2017

I hate to center this post around what appears to be a New Year’s Resolution theme, but I don’t control timing, neither the events as they unfold in my head nor how the calendar turns. If I did—well… I don’t know if that’d change anything, but I can sure as hell pretend it would. Fiction has taught me to believe that.

So with resolving not to resolve, here’s as far as I can see down my own little path. Some of the twists and turns have straightened, and I can see a fair distance to the next bend.

To stop being esoteric, I’ll be posting less.

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve written anything, and the itch is returning once again; that’s always a nice thing. However, I want to change gears for myself. For the last few years I’ve done what I can to pressure myself into writing in a rather public way, posting stories that I’ve written whether I consider them to be good or not. It’s all been in the name of practice and the off-chance that I gain a reader base.

Now I want to focus on writing simply for the sake of writing, and writing in a more private manner allows me to experiment, practice and explore. This new book idea is coalescing in my mind, and I want to keep that process as free from restriction as possible. That means allowing myself to write in open-ended ways. No quip endings to wrap things up. No need to edit and keep things succinct. Just write. If something conjures itself into a readable story, I’ll be sure to share it, but that’s not my focus for the time being.

It’s a little exciting as it reminds me of my teenage days when I sat in a basement with a laptop and cool darkness and simply writing a story because I wanted to. There was no audience or even the imagination of one. Just words on a screen and enjoying it all the same.

In that vein, you may see some experimental postings as well. As I explore characters, it’s possible that my own writing sessions turn into their own storylines which may or may not be posted.

Anyway, yadda yadda. I hope all of you had an enjoyable Christmas and that the New Year treats you even better. If you have any lingering goals, chase those devious little things down. Even if they’re not obtained, the pursuit is equally important.

Cheers

Paintings

Image

I’ve been painting the last few weeks. Some have turned out well, some haven’t. All in all, it’s been a pretty good experience. Learning and all that. Plus, a change of pace is always nice.

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This one was nice and simple. I don’t think it even took 30 minutes from start to finish (canvas is 12×24).

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This is the same concept, but it doesn’t work as well with this color combo. (24×36)

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This one turned into a happy little surprise. (24×36)

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This one was like wrestling a bear. It originally started out well with a decent background, but then I ruined it by trying to overlay a tree onto it. Then I made it worse by doing who knows what. Then I shelved it for two months. I finally got over the sting of defeat and just treated it like a practice canvas. In the end, I feel it was somewhat salvaged. I at least learned from it. (36×48)

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This was the painting I feared the most. I knew what I wanted to do, but I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to do it. So I did the background work for it and let it sit for about six months. After having a decent run at painting, I finally decided to push on and go for it, good or bad. This is the before. (36×48)

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And the obvious after. The picture is a little glossy where it’s still wet, but I’m very happy with the end result. I’m keeping this one for myself 🙂

Help From the Woods (Flash Fiction)

In the winter snows she walked; the cold, her only friend. Ice layered the twisting path through the park in a vain attempt to promote itself to stained-glass. Northern winds rushed through the birch trees. All color had been stripped from the limbs. All signs of life were hidden. She came to a stone stairway that gave treacherous way to the shoreline below. Dark water churned under a gray sky spitting snow.

She stared.

More and more, that body of water so filled with biting cold and engulfing dark called to her. She found herself in the park more often. Things were getting worse.

There was a time when hope pressed against those darker feelings. There was a time when she felt there was still a way. But things changed, or more accurately, things stayed terribly the same. So it was the park, alone in the dead of winter. It was nervous glances at her stepfather’s straight-razor next to the sink. It was long gazes at the tops of skyscrapers watching birds spread their wings and watching the wind carry them away and wondering if she should do the same.

Fingers of cold slipped in through small gaps in her clothes. She shivered, and then felt quite peculiar.

Anna turned to look back at the park and blinked at the specks of snow landing on her eyelashes. Empty swings shifted in the breeze. Snow drifts huddled around picnic tables. The streets beyond a small stone wall were empty, yet she couldn’t shake the feeling.

Someone was there with her. Someone was watching.

Anna walked back through the snow, avoiding the icy path. Her dark hair tossed, and she tucked it behind her ear with a gloved hand. The cold stung her nose. She stood and waited. The peculiar feeling continued to the point of tingling.

A calm voice spoke out from in front of her. It was melodic and slow. “Strange ponderings for a woman so young.”

