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

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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

The Corner of State and Grace (A First Lines Project)

The Corner of State and Grace (A First Lines Project)

I often think of the kindly ones.

Especially in these days. Especially in these times of an increasingly fearful and angry public being fueled into a state of irrationality by 24 hour news cycles. Especially in these days where the definition of “social media” is being held prisoner by a smartphone that makes you willingly engage in the imprisonment of unwitting cartoon creatures. My thoughts often go to the kindly ones.

The ones that lived through hardship after hardship, and still welcome you with open arms. The ones who dispense wisdom without an ounce of bias. The ones whose love is so unconditional, you’d scarcely believe that such a person ever existed. The ones with open minds and big hearts. The ones with warm smiles and calloused hands. I think about them often to keep them from disappearing. I think about them often so that I may clear out the noise and clutter in my head, and allow me to tell the difference between honesty and poison. I think about how many times I’ve never learned from what they taught, and how I desperately need their voices back in these days of a crumbling civilization.

I often think of them. Where they are. If they’re still alive.

That was pretty much the motivation behind this next project set before me by iAuthor. The fiction is based on a picture by photographer and professional Photoshopper, Ionut Caras. Again, here was a challenge that I was a click away from avoiding. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a gorgeous work, and I turn several shades of green at the Photoshop skills this guy has. But the message, or indeed any message that was present, was eventually lost on me. Perhaps because I am so saturated by watching YouTube tutorials, that I saw more beauty in the technicality and the execution, rather than focusing on what it meant to me.

Then one by one, the voices and faces of the kindly ones came back.

Thank you for reading, please feel free to comment and share.

The Corner of

The Corner of State & Grace

This was her block. That the bank owned most of it wasn’t the point. Whenever she walked out to the curb, everyone knew it was her block. She knew everyone’s name, and everyone knew hers. She was quick to welcome a stranger, and even quicker to give a smile.

She was beloved. She was respected. She was homeless. She would offer you the coat off her back, if she had one to give. But what she gave was love, and love was all we gave back.

All of us would take care of her the best way we knew how, but the cancer would slowly take her. She had no proper family, we were her family.

The last days were the worst. We all knew that it wouldn’t be long. All of us pooled money together, some called in favors. We all made sure that she had a bed and a roof over her head, although she protested. She wanted her ending to be on her terms.

When the time finally came, she looked at all of us one last time; a sea of sad faces young and old. She smiled at us and said, “Now, now. No tears. Not here. Not now. No tears for me. I want you to remember all the good. Nothing but the good. Tomorrow, when I am gone, go to my corner and when you finished saying your good-byes, look up. I’ll be smilin’ attcha!”

It was the last thing she said.

The groundskeepers at Potter’s Field were dumbstruck. They have never in their lives seen such a turnout for one person. Everyone in their Sunday best. Everyone with a black umbrella open; a shield of mourning against a weeping sky. After the service, we all didn’t know what to do except honor her last wish.

One by one, we all stood there in the rain recalling what she meant to us. And then, when we were done, we looked up. And just like she was making good yet again on her promises, the black clouds melted under a mighty rainbow. She was smiling at us, one last time.

©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

Brotherhood of The Light (A First Lines Project)

Brotherhood of The Light (A First Lines Project)

This is it.

This is where I got my feet wet.

This is the first image that iAuthor posted that I decided to play with.

Android-Wallpaper-WF1005
“We’re here for the Thriller audition?”

For the few of you who probably have never seen this before, this is the DVD cover art for the 1980 version of John Carpenter’s, “The Fog“. I couldn’t find the original artist for this, so I’m going to have to presume that John Carpenter himself made it. I have never seen the original, or the reboot, so I have no idea what’s going on. Is it zombies? Vampires? Zombie Vampires? Radioactive Groundskeepers? A Satanic Cosplaying Cult? I honestly do not know. As much as I think John Carpenter is a cinematic god, he does seem to have a commonality to his films. However, I could be wrong. Since I haven’t seen this one, he might have just taken this opportunity to branch out in a different direction. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say this movie has monsters in it. Perhaps lots of nightmare inducing graphic violence involving lots of horrifically stabby things. Maybe there will be a gratuitous boob shot thrown in there as well to keep the fanboys attention. But hey, what do I know? The movie might be about cute and fuzzy woodland creatures humping each other like mad while Gordon Gekko puts For Sale signs in front of their warrens while riding a unicorn that craps gold doubloons. I’ll watch it someday to make sure.

And, don’t spoil it. I’ll find out for myself if the white girl dies at the end or not.

Never mind that. Instead of having the First Person Narrative reel in horror because a gaggle of soulless creatures are lumbering towards him out of some spooky fog to use his brain for taco meat, I went with a different approach.

Thank you for reading.

brotherhoodofthelight

 

Brotherhood of The Light

And suddenly, I could feel nothing. Not the mud under my boot, not the sword in my hand, not the wound in my side. Nothing. The cool mist cleaned my brow and my lungs and at first, all was dark. I walked. I knew not in what direction. I had found the strength to walk again, and anywhere was better than standing still. It felt like north. I walked until the pain in my side was dulled by the pain in my feet. I walked, convinced that this was all that was left of the world. I walked until I saw light. A magnificent blue glow that rendered the darkness useless. I walk toward it, hoping I would find my rest. Instead, I found my fallen brethren, and they were walking to me with arms outstretched, and eyes aglow. At long last, I have found my home. At long last, I have found my rest.

 

©2016 AA Payson