Heart-warming stories?… …(…) … Er …

Not long ago, I discovered how much I enjoy presenting my work to an audience (thank you, Out Loud Santa Barbara!) and I’ve been looking for other ways to do that. So I was jazzed to hear about a call for submissions for a couple story-telling events. Except.

Heart-warming. They want heart-warming personal stories.

I did much wracking of ye olde brain to come up with some. Any. Still trying. Heart-warming isn’t a tag in my memory filing system. I’ve missed one submission deadline; maybe I can conjure some heart-warming in time for the 2nd.

Meanwhile, I happened upon the last notice for a contest that would close in hours. Write a 500 word story using a theme of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Why, I had just been ogling the fantastic woodcuts by Lynd Ward in my own hardcover edition… I’d never entered a writing contest before but this sounded like fun.

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A story made a quick ascent from the depths and I got it written and submitted with an hour to spare. I don’t know details of the contest (when they decide winners, are there prizes, blah blah); for me the event made a terrific writing prompt and now it is over. (Lately I’ve been trying to separate my writing from outcomes.)

Below is the story I came up with.

Heart-warming… heart-warming … … … hmm …

The Open Gates

Dear reader,

You are in danger! Unimaginable danger. Run. Hide. Now!

I don’t believe in God or luck, yet here I pray to both: let someone survive to find this warning. If one survives, then others might and perhaps those few can keep it alive. It. Us. The human race.

Stop reading this until you’re safe. Get away from other people. Look no one in the eye. Let no one get close. They need to be close to take you over.

The first irony. The only hope of saving what’s left of the human race is to isolate every survivor.

Here’s another. I did what I did for the good of humanity.

My ambition was always to make a lasting contribution. I would dedicate my extraordinary intellect to do science so important that my name would live forever. My focus was the human mind, a stimulating challenge. Despite centuries of scrutiny, understanding of consciousness remains elusive.

I happened upon an obscure study. In it, the author detailed a modestly clever experiment to locate consciousness. What was remarkable was that one subject died during the experiment and the researcher tracked consciousness — after death.

An absurd claim, yet something in it spoke truth to me. I couldn’t believe it but I couldn’t let it go. Eventually, I tracked down the author, retired from a third-rate academic career. I still cannot confirm whether he was collaborator as well as victim.

I was not trained to respect instinct, so I dismissed the uneasiness that swept me when he answered his door. I now know that feeling well. It is the first sign that a gate is open nearby.

Within each of us is a gate to a beyond. I have not determined whether that place is our afterlife, but it is a wild treacherous place we cannot enter or survive. We can only live with our gates locked tight.

His gate was ajar.

Horrible things wait on the other side. They wait to cross over and take us. They are — evil. I have never used that word except to describe them.

Get too close to an open gate and your gate opens, too. Another thing comes over, another human is lost.

The author had long been a recluse, struggling to lock his gate again. His efforts to warn me away used too much energy and attention. They took him while I observed. His eyes went blank, swiveled, discovered me with a flash of hungry curiosity.

They’re slow when they first come through. I ran away that day.

I’ve studied them ever since. I’ve slept too little and learned so much. But not enough. Their spread has accelerated. Suddenly they’re everywhere.

Some of us seem to be immune to them. Perhaps we can hide, repopulate, come back against them.

If only I had sounded an earlier alarm. Perhaps someone would have believed. I thought I could solve this problem without destroying my work, my reputation. Instead, I kept their secret.

Forgive me.

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“Looking Kinda Spooky and Withdrawn”

Daily Prompt Instructions: Take the third line of the last song you heard, make it your post title, and write for a maximum of 15 minutes. GO!

I don’t know him but I’m worried about him. Crowded room buzzing with hubbub and attitude, he’s in that far corner, slouched tilted because his chair has a broken leg. He could have moved – there are empty chairs on either side of him – but there he tilts.

I don’t have kids. Watching him tweaks a maternal streak I didn’t know I possessed.  His hair looks like it was wet when he went to sleep with a hat on. It frames an eternally baby face, with a nose that’s been broken more than once. His eyes are decades older than his face, and when there’s a motion into his corner, they dart like the eyes of an animal who’s lived all its life in a cage.