Anna looked on. The peculiar feeling inside her was matched by something equally odd—an absence of fear. A gust of wind brushed snow from the tree limbs. Flakes stuck and melted on her cheek.

“Is there no one to listen?” the voice asked. “No one who cares to hear your pains?”

“Where are you?” asked Anna.

The birch trees shivered in the wind; their long trunks and snowy backdrop blurred together like zebras. Something moved. Anna squinted, feeling victim to an optical illusion. A trunk shimmered in front of her as a small creature crawled up the side. It took hold of a limb and stood just above her.

An imp looked upon Anna, and Anna looked back. The gusting wind settled. From behind, the waves of the lake continued churning.

The imp wound its small tail around the branch and shielded its back to the wind. Its skin appeared hard like bark and matched the color of the tree. If real or illusion, Anna couldn’t say. Its eyes burned red.

“What are you?” Anna asked.

The imp looked on, frozen like a gargoyle.

Anna scanned the park for other persons. There was no one. She stepped forward, and the burning eyes followed her movement. “What do you want?”

The imp looked down his crooked nose. “There are solutions, you know,” the imp said, his voice still beautiful and calm. “I could assist thee.” His spiked tail flicked and punctuated the offer.

Anna stared and barely noticed the snow falling against her face. The branch above her swayed, and the perfectly still little demon swayed with it, as if part of the tree. Neither his fragile wings nor long ears stirred with the wind. Anna thought of a hundred questions, all of them obvious in their foolishness. In time, she found the only one that mattered.

“What will it cost me?”

The burning eyes, like golden embers at the base of a raging fire, stayed locked upon hers. The mouth of the imp stayed closed while the voice softly spoke out. “Only the consequences of your decision.” The words were like warm velvet, like melting butter soaking into a toasted muffin.

The imp scrambled out along the branch like a small monkey, agile and confident, and wrapped its tail around the waning end. With a simple flick, the wood snapped, and the imp flung it to the ground. The snow hissed with steam where the makeshift wand landed. Anna walked and found the melted spot. The bark was charred with the tail’s imprint. Anna held the small stick in her hand, and it gave the faintest glow. Through her glove, she could feel its warmth on her hand.

“What is this?” she asked, looking back to the branch.

But the creature was gone. Her eyes darted from trunk to trunk and limb to limb, but the imp was nowhere to be found. Gone as well, the peculiar feeling of a hidden observer.

In the winter snows, Anna stood alone. Now with the cold, fear had become her friend.

Old Generals (Flash Fiction)

Two generals sat opposed to one another in silence. Before them, their armies stood in formation, proud and silent and ready to execute commands given. Nature stood around them, birch trees framing hedges and a rolling meadow, all uncaring in its awareness to the acts of man. The scene had played out before. It would inevitably play out again. No words need be spoken for what is there to say when it’s come to war? The window for words had closed.

The soldiers advanced.

“Yer move,” Bruce said with a smile.

“I can see it’s my move, ya knit-wit. Ya let go, didn’t ya? Everyday it’s the same thing, ‘yer move, yer move’ as if I ain’t never played.” James plopped his chin into an open palm and blew raspberries.

Bruce’s smile grew sinister with tease. “I figure I have to remind ya since you take so long. Yer mind don’t spin on all its gears no more. You’re forgetful, which is why you keep playing.” Bruce waited for his bait to be struck. No such luck. “You forget how often I beat ya!” He leaned over the concrete table and gave a raspy laugh.

James grumbled and advanced another pawn, his third. It was a weak opening and he knew it. So did Bruce. “Just move yer damn horse so I can trade ya for it.”

“How’s that?” snapped Bruce, cutting his laugh mid-guffaw. “What makes you think I wanna trade ya?”

“Ohhhh-ho-ho!” snided James. “What’s that yer saying ‘bout being forgetful then? How could it be if I remember how much you love to trade your first horse away?”

Bruce’s eyes narrowed to slits of wrinkled old skin. Through wispy cataracts, he peered with disdain. He advanced his queen, and it stood like a monolith amongst the pawns, dark and slender and full of disruptive potential.

James averted his eyes in attempt to hide his failing poker face. His ploy had worked. The advancing knight was stayed and his weak opening given a small hope at recovery. He slid his rook behind his pawns, and the rook looked out over the board like a nosey neighbor peeking over a fence line.

“Foolish,” quipped Bruce. “If yer not taking the game serious, why bother?” His second knight came into play. “I’ll never understand why—“

James moved his own knight without hesitation.

