Archive | November, 2011

The Long Road to Home

27 Nov

The following short is for the monthly prompt on StoryDam, “Show Us Your World.” The assignment was to build a setting for a larger story. I chose to submit an except from a WIP that I have been struggling with. Scene setting as a whole is something that I continually struggle with, so this particular scene has been a challenge for me.

We all have that one place–whether it be a room, or a city, or a stretch of grass in a park somewhere–that we are drawn to for some unknown reason, a place that feels like “home.” Often, the connection seems illogical, but it is undeniable. That is what this location is for my character. Feedback would be wonderful. Thank you for reading!

 

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As they drove out of town and down the gravel roads that sliced through the flats and hills of the Nebraska countryside, Brayden kept up a steady stream of chatter from the backseat, telling Jimmy even the smallest details of his day. His voice and the gravel dust were doing for Jimmy what the beer he’d had at Captain Jack’s couldn’t. With every word the boy said, and every mile that passed, the tension in his body eased and the fear in his mind silenced.

Allman Falls was a small town of less than three thousand people, not much more than a mile wide in any direction. But some days, especially days like today, it was too much for Jimmy—too many people, too much gossip, too many questions, too many memories. The tree-lined streets that he appreciated on a normal day turned into tunnels, pressing in on him from every direction. His vision blurred. His chest tightened. The muscles in his shoulders and neck tensed, knotting tighter and tighter, constricting him in on himself, suffocating him until he felt like ripping away the buildings, and the cars, and the people, the noise and the confusion, with his bare hands. Once he was out of the city limits, with nothing but open air and Mother Nature’s clutter between him and the horizon, he could breathe again.

He had lived in Allman Falls for his entire life, yet he still had a hard time remembering which street the florist or the dry cleaners were on. He didn’t pay enough attention to lock those details into his memory. But the countryside was a different story. He knew every tree, every thicket of wild plum, every patch of switch grass, every creek, every lake—hell, every puddle of water with the possibility of a fish swimming in it—for a hundred miles in any direction. He knew every inch of gravel road that led out of Allman Falls better than the back of his own hand—especially the one that led to Chelsea Lake, the eighty acre, private ground and residence of his good friend and business partner, Dan Handley.

That day, instead of pulling into the driveway, he passed the house and drove the gravel around to the backside of the section, where the creek fed into the lake. Fishing with Brayden would be easier on the dock-side of the lake, but he didn’t want to be seen from the house. If Stacy caught sight of him out there, she would force him inside for one of her never-ending, seven-course suppers. He wasn’t in the mood to socialize, and she didn’t know how to take no for an answer.

As he was approaching the access gate that led to the lake, something in the opposite ditch caught his eye, causing him to slam on his brakes and fishtail to a dead stop in the middle of the road.

“Whoa!” Brayden called out from the backseat, his chatter stopped mid-stream.

“Sorry about that, buddy,” Jimmy said as he whipped around in his seat and looked back over his shoulder at the ditch. The sun danced off a flash of metal buried in the overgrown weeds and tangle of windblown grasses.

“We go boom?” Brayden asked.

“No, we don’t go boom. We’re ok,” Jimmy assured him as he reversed back down the gravel, keeping his eye to the ditch as he did. Barely visible, a rusted, green and white ‘Ross Realty and Auction’ sign peeked through the grass. But that was impossible. The Malek house was one of those properties that would never go on the market. He wanted it too bad for it to ever be a possibility that it could be his.

“Why we stop?” Brayden asked.

“I don’t know yet.” Jimmy turned the wheel and slowly pulled into the narrow, washed-out driveway. Feral cats skittered out from the underbrush as the truck tires bumped over deep ruts and crushed long-fallen, decayed tree branches. Twenty yards in, he came to a stop.

“Why we here?” Brayden asked as he strained against the straps of his booster seat to get a better look out the window.

“I don’t know yet…”

Jimmy threw the truck into park and leaned into the steering wheel, taking a good look around through the windshield as his mind reeled in disbelief. The longer he sat there, though, the more it felt right that he was there.

“I’m going to go look at something,” he said to Brayden as he unhooked his seatbelt and opened the door.

“I come, too?”

“No, you wait here. Ok?”

“Oh tay.” Jimmy could tell he was disappointed, but he didn’t argue.

