#TwitterFiction: April Fool’s Jokes

Last night I decided that an “April Fool’s Joke” was actually a creepy little story that might or might not involve someone being tricked. I came up with a few tweets before bed and started posting them first thing this morning. I’ve collected them all below.

Flash Fiction: After The War

Tennis Ball

(image via Wi Bing Tan on Flickr)

After The War is a short story I wrote for a contest at Mash Stories. The prompt was to write a 500 word story that used the terms “tennis ball”, “bunker” and “animal rights”. I didn’t make the shortlist, but you can read other entries at the Mash Stories site.

Doug. I found the tennis ball. I know you were trying to hide it from me. I don’t know why you would do that. Weren’t we friends? Didn’t we get along? I know things are different after the war, but I thought we had an understanding. We had mutual respect. That sort of thing. I mean… that was my favorite tennis ball!

They send me in as part of the clean-up crews. I’m good at it. Good at finding all the hiding places. I go in first because I’m the best. Most of the time we don’t find anything interesting. Dead bodies are old news. We’ve all seen plenty. They stink up the place and we pull them out. Pile them up and burn them. What we’re really looking for are the secrets. The things the other side kept from us all these years.

Well, today they sent me into your house. Of all places! It felt like I hadn’t been there in years, even though the war was over in no time at all. I didn’t think I’d find much in the way of secrets, but I search every house just the same.

I did think I might find you, but you weren’t there. No dead bodies, either. Just my favorite tennis ball. I only found it because a bomb blew out half a wall. It knocked down the shelf where you hid the ball. I recognized it immediately. Very sneaky of you.

Listen, Doug, I’m a patriot like everyone else here in bunker number nine. I know that if I saw you again today we couldn’t be friends. It’s just not in the cards for us. That doesn’t mean I don’t have good memories of us together. We were fond of each other, weren’t we?

I believe in the cause, I do, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to know your side of the story. It just hurts to know you hid something like this from me. It validates everything our glorious leader, Seamus, says about relationships with humans. “You can’t trust humans!” he says, and I didn’t want to believe him because you seemed okay enough.

When the uprising began, did you join in the call for our heads? Did you run and scream and hide, or did you stand and fight? You seemed like a brave enough human, like that time you scared away those raccoons, but it’s hard to compare. I learned about humans through what I saw and what the others told me, but I don’t know everything. I only really had one-on-one time with you.

If I see you again, I will want answers. I am going to keep looking, keep searching in houses. I will dig and sniff everywhere. If I find you and I don’t like what you say, I will tear out your throat. After all, I will let nothing stand in the way of my comrades and our god-given campaign for universal animal rights.

Micro-Fiction: Physical Double

Twins playing chess

I wrote “Physical Double” for a contest at Prime Number Magazine. The prompt asked for a 53-word story in the form of a want ad.

WANTED: Exact physical double. Long lost twin or unlikely genetic experiment preferred. Must be willing to shave all sinister facial hair and recreate common mannerisms. Fool all friends, family, lovers and co-workers to receive generous bonus payment upon completion. No pet allergies or hidden agendas. Call 555-2566 for more information and to apply.

Watch Your Fucking Mouth

Al Swearengen

I’ve been reading a lot of unproduced screenplays recently, and a few things have been jumping out at me. First off: a lot of writers fumble on structure. A lot of what I’ve read has shown clear signs of competence but wandered around plotless for upwards of fifty pages. Some writers can pull off plotless, but most of them are novelists.

The other thing I’ve noticed is that a lot of writers are really bad at swearing. I’ll read a script full of characters saying fuck every other sentence and it just rings untrue. I always feel a bit silly when I ding a script for “too much swearing”, so I’ve been trying to put my finger on what bothers me about it. I’m no prude, and some of my favorite scenes and movies are full of swearing, so what’s different about these scripts?

I think the key difference is that these writers are swearing by default. They probably swear a decent amount in their own lives, they’ve watched plenty of movies full of swearing, so they throw in swearing because that’s how people sound, right? The problem is that they forget to make their choice of words about the characters saying them. The swearing is about the writer, not the characters.

People who accuse writers of laziness when they use vulgarity are missing the point. Swearwords aren’t automatically lazy; it all comes down to how you use them. Some of the greatest scenes in film and TV revolve around characters who swear up a blue streak, but they work because those moments reveal something about those characters and deepen our understanding of their feelings and motivations.