The display of confidence had a rattling effect. Bruce slid his hand, knuckles swollen from a lifetime of work, under his plaid newsboy cap. Calloused fingers rubbed at smooth, bald scalp. Wanting to see what would unfold, he moved a cautious pawn.

James chuckled in relief. His flawed opening was spared. “Always the cock of the walk, ain’t yeah? But ya sure do pipe down when someone else puffs up their feathers.” Both of his knights were now in play and eyeing the opposing queen with ill intent.

Bruce slapped his hat onto the table and pointed a crooked finger. “If you wanna go toe to toe, buckaroo, you go right ahead!” He moved and captured the rook and left his knight open for trade.

James obliged with ease. “Told ya. Always lookin’ to trade. You should at least get fair value.”

Bruce grumbled and moved to support his queen. The next few moves went in a flurry as each tried to assert dominance through a display of speed and nothing more. The result was equally baffling for the two parties. Somehow, both sides were worse for the wear.

“This has got to be the worst amount of play I’ve ever seen,” said Bruce. “And I do mean ever. My great-grandson still drooling from the side of his mouth plays better than you.”

James advanced on the daring queen. “Drools from the mouth, eh? I can see where he gets it.”

Bruce wiped his mouth in panic and dismayed over the saliva found on the back of his hand. He forgot about his queen and the game. “I don’t drool!”

James moved again, the queen’s supposed royalty now being openly disrespected. “Ohhh,” droned James, “I suppose it’s the rain then? Falling from these lovely blue skies?”

Bruce gaped. A string of saliva stretched from the corner of his mouth. “I was drinking water earlier, ya know.”

“You were drinkin’ something,” agreed James. He reached for another piece.

“It’s my turn, ya cheatin’ rat-bastard!” Bruce empowered his queen and crushed a threatening knight. In his haste, he failed to see a waiting pawn.

James tilted his head in sarcastic remorse, landed a single fingertip on the waiting pawn, and slid it in a diagonal direction. Her Majesty fell. “Long live the queen,” he said with a smile.

Bruce swiped the board with his arm and sent the pieces flying, stood, and raised his finger to James. “Ya never did respect women, ya mizer!” Grunting, he placed his cap back onto his bald head and slid his ailing body away from the concrete bench.

James, overjoyed, wheezed with laughter.

Bob and Brian stood in silence off to the side and waited for the two men to clear. “What is that now,” Bob asked, “three weeks we’ve been coming here and those two still haven’t finished a game?” Brian nodded, and they set out to collect the scattered pieces.

The Next Step

A few months back I Rambled about considering stoppage on my current novel to start from scratch and write something else. Shortly after, I realized how much work that is—starting from scratch—and immediately jumped back into the comfort and security of my novel that is roughly 60 percent complete.

As it always is in life, changes come.

In the last month I’ve found myself very resistant to working on that book. I assumed it was laziness, that I simply wasn’t spending enough time writing, but that’s not true. I’ve been writing. Not as much as I could, sure, but I’m still taking time to put words onto page in various forms. I often have the itch to write, and I often scratch it. Normally this would be a great opportunity for me to berate myself for not following through on a project or for being lazy or any other helping of self-guilt I could conjure. I’m changing my outlook though. Instead, I’ve figured out what’s happened to this novel.

So why not this novel? I’ve outgrown it.

While that may sound bad, it’s actually good because the novel has achieved its purpose even in its unfinished state.

The book I’ve been working on is very simple. A frugal man buys a home that is haunted, and through various circumstances he cannot leave. On top of that, he finds himself involved in a budding relationship that further drives him to find a way to make the house livable.

The story itself is fine. It’s solid and stands on its own. It works as a novel and has parts that legitimately give me chills. When I started this project, I gave myself guardrails to help me along the way. I’ve never written a book before. Previously, all I had finished were a few short stories and a novella (the novella sits as it does not meet my personal expectations for self-publishing). Going into this, I knew I didn’t know what I was doing, so I wanted the process to be as clean as possible in order to focus on the fundamentals—move the plot, develop the characters, build tension, create hooks and appropriate pacing, etc.

In exchange, I chose a story and setting that was as straightforward as possible. There are only five characters. The setting is current day in an average town. There are only a few locations where events unfold. The language is vanilla. The whole thing is simple, basic.

In essence, I gave myself training wheels. And for twenty-three chapters, over sixty thousand words, those training wheels paid off. Without having to worry about a complex story in an exotic setting that uses a variety of language and character desires, I’ve been able to focus on the fundamentals I was concerned about. I’ve been able to recognize my weaknesses when it comes to developing a novel, as well as my strengths.

