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.

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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

Grumpy Monkey Fiction: A 10 Minute Story of Art, Soda and Revenge

{Originally written very fast, this story has now been subjected to a round 2 revision. Cleared up a few typos, made a few more connections, and hopefully added some value. Thanks as always for your consideration. Yours truly in bananas, TGM.}

Art class was always a challenge for me.

Drawing, I had decided, was like shooting pool.

Sometimes, I was really good at it. On those days, the angles and positions and shapes of objects would leap out at me and present themselves for quick translation to the page. The artistic equivalent of running the table and sinking the eight ball.

On other days, I was all thumbs, unable to manage even the simplest angles and crudest representations of shapes and objects. The artistic equivalent of scratching on the break.

That’s why I was particularly pleased with how today’s still life was going.

Sure, the subject matter wasn’t particularly interesting– a vase, some wilted flowers and an orange, but I felt like I was in an artistic groove.

Looking down at my sketch, I noted with pride that I seemed to have captured the subtle convex curve of the vase, and that my orange was decidedly circular without looking too perfect.

“You know,” I said to Bob, who was scribbling furiously at the easel next to me. “This could be my first ‘A’ picture.”

Bob stopped scribbling and glanced over at my easel. I saw one eyebrow involuntarily raise in silent appreciation, but his face soon clouded over with anger.

“That ain’t so hot,” he muttered, and turned back to his work.

But as he resumed, I could hear his pencil digging a little harder into his paper.

I looked over at Bob’s drawing and could see why he was upset. The angle on his vase was all wrong. The curve started too soon and ended to early, and the orange was looking more like a lumpy pear than my sublimely dimpled sphere.

Bob had always been the standout art student in the class, always the one to get his work displayed in the glass cases in the front of the school. But on this simple project, this inconsequential still life, I might have finally beat him.

Returning my attention to my own easel, I made a couple of quick touch up strokes and then decided to call it quits. Sometimes you can ruin a good drawing by working on it for too long. Like Kenny Rogers said in that song about folding or riding trains or something,  “You’ve got to know when to fold them.”

I wiped my hands on my pants, took a big step back and drank in the majesty of my still life.

It really was my best work to date.

A drawing like this deserved a Coke. “I’m hitting the Coke machine,” I told Bob. “Want anything?”

Bob shook his head. He was trying to round his orange into shape, but it just wasn’t happening for him. And it looked like the pencil outline on the edge of his vase had started to smudge.

I whistled as I headed into the hall in search of the nearest vending machine. Found it around the corner, pulled out a crisp dollar bill, and listened to the pleasant “thunk ca-chunk” sound that the Coke can made as it tumbled down the machine and into my gifted artistic hands.

I cracked the can open, took a long sip of that sweet brown nectar, and headed back into class.

What I saw when I walked in the door made me spit Coke all over the floor.

There were two huge slashes right through the center of my drawing, turning my pristine sketch into fringe.

“What the fuck?” I started. Then it hit me — Bob.

“You fucker,” I dropped the Coke can on the ground, snarled like a wolf and sprinted like a jackrabit across the room towards his easel.

Bob was pretending to study his painting, but I knew by the way he reacted with lightning quick reflexes that he had been waiting for me.

He ducked around a desk, through a juke move to get past me and headed out the door of the art room, sprinting down the corridor at full speed.

I was hot on his heels. My shoes made slapping sounds as I pounded the linoleum in pursuit. I could think of only one thing — murder. Sweet, glorious redemptive murder.

But Bob was on the track team and he was faster than me. He made it to the end of the hall and ducked into a stairwell. By the time I got there I didn’t know if he had gone up or down.

My breath was short and my anger was cooling.

It had been a pretty damn good picture. But maybe not worth a manslaughter charge.

I trudged back to the art room in defeat.

Back inside, I was surprised to see a sea of sympathetic faces smiling at me.

There was a new unopened Coke can on my desk. My drawing had been taped back together. And someone had even penciled in a charcoal “A” in the top corner.

I couldn’t help but smile. “So everybody here hates Bob, too?”

Shameless self indulgence, Writing

10 Minutes of Grumpiest Monkey Fiction: Prey to Misfortune, Utopian, Supermarket

 

It wasn’t supposed to be like this, Jed thought as he shielded his face from the blows of yet another enraged UtopiaMart shopper.

In fact, Jed’s idea for the world’s first utopian supermarket wasn’t turning out at all like he thought it would.

Sure, he had started the store with the highest of ideals. Farm-fresh, locally-grown ingredients.

Animal products from livestock that were well cared for and fed a balanced, well-rounded diet.

A staff of committed culinary enthusiasts who wanted to encourage people to eat better foods.

And, most important of all, a pricing structure that was unique for any supermarket– pay what you think the food is worth.

It was this last part of the business plan that made UtopiaMart such a big hit with the news media when Jed had first announced plans for the store.

He had made the rounds of all the local and national talk shows, talking about “a new era of price responsibility,” the “dignity of price choice” and his “undying faith in the American consumer.”