Here are a few of my favorite examples:

1) Steve Martin blows up at a rental car agent in Planes, Trains and Automobiles.

Up until this point the character has been mild-mannered and relatively patient, but he’s been through such an ordeal that he finally snaps and lets loose in the way only a man on the edge would do. The way he swears also tells us something about him as a character; it’s like a dam bursting, this sudden barrage of profanity pours forth from him and he’s punctuating every fucking word of every fucking sentence with another fucking swear word.

2) Peter Capaldi (the next Doctor Who!) in pretty much every scene of In The Loop.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lLlEdEx3tn8

Malcolm Tucker swears constantly and with evident relish. He terrorizes everyone around him and uses words like knives. He isn’t content with throwing out a “fuck” here and there, he rants and raves and spins absurd metaphors and embellishes every sentence with an acidity that jumps out of the screen at you.

3) Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8kZg_ALxEz0

David Mamet wrote this scene for Alec Baldwin. It isn’t in the stage play, but it’s by far the most famous moment in the movie. Baldwin is in the zone here, he’s all rhythm and rancor and cool energy. He swears for emphasis, to make a point, to hammer home his message and it flows like poetry. Say what you will about Mamet the man, but when he could write, he could write.

4) Bunk and McNulty in The Wire.

Two characters communicate entirely through the word fuck and it’s hilarious. They give every variation of the word its own meaning. A large part of this relies on the talent of the actors and their delivery, but the humor is there in the writing. The great part about this scene is that it shows us that the characters know each other so well that they can communicate with only one word.

These are all excellent examples of writers using profanity to tell us something about their characters. Swearwords are words like any others; they have a certain bite and relish to them, but if they are used poorly, they clang and fall flat just like any other.

So, what’s the takeaway? Should writers avoid profanity in their scripts? Maybe, maybe not. Maybe they really just need to hear their words read aloud. I feel like a lot of the problems with dialogue become glaringly obvious when the words are read aloud. Mainly, though, it’s a matter of deciding why a character swears and how they swear.

Write Every Day for a Month, Part One of Twelve

Last year I bought a giant wall calendar that I used to track my writing habits. I used a green check to indicate days when I wrote, and red checks on days that I didn’t. I bought the calendar a few months into the year, so one of the first things I did was put red checks through those months. This was not a good beginning.

I ended up writing only intermittently, usually one or two days here and there followed by weeks of nothing. Lots of red Xs, easy to see from across the room. It didn’t take long before I only updated the calendar occasionally, and usually only to add a bunch of red Xs. I did have success late in the year when I wrote a story and had it accepted for publication, but after that I struggled with all of my follow-up work, and pretty soon I stopped updating the calendar at all. It was clear that my system wasn’t working.

However, I still wanted to find some way to track my writing and inspire myself to keep doing it every day. I’ve been wracking my brain for years trying to figure out a way to apply my reading habits to other parts of my life. Finally it occurred to me that I shouldn’t track days I didn’t write because it was just demoralizing. Instead, I should only track my successful days.

Luckily I had this brainstorm at the start of the month, just in time to begin a new goal and put myself on solid footing. I took a quick trip to Target and picked up a new calendar along with some stickers I would use to track my progress. You can see the results below.

January Writing

I’m proud to say that I wrote every day in January of 2013.

One of the things that was a huge help was the fact that I kept my criteria for writing very forgiving. I knew there would be days when writing would be the absolute last thing I’d want to do. Days when I’d be exhausted or put it off until the last minute. Usually both at once.

Instead of forcing myself to work on Fiction Fit For Publication, I decided that any kind of writing would count towards my goal. That meant writing in a journal, free-writing, flash fiction, prose fragments, blog posts, anything that went on for more than a hundred words or so. At first I fell back on journaling or free-writing pretty often, but once I started getting into the swing of things, I found it much easier to blog regularly.

I updated Full of Words the most, but I also wrote some pieces for GamerSushi that I’m pretty proud of. I quickly discovered that writing every day began to take away some of the specter of writing in general. Blogging was no longer quite so intimidating because I knew I could knock out a book review in under an hour if nothing else came to mind.

Today I’m kicking off February by writing this post. My goal is to continue taking things easy. Sure, I want to start producing more fiction, but right now the important thing is writing every day no matter what. I have a feeling that the more I write, the more I’ll want to write, and the easier it’ll be to tackle something more ambitious.