Now it’s time for the training wheels to come off. I’m ready to try balancing on my own. That also means stopping the novel.

I know that goes against one of the biggest rules in writing; finish what you write. A few weeks ago, I was holding that standard with an iron fist. But I’m shifting my approach toward writing. I’m removing the habits and ideas that don’t work for me. One of those ideas is that I must publish/post everything. That idea, while with its own merits, has created a situation where I no longer write for play, for myself. I take all writing seriously, too seriously at times, and that’s a problem. No more.

The second idea is that everything must be finished. While I still very much agree that you should finish what you write, I no longer feel that’s a blanket statement. All writing is good writing in the simple terms of it advances someone in their craft. Whether you’re cranking out two lines or two pages, you’re writing, and that writing will accumulate toward an ultimate style and ability that you can call your own. If someone wishes to improve their physical habits, do you yell at them for jogging one block instead of one mile? Of course not. Progress is progress. It all counts.

But why not finish? If I’ve come this far, why not grind the rest out?

I don’t enjoy it. These training wheels I created to prop myself up are now the same elements holding me back. Mostly, a lot of it stems from the language and setting I’ve chosen. Since the dialogue is common and the setting normal, I find myself writing with a restriction in my voice. I feel rigid when I write this story, awkward. I can’t jump off the page and write in fun and challenging ways as it won’t make sense in the story. Plainness is the setting. To deviate from that is to deviate from the core of the book itself. Anything beyond this basic framework I’ve created will feel out of place.

So I’m moving on. To what, we’ll see. I’m sure there are plenty of writers out there that’ll say I’m making a mistake, that I should finish and then move on. Maybe they’re right.

If they are, they’re right for them.

The most important part of this process for me is figuring out what works and what doesn’t. Everyone has their own way, and I feel that in challenging some of my own views—views that were adopted from reading the opinions of others—I’m learning what works for me. Being so early in my writing, that’s far more important than one measly novel being self-published. I need to create a foundation that will last through decades, not a few more months.

And why Ramble on about this for so long? After all, practically no one reads any of this (and to those handful of people subscribed, I sincerely thank you). I don’t know. I’ve written and deleted this last paragraph about seven times now. Maybe to share. Maybe to vent. Maybe to romanticize over the idea that my decision could relate to someone else’s. It’s normal to struggle. It’s okay to change directions when finding your way. I think it’s important for people to hear that. So often in our culture we’re only shown the results of one’s work and never the efforts that created it. So often we’re told to keep going, keep going. Never stop. Realize your dreams! (and various other catchphrases)

I guess this is all to say that it’s okay to pause now and then to make sure you’re on the right path to begin with.

 

 

Double Save (Flash Fiction)

 

Laughter abounded as close friends sat together near a flickering fire that was purely for show in the summer heat. Above them hung a night sky that was open and still and a flurry of stars like a celestial snowstorm. Beyond their circle, on the edges of dancing yellow light, the waters of Lake Powell sat still and quiet. No wind pushed down the canyons to disturb its surface, and it mirrored the beauty of the heavens above with deceptive ease.

Memories were shared, jokes and anecdotes exchanged. From time to time a worried mother would glance back at the houseboat safely tethered to the shore. Even in her inebriated state and with her young son asleep, a small piece of her remained on guard.

Fears have a way of clinging.

The night took a warm turn down memory lane. Anecdotes morphed into favorite stories while alcohol flowed from a seemingly endless ice chest. The fire cycled from roaring rage to dwindling flame as it consumed its wooden feasts.

The hours sped by, and the group found pleasant calm. The fire was allowed to rest, and they took their eyes to the skies above, cloudless and speckled with the infinite forever. Yawns snuck into the circle and leapt from mouth to mouth. Dulling eyes stared into embers. Silence settled in with the early morning hours. From behind the canyon, a full moon broke free from cover and shone its brilliant blue light onto the silent world. The still lake took on perfect reflection.

The first member stood in the silence, stretched, and prepared to say good night, but the moment was broken by a distinct sound.

A splash.

The faces basking in the bright moonlight took a peculiar look. All save for one.

“Andy?” said Catherine. Her eyes bucked their sleepiness and went wide. “Was that Andy?”

Bob, the one standing, saw the fear in her eyes. Right or wrong, it mattered not. He sprinted toward the houseboat. “Bring a flashlight!” he yelled as his feet dug into the sand in furious steps. Behind him came the others, toppling their chairs and spilling remaining beers.

