Shameless self indulgence, Writing

Fast Fiction: War Torn, Madness, Fountain

{Another in a series of quick fiction pieces written off a creative writing prompt in a short amount of time. Thanks as always for your willingness to cast aside judgment and overlook grammatical and editorial flaws :} Yours truly in bananas, TGM}

The bullets had been pinging around the square for so long that Joe didn’t even bother to duck when he heard them anymore.

Four straight days of combat and his instincts had gone numb. Self-preservation was no longer a reflex. It was something he thought about only occasionally, like a rusty door that needed oiling that he just hadn’t gotten around to yet.

Every once in a while, Joe would remind himself that it was worth his while to stay under cover, but another, more alien part of his body resisted this urge. If death was going to seek him out in this town square, Joe wanted to see it coming.

He gazed out into the shattered town center, looking at the bodies scattered around the fountain that was once the center of the square. Pools of blood had soaked into the ground, leaving dull maroon-brown rings around the corpses that had fallen there during the earlier firefight.

For a moment, Joe was tempted to walk out and touch the pools of blood to see if they had gone dry, but he wasn’t that crazy yet. Instead he lingered half-covered under the corner of a doorway, his M16 readied at his side.

Suddenly, there was a ping and a snap, and a section of the doorway above Joe’s head crumbled as a bullet slammed into it. This woke Joe out of his daze long enough for him to duck back inside the doorway to safety.

Let’s see. Where was he again?

Oh yeah, this was Iraq.

Some small town somewhere in the Al Basrah provence. Some small town with a fountain. Some small town with a fuckload of insurgents. Some small town where most of his platoon had been killed or injured or evacuated.

And who was he? He was Joe. Army Specialist Joseph P. Smith, of Garden City New Jersey. First of four sons. Proud member of the Army’s Seventh Infantry. Guitar player. High school football star.

He was Joe. Wired Joe. Tired Joe. Shaky, dehydrated Joe. War-weary Joe.

Joe who was doing a real poor job of covering his ass like a professional soldier.

He took a deep breath and pawed at his face with a gloved hand, grinding the dirty fingers against his shut eyes until they watered. Anything to get his senses and his system flowing again.

There had been so much shooting over the past few days. So many explosions. So many bodies dropping. So much that had gone wrong.

It was hard not to give in to the madness and just sit down and wait for whatever was going to happen.

But there was still hope, Joe knew. Somewhere outside the village was a backup brigade that was fighting their way towards his position.

There was also danger. Somewhere inside the village was the cocksucking insurgent that had just taken the pot shot at him.

“Anger.” Joe whispered. “Focus.” He knew that if he was his normal self, if he had a few hours of sleep under his belt and his senses weren’t numbed by sound and fury and death and loss, that he would burn with a vengeful desire to track down the fucker who had shot at him and put a bullet in his head.

But try as he might, Joe couldn’t get his anger to kick back on. He was like a gas stove with the pilot light out. He turned on the gas and waited for an ignition, but nothing came. Just a clicking sound. Click. Click. Click.

Click.

Wait. Was he imagining that click? Or was he really hearing it?

Joe took a tentative step in the direction of the door.

Click.

The sound was familiar, but seemed to be totally out of place. Was it a camera? One of those dog training tools?

Click.

No. It was the sound of an empty weapon. Whoever had been firing at him must have run out of ammo, but either didn’t realize it or was too crazy to care.

Click. Click. Click.

The sound was almost comically soft after so many days of explosions and screams and the deafening roar of submachine guns.

Click.

Wary of being baited into a trap, Joe took a cautious step toward the doorway, then snapped his head back. It took his brain a minute to interpret what it was his eyes had seen during their brief exposure to the open square.

On the opposite side of the fountain was an Iraqi insurgent. He was thin and brown, wearing a dirty t-shirt and dirty jeans. He was bent down on one knee, holding a Kalashnikov and firing it uselessly in Joe’s direction.

Click. Click. Click.

Joe searched back through his training. He had learned tactics for being under constant fire, but never for being under constant faux fire.

Why was the guy continuing to shoot if he had no ammo? Why didn’t he run? What the fuck?

