Sequentials

What Did You Expect?

As far as first impressions go, Debra was not impressed.

The guy seemed to have appeared out of nowhere. He waited for her shocked reaction which never came, and frowned in obvious disappointment when her eyes merely flicked in his direction before returning to her novel. The fluff of white hair on his head looked to have the consistency of a truffula tree. His skin was almost the same color, a translucent hue that made Debra think of vampires and basement dwellers.

He blurted out something about being the moon and how they were destined to be together. When she didn’t respond he continued. “Haven’t you felt like you’re just waiting for the right person to meet? I mean, let’s face it. Greg didn’t turn out to be much of a keeper, did he?”

Debra set her book down. “You’ve been spying on me.” It wasn’t a question. Lunar deity or not, it was an invasion of privacy.

“Well, spying is a bit harsh, I’d say. I’d prefer ‘hidden admiring’.”

You’re the one that’s been watching me. “You’re the one that’s been giving me goosebumps for no reason.” She jabbed a finger at him with each accusation. Nearby conversations fell to a whisper, ears hoping to get their daily dose of drama.

“Er, well. Isn’t that sort of, you know, old-fashioned and charming?” He gave a weak smile.

Debra stood up. “No. It’s creepy and weird. Stop watching me and get a life.” She scooped up her book and turned to leave.

“Wait!” the moon said, pushing back his chair. “Aren’t you even, like, a little curious?”

When she looked him in the eyes she saw right through him, and he didn’t look like the moon at all. Just a sad and lonely man desperate for companionship.

“No,” she said, and walked away, leaving the moon as it will always be.

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Flash Fiction, Sequentials

The Lemming and the Loon

It was a bit better and a bit worse than a normal morning for Debra Lemming. For one, she had finally gotten laid after nearly a year. Greg had offered to make breakfast, even though it was her kitchen and her food. Just a tad presumptuous for her taste, but it was a nice gesture. Greg seemed to be full of nice gestures. Especially the kind that got him something out of it. Take last night.

Debra shielded her eyes from the sun as she sat and waited at the small, two-person table shoved against the wall. One too many cocktails, Debby. Yes, last night had been fun indeed. Although during, she couldn’t shake the itching feeling that they were being watched. But that was impossible. They were five floors up and the blinds had been drawn. Still, she had been having that feeling a lot recently, and kept expecting to turn her head and lock eyes with some mysterious watcher, but never did. She shook her head. She should stop watching those Cold Case Files. They were making her paranoid.

The coffee was piping hot and black, as coffee should be, and Debra let her mug sit on the counter and cool while Greg helped himself to a cup.

“Got any cream?” he asked, already moving to the fridge.

“Nope, but some almond milk on the top shelf there.”

“Thanks.” He splashed in a generous amount and some coffee dribbled over the side. He heroically mopped up the spill with his sock. “Eggs an’ toast fine?” he asked.

“Just toast for me.” She hoped he would get the hint. There were only two eggs left in the carton. Please, just get the hint.

“Suit yourself,” he said, and pulled out the carton.

Debra took a sip from her mug then. The coffee was too hot and that was all right. It was obvious now that Greg had been a mistake. Well no, Debra Lemming didn’t believe in making mistakes, only misinformed decisions. Watching him try to scramble eggs without oiling the pan, she knew she wouldn’t be going home with the charming moocher type again.

Flash Fiction, Sequentials

The Tortoise Rises

Howard strode out to where the tortoise lay on the lawn. It looked up at him with pathetically dull, half-closed eyes and wiggled its feet in the air. Kneeling down in a low squat, Howard reached his hands into the gap between grass and shell. His feet pushed off the ground hard. In a colossal effort, muscles bunched and straining, Howard eased the tortoise up off its back. The thing was so heavy that when gravity took over the shell slipped from Howard’s grasp, and it landed with a reverberating thud.

Howard shook out his arms. The physical work had felt good. It woke him up, made his thoughts a little clearer. If the tortoise was here to stay, he thought, he’d better adapt to it.