These buzzwords had made for good copy, but the “pay as you go” concept was proving disastrous to his business.

From the first day that people filed through the aisles at UtopiaMart, Jed had began hemorrhaging money like crazy.

Lobsters were being bought for $5 a pound. Prime rib for a $1.50. One man even took an entire turkey home for three dirty dimes and a Canadian nickel.

When day two of the UtopiaMart experiment began, Jed had calmly suggested to the store’s staff that they engage the customers in a “healthy, respectful debate about the value of food and personal awareness.”

That was when the arguments and the cursing began.

“How dare you!” one man snarled as he grabbed three bottles of extra virgin olive oil and slammed a quarter down next to the register.

“Fuck off,” another woman said as she shoveled shrimp into her mouth at the seafood bar, and then washed it down with a bottle of a fine Argentinian Malbec that she had apparently opened in the middle of aisle four.

“Suck my balls” said a third man as he wheeled 10 cases of bottled Perrier out to his car. This man had paid with a garbage bag filled with socks.

On day three of the UtopiaMart disaster, Jed stood outside the store with a stack of yellow fliers that had suggested pricing for all items.

Customers did everything they good to avoid taking a flier as they rushed into the store, ducking and dodging as if Jed was trying to serve them with a subpoena. Those who did take a flier usually crumpled it into a ball and threw it back at him.

No one paid attention to suggested pricing.

Finally, on day four, after the store had been open for only 20 minutes or so and Jed already watched his entire stock of ground beef disappear for a paltry $2.25, he decided to cut his losses.

“Attention ladies and gentlemen,” he said over the store’s intercom. “UtopiaMart is now closed.”

And that’s when the beatings began.

Fists pummeled him from all sides. An old woman kicked at his shins. “You stay open,” she hissed. “I have a coupon for 5 soups for a dollar.”

Jed looked up at her pleadingly. “But we don’t even have coupons.”

Shameless self indulgence, Writing

10 Minutes of Grumpy Monkey Fiction: Supplication, Natural and Elemental

[Another in a series of short fiction pieces written using creative writing prompts. OK, this was a pretty difficult prompt to work with (natural, elemental and supplication) and I am still not sure that I hit supplication as much as I would have liked. Also not crazy about the dialogue. But, the point of using prompts is that you don’t get to pick and choose what the topic is, right?]

I knew that Debbie’s arm was broken from the moment she hit the ground.

Maybe it was the sickening snap that echoed across the yard as her body came thudding down from the tree outside our house.

Maybe it was the odd angle that her hand was dangling at when she brought it back up—a sight so unnatural that it made your insides quiver.

Or maybe it was the way she was screaming something awful.  “OW! OW! OW! GAAAAAH”

“Hold on Deb,” I said as I sprinted across the yard. “Mom and Dad are coming.”

“ARRRRRRGH” was all she howled in reply.

“MOM!” I yelled. “DAD!”

Mom and Dad appeared at the front door, and as I glanced in their direction, I immediately knew how foolish it was to count on them.

Mom and Dad were not people of action. Or even parents of any consequence.

They were all long hair, peasant shirts, and open-toed sandals. Long, stringy hair and chakras and chi.

They seemed to be vaguely aware that their daughter was crying, and yet neither of them showed any hustle as they strolled across the yard.

“Look Mom,” I started, pointing to the dangling disaster that now passed for my sister’s left arm. “Her arm’s broken.”

“WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH” Debbie wailed, tears streaking down her face.

“Nonsense,” Mom replied, tucking a strand of graying blond hair behind her ear as she squatted down for a closer look. “A nice poultice made from eucalyptus should ease the swelling, and I’ll give her a spoonful of nutmeg for the pain.”

Mom, as you may have gathered, had been spending a little too much time at the New Age bookstore downtown, and had started to think of herself as something of a natural healer.

When I had the flu last year, she made me a cinnamon tea with peppermint leaves, assuring me that the combination would “beat back the fever and drive out the sniffles.”

It was only after my temperature hit 102 degrees and I made a croaking phone call to Grandma that I started to come around.

“HELP ME!” Deb pleaded through hot tears, and my mind snapped back to the situation at hand.

“It’s not swollen, Mom! It’s a broken arm!” I pleaded.

Instinctively I looked up at parent #2, hoping against hope that Dad might somehow see the light.

Another dumb move.

Dad was fishing crystals out of his pocket and waving them around Debbie’s head.

“Hold still,” he grunted down at her, clearly annoyed with her writhing and crying. “I’m trying to draw the pain out into this amethyst. I can’t get a good connection to the earth if you keep flopping around like a fish.”

Dad, as you may have gathered, spent a little too much time at the bookstore, too.

The difference between him and Mom was that he thought his healing powers came from the elements, whereas Mom was convinced nature was her ally.

I, being the sole voice of sanity in the house at 12 years old, had decided that science and medicine were a pretty good way to go.

