seen before.
    You didn’t hear this from me, of course. But a change is going down.
    Can’t find it on your FaceBook or in your Twitter feed, in the faces of your leaders , or the stories on TV.
    It’s been a long time coming and it never goes away, like some dream you had and can’t remember, come dawn of some new day.
    Like a wish you never whispered, like a song you never heard, it’s creeping round the corner while you’re marching in the street and the air is thick with tear gas, a dream you can’t believe.
    No sense in making sense of it. There’s no shortcut from the struggle, no internet life hack. There’s only going forward and there ain’t no turning back. So tell a tale of happy endings, where truth prevails and love somehow, survives.
    But you didn’t hear that from me, you see. You didn’t hear that from me.
    A poet ain’t a prophet; a writer ain’t a saint. I got no Revelation, no secrets to reveal. History’s a fiction, an opera bloodshed and laughter and lies. The present’s just a lesson that what you give is what you’ll get. The future’s just a memory that hasn’t happened yet.
    The climate’s ever changing, and the Earth spins round and round. There’s always a big awakening when shit is going down.
    But you didn’t hear that from me you see. I’m just gossping with infinity.
    We send our prayers to Heaven, up.
    God prays for us and sends his down.

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    1. "So tell a tale of happy endings, where truth prevails and love somehow, survives."

      Bam. I love this whole piece. It's like Shel Silverstein meets Dylan. Awesome.

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    2. You are awesome. As are we all. It's way too easy to forget that, isn't it?

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    3. and that IS an epic poem... filled with truths that no one wants to hear, but we all need to. well done!

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    4. I read this as though it's some strange TV prophet. Quite odd and definitely compelling.

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  11. They had formed a loose circle around the camp fire, with space between the various cliques.

    Beyond the sizable gap to her right, a teenager sat ignoring her little girl, who was playing with Jesse. She couldn’t remember the teenager’s name—Amy, maybe--but she thought her little girl might be named Kylie. She was pretty sure that maybe-Amy had a thing for Jess, and she wondered when the girl would clue in that she didn’t have the right plumbing to interest him that way.

    To her left, Mike, who’d been a pastor before the New Enlightenment, read from a leather-bound Bible. She’d shied away from him, afraid he’d try to convert her or save her soul or whatever, but so far she’d never seen him pushing his beliefs on anyone. He seemed like a nice guy.

    And across from her, Ruth Anne sat plying her needle, making another stuffed monkey for her goofy little dog, Sammy. Sammy lay at her feet, the golden triangles of his ears twitching at every creak and snap from the nearby wood.

    This was it. This was all she had in the world. An entirely non-cohesive group of less-than-ordinary misfits whose constant bickering had finally fallen silent. She wouldn’t have chosen them to plan a company picnic, much less start a revolution. Then again, she’d always been a fan of long odds.

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    1. This is great! I feel like I know these characters.

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    2. I agree, and I like the structure, the feel ... the way you "introduce" us. Super dope.

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    3. I like it. I want to get to know these people.

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    4. I used to work with those people And I gotta tell you, a band of misfits, whether at work, or at play, well, miracles like #2minutesgo happen when misfits talk to each other

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    5. I can feel the warmth of the fire and hear the chattering right now. I feel like I could be there myself: me and the other misfits.

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  12. Hokey was a shitty name, but he had been slow in school so the rest of the kids called him "Slow Poke" or "Hokey Pokey".  The name stuck.  He was 45 years old and the name still hung over him.  Hell, even his mom called him Hokey.  She thought it was cute.  She didn't know how much he hated it.  At least Tim switched it up and called him Hoax.  He liked that better.  That sounded like a superhero name or something.   Maybe a vilian.  He liked the idea of being a super vilian. Maybe he could take his revenge on all those kids from school.  Little bullies.
    He finished putting his tools away and cleaned the grease off his hands.  He was done working on cars today.  Time to go home and have a beer.
    The loud DING! made him spin around. Someone had stepped on the bell.
    "We're closed."  He called out.
    "Light's still on.  Sign says open...Ho-key."
    It was Larry Miller, the biggest bully on the schoolyard.  The biggest bully of them all.
    "Lllook...Lllarry...we're closed for the day.  Cccome back tomorrow."
    He hated that he stuttered when he got upset.  It made it worse for him.  One more thing for them to make fun of.
    "Well, HHHokey...I'm here now.  And you're gonna help me out."
    Hokey gritted his teeth, grabbed the crescent wrench off the bench and slipped it behind his back before he stepped forward.
    Larry was already holding out his keys; jangling them in Hokey's face.
    Hokey reached for them but didn't grab them and they dropped to the cement floor.
    Larry reached down to pick them up and Hokey brought the wrench down on the back of his skull.  He hit him over and over again.  Blood splattered all over Hokey's face and covered the shop floor.
    "I said we were closed."

