Ode to the Lonely Flip-Flop

Ode to the Lonely Flip-Flop

20170113_123932We drive under a telephone line that is completely booked by a row of fat pigeons all squinting in unison in the direction of the orange sherbert glow of morning sun.  “Look,” I say out loud in spite of what the rest of the passengers in the vehicle think. “Dawn Patrol.” From what I gather, these greasy little sky-rats  are here every morning, holding a meeting on the same wire.They remind me of their slacker seagull cousins who squat together on the beach, and all face the same direction waiting for that perfect wind, like surfers who wait for that perfect wave. These guys remind me of a story that I started a few years ago. It’s nowhere near finished, but I need to get back to it soon.

My son in the back seat watches the world float by his window while quietly grazing on dry breakfast cereal. We are on our way to pick up his cousin and drop him off at daycare. En route, we notice a child’s flip-flop in the middle of the road. Actually, it would be more accurate to say we noticed the child’s flip-flop because it’s been there for two days. It doesn’t look abused or broken in any way, just abandoned. Forgotten.

I could smell the slightest whiff of a poem about an abandoned shoe as an allegory about society in general gently rolling in like that perfect breeze meant for seagulls. The beginning of a random metaphor started to form in my head that I planned to use at a later date, when I hear, “I wonder why you only ever see one shoe in the road,” my son’s mother said. “It’s never a pair of shoes, it’s only one. I wonder why that is?”

I can feel the Train of Thought pull away from the station. I had to seriously contemplate when was the last time I saw a pair of shoes abandoned and discarded in a place they weren’t supposed to be. I have never seen a pair of Keds on the ground as if they were some victim of some heinous violation cast aside and left to rot in the gutter. I thought about it longer than I would have liked to. It kind of bothered me, truth be told. Because, not only was it another unknown that might be worth at least a few minutes of research for… I dunno… in case I get swept up in bar trivia at the local Chili’s, but counting this scenario, along with the birds taking in a sunrise, and the cereal munching munchkin in the back seat (whom I’ll come back to in a minute), it now looks like I have a few more ideas to build stories around. The last thing I need right now is to add to my growing list of works in progress.

I mean, is there an epidemic of singular shoes dotting the landscape? Do other people notice this? Does the lost shoe feel a sense of detachment and ennui because its favorite sock got eaten by a dryer and now feels lost without it? Is feral footwear common? What about other articles of clothing? How do they feel about it? How often do they get cast aside?

These things are the sugar in my coffee. These are the things that give me a warm fuzziness in my belly because it feels like my obsessive nature has finally been directed into a more positive, and less destructive path. Over the past few years, I have turned into a storytelling savant. I’m constantly asking “what would happen if..?” and among other things, I try very hard to not use zombies as a McGuffin because I ran out of ideas. “At long last, Frank and Carol could now share that kiss in the happy home of their dreams. But they couldn’t because zombies. The end.

Every week, I eagerly await another Chuck Wendig Flash Fiction challenge. Sometimes I play, sometimes I feel a little too out of shape. Other times I collect story prompts like seashells, and of course, there are those moments when something that can’t be easily explained comes charging into my personal space, like say, figuring out why one shoe ends up in the road and not the pair. Instead of defaulting to logic and reason to explain it (which is really boring and smells an awful lot like bullshit), I prefer instead to faceplant directly into the blueberry pie of “Just Make Shit Up” (which might be tedious to the listener, but dagnabbit, it’s not my fault that you ask the most random crap and expect something extremely insightful and intellegent to roll off my tongue.You ask a rhetorical question, you get a left field answer. Deal with it.). I mean, I’m a storyteller. Storytellers…tell stories. How else do you think this works?

I can’t take on other projects. Not right now. My current first draft is nearly complete, and I’ll jump into revising the beast over the course of the next few days. I have several other half started projects right behind this one that need to be finished. These projects are moving slower than I’d like because writing is only taking up a little of my day. When I’m not writing, I’m taking my son to therapy (details, and perhaps the whole point of this post below), and when I’m not doing that, I’m taking care of the family. Which is why it may be dangerous to draw my attention to something that will cater to my obsessiveness like a lonely shoe.

As a Crime Action Drama

Mr. Deveraux could not stop his limbs and extremities from twitching, while Mrs. Deveraux remained the stronger of the two, and opted instead to chew off the skin around her cuticles. Their home has always been a peaceful sanctuary, they’ve fussed over it for years to get it to that point. But this morning was almost too much to process. Melinda had been missing for a little over twelve hours. Since that time, almost an entire squadron of police officers had taken up residence in their once pristine stainless steel kitchen with laptops and various pieces of tracking equipment that they’ve never heard of, and they weren’t entirely sure, but it looked like there were a couple of FBI agents huddled closely in the hallway talking about something, looking grim.

The Lead Investigator’s voice was soothing, almost hypnotic. “We are all going to get through this,” he said. “We are going to get your daughter back. I have called in our finest to track these guys down. Also, once word got out that it might be the Oaxaca cartel, the FBI became very interested. Whoever did this is going to have a very bad day, understand?” Melinda’s parents do their best to acknowledge. “Good, now when that phone rings, I’m gonna need you to remain calm, and act normal.” Mrs. Deveraux laughs an empty laugh, because her normal felt like it has been trodden under by so many police issued boots in her garden full of mums.

When the phone finally did ring, it was as if everyone started breathing again in unison. As if they were allowed. A technician punched in a code into his laptop, and gave a signal to the Lead Investigator. The Lead Investigator donned his headphones, and gave the cue for Mr. Deveraux to lift up the receiver.

“Hello?” The tremble in his voice choked back hard.
“Do you have the money?” The voice at the other end was computer generated. The expressions on the cops faces let the Deveraux’s know that they were dealing with professionals.
“Do you have my daughter?” Mr. Deveraux sneered, “Is she still alive, you son of a bitch?”

The next voice wasn’t computer generated. It was the sound of Melinda, scared, hopeless, weeping, but very much still alive. Mrs. Deveraux clasped her hands over her mouth to stifle whatever might be pushed out of it.

“You have such a pretty child, Mr. Deveraux,” the emotionless voice continued. “Her eyes are quite captivating. It would be such a shame if she were missing one.”
“You bastard!” Mr. Deveraux bellowed. “If one hair is out of place on her head, I swear to God I will…”
“Do you have my money or not, Mr. Deveraux?”

The Lead Investigator nodded silently to Mr. Deveraux. “Yes,” he said. “Yes, I have your money.”
“Excellent,” the voice replied. “Now, listen very carefully, this is what I need you to do next. I need you to grab an article of clothing that belongs to Melinda.” The Lead Investigator snapped his fingers at a cadet to whisper something in his ear. When he was finished, the cadet ran upstairs to her room. “I need you to take that piece of clothing and drop it on the corner of 5th and Elm. Walk across the street and when a brown Oldsmobile parks in front of you, get in the back seat.”

The cadet reappears holding a tiny, pink flip-flop. The Lead Investigator holds it up for Mr. Deveraux to see. “I’ll be using one of her flip-flops, will that do?”
“That will suffice,” the voice said.
“Will my daughter be in the car? Where are you taking me?”
“Be ready at 10:30. Bring the money.” The line went dead.