What were the rules of engagement for someone who was trying to kill you without any bullets?

Click.

Joe grunted. It made no sense.

Suddenly he heard a rustle of gravel. And then footsteps. Slow and steady, but clearly coming closer. Echoing in the square.

The click was growing louder now, too. Click. CLICK. CLICK.

Instinct took over and Joe stepped around the corner and through the doorway. He brought his M16 level and dead-eyed the Iraqi in his scope.

“Stand down!” he yelled. “Stand the fuck down!”

The Iraqi kept walking, though. Kept walking and pulling on that impotent trigger.

Click. Click. Click.

“Last warning,” Joe shouted, his voice hoarse from fatigue and confusion. “You’re out of fucking ammo, dude!”

But the Iraqi kept closing. He was steps away from the doorway now.

Joe was tired, too tired to process the gray moral and tactical challenges of an armed man attacking him with an empty gun in an endless battle in a senseless war. “Dude!” he pleaded one last time. But the man kept coming.

Joe squeezed the trigger of his M16 and a burst of fire exploded from the barrel.

The bullets slammed into the Iraqi with professional Army precision. New holes appeared in the man’s shirt near his heart and lungs, and fresh, dark pools of blood began to spread through the dampening cloth.

Joe fired again and put a bullet straight through the Iraqi’s head.

The man dropped to the ground, gun still in hand, finger still on the trigger. There were a few shallow breaths, a rasping cough, and then one final, surprisingly insistent, somehow defiant CLICK.

And all went silent in the square.

Shameless self indulgence, Writing

Fast Fiction: Competition, Ivy League, Mansion

{More fast fiction written by your humble Monkey protagonist. Thanks as always for your passive acceptance of my prose…}

The year was 1925 and there were hundreds of students graduating from Harvard that spring, but for all I cared, there were only two that mattered — me and Phineas T. Phelps.

Phineas was a business school major whose parents owned a large multinational coal conglomeration.

My father had been the surgeon in chief at a prominent Boston hospital and the personal physician to many of the city’s top politicians and businessmen.

Neither of us were lacking for money–or ambition. And the fact that Mr. Phelps Sr. was on my father’s patient roster was a perpetual source of irritation for my classmate and arch-nemesis.

It seemed like we were always trying to outdo each other; on the squash courts, on the debate team, in the drama productions.

If he got the lead in the fall musical, I’d take a turn heading up the spring Shakespeare production.

If I made it to the squash finals, he’d wind up in the same court and beat me on a tiebreaker in the final game.

If I got a 3.8 one semester, he’d fall all over himself to point out his 3.9.

If he bedded a pretty nursing student after a night of beers in Harvard Square, I’d take home a prettier one the next night.

I had figured that our competition would naturally come to an end when we donned our caps and gowns and picked up our diplomas, but here we were sitting across from each other in Harvard Yard one May morning with another contest about to begin.

We were both studying the property listings in the two competing papers of the time with one goal in mind– to turn our considerable family trust funds into a property that would shame the other’s.

Phineas’s face was buried in the back of the  blue-blooded Boston Globe. I was hoping that the more pedestrian Herald-American might reveal a hidden gem.

Our latest competition had started when I had casually mentioned that I would be moving out of my Harvard Square apartment in the summer and taking up residence at a family property in Andover that had recently been left vacant by a departed aunt.

I had hardy got the words out of my mouth when Phineas began chattering about a summer home in Newport that he planned to turn into his year-round residence.

I can’t remember the first person to use the word “mansion,” but things had escalated quickly in the property war, and now both of us were studying every real estate listing we could find, hoping to find some run-down piece of property, turn it into a restored gem, and claim the title of mansion for our own.

I heard a rustling from the other side of the bench. Phineas cocked an eye over the top of his paper and sniffed at me. “Surely you won’t be finding anything of note in that rag. Maybe an abandoned box car that you could live in.”

Anger flushed in my cheeks, but I tamped down my temper and tried to play it cool. ” I don’t know about that.” I tapped my finger against a random listing as if to suggested some secret knowledge. “There may be a property in here that’s a few coats of paint away from being a real dazzler. I’m not sure if I’ll need a carriage house, a barn and a separate house for the servants, though.”