In the garage was his grandfather’s workbench, with tools and lumber a plenty. Howard had never been much of a handyman, but he did have a fondness for carving and woodworking, though he was lousy at it. He supposed that was better than nothing, and got to work immediately, selecting two-by-fours and trimming them down to the proper length with his grandfather’s miter saw. He fashioned the planks into stakes and placed them around the perimeter of the garden. Howard enjoyed the physical labor. As a kid, it seemed he was always doing some type of yardwork whether it be raking leaves, mowing the lawn, or cleaning out the gutters. There was something satisfying about doing that kind of work. It was empowering, completing tasks with your body, by yourself, that he had found nothing else could quite capture. After rummaging around in the garage, Howard found some old chicken wire that he wrapped around the stakes. It wouldn’t stop something as crafty as a raccoon, but Howard thought it should be enough to protect his precious flowers from the tortoise.

Drenched in sweat and sticky from the heat, Howard took shelter inside and hopped in a cold shower. He wasn’t sure whether it had been the physical activity, or the rescuing of the tortoise, but it felt as if a veil had lifted over Howard’s head. What had once been shrouded in sulking self-doubt was now pure and clear as a mountain spring.

After his shower Howard immediately phoned Grace and told her he wanted her to move in. It took some convincing to prove he was serious, but in the end she agreed.

Over the next month Howard’s life went through a radical change. He gave away a lot of his grandfather’s old things to family members. What he couldn’t give away he sold in a yard sale. Grace moved in, and brought with her a vibrant new life to the old house. She came in with her notebook and jotted down idea after idea for what they could do with all the space. They would repaint some rooms, move furniture.

When they had unpacked the last of the boxes and the move was final, they shared a bottle of pinot on the back patio and watched the tortoise roam the lawn. Howard had taken seeds from the community garden and grown a vegetable patch exclusively for the tortoise, full of cabbages and tomatoes and onions. He’d started in his spare time to construct it a shelter for the oncoming storms and winter months ahead. It kept him busy, and he liked the work. Most of all, Howard reveled in the current of life that seemed to propel him forward these days. The constant doing felt good, natural.

The two watched the tortoise make its slow, deliberate way toward its private patch. And in the fading light they sat and drank, happy for now, in an act of simple observation, and the pleasure of each other’s company.

Flash Fiction, Sequentials

The Tortoise Remembers

Howard grabbed a banana from his fruit basket and broke it in two. He had just bought a bunch from the farmer’s market on a whim, as he hadn’t had one in a while. The tortoise was still on its back outside, legs feeling for the ground. Howard peeled each half of the banana individually, leaving the connecting strand in the middle, which made them resemble primitive nun chucks. He held the two pieces of fruit in either hand, taking intermittent bites so they stayed at an even height. The meat of the banana was pulpy and slightly wet, and the bruised bits were sweeter and softer than the usual firmness he preferred.

As he watched the tortoise from his window, his thoughts drifted to when he and Grace had an impromptu picnic on the lake. The one that went wrong.

It had been a perfect day. The sun was high overhead, giving off enough heat to keep them in their summer wear, but not so much that it was unbearable. Everything on the lake pulsed with life. The trees on the far bank lush and green, leaves rustling in the breeze. The water itself was cloudy with mud and clay, but still reflected a near-perfect image of the tree line on its glassy surface.

“You’re so weird. You know that right?” Grace said, popping another grape into her mouth. She sat across from him on the canoe as they drifted on the open water.

Howard shrugged and took a huge bite of the banana, finishing one of the halves. He puffed out his cheeks and drooped his jaw in perfect imitation of a baboon. Grace laughed, dunking her hand in the water and flicking her fingers so that droplets splashed on him. “You know I hate that face,” she said.

Howard finished his banana, and was just about to comment on what a great idea this all had been, when his phone vibrated in his pocket.

“Hello?” he said. “Yes.” He looked at Grace. “Yes, I understand.” A flock of geese passed nearby, and Howard watched the fuzzy goslings follow their parents among the reeds. A gust of wind rushed past and he put a finger to his ear. “What? No, no. I’ll be there as soon as I can. Love you too.”

“Who was that?” Grace asked after he had hung up.

The phone hung limp in one hand. “My mom. My grandfather had a heart attack. Said she found him on the couch a few hours ago.” His voice was calm, unwavering.

“Oh my god.”

“So.” Howard looked down at the empty banana peel still in his hands. “We should probably go then,” he said.

