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The Jammer

Over at We Drink Because We’re Poets, I hosted another Seven Day Story Challenge.  In short, write a story in seven days, writing every day.  Each day, a random word selected and posted that must be used in that day’s writing.  The words were:  simpleton, richweed, bobbysocks, judder, extra sensory, hierarchy, and albescence.  Different forms of the words could be used.

Here’s my result.  I started with an idea that wasn’t the same as what I ended with, which is the beauty of a challenge like this.  Each day’s effort is just enough to carry the story a step or two, but not enough to plot the story out entirely.  If that makes any sense.  I did not know until the sixth or seventh paragraph, which was into the third day of writing, where this was really headed.  And even with that, due to the daily word, each day still held surprises.

 

The Jammer

People might say that I am an angry man.  They would be wrong.  It is not anger that drives me.  If it were my heart would be black.  My soul even darker.  I would be incapable of love and desire.  Angry?  Not I.  Can I help it if I occasionally lash out with venom-laced words?  If it is at times easier to choose the mad course rather than the tolerant course.  I love you.

People may believe that I am a pessimist.  They would be wrong.  I do not believe the glass is half empty.  At least not the glass that represents my future.  My situation suggests otherwise.  I should have given up a long time ago.  That glass is full to the brim.  It is overflowing.  Can I help it if the glass started empty and that it has been a struggle to fill it, even to half, drop by drop.  I am filled with hope even from where I sit.

People at times call me a simpleton.  What do they know?  Simple to them may be complex to me.  Don’t we all have different calculations of simple and complex?  You may think it odd that I can’t change a tire.  Simple to you is, well, not actually complex to me.  It’s just not interesting.  It’s not a challenge.  What I enjoy is what I do, not what you do.

People look at me and shake their heads.  They “tsk, tsk” and keep their distance.  Why should they? I wonder.  I am no threat to them.  I … am … not … an … angry … man.  I am no more capable of harming them then they are of me.  They walk by, nonetheless, along the opposite side of the hall, peering at me as though I were a museum exhibit.  Every now and then, I glare back and flex my muscles and giggle as they scurry along.

People ask how I could have done it.  How could I not?  The man had disrespected me.  He deserved it.  Tomas was his name.  He laughed at my woman.  So I slapped him and while he was reeling, I picked up a handful of richweed growing along the side of the road and crammed it into his open mouth.  I turned my back on him.  How was I to know he would choke on it?  And die.

People give me nicknames.  Papa called me Taz like the Looney Tunes character because I never stopped moving.  Mama never called me nothing since she left before my first birthday.  Here they call me the Jammer because of how that man died.  I’ll tell you a secret.  Tomas wasn’t the only one.

People don’t know my history.  Yeah, I’m serving time for Tomas.  The D.A. talked of a death sentence but he didn’t go there.  Death for killing a man with richweed?  Not likely.  He coulda if he knew about the other one.  The girl I caught and killed, jamming her bobbysocks down her throat to stop her screaming.  Chloe was her name.  I was gonna do stuff to her but she died too quickly.  I … am … the Jammer.  They just don’t know the truth of it.

Here’s what I think.  You don’t know me.  Understand me.  There are these moments when things slow down.  The wind stops.  People speak but I don’t hear them, their lips still flapping, hands gesturing in super slo-mo.  I cannot be reached then.  My brain feels all loose in my skull.  And I react.

Here’s what happened with Tomas.  He said hateful words, “who’s the whore you with?”  My lady patted me on the arm and tried to turn me to go, but I felt none of it.  I just heard those words over and over, echoing in my head making the gray matter all juddery.  When it stopped quivering, when the world returned to normal speed, he lay on the ground in front of me doing his own little juddery dance.  His body convulsed, his eyes bulged as he tried to spit the richweed from his mouth.  My lady grabbed me then and pulled me away.  And we ran.  I killed the man without even knowing it.

Here’s another thing.  A bar of soap can kill a man, too.  That’s why I’m in this cell now.  I went all juddery again.  It’s like I … well, it’s like an extrasensory, out-of body, out-of-mind experience.  All I could hear was the shower running.  All I could feel was the cold tile floor.  All I knew was that when I stopped juddering the man lay in the streaming water with a bar of soap jammed in his mouth.  He was past gagging.  He was past dead.  The water streamed down his still face, stretched in agony, rivulets running this way and that.  The smell of Dial on my hands.