As A Middle-Grade Fantasy Novel

It rained the night before, and when the kids were waiting for the bus the next morning, none of them seemed too worried that the sun  was hidden by the clouds. The lack of sunshine made everything look dull, except for Rebecca’s very pink backpack and Mark’s very yellow rain slicker.

On the other side of the street, in the old lot where the old drug store used to be, there sat a very white sneaker. Shoelaces untied, and sitting upright collecting rain. Rebecca noticed it briefly before her friends started talking about lip gloss. Mark didn’t notice it at all because he doesn’t like talking to too many people. Charlie noticed it right away, and he knew exactly what it meant.

It means the Fog Giants have returned. There was going to be plenty of long nights ahead.

~***~

See, things like this are a bone for me to chew on. It’s things like this that make me remember why I should carry a notebook everywhere I go. It’s things like this that yank my attention away from whatever I’m working on at the moment. So please, for the sake of progress, don’t allow me to occupy my mind with such things. It’s bad enough that I’m reminded about that part of my WIP where a flock of blackbirds sitting on a telephone wire.

It also doesn’t help that I have tied that project to the other thing that we are leaving the house for. Let me get back to that.

Recently, I have posted about my son, and how he wants to talk at length about anything, but he hasn’t developed the skill to form words yet. I have always been of the opinion that he will come around to it, but still, there were other characteristics that were telling us that he might need a little help.

The problem was recognizing that he had a problem to begin with. He’s still two, and he’s still trying to get used to things like eating a proper meal, or sleeping in his own bed, or learning words, or not being so focused on certain things. It was hard to tell if he was being difficult, or if there was something more sinister afoot.

To put our minds at ease, we tested him for hearing and vision, and determined that the best course of action would be to see a speech therapist. After a few months of regular sessions, we have made small breakthroughs and tiny miracles. But, for all the progress we have made in regards to getting him to say the simplest words, it didn’t solve the mystery as to why he still flaps his arms when he gets really excited, or why he prefers to walk on his toes.

To REALLY put our minds at ease, we went back to his pediatrician to finally ask the question we’ve been putting off for too long. Is our son autistic? It only took a few minutes of an unofficial yet very effective method of determining he wasn’t to give us some relief. But with that burden taken away from us, and most importantly, from him, we were still in the dark as to what seems to be affecting him.

It took a less than fruitful session with his speech therapist to have her bring our attention to something called Sensory Processing Disorder. It’s a very real condition that affects mostly children. It often mimics autism, but it isn’t autism. It is a very real condition, and the cruelest aspect of this condition is, it’s not recognized officially as a real condition.

To put it simply, SPD is where the person has a difficult time responding or reacting to whatever stimuli they’re exposed to. Think of trying to process something as simple as walking along a beach. Everything you experience, the feel of the sand between your toes, the smell of the salt air, the sound of surf, all collide at the same time like traffic weaving through a poorly attended intersection at rush hour. Everything is snarled and not going anywhere too soon. Reaction times in the individual with this disorder are slowed, or often times, not present at all. Or in the case of my son, happening all at once to trigger this extremely excitable reaction where he flaps his arms, open his mouth wide like a lead singer of a metal band, and have a vein or two swell up in his neck.

It is a very real condition. Unfortunately, no one in the healthcare community can come to a consensus on how to define it. Look, is it on spectrum, or is it another version of OCD? Figure it out and get back to us.

It is quite cruel.

Fortunately, my son isn’t at that level. He’s quite happy, and he’ll respond to things and look you in the eye and talk to you…the best he can. But he’ll still do it on his own terms.

Because SPD isn’t uniform and has a broad definition, and has the traits of something else without being that something else, and it does different things to different people, there has been no formal diagnosis of this condition. That means doctors can’t officially prescribe anything, let alone talk about it. The only thing they can do is suggest Occupational Therapy.

Which is where we were going to this morning, my son and I. This is where we’ve gone for the past few months.20170114_104609

His speech therapy is touch and go. He’ll either be in the mood to say something or nah. Occupational Therapy, on the other hand, is so… much… COOLER! There’s a ball pit! And big bouncy balls! And a tunnel and more toys! It’s a process of learning through playing…or what we used to call it in my day…playing. Occupational therapy is a welcome supplement to his boring ol’ speech therapy. And I think the biggest takeaway from attending these sessions, is my child has to take the lead as to what he wants to do. It’s up to the adults to go along and work with it. So, it’s a learning process for me too.

So, I suppose I could be one of these concerned parents and talk at length about getting your child screened and look for the warning signs and blahblahblah. “I need you to feel empathy for my baby because reasons!” But, I don’t feel like it, and I’m sure he wouldn’t appreciate it either. He’s not sick. He’s normal, he just needs a little boost. And while I could be the loudest crusader to get this condition the recognition it deserves, I really don’t think that’s necessary. It is what it is. It’ll probably stick with him for the rest of his life, but we caught it early enough so he’ll know how to deal with it when he gets older, and that’s all we can do right now. Still though, it would be nice to see him walk normally, talk normally. I love my boy, and I’m happy with my boy. I am proud of every one of his accomplishments every day.

I could complain, but I’d rather deal with it in my own way.

He has several quirks. That’s all they are. Just quirks. Things he does. Most of them are indicative of the condition he has, the rest are all his. And instead of Googling what they all are and fret until I mis-diagnose the hell out of it, I have decided to make him the hero of his own story.

Because, I’m a Storyteller. It’s what we do.

He chuckles in his sleep. It’s the most adorable thing in the world. He also likes to look up at the sky while he’s walking. It’s his preferred activity over anything else to do outside. Recently, I was stringing Christmas lights around the house. I switched them on, and as he was passing by with eyes cast skyward he said, “Bye!” It wasn’t directed to anyone. It was directed to the lights. At first, rationality took over. “Well,” I thought to myself. “Maybe it has something to do with the red bulbs, and somehow relating them to watching taillights move down the driveway every morning as his mom goes to work.” Red light means someone’s leaving, which means “Byyyye! See you laytor!

So, instead of freaking out, I just think of the lonely flip-flop…

Untitled Story Idea…

A family moves to a haunted house, and it’s a house that hasn’t been lived in for a very long time. The ghosts that reside there, mainly an old married couple, have been there for a very long time, and haven’t found a way to leave. The only person in the family that knows it’s haunted is the toddler, and he isn’t saying much. The ghosts aren’t very good at scaring people out of the house, because no one has lived there for such a long time, and they couldn’t find it within them to scare them because they were grandparents at one time. So, they spend most of their time looking after the children to make sure they don’t get into trouble. Somewhere along the line, the ghosts figure out that if they can get the baby to laugh, then the hold that this house has on them begins to loosen. Good deeds remembered, they are allowed to pass on once Christmas lights are hung and illuminated.

~***~

Another one of his quirks, and this is something his mother and I need to focus on, is that he has this obsession with doors. The way they open and close, if they latch or not, if they have a lever or knob, do they squeak, how much effort is needed to go through it. We REALLY lose him at the grocery store where the doors open on their own. *GASP! What sorcery is THIS?* He will literally spend the better part of an hour opening and closing doors. It’s something that we learn to live with.

I’m not sure how to break his fascination with them. Once he gets on a door binge, it’s hard to stop, and that’s something that we are slowly learning at Occupational Therapy. It appears that both of my children have their father’s obsessive nature.