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    1. Even though I anticipated the ending, it was very satisfying. I think maybe everyone wants to see the bullies buy it.

      Character building and creating that build up of tension can be hard in flash fiction. You nailed it. Well done.

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    2. Totally agree. I knew it was coming, but that made me look forward to it all the more.

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    3. Yes. I don't have much to add, but I really liked the "Hoax" part and wanting to be a super hero.

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    4. This is strong writing... and the name is too cool for school. I'm glad you're writing and sharing!

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    5. Good for you, Hoax. I could really feel for that guy!

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  15. In stillest glade, in blackest night,
    They wait, with ever sharpening claws.
    In chillest air, deep out of sight,
    They lie with ever gaping maws.

    So tread the path most carefully.
    Don't look their way, don't hesitate.
    Be vigilant, walk warily,
    It may already be too late.

    Their screams are meant to chill the soul,
    Those demons with their burning eyes,
    They'll take you down, devour you whole,
    They've already planned your demise.

    So if you must venture at night,
    Keep all your wits, don't tarry long.
    Their visage guaranteed a fright.
    Your wails to them a thrilling song.

    ~Tamara McLanahan

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    1. Man, I'm digging the darkness. ;)

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    2. Me too... and your word choices are delightfully classical... glade, maws, thrilling... I'm still amazed at the power of a well-rhymed poem.

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    3. The evil child is back. So chilling and dark. You do these so well, Tammy!

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  16. Note to self, always do a spell check prior to posting when your day has been riddled with interruptions such as tornado warnings...

    Part One

    There seems to be a house like this in most small towns. The one that raises the hairs on the back of your neck when you walk too close to it so by tacit agreement most would nonchalantly move to the other side of the street. In this town they pretended to look at the blossoms on Mrs. Benson's dogwood tree or would stop to admire her prize winning rose bushes and azaleas. She certainly did have a fine, green thumb and her yard was something to be envied, admired but even the neighborhood dogs would give a yip and tug on their leashes to be away from the dilapidated house on Barton Street with its white picket fence missing panels, grinning malevolently at passersby. Particularly at night. No one dared near it at night. If any were brave enough to throw rocks at the windows, what few were left, they did so in the bright light of day, with a buddy or two. And furtive glances to either side.


    Some neighbors claimed they heard voices, chanting, even screams during those pitch-dark nights when most wouldn't even venture out of their homes, curtains drawn, warm tea close to their elbows, noses in books to settle their nerves. The next day, when out walking their dogs or playing catch with their children, they'd smile and compare notes on what sounds had emanated from the derelict house the night before.


    A few people still remembered the family that had lived there almost 20 years ago but each year there seemed to be one less to tell the tale and one more mound in the cemetery with dead or dying flower arrangements heaped upon it. Mrs. Benson, the local funeral director, had lived directly across the street all her life and she'd get a twinkle in her eye when she told the stories to newcomers, along with giving them a few pretty blossoms as a housewarming.


    Newcomers like Donnie and his mom. They'd moved right next to Mrs.Benson when the former resident, Ms. Euphonia Grant, some 80-odd years, had met her demise. They said she'd died in her bed, a grim rictus of a smile on her toothless and mottled face.The scent from Mrs. Benson's garden helped with the smell of decay that still lingered in those rooms as they kept the windows wide open at every opportunity. They'd gotten it for too good a price though to be overly picky. Donnie's mom bought every bottle of Febreze the local market had, along with a healthy amount of scented candles but the stench still wafted pretty strongly at times. Donnie would just ask his mom to bake some cookies to better mask the smell.


    By the end of the first week there, Donnie took some of those cookies next door, having heard the rumors about the haunted house across the street. He wanted to know why everyone was so terrified about nothing more than a rickety old abandoned house. Donnie had grown up in New York City where he felt the real terrors were on every street corner. All the kids seemed like hayseeds and he figured to get some ammunition from the quirky lady who lived next to him. She smelled funny, formaldehyde clung to her like a bitter shroud but he'd try to stay down wind of her.