Jimmy left the engine on, the air conditioner running, and the door open so he could listen for Brayden as walked around the property. If he had to guess, he’d say the land was twenty acres, but it was so thick with mulberry and Siberian elm trees it was hard to see the boundaries of the farmland that surrounded it. Rusting cars and farm implements littered the woods, decades of discarded trash filling the low lands. Eastern red cedars of varying sizes sprouted in odd places throughout the tangled landscaping, planted haphazardly by the birds, the seeds allowed to sprout and grow wherever they landed for at least the past decade.

An abandoned, five-bedroom, Queen Anne Victorian with a steeply-peaked roof and intricate trim that had seen better days sat solid and prominent in the center of the property. At one time, a curved, wraparound porch had hugged the south and west-facing sides of the house, but it had collapsed in on itself, detached from the main structure in a rotting mess along the foundation. Massive cottonwoods, spruce, and silver maples ringed the house, planted by man to provide shade and protection, but through years of free-will they had engulfed the structure, consuming it with their heavy branches.

He had dreamed of living in the Malek house for over twenty years, since he was a little boy. His father had brought him along when he had gone out to do an estimate on porch repairs for Old Lady Malek. Her lazy eye and raspy voice had scared the crap out of Jimmy, as did the rotten porch that swayed in the wind and cracked under his feet, but the house itself didn’t scare him at all.

To his six-year-old mind, it had been pure magic.

James had given Jimmy strict instructions to stay beside the truck, but the more Jimmy had stared at the house, the more it had called to him. As he stood in the driveway staring slack-jawed in awe at the beautifully-massive house, the yellowed, lace curtains in the attic windows had shifted in the breeze, beckoning him to step inside. Keeping one eye on his father, he had feigned interest in the rocks in the gravel drive, cautiously inching his way closer and closer to the house. The second James started haggling price with the old woman Jimmy had made a break for it, diving through a gap in the honeysuckle hedge into the backyard.

The heavy, wooden door on the backside of the house had creaked on its hinges as he pushed his way into the thick, stagnant air of the ancient Victorian. Jimmy was never one to consider consequences, but two steps in he thought better about what he was doing. The fear of retribution for disobeying his father, combined with the pungent, ammonia fog of cat urine, loosened his bowels so fast he about lost his Happy Meal lunch right there on the landing. He clutched his stomach and turned to run, but as he did, his foot had stepped on a loose board. The weary moan the house had let out sounded like a whisper of welcome relief, spoken just for him. He plugged his nose to the worst of the stench, and forgot everything except exploring every inch of mystery that old house promised.

In every room, the leaded glass windows had been papered over and draped in thick fabrics, darkening every corner of the house in deep, bottomless shadows. Occasionally, a ray of sunlight broke through a tear or a seam. Wherever it did, the sun illuminated the heavy dust hanging in the stagnant air, the random bands of light seeming to shimmer like diamonds. In the dining room, a single ray had played through the crystal teardrops on the chandelier, casting broken rainbows of color on the opposite wall.

There were secret doors between the bedrooms, alcoves in the attic, a dumbwaiter in the kitchen, and two sets of staircases. The one in the back of the kitchen was steep and narrow, lit by a bare bulb high in the ceiling, but the one off the entryway was curving and grand, with a rail made for sliding down. He hadn’t hesitated before trying it out. It was so much fun he ran back up the stairs and did it again.

When the crazy lady caught him snooping around, she had dragged him outside by his ear, and shoved him off the porch into the yard where his father steamed in fury waiting for him. James’s face had turned a terrifying shade of purple-crimson as words flew out of his mouth in sharp bursts of curses, all of them words Jimmy had heard James say a million times, just never directed at him. Even so, Jimmy’s elation over what he had discovered overpowered his primal fear of the punishment he knew he would get when they returned home. As they flew down the gravel back to town, Jimmy had begged his dad to ask the crazy lady if they could live in the house, but James had only glared stone-faced at Jimmy through the rearview mirror.

For the rest of the day, and the months that had followed, Jimmy couldn’t get the smell of cat piss out of his nose or the image of the house out of his mind. He drew it repeatedly in his sketchbook, again and again, until he had even the smallest detail down to perfection. Once he did, he had filled the rest of the book with sketches of its restoration. His mother had held onto that sketchbook for a long time before eventually tossing it away, the fate of all saved childhood mementos that lost significance over time, but he didn’t need it. He had that house memorized.

“Jimm-eee!” Brayden called out in sing-song boredom from the truck, snapping Jimmy back into the present. “When we go fishin’?”

Jimmy returned to the truck and climbed inside. “Right now, Bray.”