There are good days, and there are bad days. But mostly, they’re good. His OT is quite adept at getting him away from his door habit and directing him to playing with blocks and puzzles, and as a result, his obsession has diminished. What hasn’t diminished is my own curiosity. “Why doors?” I ask to myself…in the same tone as “Why one shoe?”

Revision to ‘Kids of St. Anthony’

Story so far:

A social worker who has lost her child to cancer, and as a result, going through a divorce, is now set to task for finding homes for three young siblings. They reside at St. Anthony’s Home for Wayward children; an orphanage. For the most part, all the children that reside there are normal children, but there is a wing of the church that not a lot of people know about. It’s the wing where they put the “special” children.

The oldest of the three (based on my youngest daughter) has a habit of drawing what appears to be circles on paper with crayon. The middle child has hushed conversations with people who aren’t there, and the youngest cannot cope will unless there is an animal present.

To the system, to the nuns that run this place and to the social worker, these children are perceived to have special needs.

It turns out, they’re partially right. The youngest needs to be in close proximity to animals, because they can talk to him, and that’s how he has been in touch with the outside world. The middle child as actually holding conversations with ghosts. They warn her of danger and teach her history. The oldest, who looks as though she draws in anger and frustration with every circle getting deeper as each crayon gets ground down, is actually drawing very intricate talismans that are crafted to protect all of them. All three children team up with the social worker to solve mysteries and stuff. She ends up adopting them…until zombies…the end.

UPDATE:

First of all, enough of the frickin’ zombies.

Second of all, it might be wise to turn this into a series and expand the universe. Because all the cool kids are doing it!

Why not have this orphanage be home to other children with secret abilities? Maybe it’s been a home for children like this for a long time. Like this one child who shows no attention to the world around him, except when it comes to doors. He might come in handy in a pinch.

The bad guys are closing in on our heroes, and the youngest child is feverishly opening and closing a door to a closet; essentially, opening a door to nowhere. At the right time, he opens this door to nowhere, and it turns out that it’s a door to somewhere. They all escape danger because a toddler opened a closet door to reveal a field of wheat somewhere on the other side of the world…next chapter.

Conclusion

This is me blogging because I need a kick in the ass. This post has taken a week in re-writes and has ended up being approximately half the length of my current first draft. It feels like I’m stalling, but I need free up the log jam in my head.

It’s important to let you know that I haven’t gone anywhere.

I would love to write a short story a week, as I’ve pointed out previously. Respectfully, I’m not sure when Mr. Bradbury laid down the gauntlet about doing this, but I’m fairly certain he didn’t have to take care of kids and household at the same time. Right now, I’d be satisfied if I could finish a chapter a week.

This year will be the year I wrangle all of these ideas that land in front of me and turn them into something interesting maybe. I’m hoping that I will be able to find more time to get to them, but the chances of that are quite small. As much as I’d like to lock myself away in a shack in the middle of the woods, my kids need me right now.

And they are most important.

More to come.
Watch this space.

©2017 AA Payson

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The Tornado in Her Paper Cup

The Tornado in Her Paper Cup

writingprompt9202016There were times where I’d never thought I’d see her again. Even though she sits across from me at this moment in our favorite booth. She rests the tip of her nose on the brim of her cup, not necessarily to sniff, but to let the warm, honey sweetened plumes of steam defrost her rosy face. Her fingertips, pink and brittle and shyly poking through slowly unraveling knitted, fingerless gloves. They want so much to keep a firm grasp to the outside of this flimsy, disposable vessel, but the boiling tea inside deny them their full embrace.

There were times where I’d never thought I’d see her again. Even though she sits across from me at this moment in our favorite booth. Her gaze is aiming for a target further than the window, further than the people walking by, further than the other side of the street. It was blocks away, on the other side of town, skimming across the ocean to the places only she knows.

I’m used to this, whenever she vanishes from right in front of me. She was never snobby. Not the Teddy Bear I remember. She prefered the company she kept.  She was never been ungrateful or aloof. She cherishes every person in her life, and has gone out of her way to help every person in need more times then I can remember. And yet, I can’t help thinking the same thing now as I did then. I always thought that such generosity might have come at great cost to her.

At first, she would disappear for a day. A few people would notice her absence, and were curious as to how long she’d been gone, but she’d always come back. It wasn’t too much later where she would disappear for days at a time. Then a week. Two. Until one day, we suddenly realized that nobody had seen her for months. She returned at the end of summer; A touch of bronze to her skin, freckles occupying the bridge of her nose, and several colorful ribbons wrapped as tight as Maypoles through strands of her hair. This latest trip? Gone for a little over five years. Heavy, woollen scarfs wrap around her neck. A journal bloated with ink and memories lay sleeping beside her.

I’m used to this. We all are. She would take center stage for brief moments of our lives. She would swoop in and fill our days with art and literature and things we’ve never seen before, and people we’ve never heard of, and music we’ve never danced to, and wisdom we’ve never thought of. She would paint our worlds in a wonderful and jubilant shade of chaos, and then vanish. Carried away on a multi-colored vapor trail of her own imagination.

She is back again. For a while, at least. I should be lucky enough to have at least a few moments of stillness with her before her muse finds her again. But, even though she is sitting across from me in our favorite booth, she is still miles away.

“Tina and I finally found a new place,” I say trying to coax her down from whatever cloud she’s on. Tina and I are irrelevant. Our quest for a better place is never-ending, and as far as that goes, nothing much has changed. Nothing that is happening in my life at this moment has anything to do with what’s going on inside her head right now. I could tell her that Tina’s been plotting my murder for months and I’ve only found out after a conversation with the cat. I could tell her that the place we found was a cave deep in the White Mountains that was previously occupied by a Bridge Troll and his pet unicorn. I could have strung together any combinations of words and scenarios, and it would have received the same response.

First, it’s the acknowledgement that someone may have been talking to her, “Oh?”
Next, comes the feeling that she should have kept up with a conversation, “Oh.”
Last, would come the recognition that she was lost in the great beyond again, “Ohhhh.”

Her eyes brighten. The apple of her cheeks shine. She has come back, body and soul. “I miss Tina,” she says recalling the years of almost sisterly companionship between them in the steam of her steeping tea.

“She misses you too. She speaks about you often. You should drop by sometime.”
“Really?”
“Of course you should. I insist. We’ll put on a spread, invite some of the old crew back, we’ll have a few laughs. It’ll be great.”

I offer every single time. It’s what one does, now that one has achieved adulthood. Should the occasion arise, you invite long lost friends over for dinner. Miss Manners told me so. Actually, that’s not true. I have never cared long enough to do any extensive research, but I’m fairly certain that there isn’t a social etiquette book in print that states that it’s expected of you to extend an invitation for an impromptu soirée for an old friend, but it never hurts to err on the side of caution. Then again, I used to be a pack-a-day smoker who spent most of his days blasting punk music from a beat up tape deck, and most of his nights stumbling home. And now these many years of kicking and screaming later, I have become a responsible adult. I have always been reluctant to bare this title, and she knows it. She knows my heart. I’ve never been much for social graces. Neither has she, and that is where we found each other so long ago.

I offer every single time, thinking this time she’ll change her mind. Her smirk tells me that I should know better. There is something in her eyes that won’t let me forget who I was.