Here’s why I’m where I am.  I stood there until they came for me.  Now I’m isolated.  At the far end of a cell block.  Laughing and crying.  Babbling and ranting.  Shuddering and juddering.  When I judder now, there’s nothing for me to do but … I scratch my arms until they bleed.  I try to squeeze my head through the bars.  I … hurt … myself.  Until I judder-on down.  I know why they walk on by.  They hope in their silent stares, their fearful glares, their feigned disinterest that I’ll jam myself.  I won’t.

There will be a time when I’ll be free again.  They can only do so much to me.  Make me serve so much time.  Richweed got me a veritable slap on the wrist.  Heat of the moment, you know.  The D.A. talked tough, but he got nothing.  And I got a maximum of ten.  Out in eight with good behavior.  Only a few more to go.

There is that wrinkle.  The man in the shower.  His name was Arthur.  People called him Artie the Accountant because he was a skinny white boy with glasses and greased back hair.  He looked at me kinda funny.  I don’t like none of that funny stuff.  And then he was dead.  I had soap on my hands.

There is this hierarchy to these things.  Kill a man out in the world and they talk of death.  When a man dies in prison, there’s a whole lot less caring.  A whole lot less effort to prove it up.  Soap on my hands.  Well, hell yeah, I was taking a shower.  They knew though.  Or thought I knew.  Something.  That I refused to spill.  I remained mum no matter their promises.  Their threats.  Artie the Accountant was dead.  Did it matter by who?

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.  I am a man of love, not of anger.  I am no simpleton just because I won’t speak to you.  Just because when I do, I speak slowly and of things that you cannot comprehend.  Like what it feels like when the world slows down and you can see your breath escape your mouth in the smallest of particles.  When the world becomes albescent, like you’re surrounded by this massive blank slate and all you have to do is begin writing on it and everything … could change.

That’s my story and you can’t challenge it.  I’ve told you what you need to know.  I got a mind that gets juddery.  Three people dead.  Maybe.  Maybe not.  Maybe there’s more.  Maybe I killed my Papa.  But you don’t need to know.  Maybe I killed a two-bit whore who tried to rip me off, jamming the money down her throat.  That would be too easy.  I don’t go for easy.  I go for richweed and bobbysocks and a bar of soap.

That’s my story.  They call me the Jammer.  My future is bright.  Got a couple more years here and then I’ll be there.  There’s a cup of something that’s rising to the brim.  I’d like to share.  I love you.

Weekend Update

Maybe I’ll head to a once a week post that wraps things up for me for the week.  Who knows.  At least for this week, that’s what I’m doing.

In one 24-hour period, I got three more reviews on Amazon for One Night in Bridgeport.  All four stars and all good comments.  That brings the tally to 49 reviews (do I have a party when I get to 50?), 28 are five stars, 16 are four stars, 4 are three stars, and 1 is two stars.  I can definitely live with that mix.  Meanwhile, I’ve got five reviews for Weed Therapy.  Need to get at least five more.

I’ve done a really stupid and petulant thing with Weed Therapy.  I’ve moved the Kindle price to $4.99.  Why?  Because nobody was buying it, even at .99.  If nobody is going to buy the book at that price, why not increase the price and not have anybody buy it.  Yes, it makes no sense.  But I was peeved at what was happening.  None of the promotional efforts I tried produced any sales.  So, $4.99 is it for the time being.  Of course, if I get ten reviews and get it featured on ereadernewstoday, the price will be coming down.  But not until then.

Speaking of reviews of Weed Therapy, I don’t think I will ever again conduct a Goodreads giveaway.  I offered three autographed copies.  After the giveaway, I got an email from a Goodreads member who did not win one of the giveaway books.  She begged me to send her one anyway.  She and her husband are poor, you know.  He’s a veteran, you know.  She reads books to him, you know.  The book sounds so wonderful, you know.  We’ll provide two reviews, you know.  Two months later.  No reviews, no comments.  Nothing.  From any of the people who got a free copy through the giveaway.

Sales of Bridgeport have definitely slowed down.  Two-thirds of the way through the month, I’m at 38 for September.  Not bad, but not as well as I was doing for the four months prior.  I’m not sure if the book has simply run its course or there’s more I could and should be doing to promote it again.