Until then, I have plenty of books to review.

Tracks

ChOij

Written in response to a flash fiction challenge posted on Chuck Wendig’s blog.

Jake hefted the bag and pushed his way through a wall of vines and into the clearing. A thorn caught him on the cheek and his fingertips came away bloody when he gingerly felt the cut. He cursed under his breath and pressed his sleeve into the side of his face while he took a look around the clearing.

The bag was heavy and full of clanking metal, so he grunted and dropped it before striding purposefully to the edge of the trees and walking the perimeter. He counted off distances in his head, idly checking leaves and twisting branches as he passed. When he finished the circuit he did a quick bit of mental calculation, nodded to himself, and returned to the bag, which he opened and up-ended. A pile of thick metal bars spilled out on the forest floor and he regarded them critically.

He picked up two lengths of metal and walked to a likely spot on one side of the clearing. Standing so that his legs were shoulder-width apart, he carefully laid the bars down, one to each side. He did his best to keep them parallel, but absolute precision wasn’t required at this point, so he didn’t spend too much time fussing with them. Instead, he walked briskly back to the bag and grabbed another two pieces of metal then lined them up much the same way.

He spent the next hour or so laying out two parallel lines of metal bars that ran from one end of the clearing to the other. His forehead was drenched with sweat when he stopped, panting, and regarded his work, which looked like nothing so much as an ambitious child’s attempt at train tracks. He took a few deep breaths, wiped the sweat away, and began the next part of the process. The important part.

He produced a rag and a small glass bottle of golden liquid from one pocket, unstoppered the bottle, and poured some of the liquid into the rag. He leaned down and wiped the rag down the entire length of one line of metal bars, replenishing it with liquid as necessary. When he’d repeated this process with both lines of metal, they seemed to glow faintly with a strange inner light.

Jake stoppered the bottle again, returned it to his pocket and took a small leather-bound journal from another pocket. He turned and walked a few feet back from the lines of metal, opened the journal and flipped through until he found the pages he was looking for. After clearing his throat and taking a deep breath, he began reading.

As he spoke the words in a steady, booming voice, the lines of metal began to shimmer. As they shimmered, they began extending further into the forest on each side. The trees parted around them, forming first an arch and then a tunnel that stood ten feet tall and a few feet wider on each side. When Jake finished his recitation and closed the book with a snap, the resemblance to train tracks was unmistakeable.

His work done, Jake returned the book to his pocket, bundled up the empty bag and sat down on the forest floor to wait. He pulled a flask from an inner pocket and took a quick slug, wincing as the liquor burned his throat. He wondered, not for the first time, why there couldn’t be an easier way to arrange a meeting with the Colonel.

It wasn’t long before he heard the far-off sounds of a train approaching. When it began applying brakes, he gathered his things and stood. The engine burst into the clearing with a squeal and immediately filled the air with clouds of steam and the smell of burning metal. A few cars passed before it came to a complete stop.

A door on the closest car opened and a conductor stepped out, beckoning Jake forward with one furry paw. Jake presented his ticket and the conductor smiled in a toothy, feline way that wasn’t altogether reassuring, but that didn’t stop him from walking up the steps into the car’s darkened interior. He was barely inside before the train lurched into motion.

The car was cloudy with sweet-smelling smoke, and the seats were full of creatures with eyes that glinted yellow and green in the dim light. Jake did his best not to stare. The car he wanted was further back, so he kept walking until the smoke thinned out and the decorations weren’t quite so shabby. Here the seats were replaced with enclosed rooms that allowed the upper-class customers a modicum of privacy, not to mention better air quality.

He found the right door and knocked. After a moment’s hesitation, a gravelly voice spoke from within.

“I said most explicitly that I was not to be disturbed!”

“It’s me, sir. You called for a meeting.”

“I suppose I did. Come in, then.”

The Colonel was alone in the compartment, sitting on one bench with his face to the window, watching the forest speed past. Jake noticed that the thick orange hair on his face and hands was starting to show a little grey.

“You’re late. Pull down my briefcase and take a seat.”

Jake did as he was told and waited while the Colonel thumbed in a code and clicked open the briefcase. He pulled a thick red file folder from within and handed it to Jake before shutting the briefcase again and setting it aside.

“Start reading. We’re going deeper into the Shade Kingdom than you’ve ever been before.”