Bob was up the landing of the boat in two steps and hurrying down its center aisle. He rushed into the small cabin where Andy had been put to bed. A small electric lantern gave just enough light to show an empty mattress with a shrugged off sheet. Bob continued aft in a frenzy with heavy footsteps following.

“Is he in there?” Catherine screamed.

Bob didn’t speak. His continued running was answer enough.

When he reached the stern of the houseboat, another had caught up. “Shine the light!” Bob yelled, but he already knew is his heart. Concentric rings of disruption were scattering across the stillness of the lake.

For whatever reason, the boy had fallen in.

The flashlight scanned the surface, and Bob directed. “Over here,” he said, rushing to the starboard corner. “Shine here!” And there it was. Ripples in the water fled from the small spotlight. Tiny bubbles wiggled their way to the surface. “Keep shining so I can see!” Bob ordered.

He dove. Before he broke the surface, he heard Catherine’s shrill scream fill the night.

Under the surface, the water was warm and calm. It felt as if the fun of the day had happened only a moment ago. He opened his eyes to his biggest fear.

Darkness.

Though a timid glow came from behind, there was no chance at seeing in front of him. There was only the depths of that great lake, only the dark. Already he felt his chest tighten. In his panicked state, he had forgotten to breathe. He charged to the surface and broke through.

“—is he!? Where is he!?” Catherine screamed. Another splash broke the night as a second person dove to attempt rescue. Bob took the biggest gasp of air in his life, and went back under.

Into the darkness.

Into that warm water that had once been such an enjoyable place.

His mind played the afternoon in small flashes. The barbecue on the beach. A drink and trick competition off the water slide (only minor scrapes and bruises). Watching the shadows of the setting sun climb the canyon walls. The clear sky and the promise of a windless night. Horseshoes. A small bit of Frisbee.

Pulling little Andy behind the boat.

Andy’s smiles.

No, God. No, he thought. Not here. Not like this. He flailed his arms as he swam, groping in endless black. The glow of the flashlight was gone. The moon’s beautiful radiance was forgotten. Just fluid and darkness and fear and a growing pain in his lungs that begged more and more for fresh air.

Time went on.

I’ll come back, he prayed with sincerity. Let me find him, and I’ll find you. I’ll renounce everything I’ve said about faith and religion and falsehoods. I’ll make no claim at being perfect, but I will find you. I swear it. Give me his hand, and I’ll take yours.

Time went on.

Unsure of which way to swim, he dove deeper. The warm temperatures of the surface gave way to chill. Pressure pushed like needles into his ears. The black before him seemed endless. The squeeze in his chest felt like an iron fist.

I’ll drown then, he prayed. I won’t go back at all. I won’t see what you’re willing to do to Catherine. Condemn this boy and condemn me as well.

Darkness. Water.

Take me back.

Bob’s hand snapped onto a wrist. He yanked, pulled the boy’s body to his chest, and kicked for the surface. With eyes open on the journey up, Bob watched and waited for the light. It finally came into blurred view.

Man and boy broke through. Air quenched the fire in his lungs, and he held the small frame upward. Arms reached from the boat and took the boy on deck.

Bob, still in the water, clung to the houseboat and chased his breath. He heard CPR being conducted. He heard Catherine’s hysterics. He looked up to the moon, it full and wide and blue like a watching eye, and waited. Behind him, the other diver came to the surface.

“Did you find him?” Brian shouted, gasping.

“We got him,” said Bob.

Brian looked on deck. CPR continued. Someone was holding Catherine down now as she screamed for her child. The flashlight was held steady on a five-year-old boy who looked fearfully white. Chest compressions bobbed his lean frame. Deep breaths pushed his lungs.

And then miracle.

The boy lurched and rolled and flung fluids from his system in a violent retch. Catherine clutched her son and disintegrated into fear and remorse and absolute joy. Those on the houseboat huddled around each other. Someone handed down a towel and sat Andy up.

The scene now settling, Brian swam to Bob. “You found him?”

Bob nodded.

“Nice save,” said Brian, still without breath.

Bob clung to the houseboat still. Water and tears poured from his face like a baby after baptism. He wanted to say something like thanks or you too, but this throat clenched and choked. No words came through. Brian drew near and put a hand on his friend’s shoulder.

“You did good, man,” said Brian. “You found him.”

Bob broke down into tears.