As I wrote a while back, Deviation is complete.  Northville Five and Dime is about half way there.  Carlota awaits her future as the third in my series of three longer short stories.

That’s where I’m at when it comes to writing.  Where are you at?

* * * * *

I look at what the House Republicans are doing with funding government and trying to defund Obamacare and wonder if they’ll ever have a clue.  Ever.  Their grip on sanity seems to get weaker and weaker with each year.  I can’t imagine their hoped for shutdown of the government being a successful strategy for them, just like it failed in the mid-90’s.  What the people want is a functioning government, Republicans and Democrats compromising and moving the country forward.  What they’re getting is dysfunction and disaster.

And for my readers who claim that Democrats and Obama aren’t willing to compromise by agreeing to scrap Obamacare, let’s be serious.  This is the President’s signature achievement.  Something that much of the country has aspired to for decades.  Even Richard Nixon supported universal health care.  Demanding that Obama end it before there has been any opportunity to see if it will work is extortion not compromise.  Worse than that, it’s extortion based on a complete misunderstanding of what the law does.

* * * * *

I’ve started running again.  A month before I planned on doing so.  I couldn’t help it.  The bad news is that I’m much slower than I was a couple of years ago.  About two minutes per mile slower.  The good news is that I’ve “run” five times in the last seven days.  Friday night’s run lasted for four miles without needing a walk break.  The ol’ groin seems to be stable, although there is soreness in spots I never had soreness before.  Soreness is OK, it’s when the whole thing collapses and I can barely walk that is problematic.  No collapse yet.  If I can run four miles three or four times a week, I’ll be incredibly happy.

* * * * *

I’ve become addicted to Breaking Bad.  After months of people telling me I look like Heizinger, I started watching season one on Netflix.  I’m now halfway through season two, watching three episodes Friday night.  It’s a story that strains the limits of credibility, but it is definitely a fascinating and intense look at how far a man could go down a very dark path.

Here’s another thing I learned last night when I logged into Netflix to watch Breaking Bad.  Never, ever give your kids your account and password information.  What they do with it is provide it to their girlfriend and her family so they can use your Netflix account to watch movies and TV shows.  When I realized this was happening I changed my password.  I am monumentally disappointed with my son and with her family for doing this.  I realize it doesn’t cost me anymore, but it feels like theft, like being taken advantage of.  How many movies and shows have they watched on my account over the past week?  Sixty-seven.  In one week.  I didn’t go back any further in my viewing history.  That was enough.

* * * * *

I’m spending my Sunday running, writing, doing laundry, watching football, and baking bread.  I have this incredible bread book called Artisan Baking Across America.  It’s more like a coffee table book than an actual cook book.  It’s filled with incredible pictures of bakeries and dough and bread.  Fortunately, it’s got a lot of recipes as well.  As the title should make clear, this is about making bread in a very old fashioned way.  Mix a bit of flour and water and yeast together Saturday night.  Let it sit over night.  The amount of yeast, however, is so tiny as to be almost non-existent.  In the morning, mix that (it’s called a poolash) with more flour and water and maybe some honey and a few other things.  And let it rise.  Because of the small amount of yeast, the rise is 3-4 hours long.  Then you shape the bread and let it rise for a couple more hours before baking.

The end product is this incredible, crusty, airy, bubbly bread with more flavor than you know what to do with.  I’m making two loaves of tortano and two loaves of semolina fiolene.  Pictures later.

What are you doing with your Sunday?

* * * * *

Almost forgot … if you’re looking for a little writing challenge, head over here for the second installment of the We Drink Because We’re Poets Seven Day Story Challenge, sponsored by yours truly.

Alpin Macrae

The great thing about writing prompts that other people provide is that they can force you out of your comfort zone.  I think of it as a genre-bending opportunity.  We Drink Because We’re Poets Short Story Prompt #6 is one of those chances.  Unlike previous efforts on these prompts, I think it’s important that you get the prompt before you read the story.  So, click on that link and listen to the music that serves as the prompt.  Or listen to it here …

I listened to this and all I hear is something that reminds me of Lord of the Rings.  My first words on this story started sounding like I was going to write something similar to the Riders of Rohan and I hated that idea.  The last thing I want to do is write fan fiction.  Not that there’s anything wrong with it for people who enjoy that.  It’s just not my cup o’ tea.