He took one last look at the house through the windshield, mentally calculating time and cost as he threw the truck into reverse. It would be un-godly expensive, and it would rape him of every free minute he had for at least a year, but it was definitely doable.

The only question remaining was whether or not he still wanted it.

Hold the Pickles

18 Nov
This week on Story Dam we were asked to “Show Me Your War Face,” and write a descriptive sequence in which a character is faced with something that requires a distinct level of determination. When I read this prompt, a vision immediately filled my mind. I love when that happens, but the best part about the vision was it starred two of my favorite characters from “Millie’s Rose,” Dan and Stacy. Thank you Story Dam for giving me the opportunity to spend some time playing with old friends.
*   *   *
Hold the Pickles
A series of low curses and a guttural growl rolled from the kitchen, interrupting Stacy’s peace and quiet in the living room.
She stuck her finger into her book to mark her place as she called out, “Dan?”
The only reply was a rapid succession of knocks, followed by a long, hissing, “Sssshh—
It took almost a full thirty seconds before Dan finished the word, “—it!” He huffed and puffed and followed it up with, “Come on, you frickin’ son of a  biii—cch!
Curiosity got the better of her, and she set the book down.
“Are you ok in there?”she called out as she headed toward the kitchen.
“Yeah, yeah, I’m fine,”Dan grunted, but when she got to the kitchen she had her doubts. Hunched over with his back to the door, he was growling again, his neck and the tops of his ears beet red, every muscle in his body practically vibrating in rigid tension as he curled in tighter. “Hurrrgh!”
“What in the world are you doing, kochanie?” Stacy asked as she leaned against the kitchen counter to watch him.
“What does it look like I’m doing?” Dan barked out, then huffed and puffed and hurrrgh’ed some more.
“Ahh…. I don’t think you wanna know what it looks like.” Stacy smiled. “But you sound like a moose in heat.”
Dan straightened up and turned to face her. A bead of sweat tracked from his forehead to his cheek, his chest rising and falling in heavy rhythm as he panted out, “I’m trying to open this damn pickle jar!”
“Well, you look like you’re about to have a coronary. Maybe you better sit down.”
“I don’t need to sit down,” Dan grumbled.
He lifted the jar up to chest-height and held it tight in one hand as he wrapped his other around the cap in a death-grip. With his elbows at ten and four, and his face taking on a shade of crimson that was actually quite pretty, Dan struggled to crack open the seal. The muscles in his neck bulged, the vein in his temple throbbed, his eyes bugged out a little, but the cap wouldn’t budge.
Stacy reached over and stole a slice of turkey off his open sandwich. “You want me to get that for you?”
“No!” Dan spit out on his last bit of air. He sucked in one deep, cleansing breath and let it out, and then, as if he were about to dive into the deep end of a swimming pool, he pulled in a lungful and held it in as he strained against the lid again. His face went from crimson to purple, but that was about all that happened. The jar didn’t open.
“Seriously, Dan, give me the pickles.”
Stacy held out her hand, but Dan shook his head. His cheeks puffed out and perspiration coated his upper lip. The knuckles on both hands turned to white. Little puffs of air escaped his clamped jaw and pursed lips in sharp bursts, alternating in pitch from squealing-balloon to deflating-whoopee cushion, and back again.
“Be careful you don’t poop your pants,” Stacy warned with a smile.
The expired air escaped from his lungs in a whoosh as his arms went limp and fell to his sides. “Shut…up,” he panted.
“Gimme that.” Stacy snagged the pickle jar from his cramped-up hand, set it on the counter, tapped the lid three times with the edge of his mayonnaise-covered knife, twisted the lid off,and held out the opened jar.
His eyes narrowed. “I hate you.”
“I love you, too, kochanie.”

Operation: Cookie Snatch

11 Nov
The following is a short fiction piece for Story Dam’s writing prompt “Through the Eyes of a Child.” We were tasked with changing our perspective, and asked to write a piece about a location, not as we would see it, but as a child would. Since my imagination filtered and distorted my entire world when I was child, that’s the route I took with this piece. Thank you for reading. I hope you enjoy it!
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Charlie peeked around the end of the burned-out building andlistened hard, but all he heard was Private Sam’s heavy breathing. 

“Shh,” he whispered. 

Sam immediately clamped his jaws and sat, his head cocked, eagerlyawaiting Charlie’s next command. Charlie dared another look. Shayla, the enemycommander, a.k.a “The Babysitter,” was talking on the two-way, her evil laughcarrying across the battlefield, but she was as of yet out of view. 