There was no such property in the paper, of course. But it didn’t hurt to play with Phineas’ mind a little. And even if I got him to shell out a nickel for a copy of the Herald American once I walked away, I’d consider that a minor victory.

“In any case,” I continued. “I should be off. I don’t mean to read and run, but I have listings to see all day and decisions to make.”

This was also untrue. I was going out to Andover to see if there was any way I could turn my Aunt’s respectable old house into something that resembled an estate, but I wasn’t holding out much hope.

I turned and nearly tossed the paper into a nearby trash can, but then caught myself and folded it tightly under my arm.

Glancing back towards the Square as I started to walk up Mount Auburn Street, I couldn’t help but smile .

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Phineas slink out of the corner newsstand with a fresh newspaper tucked under his arm. The blue and red banner of the Herald American was just visible under the folds of his coat.

I fought the urge to leap into the air and tap my heels together. This round, at least, had gone to me.

Writing

Fast Fiction: Slaying of A Loved One, Small Town, Garden

{Another in a series of quickly written fiction pieces that are based on creative writing prompts. Thanks as always for your indulgences on behalf of your aspiring young Monkey fictionalist.Also, fictionalist may not be an actual word. Just so you know. Cheers, TGM}

Mr. Edward Jones loved to spend time in his backyard garden, and his efforts paid off.

Each spring the tulips would bloom first, big bright bursts of red and orange and yellow. In the summer it would be vegetables: tomatoes, green beans, lumpy cucumbers, mini squashes and yellow carrots. In the fall, the garden would be lined with purple mums.

Mr. Jones was a regular down at the local farm and feed store.Every few days he would pull into the lot in his old pickup truck, saunter through the greenhouse with his thumbs hitched into his suspenders, and leave with bags of fertilizer and trays of seedlings rattling around in the back of his pickup bed.

Edward had a big, gentle face, an easy smile, and stubby hands that always seemed to be covered in dirt. He seemed to dote on his wife, Dottie, who baked blueberry dog biscuits for the local craft fair each year.

Therefore, it was quite a shock to the small town of Bedford when Dottie’s decomposing corpse was found in the back row of the Jones’ garden one sun-drenched September morning.

It was even more of a shock when Mr. Jones confessed to the police that he had buried her there.

What came next was a game of “he said, he said” as Edward Jones and the local police chief presented their sides of the story to the press.

Edward said that Dottie had died of natural causes one morning, and not wanting to make a fuss, he decided to bury her in the garden without an official wake or funeral. “It was what he would have wanted,” he told the press.

The police chief told the press that investigators “considered the garden an active crime scene,” and refused to rule out Edward as a murder suspect. “We’re still looking at all the angles,” he said.

This put me in a bit of an awkward situation, as I was not only the paperboy who delivered the news to the Jones house, but also the one who had found Dottie’s body when I came around collecting one Saturday morning.

The Garden Murder had been the one and only topic during school that week. And I had become something of a celebrity for having found the body.

“What were you doing digging around in his garden?” a seventh grader named Sydney asked me during recess one day that week.

I took a deep breath. Telling the story was getting easier now that I had done it a dozen times or so by now.

“I wasn’t digging,” I said. “I was collecting for my paper route, and I usually go around to the side door. It was open, and when I knocked no one answered. So I walked out into the garden. Mr. Jones is usually in the garden and he usually pays me. I practically tripped over this big mound of dirt that had never been there before, and when I looked down in the soil I saw a finger.”

“Eeeeewwwww.” Came the collective gasp from everyone on the playground. It was the typical response when I got to the part about the finger.

I continued. “I saw the finger and I kicked a little more dirt and then I saw it was connected to a hand. And then a wrist. And then I started running.”

I had nearly peed my pants after realizing that the finger I had found was connected to a hand, and that the hand was connected to a body, but I left that part out of this schoolyard version of story. It didn’t do me or my celebrity status any favors.

I continued. “So I ran out of the garden and back home and told my mom.”

“How did you know that there was a whole body down there?” Someone asked from the back row.