“Alright,” I chuckle, changing the subject. “How was Europe? Was it as life changing as you thought it would be?”

“I guess you can say that,” she says as her fingertips have finally made peace with the scalding water swirling inside her paper cup. “I’d get reminded of just how far I’ve gone with every border crossing I had to make. It made me more homesick every time I was asked for my passport. But the people I met were pleasant, for the most part. A lot of people were quite helpful, even after they realized I was American. I met this circus troupe in Nice. We were all heading the same direction. For a while, it almost felt like they kinda adopted me as one of their own. Which would have been cool, I think. We barely spoke the same language, but we all got along. We all had the same spirit. Since my French was horrible, I had to act out my conversations in mime, and I made them laugh!” she exclaimed with genuine giddiness. “Can you believe it? I made professional clowns from Europe laugh! I taught them how to cuss like an American, they taught me how to juggle. It was a fair trade.

Oh! And there was also,” she paused. “…Jean…” Her eyes rolled back, her chest heaved. The universal symbol for, this boy was damn fine. I always thought it was charming how she regarded me as another one of her girlfriends, or often times, her brother, and not just another one of the guys. “This kid,” she continues delicately placing her fingertips to her chest. The universal symbol for, I do declare spoken with a swooning, aristocratic, Southern accent as if Rhett Butler walked into the room.”I could have eaten him all up with a spoon. He had these eyes that…when…I…”

Uh-oh…Houston, we have a problem.

The muse had her by the tail, and then it flew away. Somewhere across the ocean. Somewhere nestled in the lean, sinewy arms, and disarmingly hazel eyes of Jean. Her smile that she managed to drag out of storage for few minutes was quickly packed up again on account of looming storm clouds forming in her frontal lobe. She has vanished again.

One of the greatest lessons she has ever taught me, was that sometimes it’s not what people say, it’s what people don’t say that speaks volumes. There is nothing I can do when she disappears like this. Nothing. There is nothing I could say to bring her back into the world. Nothing I could do to bring her comfort. The best thing I could do is sit patiently, quietly. Hoping that she’d come back with her spirit intact, and if I’m very lucky, maybe she won’t rabbit so quickly.

“Yeah,” she mutters, packing the rest of the thought into a nutshell. “Europe was a good experience.” And that was the cue to drop it. Europe is thousands of miles away, but she’s home now. Back on familiar soil. Talking with familiar people, about familiar things.

Clouds churn and darken to pencil gray outside the coffee shop. It will snow again soon. Her fingers tell her that the tea has calmed down to just the right drinking temperature, and she takes a cautious sip. She scrunches her brow as she swallows. “Mmng. I need more honey, I’ll be right back.” She plops her bag on the table, thereby anchoring her to this place in time. This time, she means it.

I acknowledge the storm that’s coming, and sip my already tepid coffee. I get tired of looking at gray things, and turn my attention to her Andean patchwork satchel which has spilled out in front of me.

For a moment, the faint memory of her tutelage in the sport of people watching returned. I remember she once told me that you can “tell a lot about a person by the way they stir their coffee”, and through this, gain a wealth of knowledge.

Random hair ties and brightly colored scrunchies. Scores of cheap, ballpoint pens with various levels of ink, all with chewed pen caps. A fountain pen. Probably stolen. Probably a trophy. Two disposable lighters, both empty. She has never smoked, so… probably more trophies. A package of convenience store cupcakes. The kind that come two to a pack. This one was missing its twin. An impressive collection of hard candy, chewing gum, and cough drop wrappers. The companion issue of her other journal, equally as loved up. Her essential “desert island” books that she never goes anywhere without; Khalil Gibran’s, The Prophet, Selected Poems and Letters of Arthur Rimbaud, Richard Brautigan’s Trout Fishing in America, and one completely dog-eared, busted spine, water stained copy of One Hundred Years of Solitude. I didn’t have to look at the whole cover to know what it was.

I know what it was, because I was the one who gave it to her.

It was Christmastime. Everyone else on my list was easily taken care of that year. A six-pack of local brew for Eddy. An abalone bracelet for Tina. But for our dear Maddie Bear, finding the perfect gift for our introverted, bookish friend who has a flare for madness and wanderlust, was proving near impossible. There was nothing that seemed to fit the bill at the mall. Then again, nothing ever did. It’s where inspiration goes to die (another lesson taught). Nothing hurling themselves at me in the Hallmark Store. There was no other option. I was fighting the urge to be completely obvious, but there was no way I could win that battle. I should have went to the bookstore to begin with. It was on the way home anyway.

I had no idea what I was looking for. The most exotic thing I’ve read up to that point was a few Kerouac poems, and that was for an elective class that I barely passed. How was I going to compete with a woman who once disappeared for five days because she heard about someone halfway across the country who had a first edition, signed copy of a Lawrence Ferlinghetti book that she just had to have? I punted. The guy that worked there was helpful, and I didn’t want to think about it too long this close to closing time on Christmas Eve. He rang me up, and I was on my way.

This copy was in it’s 12th reprint or so. The pristine, glossy cover reflected every haphazardly strung Christmas light in my living room as she unwrapped it. The look on her face was priceless. I was half expecting a, “Oh, I already have this, dear. But thank you,” or at the very least for her to crinkle up her brow, look at me and proclaim, “what the hell is this?” Neither of which happened.

Of all of her endearing qualities, the one I hold most dear, is the fact that she is a terrible card player. Insincerity was never her strong suit, she could never hide what she was thinking. Except for this time. She held the unwrapped book in her hand. Her expression wasn’t joy, or surprise. It wasn’t even the gross, apathetic facsimile of it; The expression you’re forced to wear around the holidays like an ugly sweater that was knitted by your estranged aunt that always smells like cat pee. Nowhere near it. It was the look of lightning striking you when a famous person waves in your direction. The look you make when your best friend admits that he’s been in love with you for years, and you’re just now knowing about it. It wasn’t shock. It was more like shock’s cousin.

The wrapping paper fell to the floor. Her eyes darted around the cover art, studying every stroke and nuance. “Thank you, Peanut,” was all she said, followed by a customary hug.

The rest of the evening was food, drink and laughter by the rest of us. For the better part of the evening, I was convinced that she hated her gift, until I was proven wrong. I stole a glance when I could. Me in full host mode, her holding court on an ottoman. Her Peruvian satchel at her feet, Dollar Store Santa hat on her head, brand new book in her lap, hands gripping it as if it were the last ticket for the greatest merry-go-round on Earth. She threw me her full-cheeked smile. It appeared that she was caught in that wonderful dilemma of deciding whether to crack the spine now, or wait for a more cozier environment that involved down comforters, warm wool socks, hot chocolate, and a couch. She liked it. Christmas was saved. Hallelujah.

The grayish light from outside that has been washing the coffee shop in a shade of meh, seems to have enhanced  how sun-bleached and worn her once vibrant bag was, making every flaw obvious. Every repair jumped out; a newer stitch with different thread here, a patch of cloth with a rubber duck pattern placed in the middle of what was once blue and violet there. A book that was given as a gift many years ago that barely had a fingerprint on the cover, now creased and mangled from years of being stuffed into a bag. The dog eared corners of every page bent into a permanent curve and stained in a subtle tone of Chamomile. Much time has past. And while I bemoan the loss of my own glory days, seeing this ragged book in her ragged bag, this last minute gift for a friend who would go out of her way to paint our worlds in a different color, seeing it loved and appreciated and lived in, warms my heart against the coming snowfall.