Some girl talks to him and waits for an answer. He stares at the air between them like her words are written there. He shakes his head in reply, about two seconds after the girl turns away with a huff of a shrug.

Maybe he’s high, but that explanation’s too simple. He’s checking out, he’s had enough, he’s done. I  won’t see him again anyway but I fear no one will ever see him again, come tomorrow.

The song lyric of the title is from “No Name #1” by Elliott Smith. Click here to watch a cover version to which I am addicted.

The Daily Prompt: The Normal – Pack Response

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Do wolves get bored? Read on to find out.

I’m not much interested in normal. To me, normal is

  • average
  • typical
  • commonplace
  • predictable
  • unimaginative.

However, normal is also

  • fitting in.

On dark days, I feel like everybody else knows the rules but nobody thought to let me know. Even then, though, I don’t want to go normal, I just want to be better informed.

This reminds me of one of my favorite pieces of writing – ever! – composed by my sister in 2nd grade:

One day the wolf was strolling along with the pack
I am not satisfied he said will I have to run around with this pack all my life
So he left he came to a forest he got to a desert
He lay down in the middle he was dying of thirst
Oh he thought if only I had stayed

(This post topic comes from The Daily Prompt.)

The Lost(?) Art of Editing

I write this at risk of proving myself  to be a total creaking dinosaur.

Those of you who read or produce serial fiction, impromptu flash fiction, NaNoWriMo, book series that publish at the rate of a novel every month or two — and any other writing that  publishes right after inception. Please help me understand its appeal.

As a writer, I see much value to it. Writing quickly helps with flow, tapping the subconscious, and discipline. But — why publish without much or any editing? Doesn’t a pause to edit always improve the piece? (By editing I mean more than proof-reading and tinkering. I mean the act of making changes, some of them wholesale and sweeping.)

As a reader, I don’t want to read an early draft and I only want unplanned ideas when they come from inspiration, not haste.  I like writing that feels crafted. What am I missing?

Hmm. I don’t mind reading a first draft blog post and for that matter I rarely do more than proofread my own posts.  Maybe I’ve just got fiction on a pedestal when nobody else still does. Is that it?

Weekly Writing Challenge: 1,000 Words, 10,000 Thoughts

The assignment: write 1k words about this photo.

The assignment: write 1k words about this photo.

HER: “Did you set the timer?” Did she see me? I don’t think she saw me.

HIM: “Ten more seconds.” Gwen is so withdrawn tonight.

HER: “Oh now I hear it ticking. I couldn’t before.” I think she recognized me.

HIM: “How’s the glaze coming?” Is Gwen angry with me?

HER: “Almost there.” She kept staring at me like she was trying to place me.

HIM: “I couldn’t find the cinnamon.” I should have let Gwen finish the custard. I know how much she loves using the torch.

HER: “This place gets so disorganized on our days off!” I should never have let the blonde grow back, she wouldn’t recognize me brunette.

HIM: “Tell me about it.” It’s not just tonight, let’s face it.

HER: “I prefer the nutmeg anyway.” But my God it was five years ago.

HIM: “Let’s hope they do too.” She’s been distant lately.

HER: “They won’t know.” It was a thousand miles from here.

HIM: “I haven’t seen them in here before, have you?” Or maybe she hasn’t been.

HER: “No. No I haven’t.” I thought I was safe.

HIM: “I think the guy at table 5 writes reviews.” Ever since I bought the ring I’ve been second guessing her.

HER: “Really? Reviews where?” Of all the French joints in all the towns in all the world Gary’s sister had to get dinner in this one.

HIM: “‘Chez Le Monde’.” Second guessing us.

HER: “Wow. ‘The mousse of the century’? That review?” Maybe she’s not in touch with Gary nowadays either.

HIM: “I think it might be the same guy.” I’m afraid she’ll turn me down.

HER: “In that case let’s use  fresh fish for a change.” After all, I wasn’t the only one he hurt.