While I was on my bike ride, I got inspiration.  Which, by the way, it’s amazing how often that happens while I’m on that two wheel conveyance.  I fixed our broken air conditioner this morning while on my bicycle.  (Yes, really, I did.  It stopped working yesterday during our party for my son’s high school graduation.  When the temperature was 108 and we had 25-30 people in our house.  At one point, the thermostat in the house reached 90 degrees.  I was convinced the air conditioner was dead.  But, while riding this morning, I had a thought — maybe it had just overloaded the circuit and flipped the breaker.  Got home, checked the breaker and that’s what happened.  Whew.)  I wrote a blog post in my head — one that I haven’t actually put into written form yet.  And, I came up with the idea for this story.  So, here it is…

ALPIN MACRAE  (by the way, it needs a better title … got any ideas?)

Across the plain they stretched.  Horses and their riders.  Warriors encased in iron holding weapons forged by blacksmiths in villages scattered across the heartland.  Handed down from father to son for generations.  Weapons that had killed many men, good and bad.

The horses stomped and stamped and blew air warmed in their powerful bodies’ interiors.  The steam pouring out of their nostrils and rising from their withers blended with the low lying fog that shrouded the lines.

There was silence except for the clanking of metal on metal.  The whinnying and snuffling of the horses.  The fog muffled everything else.  The cold could not muffle the smell of sweat.  Of fear and of death.  It could not stop the darting of eyes of the men who waited.  Of the twitching of the horses’ ears.  There are horses that are bred for racing.  Horses bred for farming.  And horses bred for war.  Just as a thoroughbred knows what is to come in a race, a warrior horse knows as well what awaits.  Life and death.

As the minutes stretched, the horses quieted and stilled.  The men steadied their pikes, gripped their swords harder.  They held their shields closer and looked out upon the battlefield as the fog began to slowly lift.  Where the bodies of men and horses killed the day before still lay.  Lifeless eyes stared back at them in silent accusation.  Several hundred yards distant stood the enemy, a line of horseflesh and warrior equally as proud and powerful.  Equally resolute in their desire to protect their homeland, as they had been told was the purpose for this latest incursion.

To get to this place, the warriors had ridden across dying plains.  Through villages still smoldering from the ruins of war, passing trails of survivors trudging in the opposite direction.  Their belongings wrapped in packs strapped to their backs or piled in wheelbarrows pushed by the sons too young yet to fight.

The men rode because they were told this was the way.  To fight and to die for their country.  For their King.  With enemies gathering, the warriors were told it was their only choice.  To fight.  To fight.  To never stop fighting.  Only their final breath could take the fight out of them.  This is what they had been told.

With a thrust of his sword, the King called his men to action.  “Men.  It is time!!  Now.  Fight.  Fight for your family!  Fight for your land!  Fight to the death!”  The King whirled his horse around once.  He peered at the enemy and whirled around again.  He faced his men.  “To me!!  For our lives.”

Across the dying plain, riddled with bodies of their comrades, the last warriors gathered themselves and burst forth, sweeping past the King and towards the death that surely awaited them.  “Fight on!!  Fight on!!” The King shouted to them as they rode past and his vanguard circled him.

As the horses and their riders surged, one held back.  Alpin Macrae quieted his horse, whispering to him, “Easy Felder.  Steady.”  He stood in his stirrups and then began to ride forward.  Gathering speed, he cast his shield aside.  Trusting faithful Felder to follow the path and keep him steady, he released the reins and gripped his sword with both hands, holding it to his side ready to swipe his foes aside.

Straight to the center of the line Alpin charged.  As he approached the King’s rear guard, Felder seemed to grow in height and in girth.  From a great height, Alpin began to sweep the sword from side to side.  Blindly, he struck aside the King’s men, while Felder barreled on towards the King.  The sword his father had handed to him from his death bed, which first killed a man many decades prior, in the hands of Alpin’s great-grandfather, cleaved a path.

Breathless, Alpin brought Felder to a stop before the King, who had turned at the chaos behind him.

“This … must … stop,” Alpin screamed.

“Who are you?”  The King spit the question out.

Alpin rose up and thrust his chest out.  “Alpin Macrae, my Lord.  My father rode in your father’s guard for many years.”