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  17. Part Two

    Mrs. Benson was sitting on her front porch in a white rocking chair, a pleasant smile on her face, a swipe of dirt on her cheek he thought oddly endearing for a moment. They'd had a small screened-in patch of a vegetable garden back in NYC and Donnie had enjoyed weeding and watering it, watching the plants grow. It was the single good point about this move away from all he'd known and all his friends. His mother had promised him a good portion of the back yard to dig and grow what he wanted.


    He glanced at the shears laying on the pine varnished wood deck, the basket of flowers nearby she'd just pruned. Roses and tiger lilies, some sweet-smelling honeysuckle for filler. Cheerful flowers in reds, oranges, pinks and yellows. Nearby sat an empty carnival glass vase he thought those flowers must be destined to occupy.


    She offered him a glass of tart lemonade, not any of that granular stuff like his mom made for him but honest to goodness real lemonade with slices floating in the pretty glass pitcher. He downed it gratefully while they munched on sugar cookies with sprinkles and she regaled him with stories he had to work not to laugh out loud over. He managed a few well-placed pretend chokes from cookie crumbs but the amusement must have shown in his eyes when Mrs. Benson began to frown.


    He stood and excused himself, claiming chores to get to and gave a neighborly wave and smile when he got to the end of the walk. He snorted when he figured he was out of earshot of her, grinning as he recalled all Mrs. Benson had told him. And not told him.


    Real terror was listening to gunshots that startled you awake at 3 a.m., or seeing a brawl on the basketball court for an unintentional foul that ended with knives and blood everywhere. This Mayberry clone of a hick town didn't know the meaning of what was truly scary.


    But that night he mulled over all he'd learned and his instincts had been right. He'd explored the old house across the street soon after moving in, had found the stash of N-P-K and Ammonium nitrate 34-0-0 fertilizer and bags of lime. Had even found a well-hidden stash of the few bones remaining. Now he knew who'd put them there. Clever of her to keep all the locals away from the house with her tales of terror.


    He knew how Mrs. Benson kept her roses blooming so beautifully. He was sure there'd been other victims since that family those many years ago but who blamed the occasional runaway for wanting more than could be found in this dinky little place? What family member, overcome and teary with grief, thought to check a sealed coffin, graveside, to make sure their dearly departed was still inside their intended resting place?


    He went to sleep with a smile on his face and a plan. In another year he'd be old enough to take classes in mortuary science. Another year after that for an apprenticeship but by the end of that Mrs. Benson's usefulness above ground would be over.


    She'd be helping his garden flourish soon enough as would most of the other locals. Donnie had finally found a place to bloom.

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    1. Woah. And Darker! I really, really dig this piece. Kind of gothic and super taught. This is a great piece of flash.

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  18. What awaits you in the darkness as the fog crawls slowly close?
    When your heart beats ever faster, you can barely draw a breath.
    From the corner of your eye you see a shadow, just a ghost,
    Too ephemeral to capture, all you see is your own death.

    It's a presence most malevolent, you sense it to your core,
    Trapped in terror, now you're rooted as your legs give up the fight.
    A fine trembling overtakes you, knowing what is soon in store.
    No salvation, no escaping, you accept your awful plight.

    It's exsanguination for you as your life's blood drains away,
    Memories a silent movie as the pictures quickly flash.
    World is tilting, eyes grow weary, everything begins to gray.
    One last effort, not succumbing in your struggle as you thrash.

    Now too late you see your mistakes in between the mournful cries.
    All pride gone and begging freely, but no surcease will you find.
    Tears run freely down your ashen face, each one too quickly dries.
    Hopeless, helpless, expiration, to a gruesome fate consigned.

    ~Tamara McLanahan

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    1. Damn! Keep it coming! I especially love this phrase: "It's a presence most malevolent, you sense it to your core"

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  19. The boat rocked and for a moment she thought it might capsize, throwing her into the water. That would have been ironic, given what she'd just done.

    The rear of the boat was empty now, the long plank of the bench seat looking back at her accusingly. No-one need know - it would all blow over in no time. Henry would be missed but she could probably explain it away; he'd always been a little unpredictable and flaky and she could use that to deflect the attention from herself. She'd have to act the role of grieving wife for a while - it'd be expected, even if the body never turned up - but she could do that.

    She could do that with ease, after what she'd just done.

    The lake and the sky were both black. The road was dark too, the hills behind it featureless and empty. There was only her here; her and the boat. It was a night you could believe you'd disappeared, that the world was now empty, just nature with the remains of mankind littering its timeless flanks. Those would disappear too, in time. In a hundred years or less the roads would be gone, tarmac crumbled and overgrown, their dark stripes forgotten. The world as it had been, once more.