The midday crowd shuffles through while the notes from some long, forgotten pop song weave themselves through the pressurized steam of a fully functional espresso machine. She returns and throws a fistful of sugar packets and a stack of napkins into her bag. Old habits die hard. The wooden stick slowly comes to a rest after dancing in the mini tornado in her cup. “Ah,” she says sipping her sweeter tea. “Much better.”

“It’s so good to see you again,” I smile. “Are there any more treks into the unknown for you?”

“To where, the condiment stand?” she winks. “Kidding. No, I don’t think I have anything left in me. It was fun while it lasted. I wrote down a bunch of names so I can keep in touch with the people that I met, and I have more snapshots and trinkets and memories than I know what to do with. But,” she pauses to take a look around her.  “I miss the states. I miss home.”

“Well, I for one am happy that you can still call this town home,”  I say. “Most people we knew left in the middle of the night and didn’t come back. I lost track of how many times Tina and I thought about packing up a U-Haul and heading south.”

Well traveled eyes find mine. “Don’t go south,” she whispered. “I’ve known too many snowbirds who melt too easily in June, and curse the day they moved anywhere south of Boston when they do. You wouldn’t know what to do with yourself if you couldn’t make at least one snowball a year. I believe someone told me that a long time ago.”

“It was that winter where it didn’t snow until February. I remember.” Small talk and fond memories over warm drinks. Creature comforts that hold a person still long enough to sprout the tiniest promises of roots. But her distant, hunter’s gaze through the window tells me all I’ve already known about her.

“So, this really is the end of the road for you?”
“Yep. I’m officially retiring from globetrotting. I’ve been looking for a place for a few days now. You wouldn’t happen to know if your old place is rented yet, would you?”
“I’m not sure. I think the landlord was going condo, last time I checked.”
“Bummer.”
“I could look, if you’d like.”
“No, that’s okay.”
“You sure?”
“Yeah, I never liked where it was anyway. Too far away from everything.”
“It’d be nice to have you back.”
“It’s nice to be back.”
“And you’re headed to Central America…when?”
“Next year. As soon as I get enough…” I wrangled her mind from roaming too far. We have found each other again. “I could never get anything past you huh, Peanut.”
“Not today, Teddy Bear.” I laugh.

The kid behind the counter replaces stale, old coffee urns for fresh ones. Two schoolgirls squeal at the text one of them received a few tables over. An old man shakes his newspaper to shoo away the world. At this moment, all is well.

 

©2016 AA Payson

With All My Heart, Loretta-June (Flash Fiction)

With All My Heart, Loretta-June (Flash Fiction)

I love the Noir.high trousers

I love the stories of the hard-nosed, double-chinned gumshoes who have a proclivity for cheap booze, snub nosed .38s, and sweet, whiskey-throated dames with access to lots of
cash obtained through questionable means. The women are all viewed through a glistening, Vaseline coated lens, and the men all have their trousers belted just south of their armpits. Everyone speaks like they have a need to project to the back row after mainlining a couple of Red Bulls. There’s always a Mcguffin involved, and someone is going to get shot. I love this stuff.

The thing is, what I think is Noir is actually regarded as Film Noir, which is almost completely disassociated from Noir fiction. In Film Noir, it’s all about the stark lighting, the fisticuffs, the Private Detective set forth to save the day, but he almost dies at the end. In Film Noir, justice is always served, though most of the time it isn’t wrapped up in a neat little package with a bow. That means that even though the case is solved, but the hero could be dying in a ditch somewhere outside of town. Technically, since the good guys still won in the end, that counts as a happy ending.

In Noir Fiction, there are no happy endings. Hell, there doesn’t have to be a detective character at all.

These are the facts I learned while researching this next Flash Fiction piece. This was my submission for a short story contest that I alluded to earlier this year. I think a sufficient amount of time has passed where I can feel free to post my stuff… on my site.

What I learned is that Noir Fiction, in its truest sense is the antithesis of what would be considered drama, because it is what it says it is; Noir. Black. Hopeless. Dark. Abandon all hope and break out the blended whiskey because you’re in the middle of nowhere with a bullet in the gut. Someone is going to die, and it’s probably not going to be the bad guy. Someone is going to come out on top, and it’s probably not going to be the good guy.

Noir is hard stuff, which is probably why you don’t see too much of it these days. In print, you’ll see it pop up here and there, mostly in anthologies. In movies, great examples would be Chinatown or more recently, Brick. Noir is also hard to sell to a mass audience as in television viewers. The closest I’ve seen recently to a decent Noir, as in Film Noir, is Jessica Jones on Netflix. All the tropes are there, all the characters are there, that they’ve flipped the gender roles that were traditionally set in stone (in this case, the detective is a young woman. The love interest and the crux of the story is a guy) is a welcome and refreshing change.

As with the First Lines Challenge, I had to create a 1500 word story based on a picture. Everything about it said Noir to me. I’m not that experienced in writing in this genre, so I wanted to get it right. It didn’t win, place or show, but I’m still happy with it.

Thank you for reading.

LorettaJune

With All My Heart, Loretta-June

As the smoke spun in lazy circles from the end of a lit Winston which dangled from her heavily painted lips, the first thing that came to mind wasn’t how far she could hold the ash before it falls to the floor like the Hindenberg. Nor was it the gaping wound in her side, or how quickly she was bleeding out as she reclined nude and resplendent in an empty claw-footed tub. No, the first thing that came to mind as she snapped back into consciousness was her pearl-handled Derringer, and that it had one bullet left in the chamber. Soon, he’ll come home to a bloody mess. Soon, the bathroom door will be ripped from its hinges and shredded to matchsticks by thick, meat hook fingers. Soon, there will be more blood. She pulled on her cigarette, let the smoke fill her lungs, and as the nicotine gently swaddled her pain in a gentle narcotic haze, she dipped her index finger into the pool of blood, she scrawled a message into the bleached white marble wall and sighed…

“Well, Geraldine, you really fucked up this time, haven’t you?”

When she came to again, she heard a car door shut, then another. It was his car. Edgar was home. She memorized every sound of that damned thing every day for five years while she was kept like a pet. It was a Cadillac V12. Out of his entire stable of Detroit’s finest, he took a shine to this one. She was his favorite. It was his faithful steed that he would show off down on 12th St. every Tuesday night.  

Edgar’s primary occupation was separating hard earned pensions from little old ladies, shaking down local business owners for protection money, paying off cops, and greasing the palms of elected officials. He owned the cops, the mayor, the press. Edgar owned this town, it was no secret. What was secret, was his penchant for certain indulgences.

There were rumors of three day orgies at his mansion involving members of government, Hollywood Fat Cats and young boys flown in from Southeast Asia. Depending on his mood, there were times when he asked for the company of a young, Midwestern girl to engage in a menage a troi with a six foot tall Haitian. Sometimes, all three would tangle. Other times, he’d let her watch. His palate for the carnal was legendary. Being born of privilege has its perks. He took what he desired. He always did. And since tonight was a Tuesday, he wanted Geraldine. Out of the entire stable of 12th St. ladies, he took a shine to Geraldine. She was his favorite.