The Mist (Writing Prompt)

The link from Reddit: https://www.reddit.com/r/WritingPrompts/comments/5grz6u/wpthe_impenetrable_mist_creeps_slowly_forward/

The mist came in the late night, just before the dawn. Its evil flowed over the hillside and soaked into the woods, the leaves, the stones and streams. Its fringe carried with it an unnatural cold, something vile and wet that found its way into your bones like moisture working through the mortar of old brickwork. We all felt that cold. It fell on our sleep and sent shivers through our thick wool blankets. The children curled their legs to their chest while mothers and fathers tugged covers above their shoulders and pressed together for heat.

Had it been daylight, we may have noticed. We may have had a chance. However, darkness is the escort of evil, and in darkness evil came once again.

The rooster did not crow; there was no light to crow to. Outside our small village, the mist sunk its shroud into every limb, every bit of soil, every hovel and livestock pen. The animals huddled in the corners, silent and afraid. Something was coming, that they knew, but they were unaware that what they feared had already came.

The mist sunk into their fur, then into their flesh, and in time they all felt the urge to kneel, to rest, to succumb to death. Each one shuddered their dying breath.

It was McKellan who alerted us first, him being the widower of our small clan. He was the first to snap from terrible dreams to the bite of the cold damp. He thrust his door open to a fog he did not believe. Though his lantern was lit, he could not see. Fear stroked his old heart, but he pushed on from the frame of his door. It did occur to him that he might die, but it never occurred to him what he may have left to live for.

The mist fed on him all the same.

Though the morning grew later, a near-perfect darkness encased our homes. Light could not shine through. In this darkness, the leaves of the ground melted into black blood and smothered the stones they rested upon. The soaked soil turned to a gripping mud that first stole boots then socks and then suckered onto skin and bone.

That was when we first woke. It was to the screams of McGreggor. He had gone outside as well. His daughter was crying of the cold. The strong father he was committed himself to making a fire, despite the apparent lateness of the hour. Upon going out, the ground took him in. The more he struggled, the more the mist delighted in his pain and surged its power into the mud trail leading to his meager pile of wood.

In the end, his death was technically that of drowning.

The village stirred then. The mist muted all sounds, but it did not mute the sensation pressing down. But the realization only resulted in the same tragic mistake. Curiosity triggered investigation. Investigations led to open doors.

Open doors led to doom.

Some fought back, as well as one can against a vapor of evil. They slammed doors and sealed cracks with clothing and furs and did anything they could to keep the mist back.

But the mist bore down, and those that resisted had it worst of all. They suffered inside their own sanctuaries—the very places they call their home. Where they sat to eat with family and friends is where the mist dripped in from the ceiling. Where they lay their children down to rest is where the vapor soaked its insanity. Where they cooked and played and kept warm by small fires is where their cold, dark deaths came. The mist infiltrated them all. It stretched onto their skin and seeped into their pores and poisoned their very streams of blood.

It consumed them all from the inside, as it did with every living thing. When it had its fill, the mist lifted, and there was nothing that remained.

A Distant Flickering (Flash Fiction)

An old flatbed truck rolled down a dirt lane. Dust rose behind it and settled like a fog over the surrounding wheat fields. The sun buried itself over the horizon, its day done. Atop a sloping hill, the truck stopped and two men, one young and one younger still, hopped out. Together, they climbed into the back. As the light faded from the sky, they chatted and laughed and embraced their young years with cigarettes and snuck beer.

Darkness came fully and revealed the infinite heavens above the two brothers. Lying in the bed of the truck, they gazed up while the stars peered down.

“Beer tastes like piss,” said the younger brother.

“The hell you know?” said the older in feigned disgust. “It’s your first time having any.”

The younger rolled his eyes, finished his can of Miller Lite, and tossed it over the side. “Mountain Dew tastes better is all I’m sayin’.”

The older glared but let the chance to insult slide by. He took cautious pulls from his cigarette, proud in his ability to do so without coughing. His younger brother couldn’t stomach it. “Look at all them stars,” he said.

The younger burped. “How many you think there are?”

The older shook his head in slow silence. The question was weighted with the effects of cheap alcohol; it felt as though he were being asked the meaning of life itself. “Hell if I know.”

“Teacher said there’s billions and billions,” said the younger. “Said there are more stars than there are grains of sand in the whole world.”

“That’s bullshit,” said the older.

“That’s what he said,” said the younger. He groped in the darkness for another can of beer that tasted like piss. He was discovering that drinking it was almost as fun as complaining about it.