    She pulled the oars up from inside the boat, fitting them back into the oarlocks, waiting for the horizon to steady before she leaned forward into the 'v' they made. Then she leaned back, her shoulders and her arms coming alive again as they felt the weight of the boat and the resistance of the oars' blades against the water. One stroke, two stroke, one stroke, two stroke...and then she stopped, feathering the oars so they slid through the water, alert for any lights that might have appeared. She was silent and the lake was calm and she was getting away with murder.

    The boat eased to a halt and then began to roll gently again, uncertain of what she wanted. It had had a taste of what it had been made for and now it seemed as though it was grumbling, the oars chafing against their restraints as they began to grow impatient. She looked around again and then, satisfied she was still alone, she took up the stroke again.

    Henry was some way away now, the place where he'd sunk beneath the surface undistinguished and lost in the jumble of ripples that littered the top of the lake. He'd dropped away from the boat fast, the bicycle frame and his old typewriter acting like a diver's lead weights, pulling him away from the world of light and warmth and air. He'd need none of those now anyway, his requirements taken away from him with a single stroke of a blade. He was free of them now, free of everything, his life momentarily his and his alone for the few minutes it had taken him to pass on, away from the needs of the others he'd embraced and made his own. If only he'd thought of himself more, this might never have had to happen.

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    1. We know what's happened from your opening paragraph and yet we happily read along. The beauty of your writing, Mr. Morris, is the journey you take us on in the telling of the tale. The setting is simple. A woman, a boat, a lake, an act of violence and yet you weave it into something so much larger.

      "...the world was now empty, just nature with the remains of mankind littering its timeless flanks."

      The irony of bicycle frame and typewriter not lost on the reader.

      Beautifully crafted, as always.

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    2. I agree. You really do an excellent job of crafting a careful narrative. No dips, no getting pulled out - the language just pulls you deeper (pun totally intended).

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  20. He shook her violently back and forth. Why wouldn't she wake up? He'd just been playing around. There was no way...no, it couldn't happen. But the skin was turning cold, the night was falling, and he was trying to wrap his mind around what he'd done.

    I was just trying to have a little fun.

    He said it in his mind over and over again. Worked out the percentages. What were the chances? Slim to none, but, goddamn, she was dead. He shook his head. Gotta think straight. No one misses a dead whore. He was clear. He was OK.

    He had to get rid of the body. Plastic tarp. Nylon rope. Some night shoveling didn't matter out in the country. He knew he'd gotten too rough. Never meant it to happen. He wouldn't survive a cage.

    A tear slipped out, but he was OK. No one misses a dead whore.

    Except the man who loved her.

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    1. Woah. Talk about dark and being pulled along in the narrative. Unsympathetic for him until that last line.

      Well done.

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  21. [cheating and adding one more]

    It is dark. So very dark. You out your hand up close to your face, but you cannot see it. You're a fool to walk when you cannot see, but your feet have a mind of their own, careful, but stubborn. You feel a wall to your right, run your fingers along it as you walk. It's smooth, and it's cool. Not cold, more like damp. Still you walk.


    It's odd, as you walk, you think your hand might feel a door, or a fire extinguisher. Or something, but there is nothing.

    You notice the silence, too. No background hum. No voices. No Muzak. There is a ringing in your ears. You remember that's supposed to be the sign of high blood pressure. You take your hand away from the wall, and put it over your heart. The muscle beats with the same rhythm you're used to, maybe a little faster, but you are in the land of the unknown, after all.

    Your hand reaches for the wall. And reaches. And there is nothing. Could you have turned around? Your left arm extends into...nothing.

    You hear your breathing speed up, become more shallow. Your feet carry you forward. Now you walk with your hands in front of you, flailing for contact with anything, anything at all.

    And when your feet, so sure of themselves, find nothing to walk on, you hear a scream, and it is a moment before you recognize it as your own.

    It continues for as long as you fall, as long as the air rushes by you.

    You remember what the shrink told you, that falling dreams are dangerous, that if you hit the ground in the dream, you will die.

    And the screaming stops. The doc was right.

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  22. stephanie williamsOctober 2, 2017 at 6:23 PM

    It doesn't matter what happens now. I used to think I could escape how I feel, that I could avoid it and fake it. That I could talk and act freely, but now I realize it is a part of me that will be always be there. I can silence it and ignore, but its always there, like its right in the corner of my room. An overcast. A behavioral train coming right for me.

    ReplyDelete

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