“Hang in there Deb,” I pleaded. “I’m going to call Grandma.”

I looked back at Mom as I sprang to my feet. She was ripping blades of grass out of the lawn and sprinkling them over Debbie’s arm. “The earth will soothe what the earth has harmed,” she cooed.

Dad, meanwhile, had gathered tinder and was starting a small fire. He waved the first few wisps of smoke Debbie’s direction.

As I raced him he looked at me and beamed. “We’ll use the smoke to prevent the pain impulses from reaching her brain.”

“For crying out loud,” I wheezed, and continued my headlong rush into the house.

The phone rang twice before Grandma picked up. “It’s me,” I said. “They’re at it again.”

Shameless self indulgence, Writing

10 Minutes of Grumpy Monkey Fiction: Loss of a Loved One, Damned, Bowling Alley

[In which your humble Monkey narrator uses a creative writing prompt to write a short story in approximately 10 minutes of time, thereby saving him from the overwhelming mental stress of having to write for too long, and you of the yawning boredom of having to read a long piece. This one took about 14 minutes.]

Satan, as it turns out, is pretty much a prick to bowl against.

This was the third of three strings (each of us having won one so far), and he was pulling out every trick in the book to throw me off my game.

Hip checking me on the way up to the ball return.

Coughing during my follow through.

Giggling manically every time he hit a spare.

Theatrically polishing his horns with a towel  after every strike.

What a bastard.

But I was a damn good bowler, and I wasn’t going to let the Prince of Darkness get under my skin.

The balls were feeling smooth in my hand as I sent them careening down the waxed lane of the alley, and the points were racking up in my favor.

Plus, watching the Lord of the Underworld teeter around with his cloven hooves stuffed in bowling shoes was pretty funny, even if the stakes were deadly serious.

Swooosh. Another ball left my hand as if guided by radar and knocked down all ten pins with a boom.

Satan said nothing but clicked his tongue and flicked his tail.

“It’s not looking good for you,” I cracked, hoping to get a little payback for his dirty tricks. “I bet God would have picked up that last split.”

“Game’s not over yet,” he spit and hurled a bright red ball down his lane, a trail of fire erupting behind it as it incinerated the lead pin upon contact and sent the remaining nine scattering for cover.

Damn. I sighed. Only three strings left and he was only six points back. This was going to go down to the wire.

It had been three months since my girlfriend had been killed in a car crash, and I was doing everything possible to get her back.

Now you may be wondering how a sweet girl like Jenny could have ended up in hell after wrapping herself around a tree, and I might be inclined to tell you to mind your own business. Not everyone is perfect, OK?

But she was perfect to me. And to have her stuck behind the iron gates of Hell was more than I could stand.

Shameless self indulgence, Uncategorized, Writing

10 Minutes of Grumpy Monkey Fiction: Remorse, Amish, Ice Cream Shop

Ok, this one is not perfect by far, but I think we are getting closer to the 10 minute time commitment. This one took about 16 minutes (maybe 20 with last minute edits), and was based on the prompt “Remorse, Amish and Ice Cream Shop. Thanks and remember, it’s only fiction. :}

************************

What can I say? The Amish have always rubbed me the wrong way.

Maybe it’s the beards without the mustaches. Maybe it’s the straw hats. Maybe it’s the fact that they were slow to take to Harrison Ford’s character in “Witness.” Maybe it’s the outfit choices. Or the repressive religiosity.

Maybe it’s because they can so easily forego all the technology that I can’t live without, and that makes me feel bad about myself.

I mean, I can’t go more than 5 minutes without fidgeting at some app on my phone, and these guys are entertained for hours by the sight of wheat blowing in the wind.

I start climbing the walls when our internet service goes down during a storm, and Brother Jeddiah doesn’t even know how to Google the word “internet.”

But the most likely reason for my being less than a fan of the Amish would be that I am a very impatient driver, and it seems like every time I’m driving around town in my truck there is a buggy smack in the middle of the road.

I don’t know if this is an Amish custom or just my rotten luck, but it seems like I always get stuck behind some guy who just can’t quite find it in his old fashioned heart to ride the side of the road like a gentlemen.

Instead, he cheats out towards the center until he is about a third of the way into the lane, making it hard for me to pass him without getting over into the opposite lane. This makes me late. I don’t like to be late.

And I really hate to be late when my wife sends me out for ice cream, because my wife loves ice cream.  Crazy about it. No, seriously. Bat shit crazy about it.

If I don’t get to the Baskin Robbins and back to the house before her mint chocolate chip cone starts to melt, she’s going to give me hell.

And if there’s one thing I dislike more than a bunch of old timely revivalists living off the land and helping each other put up barns, it’s getting an earful from the wife about melted ice cream.

So when I’m in a hurry, and there’s a horse and buggy in front of me, I get stressed.

And when I get stressed. I start to panic.

And when I panic, I make bad decisions.

That’s is why I sincerely regret the actions I took on October 26, 2008, and ask the court’s forgiveness.