The King’s face lightened at that.  “What must stop, my son?”

“This war.  The fighting.  The slaughter of good men.  On both sides.”

The light left the King’s face and he grimaced.  “You know what you are doing?”

“Yes.  Begging you to see that this little patch of land is not worth the death of so many men.  Of leaving more families without their fathers, brothers, sons.”

“You are a foolish one.”  The King smiled patiently.  “If we lose here, it will only be a matter of time before they advance to the river and then take the river.  And when they take the river, they will have the freedom to roam our lands.  Pillaging and plundering and raping your mother, your sisters.  Your daughters.”

“My Lord.  How many battles have been fought over this field?  How many men have died?”  Alpin stopped and guided Felder a pace or two closer to the King.  He lowered his voice.  “How many times have we lost this field and they have not advanced any further?”

The King’s face darkened further.  In the distance, the sounds of renewed fighting could be heard.  Men screaming, horses whinnying in fright.  Metal on metal, only louder and more violent then when the men were at rest before their charge.

“I would have one of my guard dispose of you now,” the King sneered.  “But you are a traitor and I reserve the pleasure of disemboweling traitors to myself.”

They raised their swords in unison.  The King growled.  Alpin did not shrink.  As they brought their legendary weapons down in an attempt to smite the other, an errant arrow from the battle whistled through the air and buried itself into the soft part of the King’s armor under the shoulder of his upraised arm.

The King fell to the ground and in the frenzy that followed was trampled by his own horse.

Alpin looked down at the King.  A deep silence filled his head blocking out the sounds of the battle.  Until he returned his gaze to the warriors and saw that they had stopped their mutual assault.  Instead, they all, ally and enemy, had paused and turned to the fallen King.

There was no more war that day.  Nor for many days afterwards.  Months and years, in fact, passed before arms were taken up in anger.  The patch of ground that so many men had died for was left untouched.

THE END

And, I really don’t like the final paragraph.  There’s got to be a better way to end this thing.

 

The Devil is in the Details

Here we go with Short Story Prompt #4 from We Drink Because We’re Poets.  As usual, for my readers who don’t follow that blog, I’ll save the reveal of the prompt until the end of the story.  Here you go … and yes, there are some adult themes in this one.

“Damn.”  I slammed my laptop shut and stared.  That blank stare.  There were people there, sitting at their tables.  Drinking their lattes.  Noshing on bagels.  All in front of me.  I didn’t see them though.  I was caught in my head where my story had ended even though I had yet to finish it.  There were still more words to write and pages to go, but I was lost, without a clue as to how to write the next sentence.

Gregory had got the girl.  Or was it the other way around?  I wanted to keep the reader guessing on that.  As a result, the wrapping up of the tale had turned into a mighty struggle.  Writing each sentence was like a tug of war between sumo wrestlers.  A little this way.  A little that way.  Eventually, something might stumble out and the ending would fall into place, just like the sumo wrestlers on the losing side.  Only with my novel, the stumbling might signify success rather than failure.

“Excuse me, ma’am, may I sit down?”

I came out of my head and looked around.  There were plenty of empty tables.  I looked at the voice’s source.  Next to the other chair at my table stood a man.  Somewhat the opposite of tall, dark and handsome, he looked to be an inch or two shorter than me.  He had a scraggly goatee that ran to wispy several inches below his chin and no other hair on his head.  It was shaved clean, silky smooth and shined to a gloss that reflected the subdued lights in the coffee house, almost forming a glowing halo of light about his head.  He wore glasses that slipped down his nose on the slick surface of his skin.  And, there was this odor I couldn’t place.  Almost like rotten eggs.  He wore a vest over a white dress shirt with a frayed collar and threadbare elbows.

I shrugged my shoulders.  “Sure.  Why not?”  I was pretty much done anyway.  A few more sips of my coffee and I could take my leave of the man.

He pulled the chair out and sat on it.  “Belial,” he said and held out his hand, smiling.

I shook it, trying hard not to sniff derisively as I did so.  “Hanna.”  I tossed around whether I wanted to engage with him or not.  Curiousity got the better of me.  “Belial.  That’s an interesting name.”

“It’s Aramaic.  Biblical, shall I say.”

“Interesting.”  I chuckled.  “Hanna is biblical, too.  It means gracious.”  I guess I was living up to my name by humoring this stranger.