I shrugged. “I don’t know. I just knew. Besides, it’s not like it would be any better if it was just a hand, right?”

“Were there bugs crawling all over it?” someone else asked.

I shrugged again. “I guess there were some bugs. But it was a garden, so there are always going to be some bugs. Nothing too weird.”

“Besides finding a dead body on your paper route,” Sydney quipped.

“Yeah,” I said. “Besides that.”

 

Shameless self indulgence, Writing

Grumpy Monkey Fiction: Pursuit, Fairy, Knight

{Another in a series of fast fiction stories based on a creative writing prompt}

Sir Belvedere stumbled through the glen. His heavy armor clanked and his broadsword felt heavy and useless in his hand.

Beads of sweat were forming on his brow and the small of his back, and he could feel them dripping down to the bottom of his iron suit as he wheezed and crashed through the forest.

Despite his heavy breathing and the clank and clack of his armor, he could hear the flutter of wings behind him. The fluttering was growing louder. And more sinister.

Sir Belvedere grimaced at the thought. Not only was his current situation troubling for his personal safety, his honor was at stake, too. What would the other nights think if they saw him fleeing through the forest like a milkmaid, running from a pack of fairies?

But they didn’t know. They hadn’t seen. These were no ordinary fairies. These were not wispy, well-meaning creatures of the woods who flew by in the twilight on a trail of stars.

These fairies were dark-eyed and dark of spirit.

They lived in the black and twisted trees that lined the forest path. And they whispered things. Terrible things.

“The horse,” one had hissed into his ear as he had lay sleeping under one such tree that morning.

And as if by some black magic, Sir Belevedere had risen from the ground, untied his horse and sent it galloping off through the forest, leaving him and the girl with no supplies and no means of transport.

“The girl.” They had whispered next. And Sir Belevedere — the brave, the noble, and the most just of all the knights in the realm– had thrown himself lustily at the peasant girl that he had rescued from foul bandits only days before.

“Give us a kiss,” he had gasped as he groped and tore at her blouse. She had started to scream.

“Silence” the fairies had whispered. And Sir Belevdere had clamped a heavy hand over the girl’s mouth. She bit down hard, gnashing into the palm of his hand and drawing blood, but he held tight.

“The girl” the fairies had said in their soft hiss, and his grip grew tighter and tighter until the girl stopped struggling and sank to the ground.

Something about the way she dropped to the ground had shaken awake the last remaining vestiges of the honorable knight he had once been, and Sir Belevedere had turned tail and fled into the forest, leaving the girl to gasp for air.

He hadn’t dared to look back. But the fairies did not stop coming. And they did not stop talking.

“Finish” they insisted.

Sir Belvedere splashed through a shallow brook and began climbing up a mossy hill. The fluttering was right next to his ears now, and the voices were echoing inside his helmet.

“The girl,” they said. “The girl.”

Reaching the top of the hill, Sir Belvedere dropped to one knee and readied his sword.

He was done running, he knew. The suit was heavy and waterlogged, and he had only so much wind left. It was time to fight.

Drawing a deep and steadying breath, he turned to face his tormenters.

Dozens of black shapes flittered and fluttered in the dim light like angry flies. “The girl,” they said.

“No!” Sir Belvedere shouted, and began swinging wildly. But the fairies were too small and too quick for his lumbering sword. His huge arcing swings whistled through the air and found nothing but the ground and the trees. “Stand and fight!” he bellowed.

But the fairies did not comply.

He swung his sword to and fro until his lungs were ready to burst, then sank to the ground and buried his head between his knees.  He closed his eyes.

Perhaps if he ignored them, the madness would end.

But the fluttering grew louder and louder and louder–until it stopped.

Although it should have been impossible given the size of the fairies and the thickness of the metal, Sir Belevedere suddenly felt the tip-tap of dozens of tiny feet on his back and shoulders.

“The girl,” they said. “The girl.”

Sir Belevedere gritted his teeth. A single tear dropped from his cheek. When he reopened his eyes, they were as black and empty as the fairies themselves.

“The girl,” he said.

And he rose and sprinted back the way he had come.