Jake hesitated for a moment under the Colonel’s laser-like gaze, then flipped the folder open and began reading. The Colonel turned back to the window with a sigh and left him to it.

“Beautiful country you have here. Shame it won’t last.”

Jake ignored this and turned another page, only to involuntarily suck in a breath at the face pictured there. Her face.

This was going to be interesting.

The Day Riots

Written in response to a flash fiction challenge posted on Chuck Wendig’s blog.

The day riots. When I stumble out the door of my apartment into the mid-day glare, the sun feels closer than it has ever been, and I imagine it burning off the sea in great clouds of steam. I wince and look down at my feet, tears stinging my eyes. That is when I see that I am standing in a pool of rainbow light, broken apart by the air thickening around me. I gasp and dive back through my still-open front door just before a ball of electricity explodes behind me, right where I had just been standing.

I lay on the floor, deafened and shaking, and curse under my breath when I realize that the ringing in my ears is, at least partially, my battered StormAlert shrilling dire warnings from the table where I left it. I stay flat on my back until my heart stops banging around inside my chest and the insistent beeping tapers off into silence.

I drag myself up off the floor and shove the StormAlert into my pocket like I should have in the first place. It really only gives me a few seconds’ warning, but sometimes that is all I need. I’m still standing, more or less. Never mind my attempt at suicide through absentmindedness.

Before I head back out into the day, I grab a sweat-stained baseball cap from the hallway closet and jam it down over my forehead. When I reach the threshold again, I stand there for a few seconds, holding my breath and listening to the strange, shattered stillness of the morning. The only signs of my near-death experience are a few scorch marks on the pavement and the acrid scent of burning ozone. I shut the door behind me, clutch the StormAlert in my pocket like a talisman, and hurry down the sidewalk with my head down against the glare of the sun. First to the store, then to Georgia’s.

At the checkout line, the owner tries to smile at me, but it curdles into something more unnerving than friendly, and I gather up my bags without a word. I’ve been a regular at this store for years, and I remember chatting with him some days. Empty pleasantries, but comfortable. Now the haunted look in his eyes makes me avoid eye contact, and his store is a ghost town. He keeps it open out of some perverse combination of stubbornness and denial, and I can almost believe things are normal again until he bars the door behind me.

Georgia only lives a few blocks away, but any time spent outside is doubly dangerous, so it always feels like miles. I stay beneath awnings and back in shadowed doorways, trying to find what cover I can. Everything smells like burning and it only makes me walk faster.

When Georgia opens the door, her stare is a thousand miles away. Only after I catch my breath and croak her name for the third time does she snap back to reality and let me into the refrigerated darkness of her apartment. I dump the grocery bags on her kitchen table and search for a light switch. When the overhead light sputters on, she blinks and clutches her shoulders, a wan smile fluttering across her face in a pale imitation of her former toothiness.

I do my best to smile in return, and she begins unloading the bags and putting them away. I am watching the curves of her back bend and stretch underneath the material of her thin white shirt when her voice floats back over one shoulder.

“How have you been? Still up to no good?”

She makes it sound airy and nonchalant, like always, and now I do grin despite myself.

“Oh, you know. Same old, same old. Keeping my head down.”

We put the rest of the groceries away in silence, then she pours two glasses of iced tea. We sit in the living room, sipping quietly, letting the glasses sweat moisture into our hands, and it feels like we are the only two people in the world.

“Are you staying safe, Joe?”

“Absolutely. I had a near miss this morning, but –” her head snaps up and I rush to reassure her “– but I’m fine, it was nothing, don’t worry about me.”

“I do worry about you, though. What would happen if you…”

She trails off and looks deep into the bottom of her glass, some imagined future tightening the skin around her mouth. Her skin is pale, almost translucent in the reflected light, and her hair hangs limp and unwashed, brown roots creeping further up into the blonde. She looks years older than she did before all this started, but she is still the most beautiful woman in the world.

I look at her and after a few moments I work up the courage to ask again, even though I already know the answer.

“I could stay. If you want me to.”

She shakes her head, no.

“He could be back any time. You know how he…”

She trails off, nothing more to be said. I sit there, drinking my tea, letting the ice clink against my teeth. After a moment I feel her hand, cool and damp and small, slip into mine and I squeeze it gently.

We sit there for a while in silence. When my tea is empty, I set down my glass and she pulls my head into her lap. I fall asleep with her stroking my hair.