He began to stroke his chin, bringing his hand down around his goatee.  “What are you working on?”

“Oh.  Nothing.”

“Hannah.  Really?  I come in here every Saturday and see you tapping away.  It must be something.”

I thought back and struggled to find a memory of ever seeing him in the coffee shop before.  I couldn’t, but then there were plenty of times when I was lost in what was on the screen or in what was in my head.  I sighed.  “A novel.”

“Really?”

“Yes.  It’s almost finished.”

“This may just be your lucky day.”  He reached into a pocket inside the vest and pulled out a card.  I took it from him.  A rather simple card, it read in red lettering:  Belial Press, Publishers of Literature and Creative Non-Fiction.  There was an address and phone number, but I glossed over them.  “I may be able to help you out.”

“You’re a publisher?”

“Of course.  Isn’t that what the card says?”  He laughed, a deep chuckle that rose from his depths and, I swear, it caused the air between us to shiver.  Or maybe it was just me, shivering at this stroke of luck that had sat down before me.

“Of books?”

“Yes.”  His reply rumbled from the same depths.  I noticed something then.  Even with others sitting at tables and customers at the counter placing orders and baristas shouting back and forth, I heard none of it.  We were in a cone of silence.

I shuddered and asked the man, “Would you read it?  When, I’m done of course?”

“Of course I’ll read it.  I can do you one better than that.  I can …”  Belial smiled.  “I can guarantee you I’ll publish it, sight unseen, if only you will … well, we have to have a deal, don’t we?”

“Hold on a sec.”  I held up a finger to him.  When he stopped, I opened my laptop and turned it on.  As soon as I could, I got on the web and google’d Belial Press.  I nervously tapped my finger on the keyboard for the second or two it take for the page to come up.  And, there it was.  I clicked on the link for Authors and saw a healthy list.  I clicked on the link for Published Works and saw that Belial Press had published ten books in 2012, nine in 2011, and fifteen in 2010.  I looked up and he smiled.  “What’s the deal?”

“Well,” Belial muttered.  “Let’s see.  I’m thinking it could be rather simple.  You could … you know.”  He looked down at his lap and looked back up, smiling again, ever so slyly.

“What?  You want a …” I stopped to find the right phrase.  “A rub and tug?”

“Well, certainly at least that.”

“A blow job?”  I began to laugh.

“Certainly that isn’t too much to ask for what I’m offering you.  A publishing contract signed right here.  My commitment to edit the hell out of your manuscript and produce a book that I will market the hell out of.  I can virtually guarantee you will see success and riches you never thought possible.”

I shut my laptop and leaned towards Belial.  “Problem is I don’t play in that ball park.  Pun most definitely intended.”

“Ah, I see.  Of course.  Makes no difference to me.  There are plenty of girls, and boys, at the gates of hell willing to do my bidding.”  He stopped and stroked his beard again, drawing his hand slowly down its length until he let go with a sigh.  “Very well.  Let’s move to Plan B.”

Belial pulled from his inside contract a document folded into thirds.  As he unfolded it and slid the paper across the table to me, he spoke again.  “Here is our standard publishing contract.  Most publishers would provide you with a 15% royalty rate.  We offer 25%.  I’m willing to offer you a $50,000 advance.  And, as I said, the full weight of our editing and marketing departments will be behind you.  I’d like you to see the success we can offer instead of going through the hell of self-publishing your masterpiece and seeing that nobody who doesn’t know you will be willing to put their hard earned cash on the line for you.”  Before I could grab the contract to look at it, he put his hand on it and stopped me.  “I can guarantee you a best seller, if only you do one thing for me.”

“What?  I aint blowing you.”

“Yes, yes.  I know.  I wish you to do this.”  He pulled his hand back and I looked at the contract, glossing over the fact that it already had my name on it and the name of the book.  I reviewed the particulars and found it confirmed his statements.  “I want you to dance on this table.”

I laughed again.  “That’s it?  Dance on the table and I have a bestseller?”

“No, no, no.  There’s more, of course.”  He laughed again, that deep resonant thunderous sound that came from somewhere deep within him.  “Dance naked.  As naked as the day you were born.  On top of this table.  Now.  And you better make it good.”