“Ok…let’s go.” 

With Sam close on his heels, Charlie ran as fast as he couldacross the frozen lake, sliding to a stop against the eastwall of the armory. He placed his hands on the granite ledge of the gateway and jumped,attempting to pull his body up and over in one swift move. His arms buckledunder the weight of his body, dropping him back to his feet, but not before hehad scoped out the location of the treasure!

Charlie fell to his knees and hooked his arm around Sam,pulling the private in close. Sam’s moist breath warmed Charlie’s cheek as hewhispered, “I have visual.”

Sam lifted his head and let out a faint whine, his body shiveringin anticipation of “Mission Complete.”

Knowing he couldn’t clear the tall ledge in one leap, Charlieinspected the face of the building, searching out toeholds. When Sam sniffedout brass hooks imbedded in the wall, Charlie nodded. “Good boy.”

Cautious of enemy sighting, Charlie rose to his feet,pressed his palms on the cool granite surface of the ledge, and inserted histoes into the brass ring. With an assisted boost from Sam’s nose, Charlie muscledhis way onto the ledge. His feet dangled as the weight of his body rested onhis chest, and he stretched, straining to reach into the far, dark corner ofthe armory. 

“Can’t… quite… reach…” Charlie grunted as he wiggled in attemptto scoot forward.

Sam whined in encouragement and pranced in anxious circles.Charlie wriggled and writhed, grunting as his muscles stretched to in-humanlengths, but the treasure remained beyond his grasp. Just as he was about to abortthe mission and return to headquarters to regroup and strategize, his fingersgained purchase. 

“I got it!” Charlie whispered in victory.

Sam barked out a cheer, shattering the silence, andshattering Charlie’s concentration. His body twisted as his foot slipped. Frantically,he grasped at air, desperate to regain his hold. As he fell from the deathlyheights of the granite ledge, his uniform hooked onto a booby-trap, suspendinghim mid-air—Upside-down!

“Mommy!” Charliecried out in reflex as his treasure plummeted to the frozen lake below, shatteringon impact. And then, horror upon horror, he started to cry for real. 

The armory and frozen lake dissolved, transforming back into anupside-down, sun-drenched kitchen. Charlie flailed in panic, crying harder asblood rushed to his head and his fingertips brushed uselessly across the blue linoleumfloor. 

“Sam! Help,” Charlie pleaded as he struggled to free himselffrom capture.

With loyalty forgotten and heavy footsteps fast approaching,the dog greedily gobbled up the broken peanut butter cookies, then ran forcover.

“Traitor!” 

“Charlie! What are you—”

The words died on Shayla’s lips as she rounded the counterand laid eyes upon Charlie dangling from the handle of the silverware drawer byhis belt loop. 

“Oh. My. God! Keira, you have GOT to see this!” Shaylalaughed into her cell phone. “I’m sending a picture now.”

As The Babysitter cackled and her camera phone flashed,Charlie thrashed helplessly and plotted his revenge. The battle may be lost,but the war rages on…