Geraldine was not born of privilege. She was a mistake. By the time she reached eighteen, her chances at a better life shrank like the burning end of a cigarette hanging from the lips of a dying woman. It was no surprise that she would end up on the street. It was also no surprise that she would live a life of ill repute, given the lack of options. And it was no secret that she was his Tuesday Night Fling.

Edgar, as twisted as he is, has always been a respected member of the community. Geraldine knew that to speak of his double life would be the end of her life as well as his. His secrets were his under penalty of death. Although he paid well, and was great in the sack, he will never have her heart. All her secrets were hers to keep.

Again, she snaps back into consciousness. She has no idea how much blood she’s lost, but she’s fairly certain that she is not long for this wretched world. She can barely keep her eyes open, let alone be bothered to flick the cigarette sized ash from her lips that has since burned down to the filter. She must save her strength, just enough to stand up to her captor, point the gun, and pull the trigger.

Any minute now, Edgar and his meat-headed right hand man, Francis, will discover the failed hitman bleeding and broken at the base of his elegant marble staircase. Any second now, chaos will ensue when they have to use Plan B.

As the footsteps get closer, Geraldine stiffens herself, and spits the filter of her spent Winston into the nearby toilet. Whatever happens, she’s ready.

First comes the courtesy knock, as if there were proper etiquette to murder. Then comes the jiggling knob. Before they came busting in, guns blazing, Geraldine found the strength to fill her lungs. “Occupied,” was her battle cry, followed by a one finger salute.

“The boss wants to have a word with you, street rat,” growled Francis from behind the door.

“Francis?” Geraldine asked propping herself up. “Is that you? I almost didn’t recognize you. When did you start speaking in complete sentences?” It was her half-mocking tone that would always send him into a rage. He was never the brightest, and Geraldine often took great delight in exploiting that fact. She knows she should mind her tongue, but she was so tired of this life. The sooner it ended, the better.

“There you go again,” Francis said. “Runnin’ off at that pretty little mouth again when it could be used for somethin’ better.”

“Like I said before, you walking hamhock,” Geraldine said, adrenaline pumping. “When you find that little thing between your legs, let your mama know so she can wash it for you.”

The bathroom door buckled from the force of a giant’s shoulder being driven into it. “That does it, you little slag! When I get a hold of you, I’m gonna rip your tits off and shove ‘em…”

“That’s enough, Francis,” Edgar said over his shoulder, his voice was calm and soothing. “Thank you for finding her, now be a good boy, and get Dr. Werner here on the double please. I’m sure she’s been through enough today.” It wasn’t unusual for Edgar to be the steadiest one in the room in stressful situations. Geraldine knew better. It was the calm before the storm. “Geraldine, my love,” Edgar said. “Why don’t you come out of there so we can talk.”

“That’s cheap even from you, Eddie,” Geraldine’s said. “Did your goon that shot me wanna talk too?”

“I see you used the Derringer I gave you for Christmas. Didn’t I tell you that it would come in handy, my dear?” Edgar’s voice was a slick, greasy grin. His fingers busy themselves with the lock.

“You’re always so thoughtful, Eddy.” Geraldine found her feet, and stood tall in the tub. “I take it you heard from my lawyer?”

“Indeed I did, my dear. I know the man, and I’m surprised that you could afford his services, but then again, I should have given you a smaller allowance years ago. Live and learn, as my mother used to say.” Edgar’s voice was steady as the lock yielded to his advances. 

“Oh, I couldn’t afford him. You’re right about that, you’re right about a lot of things. But you’re an idiot to think that I didn’t have a life before you walked into it, Edgar. He was a good customer of mine. He owed me a favor, and he’s not the only one.”

“That’s right. The agreement.”

“It’s what we agreed, Edgar.”

“Yes, yes. Not to ask about passed lives, live in the present, it’s all so neatly packaged. And while it could be argued that you stuck to your end of the deal,” the door slowly creaked open. “your definition of present time is slightly different than mine at the moment.”

Come on. Get it over with, you pompous ass,” Geraldine thought. “Enough of the bullshit, Eddy. Just let it out.” Behind her back, the Christmas Derringer is gripped a little tighter.

“When were you going to tell me, Geraldine?”

“About what? That I had enough of being your plaything?”

“You stole from me, Geraldine.”

“I’m not a bank, Eddy. You gave me that money, did you honestly think I’d give it back to you.”

“I didn’t think you’d funnel it to somewhere else. Where is she, Geraldine?”

Terror and resolve changed her expression,“Go to hell, Edgar.”

“Where is the child that is taking half my empire?”

Geraldine leveled the barrel her Derringer, right between his eyes, stopping his approach. “She is safe,” she said. ” Just out of your reach, where she should be.” And with that, she raised the pistol, stuck the barrel in her mouth, and pulled the trigger.

Dr. Werner declared her death a suicide. The cops started their process of getting their stories straight and clearing him of any wrong-doing. The press did their Dog and Pony show for legitimacy sake. Edgar was secure in the knowledge that this will all become a memory in a couple of days. No one is going to miss a dead hooker.

What he never saw coming was another one of her favors being cashed in. Perhaps it was an oversight, perhaps he wasn’t vetted properly, but the crime photographer on the scene, was her Wednesday night.

The following morning, when he received the paper with his breakfast, he nearly choked on his coffee when the front page of his own paper had the crime scene splattered all over it. The message that she scrawled out in blood, was barely legible and made worse by flash photography. That was hardly an issue, as the photographer took notes. He knew her handwriting, and in turn deciphered her epitaph for the entire world to see…

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© 2016 AA Payson

Earth Mission: Caruso (A First Lines Project)

Earth Mission: Caruso (A First Lines Project)

The axiom of every creative is to make something out of nothing. Right? But sometimes, that nothing just happens to be pretty darn cool to begin with.

  • A sunrise from a lake at just the right time at just the right angle.
  • A first kiss.
  • Witnessing the birth of your first child.

In this case, for the latest First Lines Project, iAuthor challenged me to write the first lines based on this image:

Space Shuttle launches one last time

In 2001, I moved from New Hampshire to the “Space Coast” of Florida. Since that time, I’ve seen more than a few shuttle launches. Most of them from just outside of my apartment. Something happened whenever one of those birds took flight. It didn’t matter what you were doing, if you were outside and you heard the booster rockets, you stopped what you were doing and looked toward the coast.

Every launch were always held in high regard, and they were a decent social equalizer too. You could be in the middle of a hostile discussion about politics, seconds away from a fisticuffs. Everything forgotten, and camera phones come out when you hear the low and thunderous rumble to witness this spectacular and awe-inspiring moment.

To base the first lines of a story based on this, had its own set of challenges. Everything seemed fairly obvious: perspective of the tourists/mission control/astronauts. Rocket Man. Major Tom. All well and good. But for me, it had to go somewhere else.

Thank you very much for reading.

Caruso

Earth Mission: Caruso

“Shuttle Discovery, this is contol.” Connor would always marvel at the disembodied voices that would echo across the launch pad. They weren’t like the cold and sterile computer voices he grew up with. To him, it always felt like there was a hint of ambivalence, of fear, doubt, humanity. “H-two tank pressurization OK. You are go for launch, over.” Connor’s eyes widened. This was his favorite part.