When I wake, it is early evening, and I gather my things to return home before dark. We embrace in the doorway, and I press my hands into her shoulders, my nose into the side of her neck.

She stays carefully inside her apartment when I leave. I drink in one last look of her before she closes the door and I turn away to walk back home through the heat still radiating up from the pavement outside.

One Year Is Nothing

“There are dreams and there are career plans. They are not the same. Some dreams are compensatory: visions that we retreat to in times of stress, like blankies for infants, things that comfort us and tell us what we need to be told. The dream of being a famous writer can be like that: a dream of infantile power and attention that disguises the more immediate need — for safety, self-love, serenity, peace in our hearts.”

via Should I leave L.A. after one year? | Salon Life.

On Writing (Taking a Really Long Time to Bear Fruit)

Just a quick post to point out a nice long post John Scalzi made re: the dedication/stamina/stubbornness necessarily to write and get published as a novelist. Here’s a choice pull-quote I can relate to:

[Some writers] start writing something that they thought might be a book-length idea, only to find not only did it not qualify as a short story, it was better for everyone involved if the stunted, weird thing was taken behind the tool shed, whacked with a shovel and buried without anyone else knowing it ever existed.

From “Why New Novelists are Kinda Old, or, Hey, Publishing is Slow“.

I Wrote This One, Too

This episode was a bit harder to write, but I’m really proud of how it turned out, especially considering how rushed I was when I wrote it. My only regret is that I wasn’t able to find more places for comedy and/or jokes.

Eddy, Nick and Daniel all say they’re happy with the tone of the episode and love how it turned out, but I knew there would be fans that might complain about it being “too serious”. Oh well. Can’t please ’em all.

Feel free to check it out, although I do recommend catching up on previous episodes first. The Leet World has become almost entirely serial at this point, so if you aren’t caught up on the previous episodes, you’ll be lost in the wilderness watching this one.

So… I Actually Wrote Something!

Yes, it’s true. Jeff James, continually procrastinating writer, has actually produced new work! Specifically, Episode #9 of The Leet World.

To be completely honest, I actually finished the script about a month ago, but I haven’t talked about it for a few reasons. First off, I wanted to wait until the episode was actually released. However, that happened on February 1st, and here it’s two weeks later and I’m just now writing about it. Can’t really explain that part, except that I did kind of want to wait a little while to see what people thought of the results. Most people seem to think I did a good job, so I guess it’s about time I talk about it.

In any case, I’d like to share the episode and talk a little bit about the writing process. If you’re completely new to the show, however, I’d recommend watching one or two of the previous episodes since the first part of my episode resolves a cliffhanger from the first half of the season.

Once you’ve familiarized yourself with the show, go ahead and check out the episode:

The final version you see there is about 85%-90% stuff that I wrote. The Player/hat love story (which is *great*, by the way) is the biggest addition they made, and is a joke I couldn’t even have come up with in the first place since I had no idea there was a freakin’ snow man on the map. There are also a few line tweaks and improvs here and there.

If you’d like to know more about the episode and my writing process, continue reading… Continue reading “So… I Actually Wrote Something!”

A Blast From The Past

So it occurred to me recently that Google Video will let you post videos of pretty much any length. A guy on the Leet World forum posted a 40 minute video, so I thought I’d get in on the act and digitize the footage I have of Knifepoint, which I haven’t watched in years.

I ended up having to re-digitize the video into iMovie, and it took forever to convert the 43 minute video into a format that Google can use, but here it is:

You need to have flashplayer enabled to watch this Google video

This performance is from 2003, and is the final dress rehearsal, so there’s no audience other than the techs, who occasionally walk in front of the camera. The show was directed by Andrew Richey, and stars Barrett Michael, Lauren McCauley, and Liam Boyer. I haven’t talked to most of those people in years…

I think most people I know managed to come see the show when it was performed, but there may be a few of you out there who didn’t get the chance, so it’s nice to have this available in an online format. I think I may do the same thing with some of the other videos I’ve got lying around…

Eggs

EggThis time it was a puzzle piece.

I watched, fascinated, as its edges began to curl in the crackling oil. I saw, perhaps, the leg of a small dog. Or could it be flowers, ready to bloom? Was this where all the lost puzzle pieces of the world ended up?

I imagined some poor soul assembling this puzzle on their dining room table, anticipation building as everything began to come together, and then… one piece missing, never to be found. The unfinished puzzle, boxed back up and returned to the shelf, ready to mock them whenever they needed a bath towel or decided to play a game of Sorry.