“How can that even be? There’s a lot of stars, but there’s a helluva lot more sand on the beach.”

“That’s what teacher said,” repeated the younger.

“How could they even know? What’d they do, send someone out to count all the sand?”

The younger shrugged and opened another beer. He sat up and put the can to his lips. Miller Lite leaked onto his shirt.

“Stupid bullshit,” said the older.

The summer air was warm and still. Crickets chirped their songs in a conundrum of trying to stay in hiding while searching for a mate. The night sky fulfilled itself. Stars banded together to make diamond dust; those closest took on a commanding brightness. The universe spoke in its perpetual silence.

“I wonder why some of them flicker,” said the younger one.

“Dunno,” said the older. With his cigarette finished, he began on another beer. The can was carefully balanced on his chest. “Makes ‘em look warbly.”

“I think it makes ‘em look scared,” said the younger.

“Scared? What do stars have to be scared about?”

The younger brother sighed and felt a slight tremble of emotion pass through his body. The alcohol had stirred his young heart. “Teacher said that stars, all of ‘em, are far. Really far. So far that if you got in a car and drove as fast as you could, you’d never get to another one in your life. They’re all just up there and scattered apart and alone.”

“Ain’t nothin’ scary about being alone. They ain’t even alone. Hell, there’s billions, right?”

“Yeah,” said the younger without conviction. “Yeah. But it makes me wonder, ya know?”

“Wonder what?”

The younger stared at the sky and felt lost in all that is and was and will ever be. “I wonder sometimes if stars are like how Aunt Cindy says people in the city are. There’s millions and millions of them, but they never get to say hello to each other. They’re all there together but they’re all there alone too. Each one just looks at the other in silence and wonders what they’re like and where they’re from and where they’re going. And even though they look so close, they’re still forever apart.”

The older brother rolled his head and stared. The heat of the summer night hung over the truck like a blanket. In the distance rested the soft glow of town and home. He strained his eyes but could barely see the young man beside him in the moonless dark. He thought on his brother’s words, and only one conclusion came to mind.

“Brother,” he said with a snicker, “you’re drunk on Miller Lite.”

Together, the two brothers began laughing. The crickets chirped around them, and the stars above sent their flickering light.

Broken Record

I recently had an enjoyable chat with a friend who was requesting a story. There was only one requirement; the story had to be happy. This request sent me on a quick search through the ol’ website, something I hadn’t done in some time, and ultimately revealed an interesting fact.

I am a broken record.

It’s probably fairly obvious to the casual observer, but for me, it didn’t become clear until I scrolled through the entries I’ve made over the months. One thing that’s always fun for me is going back and reading stories I had forgotten completely. It happens on a regular basis (when I do go back and read). I have a decent amount of Flash Fiction built up now. Rediscovering them is like finding a lost memory.

However, rereading the Random Ramblings is where the realization came from. Time and time again I’ve posted about my feelings of disappointment for not having written enough or for stalling completely. After my pity-party, I then move on to the familiar ground of “this time is for real!”

Good for me for staying positive I guess. Normally I wouldn’t look down on this kind of behavior. It’s important to shrug off the past in order to move into the future, but when you scroll through a year or two of entries and see the same thing posted again and again, it’s pretty clear that change has not occurred.

So now what? Am I here to post another chorus to my never-ending song of beginning anew?

Not really. I’m not writing this to bare my soul (although it is helpful for me, therapeutic). I certainly don’t want to double-down on my “this time is for real” position. I think that’s somewhat out the window given how long this cycle has continued.

The real point of my sharing this is the hope that maybe there are other people who feel the same way, and maybe it’ll help them (as it does with me when I’m working through personal issues) feel a little more normal. We all struggle. We all wish we did a little better, worked a little harder, or procrastinated a little less. That’s normal. I’m normal. You’re normal. In the end, it’s okay. You do what you can. Hopefully, if the results are less than what you hoped for, you’re able to find a renewal in dedication to reach the goal that still lingers on the horizon.

That’s where I’m at today. I have goals I have yet to reach. More importantly, looking back and seeing how much time I’ve piddled away has helped me realize there are things in my life I simply need to change. Whether or not I follow through remains to be seen, but I’ve at least figured a pathway from the valley of feeling defeated to the tops of the rolling hills of personal victory.

Or should I say mountainous peaks of victory?

Nah. I’ll work on getting out of the valley first.