Nervously, I laughed again.  I toyed with a corner of the contract that lay in front of me.  I glanced at my laptop and thought about the 75,274 words I had written and the 5,000 or so I anticipated the finish would require.  “What the hell.”  I winked at Belial and began stripping my clothes off.

As soon as I could, I clamored to the top of the table and began to twist and turn.  For a moment, I closed my eyes while I gyrated and let the silence that now filled the place envelope me.  I played a song in my head that allowed me to think sexy.  I did my best impersonation of a stripper, even bending down at one point to grab Belial’s beard and pull him close to me before I blew a kiss in his face and released him.  He winked and clapped and shouted for more.  Soon others were as well and I rode their cheers for a moment or two longer before slowing down.

I whispered to Belial, “Enough?”  He nodded slightly and I stopped.

Before he could change his mind, I pulled a pen from my purse and signed the contract with a flourish.  “Here you go.”  I sat down, still buck naked, and handed the pen to him.

“Well done, my dear.  Well done.”  He clapped his hands together twice and then picked up the pen and completed the contract.

Six months later, my first novel came out.  In the Afterword, I explained how I had got my publishing contract by dancing on a table in a Starbucks in Turlock, California, and that a week later I had moved to a small town along the Northern Coast of California, where I finished writing the book.  I left out the part about dancing naked.  And the part about the relocation being my plan all along.  The advance made it all the easier and gave me the peace of mind that allowed me to dance naked for a man named Belial who promised me a deal I couldn’t refuse.

Belial held up his end of the bargain.  He definitely edited the hell out of it.  He marketed the crap out of it.  And got me a bestseller.  Gregory Gets the Girl hit #2 on the New York Times list.  Yeah, I know, Belial told me murky wasn’t good.  Leaving the reader in doubt was a no go for him.

* * *

Here’s the Prompt:

You encounter the devil…only, you don’t know it’s the devil.  The devil makes you a tantalizing offer…and you don’t refuse.  What is the offer, why didn’t you refuse it, and what happens when you accept the offer?

That’s not all, though.  I want to take you out of your comfort zones.  Now, this next part is optional: if you are a woman, write your story from the standpoint of a man.  If you are a man, write your story from the standpoint of a woman.  If you are neither man nor woman, I’m sorry, I’ve run out of ideas…

Cheerios (A Short Story)

Over at We Drink Because We’re Poets, it’s the second of their Weekly Writing Prompts.  I’ll reveal what the exact prompt is at the end of the short story that follows below:

 

 

You are a ray of sunshine on a cloudy day

A blooming rose in a weed filled garden

The sight of you takes my breath away

And sends shivers again and again

Love me like no other

And I will too … forever

“Ugh.  Oh my f’in’ ugh!  Not again.”  Gwen sighed and let the page fall to her desk as she dropped in her chair.  It was even scented with a perfume or something.  And the x’s and o’s at the bottom.  In red.  She crumpled the paper up and motioned to throw it away before having second thoughts, flattening it out and sliding it into her desk drawer.  On top of the others.  Every Monday now for almost two months.

“Joseph.  Get in here.”

Gwen’s assistant scurried in from his desk outside her door.  “Yeah.”

“I got another one.”

“Again?  Thtill anonymouth, I gueth.”

“Yes and yes.”  Gwen stopped and looked at him.  “Are you ever going to get that fixed?”

“What?”

“Your tooth?”

“Oh.  Of courthe.  I justh wisth I could find the cap.  It wath gold, you know.”

“Umm, yeah.  I’m kind of hoping you’ll go more basic this time.  You know, white with just a hint of caffeine stain providing just the right amount of yellowing to match the rest of your teeth.”

“Damn, Gwen, that hurths.”

“Just being real.  Just being real.”  Gwen pulled the latest love note out of her desk and passed it over to him.  “It’s not you, is it?”

Joseph glanced up at her and smiled.  “It takths more than a drunken blow job after the Chrithmaths party for me to fall into obthethsive, weird love.”  He tossed the note back to her.  “I mean, come on, Gwen.”

She stuck her breasts out a little more and winked at him.  “You sure?”

“Cut it out.”

“Fine.”  Gwen settled back into her chair.  “If it’s not you, who else could it be?”

“Maybe itth the night janitor.”

“Yeah.  The night janitor is a 66-year-old Hispanic woman.”

Gwen put the note back in her desk while Joseph retreated back to his desk.  She watched his ass and sighed, “Wish it was.”