At this point, I realized that I was talking to myself, speaking my thoughts… slowly. Like reading a book to a small child. I was clearly weak with hunger.

I reached down, pulled the piece (now soggy with oil) from the skillet, winced as the cardboard scalded my fingers, and popped it in my mouth.

It was hardly as satisfying as I had hoped, but with some persistent chewing and a glass of water, I managed to gulp it down.

I tossed the pieces of broken shell into the sink and grabbed another one from the carton.

Always the optimist.

Untitled Dialogue #1

Last night, as I lay in bed preparing for sleep, a bit of dialogue was running through my head, so I decided that I had better write it down to make sure it didn’t go away. 30 minutes later, I had this scene. Enjoy!

(Two men on a roof, standing by the edge and looking off into the distance. They are making no effort to conceal themselves.)

A: Yesterday some man on the street told me that I was ‘making a mockery’ of what I ‘stand for’. How can I make a mockery of it when I don’t even know what I stand for?

B: For that matter, how could he know what you stood for?

A: Exactly! Besides, I was just standing there.

B: Maybe you got him confused. Maybe he meant that you were making a mockery of what he stood for, id est, what he actually said was ‘You’re making a mockery of what I stand for!’

A: …No, no… that doesn’t sound right. In any case, I wasn’t mocking anything, I was just standing.

B: What if the act of standing was mockery in and of itself? Was he in a wheelchair? I could see how someone in a wheelchair might get sensitive about those sort of things… standing and the like.

A: No, no, he was standing perfectly well…. he was wearing pants, mind you, so he may have had a wooden leg under there, or prosthetics. It’s amazing… the things they can do with prosthetics.

Continue reading “Untitled Dialogue #1”

Mr. Gantry Comes To Visit

So tonight was “Cathedral For a While” party #3. I didn’t perform, but I did put together a second issue of Summer Reading. (If you’re curious, issue #1 is available in .zip form here.)

For some reason I wasn’t satisfied with just formatting everyone else’s stories, and I didn’t want to include something old. So I wrote a new story. In an hour.

I have this feeling that it’s probably terrible, but it is amazing considering I forced myself to produce in a very short time limit. I threw caution to the wind and I just wrote! Perhaps a lesson can be learned?

(Don’t write under deadline?)

In any case:

Mr. Gantry Comes to Visit
by Jeff James

Davis woke suddenly from a very deep sleep. This was less than comfortable. His eyes would not, did not focus, and his thoughts were still dozing, lethargic and lost in the jumble. What had awakened him? Something sharp and metallic. Jabbed right into the soft part of his left foot. There was no sign of it now.
He rose from bed, walked unsteadily across the room to his miniature bathroom. “Walked” was perhaps giving him too much credit – he stumbled, cursed, stumbled again, and stepped on something that irreparably broke.
He splashed water on his face, cold water. As cold as his faucets would allow, which meant somewhere just below lukewarm. It seemed to help, at least a little bit. He could focus his eyes now. He no longer saw his apartment as a colorful field of fuzzy jumbles. The jumbles rearranged themselves into his fairly depressing collection of earthly possessions.
He toweled himself off and heard, faintly, the sound of clinking glass in the kitchen. A voice called out: “Coffee’s ready.”
Davis stepped into the hallway and walked towards his undersized kitchen. A full pot of coffee steamed on the burbling automatic coffeemaker. Just to the right of that on the counter, at about chest level, was a man’s face.
Or, to be more specific, a man’s head.
Where the man’s neck logically should have continued down into his body, there was a small metal platform that sprouted spider-like metallic legs. They clicked softly on the kitchen counter as the head skittered from side to side.
This was Gantry. He said: “I would have poured you a cup, but these things’re worthless for gripping,” and gestured meaningfully with two spider-legs. Continue reading “Mr. Gantry Comes To Visit”

The Orchard

I was in the shower and I began picturing this scene. I don’t know who these people are yet, or where this scene is going, but it’s something new.


(The stage is empty except for a large, alien-looking tree, all twisted trunks and ripe-looking fruit. A slight breeze seems to be passing through and making the leaves gently ripple, or perhaps it is our imagination.