 

Off the Train (Writing Prompt)

The prompt from Reddit: https://www.reddit.com/r/WritingPrompts/comments/5cwfaj/wp_you_and_another_person_ride_the_same_public/

I always sit two rows back so I can watch her without really seeing her and her never seeing me. She sits with a leg up and her hand hanging off a bended knee. Her fingers dance to music I cannot hear, but it’s probably a piano piece. It must be a piano piece. Only the ivories can make fingers dance with such beauty.

Her skin is china-white, and there is a tattoo of Ouroboros on her wrist, the snake coiled in a circle consuming itself. All is connected. Nature is infinite. It’s clean and well-done, but it makes the yin yang ring on her middle finger seem redundant. I come close to being annoyed by this trivial detail, but then another song is sent through her earphones and her fingers start dancing again. All is forgiven.

Sometimes her raven hair is striped purple or blue or dark green or pink. It’s as if she’s wearing a mood ring. I try to make sense of what the colors mean, but it’s likely they don’t mean much of anything. They’re always accompanied with the same style of torn jeans and Converse shoes and wristbands made with various threads and colors lacking rhyme or reason.

I notice she looks ahead at the coming tracks and I always look off to the side at the scenery passing by. I don’t know why. I wonder if it’s symbolic. I wonder if she’s more in tune with herself than me. Maybe I should start listening to the piano. Maybe I should get a tattoo.

She’s new to the area. We’ve been sharing the same stop for a few weeks, and I’ve only seen her standing alone in the morning, and she’s never with anyone when she’s going home, or so I assume. Our paths split immediately; hers is east and mine west.

She smiled at me once, a few days after seeing me at the station. I was too nervous though. I flashed a smile and a quick wave, but that was it. It was then we both understood I had respectfully declined the unspoken attempt at friendship.

Unfortunate. Silence has become the end result between us.

The train jitters over a poor section of track and banks left. We’re nearing our stop now. It’s another chance to introduce myself, to say hello, to reconcile my mild rudeness from the first time she tried to break the ice. It’s another chance to berate myself after failing.

It seems shyness is the event horizon for eternal silence between two unmet friends. The black hole, obviously, is loneliness.

The train stops. We get off. She huddles under the collar of her jacket as cold wind sneaks in through the gaps. I’m ten steps behind and almost to that point where I pretend to tie my shoe or throw something in the trash or get something out of my bag so that I don’t feel like a stalker pacing her until we reach the street.

But she stops. She’s fishing something out of her pocket now. It’s a gum wrapper. She drops it in the bin and glances at me again. The surprise catches me off guard and emboldens me. Through some miracle, I speak.

“Hi.”

She shoves her hands into her coat pockets and her forces her chin down. The wind snaps her black hair around. The front is vivid purple stripe. “Hi.”

And there we are. I look at her and she looks at me and the train presses on to the next station without us. We’re alone with the cold, whispering wind as chaperone. My mind moves like the train and leaves without me.

“I love your hand.”

Her eyes squint, and I notice they’re an amazing blue, like the frozen lake not far from the station. “What?”

Though the cold bites at my face, my cheeks flush and fill with heat. “I mean your tattoo. The snake.”

“Oh,” she says. “Thanks.”

“And your fingers,” I practically blurt out.

She’s hesitant. “You like my fingers?”

I palm my forehead like a drunk driver failing an interview with the police. “Yeah. That’s weird, but that’s not what I meant.” I sigh and regroup and see that she’s still standing there. Despite the cold and the awkwardness, she’s still with me. “What I mean to say is, I love how your fingers dance when you’re listening to music. On the train.”

The words slowly soak into her mind, and she stares at me for a moment. More cold rushes by. A slow smile crawls across her lips. I know it’s sincere because she also smiles in her eyes.

“I’m Claire,” she says with a shallow bow of her head.

“I’m freezing,” I say in return.

She laughs then. She laughs and it’s beautiful and suddenly I realize I’m not freezing. A warmth is blooming inside of me.

“Can I walk with you, Claire?” I ask.

“Sure,” she says, already turning and hurrying along. The cold has not paused for our brief interaction. I follow along quickly. While we walk and we talk I notice that she still looks forward and I still glance at her to my side, but this time that which I see isn’t passing by. That’s new for me. I notice she glances to the side at me from time to time. When I catch her, she smiles. Perhaps not always looking forward is something new to her. Perhaps she’s not had a reason to look to her side.

Perhaps it’s a victory shared between us. Maybe the black hole of loneliness is the grip from which we’ve both broken free.