At 9:00 Gwen rose from her chair and left her office.  Pulled by the Monday morning ritual.  The weekly planning meeting with the boss.  George Shanahan.  Fifty-two years of balding, paunchy middle management white male.  An hour to dread.  While George prattled on in his office filled with the stale cheerio smell.  Not because of the dry bowl of cheerios he ate for breakfast every morning, but what typically came after.  Silent, but deadly, and laden with cheerio aroma.

“You’re meeting with the new clients tomorrow, right?”

“Uh-uh.”  Gwen twirled her finger in strand of hair.

“What’s their name again?”  Before she could answer, Gwen noticed his eyes lose focus.  She knew what was coming.  A few seconds later, the air in the office got a little staler.  It was all she could do not to pinch her nose or ask him to open his window.

“Bravo Farms.  They want to work on a social media campaign.”

George regained his focus.  “Of course.  Bravo Farms.  Social media.”

In the remaining time George rambled.  Gwen wandered, nodding her head and murmuring replies where appropriate.  She watched the clock, praying for the second hand to move faster while George lost focus two more times before the hour was up.

“It’s almost 10:00, George.  I’ve got a meeting dowtown I need to get to.  We about done here?”  She smiled in a feeble attempt to hide her impatience.

George leaned forward in his chair and glanced briefly at his watch.  “Yeah.  Didn’t realize where the time went.”  As he always did.  “Go on.  Get outta here.”

Gwen stood and turned towards the door.  “Hey, listen, before you leave, could you do me a favor?”

“Of course,” Gwen sighed.

“Could you check the thermostat?  I’m shivering in here.”

“Really?  You’re cold.”  Gwen turned back to him.

“Yeah, believe me.”  George paused.  “I’m shivering.”

In one of those rare moments when everything becomes clear, Gwen realized what George was saying.

“Oh my God!” left her lips before she could stop herself.

“Gwen?”

She ignored him, even when he said her voice one more time – loudly and authoritatively.  Gwen fled his office, uttering “no, no, no.”  Brushing past Joseph, Gwen entered her office and slammed the door behind her.  She stood there, breathing heavy, running her hands through her hair.  Seconds later, there was a light tapping on the door.  “Please, no,” she whispered.

“Gwen.”  Joseph’s quiet voice.  “You alright?”

Opening the door in a rush, Gwen pulled Joseph into her office and slammed the door shut again.  “It’s him!”

“Who?”

“Oh, god, don’t be dense now.  It’s George.”  Gwen scurried to her desk, pulled open the drawer and pulled out the stack of love notes.  “George,” she said, shaking the pages at Joseph.

“No fuckin’ way.”  Joseph took the notes from her and began reading them.  “No way he wrote theeth.”

“He did.”

“How do you know?”

Gwen took a shuddering breath.  “He just told me to check the thermostat because he was shivering.  And then he said it again.”

Joseph finished reading one of the love notes and looked up at Gwen which a malevolent grin.  “It ith kinda cold in here today.”

“Fuck you, Joseph.  He winked at me when he said it.  I think.”  Gwen sat down in her chair with a groan.  “Never mind.  You weren’t there.  It was how he said it.”  She rubbed her nose furiously.  “I wish I could get rid of that damn Cheerio smell.”

“What?”

“Nothing.  What do I do?”

“Go back in there and warm him up a little bit.”

“Joseph!”

“Thorry.  I couldn’t rethithst.”

“What do I …”

Gwen was interrupted by the far off sound of George calling her name.  “Gwen?”  Her eyes went wide.

“Shit, he’s coming down here,” she whispered to Joseph and her eyes went even wider.  “Wait, I have an idea.”

“What’th your idea?” Joseph asked.

“Just play along with me.”

Gwen came around from behind her desk and straddled Joseph’s lap.  “Kiss me.”

George opened the door and found them.  “Interesting,” he said.

Gwen pulled herself off Joseph.  “Damn, George, couldn’t you knock?”

“Never have before.”  George leaned against the door frame.  “The thing I want to know is this.”  He looked at Joseph.  “I thought you were gay.”

 

 

So the prompt was to write a short story with the following three concepts included in it:  annoying boss, love note, and a lost tooth.

Problem I have with this story is that it feels like other stories I’ve written.

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