HIM: “Always thinking.” There I’ve said it.

HER: “What did he order besides the trout?” She hates Gary.

HIM: “The tomato aspic, the cold potato leek, and both kinds of mousse.” Stop examining everything fool.

HER: “If he’s not sampling for a review, that is a scary combination.” But she hates me more.

HIM: “Oops. Can you grab me the parsley?” I need to lighten up.

HER: “What am I, your sous chef?” I know her. Even if she doesn’t tell Gary, she’ll ruin things for me here.

HIM: “I’ll be yours if you’ll be mine.” Nothing looks normal under a magnifying glass.

HER: “Deal.” Robert is such a good man.

HIM: “You about ready with the glaze?” I love her so much it’s terrifying.

HER: “Yeah here it is.” Maybe he would forgive me.

HIM: “Mmm. You’ve outdone yourself.” Maybe I should cancel our trip tomorrow.

HER: “I like the mint from the Thursday market.” For years of lies?

HIM: “Are you shaking?”That’s the beauty of a surprise hotel stay. She won’t know to be disappointed.

HER: “Cramp from stirring.” And what happens when he hears the truth?

HIM: “That’s dedication.” After three years together, what’s another few days?

HER: “Or a slippery spoon.” Could he forgive me that too?

HIM: “Trout smells ready.” Or even months.

HER: “I’ve got the butter going.” I’ll bet he could.

HIM: “I like the quality of the new lights. How about you?” Robert you’re a chickenshit.

HER: “Me too.” If anyone could.

HIM: “Forgot to warm the platter.” I could wait forever to ask if her answer is no.

HER: “I remembered.” But what if he can’t?

HIM: “You always remember.” Maybe she isn’t your woman of mystery.

HER: “I do. It’s true.” I can’t take the risk of losing him.

HIM: “I’d like to reinstate the brioche for Sunday brunch.” Maybe that holding back you always feel isn’t because she has secrets.

HER: “This early?” Maybe I’m overreacting.

HIM: “You’re right, last year we waited until July.” Maybe she’s holding back from me.

HER: “I need a new egg. This one is too light.” Maybe it’s not her.

HIM: “Hurry, please.” I can’t wait forever. I’ll drive myself insane in the meantime.

HER: “Hurrying. Without running in the kitchen, of course.” I think I can see her if I look out the window.

HIM: “Of course.” I’ll ask her tomorrow as planned.

HER: “Aaagh.” It’s her. Oh no Oh no what am I going to do?

HIM: “You okay?” Then we’ll know.

HER: “Lot of leg cramps lately.” I can’t go out there again.

HIM: “Should I worry?” She won’t even look me in the eye.

HER: “Only if you need to.” I need the right excuse to stay back here.

HIM: “That egg a keeper?” She is so beautiful.

HER: “Best egg of the week.” I can’t say I’m sick – I just prepared all their food.

HIM: “Okay. Showtime.” She’s a better chef than I am too.

HER: “Wait. Coconut shavings.” I’ll have to cut myself.

HIM: “How could I forget that.” It’s amazing how humble she is.

HER: “Table 5 has given you nerves.” Not bad enough to need an ambulance.

HIM: “Tonight he gets the mousse of the millenium.” When she says she doesn’t deserve me she sounds like she believes it.

HER: “That has a ring to it.” Just bad enough we don’t want the customers to see me.

HIM: “We’ll each deliver a mousse to him. He’ll love it.” You see there is every reason to expect she’ll say yes.

HER: “Here, let’s send some samples to the foursome.” Oh Robert someday I’ll tell you.

HIM: “Brilliant marketing.” I’ll ask her tomorrow.

HER: “You never know who’s at your table.” Please forgive me until then.

HIM: “Gwen! My God, you cut yourself!

HER: “It’s nothing. Throw me that towel, will you?

HIM: “That’s a lot of blood!”

HER: “Stopped now. But it’s all over me. You’d better deliver the mousse without me.” 

957 words. This piece exists because of this Weekly Writing Challenge.