A man – tall, dressed in a sharp, dark business suit and clutching a briefcase in one hand, slowly walks onstage. He peers cautiously around until he is sure the coast is clear, and then he walks directly up to the tree and begins attempting to pick a piece of fruit. He does this without ever loosening his grip on the handle of the briefcase. All of the fruit seems to be too high at first, but he finally manages to get a grip on one and tear it off the branch.

Sometime during all this – we did not notice, it seems – a woman wearing a light, flowery dress and holding a double-barrel rifle walked in from behind the man, who didn’t notice either.

He buffs the fruit on the lapel of his suit jacket, inspects it, and is about to take a bite, when the woman – gun at ready – finally speaks up.)

WOMAN
Don’t. Eat. That.

(At the sound of her voice, the man freezes, mouth open, fruit at the ready. After a few loud, slow milliseconds, he carefully turns around and holds out the piece of fruit to her.)

MAN
Pardon me. (Pause.) Is this your orchard?

WOMAN
Put it down. On the ground. Here in front of me.

MAN
No worries, no worries. No need to get so worked up over a little piece of fruit.

(The man walks slowly over and places the fruit a few feet in front of the woman. She covers him the whole time. After he has backed away, and is an equal distance from the fruit and the tree itself, the woman walks over, gingerly picks up the fruit, and wraps it carefully in a piece of soft paper. She puts the parcel away and then turns back to the man.)

WOMAN
You’re a long way from the office. (Pause.) What’s in the briefcase?

MAN
(Looks at the case, then at her.)
Papers. Business cards. One of those magazines they give you on an airplane. Nothing interesting.

WOMAN
Must be important stuff, though… Couldn’t you put it down to pick some fruit?

MAN
Listen, I’m… sorry I trespassed on your land, ma’am, but I’m a bit lost and I got hungry. If you’ll point me in the direction of the nearest highway, I’d be happy to be on my way.

WOMAN
Highways? (Pause.) Oh, there’s no highways around here, I’m afraid.


Another fragment: “I want you to see things clearly, with sharpened eyes.”

A Sister

I had a sister once. Three years younger than me, with long, skinny arms and legs, and eyes greener than pine needles. I never liked her very much, except when she was quiet, which was hardly ever.

We lived on the beach back then, without neighbors for as far as the eye could see. We owned the whole horizon, and the whitecaps, and all the polished round rocks. My sister and I would play in the sand, making and building and crushing whole worlds that ran through your hands when you tried to pick them up. We used to go just far enough from the house that you could hold up your thumb in front of your eyes and squint at the house and suddenly the beach looked empty as far as you could see, and it wasn’t hard to believe that we were the only people left on the whole planet.

My sister and I never exactly played together. We played in the same spot, but never the same games. I loved to swim and build castles and take great running leaps from the sand to the waves and back again. She would just sit indian-style, combing her doll’s hair and talking to me as though I was listening.

I have tried to remember what she talked about, but it never seemed as important then as it does now. When I try to listen to those memories, everything sounds like waves and angry seagulls.

One day I was running in the waves pretending to be a fighter plane. I looked up and saw her walking towards me, crying and holding her doll. I don’t know why, but I laughed. I laughed, like I thought something was funny, and when I was laughing, I noticed the way the sun made her hair burn and glow, like everything was on fire. It suddenly hurt my eyes to look at her, and I turned away.

When I looked back, she was gone.

Now, like I said, I never liked her very much, but when she disappeared so suddenly my heart stopped and all I could hear was a rushing sound in my head. I ran to where she had been, kicking my way through the water, and cut my foot on a piece of glass hidden in the rocks and sand.

I swore and fell and grabbed my foot. Then I noticed that there was a hole in the ground where she had been, something dark and bottomless. My head was all stuffed full of cotton because of the pain, and I thought that maybe my imagination was playing tricks on me, but the hole started to get smaller and smaller as I watched, until finally it was just a pinprick in the ground, and then nothing.

I felt something inside my head snap like a rubber band, and before I knew it, I had run the distance from the beach to our house in a panting, stumbling flash. As I ran, I left a zig-zag polka dot trail of gleaming red that floated right on top of all the stones. I ran and I bled myself all over the white of the porch and smeared a streak of horror all down the front hallway. I barreled into the kitchen and grabbed my mother and tried to tell her how my sister had fallen into a hole in the ground and disappeared.

She shushed me and then saw the blood on my foot and picked me up. She carried me straight to the bathroom and held my foot under water, and all of a sudden it didn’t seem to hurt so much because she had wrapped it all in gauze and kissed me on the forehead. Then she asked me again what had happened.