The funeral was that weekend. When he was asked to be a pallbearer he excused himself to the bathroom and stifled sobs in one of the stalls. It was strange. He and his grandfather had never been close, but for some reason the death seemed more real than he thought it would. Perhaps because it was so unexpected. His grandmother was in a home, and they had all expected her to go first. And his grandfather had been young. Just sixty-five. His big belly and silver hair had never changed.

Howard didn’t finish the service with the rest of his family. Didn’t watch his grandfather be lowered six-feet-under in a wooden box. Instead he smoked a cigarette and walked among the other tombstones, wondering if one day someone would pass by his grandfather’s in a similar way.

A well-dressed lawyer with a thin, receding hairline and a thin receding voice went over the particulars of his grandfather’s will with them. Howard had somehow gotten the house, and what possessions they had left in it. A few things went to his mother and uncle: the car, the money, and the collection of family videos and photo albums, but for the most part they were left out. His uncle hadn’t been happy about that, feeling as though he deserved more, he stormed out. Howard hadn’t talked to him since.

That had been close to six months ago, and Howard still didn’t feel at home. It was strange, living alone in a place that he had once only visited for family cookouts and get-togethers. Sometimes his mother would leave him for a weekend, which he would spend watching television until he was ushered outside by his grandmother, where he climbed trees and collected interesting rocks before having a dinner of bologna and mayonnaise sandwiches. Now he did crosswords and fussed over the roses, and ate frozen pizzas and cold cereal.

The tortoise was still out there. He had left it lying on its back for a whole day now. Would the thing remember how cruel he was being to it? He wondered if he could leave it like that until it died. But as soon as the thought entered his mind Howard knew he would never go through with it. Even though the tortoise had given him a world of grief, he couldn’t bring himself to let the old, pathetic creature go like that.

But he’d still leave it there one more day. Just to teach it a lesson.

On Writing, Ramblings

Character, Plot, and Story

I’d like to go into a brief exploration into the relationship between character and plot, and how they relate to the overall effectiveness of a story.

To start things off, let’s first narrow down what we as readers expect from a story. One of the first things that comes to my mind is that I don’t want my time to be wasted. I want the story to be interesting, thought provoking, and entertaining. So what is it that makes a story interesting, thought provoking, and entertaining?

A Story is About Something That Matters

Now, this isn’t to say that there aren’t amazingly written stories about trivial circumstances. There are. But the reason that those stories succeed is because the author has made the reader believe that whatever happens does in fact matter, regardless of what that should be. And who does it matter to, you ask? Why should you care?

The Character Matters

This is what makes you keep turning the page. You want to find out what happens next because you have been made to care about the main character in some way. Maybe you sympathize with them and relate to their struggle, or maybe they seem malicious and you want them to get what’s coming. Either way, the author has created an imaginary person who manages to get you to feel something for them. That is, some would say, the greatest accomplishment a writer can achieve.

Character and Plot

This is where it can get a bit confusing. In a way, you cannot talk about character without bringing up plot, and vice versa.

Let’s take a look at plot first. Plot is not merely what happens in a story, but why. Meaning, that there is a big difference between simply rendering in chronological order: this happened, then this, then this…, and taking the reader through a journey as to why and how a particular event occurred. Plot involves the specific ordering of how a series of events is revealed so as to wring as much emotion and meaning from it as possible.

Now in order to capture our attention, plot has to follow character. Otherwise, novels would read more like outlines or storyboards. Merely stating what happens isn’t what gives us the satisfaction as readers. Above, I mentioned the why and how that makes plot stand out. Character is where the why and how come from.Who a person is and what happens to them influences what they choose to do. This may seem like an obvious statement, but it rings true in the context of story. The way I see it, character and plot come together to create story.

So What? 

So, why does this all matter and what can you do with it? If you’re looking for an answer as to how to start writing a story, or where it all begins, you’ll have to look someplace else. I don’t really have that answer. It seems that in my own work sometimes an interesting series of events hits me, but I find creating a character to fit into them difficult to do. Other times, the character will come first, but I’ll have trouble finding things for them to do. It’s a godsend when you’re hit with both at the same time.

I think the best advice that I can give is to practice. Write what sounds fun. Write what you’d like to read. And don’t forget to experiment with new ways to approach your writing. You never know when it will lead to something bigger.