“You’re standing a bit closer than usual, Connor,”  a female voice from behind him crooned.

“I know, mother. I shouldn’t be on the grass. But this part is so exciting!” Connor could barely contain his glee. “I keep forgetting, how much gasoline did they use to go to space?”

Shyla, his mother, was ever patient with her son. He is extremely bright for his age, but he still has his moments where his youth shines. “They never used gasoline, Connor. They used something called liquid oxygen. It was far more abundant and far more powerful than any fuel known to man.”

“Oh. Is that what they kept in those ‘H-two’ tanks?”
“Well, no. Not exactly. They kept hydrogen in the H tanks. They kept the oxygen in another. They kept the gases separate and very cold so when they got together, they would explode. And that explosion was strong enough to launch the astronauts into space.”

The man’s voice barked from every loudspeaker, “10, 9, 8,…” Connor and his mother at the edge of the marsh. Dangerously close to the launch pad.

“Oh, I see.” Connor’s voice trailing as the anticipation builds. “Mother?”
“Yes, child?”
“If they didn’t use gasoline in the tanks, and used something that was even more precious to get to space…”

“3, 2, 1…Lift off of Space Shuttle Discovery!”

“Is that how the Earthlings died?”

A thunderous explosion and fiery walls of spent fuel came rolling towards them faster than a Martian dust storm. Shyla’s expression wilted because as much as she was well versed in Ancient Earth culture, she had no real answers for him.

“Computer?” She sighed. “End simulation.” The walls of exhaust stopped advancing, gulls and sparrows froze in their mid air escape. The cameras of a few dozen tourists ended in mid-frame. An ancient spacecraft hangs silently above a ball of fire. And then, all at once, everything vanishes in a mist of ones and zeroes. “Simulation terminated” said the cold and sterile computer voice.

“My child,” she said gently rubbing the top of his head. “I’m afraid nobody knows for sure how it all ended. Some say there was a great war. Others claim it was ancient religion. Still others are convinced there was a great draught, and it eventually drove everyone to cannibalism.”
“Awful,” Connor winced.
“I know!” his mother agreed. “But whatever the reason, I’m sure the Earthlings, your ancestors, as flawed and primitive as they were, had the glorious foresight to colonize Mars because they had hope for mankind. The lives of you and me and everyone we know depended on it.”

Connor cast a miles long stare through glass roof of the Martian bio dome, to a tiny blue dot in the sky. “I wish I could see it, mother. I wish I could breathe the air and feel what the sun feels like on a closer planet. And taste rain, oh I would really like that.”

“Oh my child,” Shyla laughed. “Someday you will. Someday.”

A random comet streaks across the night sky.

“Can we load the ‘Old West’ Simulation?”

“Not tonight, cowboy. It’s getting late.”

©2016 AA Payson

Tuesday’s Child is Full of Grace (A First Lines Project)

Tuesday’s Child is Full of Grace (A First Lines Project)

Well now…

Here we go again with another title with the word ‘grace’ in it.

No, I didn’t mean for this to happen, I don’t have a Sue Grafton thing going on. I just have to learn to plan things better.

The takeaway from this challenge is that it has taught me to be more succinct. It has taught me to get to the point quicker. I have this tendency to ramble, and that’s usually indicative of a prominent Dad-gene or something where a person, usually a male, usually of a certain age, will bend an ear or two about a certain subject regardless if it has anything to do with the subject at hand, but it doesn’t seem to matter because when the prominent Dad-gene is stimulated, the antidote isn’t necessarily in the recognition of others, the anecdote is the antidote. Some guys just like the sound of their own voice. Why, I remember a time when I was a boy and the summers were long andSOMEBODY STOP ME BEFORE I RAMBLE AGAIN!

Seriously, the above paragraph was rewritten like 10 times because it was too long.

Thanks, iAuthor!

While I have finally acquired the skill of using fewer words to make a more impactful statement, I’ll still flail around like a fuzzy, yelping chick until I get my feathers in place, and learn how to fly straight.

Speaking of repeating myself, looks like I’m going back the well again. Not that I’m complaining. Ionut Caras’ photographs are a perfect playground for storytellers seeking new inspiration. I didn’t spend too long in looking at this one. I knew exactly where I wanted to go.

This one was a little clunky, but I had a lot of fun with it. Just your standard world-is-coming-to-an-end type of story and heroes and villains coming from unlikely places.  One of these days, I’d like to explore the macabre. I might have to add this one to the WIP pile.

Thank you for reading.

Tuesday's

Tuesday’s Child is Full of Grace

“Today marks the seventh day of these strange and deadly weather patterns,” a talking head on a televised news cast droned in a broken and vandalized store front. “Still no word from the world’s top scientists as to the reasons why the entire planet simultaneously and spontaneously evolved into a toxic wasteland.”

Outside of the shop, anarchy rules. Cars and buses have folded into each other in a smoldering embrace. Drivers and passengers broken and rotting from the aftermath.

“World leaders, fresh from their summit in the Hague, offer nothing more than thoughts and prayers for the survivors. Markets plunge, and law and order have become relics in their meaning.”

Somewhere in an alley choked with human debris, a man with rage in his eyes, a lifetime’s worth of tattoo’s on his flesh and a numbered orange jumpsuit on his back, stockpiles bloated and freshly violated corpses. He broke out this morning. It is now early evening. He hasn’t stopped. He isn’t going to stop.

“Surviving Evangelicals have gone on record to give the official word that this is indeed the end of days.”

A crow, having had his fill from the hollowed eye socket from the corpse on the top of the pile, launches himself into the sulfur choked sky and over the burning city.

“Mortality rates have reached all time record highs, the world is….is…” the talking head stammers while shuffling his papers in front of him. “Forgive me. It appears the teleprompter has gone dark, and I’m just being informed that the copy writer has just collapsed at his desk.”

The crow navigates through rows of once meticulously trimmed hedges and trees of a once vibrant park that is now dying from rot. He spots his quarry near a rust choked fountain; a baby carriage occupied by a slumbering, six month old infant. His talons grip the carriage’s handle. His eyes fix on the child.

“Ladies and gentlemen. To anyone within the sound of my voice, I would just like to say if there’s anyone left. Please, find a way to take care of each other. Find shelter underground. I will remain here for as long as I can, I don’t know how much time we have left. As we stand on the brink of extinction, I for one will not go quietly into that good night. Half of our crew have already perished…I…I…” he trails off as tears well in his eyes. He is unable to continue.

Inside the carriage, the baby stirs. He opens his eyes and smiles at the crow staring back at him.

“Is it finished?” the baby asks, his voice as old as ash.

“Yes, my lord.” quoth the crow.

“Good,” the baby yawned. “Then, let us begin.”

©2016 AA Payson

Marquis de Soleil (A First Lines Project)

Marquis de Soleil (A First Lines Project)

Whimsy.

Now there’s some territory that I haven’t explored yet. Purely fantastical, grotesque and magical, your town has turned into a 3 Ring Circus for a day type of whimsy. Something for the children to grow up with and remember as they get older. Something for the adults to ponder and delight in on quieter days. Winter is over, spring has had its turn, now mad and wonderful summer is calling you out to play in the grass and to swim in the lake. Whimsy.