Shameless self indulgence, Writing

Fast Fiction: The Coffee Cup Collateral Damage Incident

{After yesterday’s disastrous attempt at the Penguin story, your Monkey wanted to get back on the fiction train by writing fast and loose and not overthinking things. It’s not much, but it kind of has a beginning, middle and end, right?}

To the untrained eye, Eddie didn’t look like a retired boxer.

He was tall and skinny, stood with a slight hunch, and seemed older than his 60 years.

To the trained eye, however, all the signs were there. The rubbery ears. The crooked nose. The flattened, scarred knuckles.

The way he rolled his head from side to side while he read the newspaper.

The way he walked on the balls of his feet, as graceful and lithe as a cat despite his advancing age.

To the patrons of Rosie’s Diner on Main Street, however, Eddie was just a old guy having a late night coffee. Maybe he was a truck driver. Maybe he worked the overnight shift at the factory down the street. Maybe he was retired. Maybe he just liked coffee.

The truth was that Eddie didn’t sleep that well anymore. He usually stayed up half the night, and rather than trying to chase sleep with a parade of beers, he had started coming to the diner.

Sitting at counter near the cash register. Drinking a coffee, reading the paper and listening to the conversations swirling around him. Taking sidelong looks at the waitresses, who were too old for most of the customers who came in that late at night, but maybe still too young for him.

Tonight was a Saturday, and it was a typical late night crowd for the diner. Some dedicated students swigging coffee and studying for midterms. Drunks coming staggering out of the bars, looking for waffles and bacon to sober them up before heading home. The occasional solitary creep hoping for an easy pickup.

Eddie liked the constant buzz and hum of the place. He liked the battered old jukebox that lurched to life and spit out a song or two before shorting out and leaving some hapless customer pounding the side and demanding his or her dollars back. He had thought about playing the jukebox once or twice, but it was too intimidating to think about playing DJ for a group of young kids.

All had been going according to plan until just before midnight.

A group of thick-necked frat boys came swaggering in from the cold, their eyes glazed from too many draft beers and too few girls to hit on. They took the booth behind Eddie and proceeded to make the typical drunk guy scene, yelling and cursing and pushing and punching each other.

To say that Eddie was pleased with their company would have been a stretch. But he had been around. He had been drunk. He had struck out with women. He knew the game.

Everything was fine until they got up to pay. Standing in line in front of the register, they began pushing and punching and wrestling like drunk guys always do.  Things got out of control. One guy pushed someone else, and someone smacked into the counter, sending a shudder through the Formica top and spilling coffee out of Eddie’s cup.

Eddie picked the cup up and dabbed the spilled coffee with a napkin, then set it down again. But as soon as the cup was returned to its saucer, someone smacked the table again. The coffee spilled some more.

Eddie turned his head toward the frat boys. Years of fighting had taught him not to rise to the bait of an opponent. He had received one too many counterpunches that were the result of him swinging too hard the first time in.

“Excuse me,” he said. “Would you mind not bumping the counter?”

One of the boys, a thick-necked blond with a reddish face, leered over at him. “What’s that?”

Eddie nodded towards his coffee. “The counter. You’re spilling my cup.”

Blondie smiled. “Oh yeah? Sorry about that old man.” He turned towards the rest of the group. “Guys, we’re spilling his coffee.”

A chorus of false apologies came as a reply.

“Sorry!”

“Terribly sorry!”

“Hey, stop spilling the old guy’s drink.”

“All apologies, grandpa!”

Blondie took another look over at Eddie. “Guys,” he said. “You heard the man. Watch it. Whatever you do, just make sure, you don’t do this…” He slammed his thick hand down on the table, and everything jumped. Coffee spilled out of the cup but Eddie did not react. He just stared at the pool of brown coffee.

Blondie grinned. “And definitely don’t do this.” He slammed both fists down on the counter, causing the cup to shake and rattle so bad that it toppled over, sending streams of coffee in every direction.

Eddie stood up fast.

He and Blondie were face to face before anyone had time to think about it.

To the untrained eye, it looked like an unfair fight. Blondie was big and thick and young. He towered over Eddie.

But there was a smile on Eddie’s face and a gleam in his eye.