Through the Eyes of a Child

11 Nov

When I was a little girl, I was obsessed with “The LittleHouse on the Prairie.” I had the box set of books, and I read them cover tocover, over and over again. I wanted to wear my hair in braids and make maplecandy in the snow. I wanted to dance to Pa playing his fiddle and ride in awagon, live in a house built of earth and fall in love with Almanzo. I wantedto see what she saw and live like she lived. I want to be Laura Ingalls Wilder, but I couldn’t. So, I did the next bestthing. I re-created her world in my imagination, and I lived there. 
My bedroom was my sod house, my living room the prairie. I“churned butter” with a broom in a bucket, and made friends with the Indian wholived in the laundry room “teepee.” Hours, days, weeks of my life were lostplaying “On Plum Creek.” It was solitary play. No one else could see what Isaw. Where I saw lazy streams and waterfalls, fields of buttercups, giant oaksand lurking wolves, General Stores and pot-belly stoves, my sister saw the sofaor the curtains or the hall closet. It wasn’t lack of imagination that kept herfrom seeing my world the way that I saw it. It was simply because she wasn’t“me.”
Trying to describe the world through a child’s eyes isnearly impossible. Sure, you can crawl on the floor and look up instead of downand try to empathize with their plight to do even the simplest things, likeopening the silverware drawer. But are you really, truly “seeing” a child’sworld simply by crawling around on all fours? I highly doubt it. Not unless yourshort-stature is a magic porthole back into the innocence of youth wherefairies do exist and the staircase to the basement is not a staircase at all buta school bus full of Cabbage Patch dolls, a trouble-making Popple, and a gruffand grumbling Pooh Bear bus driver who’s just trying to make a living.
Children live in a suspended state of elated wonder, wherethe simplest things bring the greatest joys. They live in a world where it’s hardto sit still and damn near impossible to walk when it’s so much better to berunning, or skipping, or gallopingfrom one adventure to the next. Children live where brown crayons look so muchlike Tootsie-Rolls it would be foolish not to bite into one and taste it—so theydo. Children lack impulse control. They have no sense of time. They hit andpinch and bite when they’re angry, and cry so hard they fall asleep. They canbe incredibly selfish, yet they love unconditionally. They forgive in aninstant. They giggle over puppies and peek-a-boo, and spin until they’re dizzy.They sing when they poop and have never heard of revenge… Quite simply, theyare who we wish we could still be.
As an author, the child’s mind intimidates me. I have noproblem writing a child in third person, where you rely on observation andinterpretation. But when challenged by Story Dam with the prompt of writingfrom the child’s point of view, of delving into that intricate, rainbow-coloredmind, I froze. Literally. My blood ran cold and I got the shakes, and my mindscreamed, “Noooooo!” I was abasket-case.
I’ve written child POV before, and to be honest, it was someof my worst writing ever. The dialogue was cheesy, the thought processes tooanalytical. My adult mind infused itself into the character, ruining the effectI was going for. I’ve shied away from doing it again. I envy the authors whowrite children’s books. They do an exceptional job capturing that “wow!”feeling of being a child. I don’t. So I haven’t done it again.
But, if you don’t stretch, you don’t grow, so instead ofskipping this round, I figured I’d give it another shot. The next post on thisblog is my attempt at the child’s mind. Hopefully, it’s not too painful to readall the way through. As you read, if your brain starts to ache, just remindyourself that I was capped at 600 words, so at least it’s a short pain! 😉

Aye yai yai…

4 Nov
Well, I did it again. 
It was 9:04 in the morning, and my tummy was rumbling, so I wandered into the kitchen to grab a bowl of cereal. There were four boxes in the pantry to choose from, but, as usual, my kids had left nothing but crumbs in the bottom of each of them. I wasn’t in the mood for a bowl of RiceKrispiesLuckyCharmsCaptainCrunchWheaties,so I turned to the fridge to look for some eggs. Not only did I find some, but,wonder upon wonder, they were still in date. Yes!I threw a pan on the stove, added a pat of butter, cranked the stove on to medium,and headed back to the computer to edit a paragraph or two of a WIP while the pan warmed and the butter melted.
Seven pages and twenty-two minutes later, I wondered to myself, “What’s that smell?” 
Long story short, it’s 43 degrees outside and I have every window in my house open, trying to clear out the hazy fog of Oh, crap! I forgot!
With my hair reeking of scorched butter, and my tummy still rumbling, I decided to type this list of things I tend to overlook when I get into a writing groove. My thought behind this is, “If you recite it, you will remember it.”At least I think that was the theory behind my first-grade punishment of writing twenty times, “I will not flick Andy’s hair with my pencil.” For the record, I don’t see what the big deal was anyway. It’s not like I hit him.
But I digress. Onto the list…
1.  I have two children. They need food, water, hugs, kisses, showers, clean clothes, and help  with their homework. They also need fresh air, sunshine, birthday and Christmas presents, and to see something besides the back of their mother’s head as her fingers dance across the keyboard. Introduce my children to the wonders of the real-life world! 
2.  I also have a husband. He also needs all of the above, except help with his homework. Additionally,he would appreciate more intense conversation than the occasional, distracted, grunt of “Uh-huh.”  Love and appreciate my man! 
3.  Pajamas are not appropriate attire at two-o’clock in the afternoon—no matter how cold it is outside. Get dressed! 
4.  God made soap fora reason. Use it at least once a day. Take a shower!
5.  God also invented vacuum cleaners and lemon-scented Pledge. Clean the house!
6.  While God may also have invented smoke detectors, His intention behind them was not so one could abandon the fried chicken in the pan to write another chapter. Don’t burn the house down while cooking!
The list is grossly-incomplete, but it’s a start. Once I get these things down pat, I’ll work on other forgotten parts of my life—like grocery shopping and hanging out with friends…if I have any left…wait a minute…do I? Uh…
Oh, dear!