And not the type that makes the Sad Puppies howl pathetically at the front door to be let in because, “Oohhhh… there’s too much diversity out here, and we might get some on us aaOOOO!!” Not the type that has any hidden agenda other than to tell the story itself. And definitely not the type of whimsy that has a blatant agenda either; like every cartoon made during the Reagan Administration wasn’t actually a thinly veiled PSA.

Nothing like that at all.

I’m talking whimsy for whimsy sake. It used to be a thing. But the world has changed in ominous and scary ways. Moments of fun and wonder and amazement are fleeting, and even then, they are either sucked dry of any fun and turned into corporate entities, or they are left to their own devices and labeled as deviant and dangerous. I’m talking about the type of infectious whimsy that made projects like The Butterfly Ball and the Grasshopper’s Feast have a longer lasting impact than anticipated.

…At least for me, anyway.


(We miss you, Ronnie James Dio…)

I dunno, maybe I’m reverting. Maybe I’m biased. Maybe I should turn off cable news.

I almost didn’t even bother with this next project. It’s an image made by Italian Artist Paolo de Francesco. It’s absurd and whimsical and there are a lot of things are going on with it and things are popping up where they shouldn’t be and… it’s perfect. There was nothing I could add to this. There was no commentary I could draw from it, no alternative story I could tell because it was its own little world, and the best I could do is maybe transcribe what I saw, like some journalist embedded inside a Timothy Leary daydream.

But, I couldn’t walk away as easily on this one. The longer I stared at the picture, the louder a certain Beatles song got in my head. The louder it got, the more I was transported back to the time where I was a child of the Vietnam War era and where we celebrated whimsy for whimsy sake for a very brief moment in time, and how I think I think we need some more of that whimsy now. The more I thought about that, the more I reflected on the notion on all the things that I write, or try to write, or want to write,  doesn’t necessarily have to go dark to be a good story. All things considered, happy endings can be a good thing.

Just a thought.

Thanks again for reading. Back soon.

Marquis

Marquis de Soleil

“I have outlived far more than I’d care to remember,” thought the old sea dog as he scrapes the bowl of his scrimshaw pipe. “You’d think I’d have my fair share of wisdom to show for it after all this time. Somethin’ like ‘take care of your vessel, and she’ll take good care ah you‘ or ‘Play in the sea, just don’t play with her‘. Bollocks to that.” he swiped a match on the side of his pipe and lit it. “The only advice that is worth a shyte is ‘Keep your powder dry and a weather eye.” Clouds of pungent smoke rolled off his grizzled chin as he spins his cold coffee in his cold, tin cup.

Summer has finally come to the cove. The distant squeals of children splashing in the water answer the mechanical purrs of random outboard motors. The air is fresh with lilac and sea salt, and this ancient mariner who never really found his land legs, reclines on his porch in the late morning sun. He smiles at the simple beauty of the morning. He smiles despite his missing teeth and missing leg. He smiles because he hears the long wail of a conch horn fanfare in the distance, followed by even louder children squeals and the cheers of townsfolk. Today is the day when he returns. Today is a day to rejoice.

“Like clockwork,” he laughs. “Yep, I have lived a very long life, and this I know for sure: The sun will always rise in the morning, The Mermaids that play in the harbor are real, and the Marquis de Soleil always arrives on the last day of May into our waters, his estate carried on the back of his pet Kraken.”

©2016 AA Payson

Days of Iron and Stone (A First Lines Project)

Days of Iron and Stone (A First Lines Project)

Okay, we’re gonna change it up a little bit here.

My last post blatantly used the property of someone else, which is a big no-no. I avoid making a habit of it, and I don’t recommend anyone else to do it either.

But to clarify, I did go out of my way to explain that the picture wasn’t mine. I put in a few hours to see if I could find the artist who made it, but nothing was coming back with a credit or a source, so I just threw all the props to John Carpenter in hopes that he was the one that made it.

So, going forward there will be some changes in these posts. Instead of posting the picture that iAuthor used in their social media announcements, I will be linking to the photo or picture from the source itself whenever possible, and creating a related piece of art that has less to do with the original picture, and more to do with the text. This was a lesson learned from a previous Flash Fiction contest I participated in. This way, all rights go to the artist while I get to flex my own flabby, creative muscles, and everybody’s happy.

There. Glad I could clear that up.

For my next project, I based my opening on a work painted by Vladimir Manyukhin. His work is brilliant, rich, breathtaking  and exquisitely detailed. Most of it involves depictions of a dystopian, cyberpunk future, while others portray a mythical, cold and gritty past. I hope to one day commission a cover from him.

The name of his artwork that I’m basing this project on is called The Last of the Kings. The name of my fiction is Days of Iron and Stone which sounds like a riff of Song of Ice and Fire, but who cares? When I start making George RR Martin money, then you can feel free to start trolling me. Since A) that’s not bound to happen in the near future, and B) the story has nothing to do with Westeros or Red Weddings or mental midgets, just let me do mah thing.

Hugs and kisses, thank you for reading, please feel free to comment and share.

DaysofIron

Days of Iron and Stone

“How long had it been?” she thought as she wiped an edifice clean of spider webs. The memories of brighter days came back to her as she revealed a crude, coal signature: “ELly” drawn by hands that belonged to one still learning her own name. “Aye,” she sighed. “That long.”

She remembers laughter and a doting father’s voice. Then just as quickly as stormclouds chase away the sun, new memories begat older ones as she turned the corner and gazed upon the giant stone depiction of a king. Those of a father leading his men into a bloody war, and of a crying mother, and years of solitude.

Her voice, firm yet gentle, seemed to awaken every stone that surrounded her. “Good Morrow, my Liege,” Elinor said. The giant stone guards that flanked the stone king did not disapprove. “and, Happy Birthday papa, ” In the distance, a crow calls out for his kin. “I had just noticed my skill with a lump of coal on the wall over there. Do you remember? Mother was so mad, but you scooped me up and tossed me in the air as any proud papa would. I suppose.”

She is the only soul that breathes in this chamber. And as the dust gently falls through a solitary sunbeam, one could attest that she had been the only one in a very long time. Even though the land has been passed down to her, she still ascends the great marble stairs with great reverence.”You led us in a war that could not be won, and made the ultimate sacrifice for your men, for your kingdom…for me. And to this day, we still clash and quarrel, we still shed blood. And we still haven’t learned a thing.” The once golden sunlight that poured in from the massive rose window in the altar had now muted itself to a deeper blue. A storm was coming.

“I miss you, papa, and I have remained strong and vigilant for you and your kingdom. Your subjects still tell the tales and sing songs of how you saved us all. But we still fight. We fight for control, we fight for land, rights, and still we are no better off than when you never came home. You told me once that no matter how much land we control, or how many people we rule, without love none of it is worth it. And I still believe what you said. I still believe in you. So please, believe in me when I say that even though our greatest foe may still threaten our kingdom,” she paused to rub her belly which has developed a slight curve over the past few moons. “I will make sure that love will rule the day.” And with that, she curtsied, and turned to descend the stairs. “I take my leave, my king. May the lord bless you and keep you on this day. Happy Birthday, papa. I will always love you.” Old iron hinges protested as she opened the old wooden door.

©2016 AA Payson