Blondie snarled. “You want a fight, old man? I don’t care how old you are. I will put you down.” The veins in Blondie’s neck seemed to dance, and his big hands curled into jackhammer fists.

Eddie raised his  left hand and made an awkward, arthritic-looking fist. He let it dance in front of him.

To those who might have pegged Eddie as a boxer, this would have come as a surprise.

The fist looked weak. The arm tired. Eddie’s balance seemed all wrong.

The grin on Blondie’s face grew bigger.  “You going to hit me with that twig? I’ll snap it off and stick it up your ass.”

It was just what Eddie had hoped for. With Blondie’s eyes locked on his wavering left fist, Eddie’s right foot planted and his right hand shot out like a coiled snake, colliding with Blondie’s chin and pushing his jaw up and in.

Snap! Snap! Snap!

Before Blondie could process the first punch, Eddie followed it up with two more jabs, and the big man dropped.

And just like that, the fight was over.

Shameless self indulgence, Writing

The Implications of Failing to Write Successfully About Penguins

INT. APARTMENT. DAY

A slightly disheveled MONKEY sits at his desk in a darkened apartment. Outside the world is gray and slicked with moisture. Soft electronic music plays through speakers in the room. A dog naps on the floor next to him.

The MONKEY types a few words into his computer, then stops and sighs. He furrows his brow. He clicks open another screen and reads about the upcoming Super Bowl. He looks out the window. Then he reluctantly clicks back over and types a few more sentences.

He leans in and examines the words on the computer. He frowns and furrows again.

The MONKEY is trying to write a short story about penguins, but he does not know a lot about penguins. And he is having a hard time with the structure of the story. Is he in the present tense or the past tense? How can he weave in exposition without it jarring the reader from the story? Does anyone really want to read a story about penguins ? And what the hell is going to happen in this story anyway?

The MONKEY shrugs. The astute observer may wonder why a MONKEY is torturing himself by trying to write about penguins in the first place. The answer is that the monkey is trying to follow a creative writing prompt, but it is not working out. The prompts haven’t been working out well recently. In fact, not much has been working out recently.

The MONKEY shrugs. Speaking of working out, he has not been to the gym in months, and it seems like his muscles are finally starting to fade. Either that or his increasing age is starting to catch up with him. He should really stop writing and do some pushups or some work with the kettlebells.

But if he does not finish the penguin story it will eat at him all day.

Penguin
The penguin is mightier than the pen (Wikimedia commons photo)

The MONKEY casts his eyes toward heaven and wonders why the Gods have made writing such a relentless challenge. Why is it so hard to structure a story with a beginning, middle and an end? It should be simple. Lonely Man meets Penguins, Man falls in Love with Penguins and tries to make up for emptiness in his life by convincing himself that Penguins want him and need him. Man encounters another Man who has no appreciation for Penguins, and many comic misunderstandings ensue en route to a satisfying solution.

There, it is not so hard, is it? Then why won’t it get on the f–king page already?

2014 was supposed to be the year that the MONKEY stopped thinking that he could be a writer and started actually being a WRITER. Started to take the craft of fiction seriously. Started to drill the basics of storytelling into his head. Started to quiet the voices of self-doubt and insecurity that plagued him every time he sat down to write in the past.

But on this quiet gray afternoon in his quiet gray apartment, the voices are creep creep creeping back into his head. This penguin story is no good at all, and he knows it. He will have to scrap the whole thing and start over again.

But what if it still doesn’t work? What if he spends the rest of the afternoon on it and it never works? What if the weekend ends and the work week begins and he cannot point to the penguin story as a visible marker of PROGRESS MADE?

What kind of a writer can’t write a simple story about a bunch of flightless birds and a lonely zoo operator and a snooty Frenchman?

Here is the question, though. If the MONKEY was not meant to be a writer, then why does the MONKEY constantly feel the burning need to be a writer? Why can’t the MONKEY just accept that he is not going to be a writer, and get on with his life as a non-writer?

Why not get drunk and watch the Super Bowl? Why not go running? Or play guitar? Why does it always have to be him and his computer and this huge ball of frustration?

Why?