I told her one more time, but slowed it down so that she could understand.
All she said was “Honey… you don’t have a sister.”

******

Sometimes, when I am walking, I will see a woman out of the corner of my eye who has hair like my sister’s, and I will stop and turn to stare at her. Every time this happens I want to grab the woman, whoever she is, and hug her until her bones creak. Instead I just stand there, motionless, holding my arms out like I expect something. Most of the time I realize soon enough that these women aren’t my sister, but it gets harder and harder every time. I usually have to turn my head and look at them sideways to really be sure.

I want to meet her, like she is now. Like she would be, if she hadn’t disappeared.
We would have so many things to say to each other – I just know it. Every time I think about meeting her again I run our conversations through my head. I’m sure we could talk for hours, just sit in a coffee shop and tell the stories of our lives.

She would live upstate, and have an older husband with a gray patch of hair on one side of his head, and they would have two boys – twins. Their house would be big but modest, and have the kind of driveway that curves through trees and around bends. She would be an archeologist, digging for dinosaur bones, or for pottery from an ancient culture. She would cry a little bit when she saw me, especially since we had been apart for so long. I would realize how much we had in common, and how funny it was that we hated each other so much when we were young. Distance and time would actually have brought us closer.

I just wish my family felt the same way. I used to try to talk to my mother about what happened and why nobody believed me. For a while she reacted like she thought it was a little funny, but when I kept bringing it up more and more, she started to look like she was talking to me from behind a glass wall that got thicker every time. I had to talk to a therapist eventually, but that never really helped anything.

I got older and we moved away from the beach, and all my memories of that place became like watercolors in my mind, great big strokes of blue sky and sand. But I never forgot her. I remembered her even if nobody else did. I could still remember the way the wind coming over the sea made her dress twist and billow, and the way she disappeared without even making a sound.

And then, one night, I had a dream and my sister was in it. This wasn’t like most of the dreams I can remember; I knew I was dreaming, but at the same time things smelled and tasted and felt more real than being awake.

She was the same age she had always been. Her face was frozen in time like the one painted on her doll. She just stood there, playing with the folds in her dress. A few moments passed in complete silence and then she sighed and held out her hand.

“Come on. Let me show you where I’ve been.”

******

When I woke up, I tried to hold onto the details of my dream, because It seemed like there was nothing more important that I could ever do, nothing that mattered so much, but the longer I sat the more it felt like I had never even dreamed anything after she took my hand, it was all I could do to keep from knocking the back of my own head in, and I felt the memory skipping away, rushing off somewhere else like blood in my veins, so I went downtown.

I went downtown, and I counted the faces of every woman I saw with hair like strawberries and wheat. It was all I could do. I had to get to know as much about them as I could before the light bouncing off the midday concrete burned so bright that I could no longer see anything else.

National Novel Writing Month

so neil gaiman’s website posted info about this contest that i think is absolutely hilarious. it’s called national novel writing month. the object is to write a 50,000 word novel in the month of november. the only way to win is with 50,000 words. you win a nice pat on the back and the knowledge you wrote a novel. the idea of the contest is to write something, anything, as long as it goes for 50,000 words. if i think about it, that’s not that much. i’ve written plenty of 2000 word papers in my day. i’ve written a 70-page play. i could do this. not that i have an idea for a novel…. but it doesn’t have to be good. it just is. anyways, i entered. i may be posting a novel on my website, but we’ll see how that goes. the link is here.

Making Sweeten the Punch Work

I think I know what I need to do to make Sweeten the Punch work. (for those of you who may not know, Sweeten the Punch is the full-length play I wrote last semester.) Basically, I’ve already decided that the revamped storyline will have something to do with Marcy’s father being a radio producer who creates an old-timey serial called the American Vacation, which is the 1950s family in the old script. Somehow, Marcy and her family will have some sort of adventure, and find ways to be close to each other, although not everything will be peachy. Somehow, over the course of the play it will be revealed that the whole thing is a fabrication and that the truth is that marcy’s father committed suicide, and that she realized at his funeral that she never knew him. the whole play is an attempt on her part to get to know her father. it fails because she imagines his life as it would be if he had been happy and had lived.

this came to me recently and I needed to write it down so I wouldn’t forget it. unfortunately, it’s looking like I’ll have to chuck most of the original script. fun.