Posts tagged ‘Fiction’

12

In Reflection

{by Stephen Parolini at Counting On Rain}

In the mirror across the bar she is twelve. She is standing in the wings of the Big Top, breathing the scent of hay and earth and animal with deep, happy inhales. She hears the crowd’s cheer rise and fall in waves, pictures a man and a woman flying through the air in matching blue and white costumes. She looks at her own costume. It is pink. Color, Maya, color! The circus is all about color! It is the voice of her father, a voice she has never known but somehow recognizes. I want to match you and mom, she says.But you match Kimba!

“Another?” She is back in the bar, her elbows leaning on the mahogany counter, her fingers wrapped around a sweating glass. The man she has been dating for three months touches her hand. He is a handsome man and she wonders if that’s why it was so easy to say “yes” to his dinner invitation all those weeks ago.

Maya looks down at her empty glass. She doesn’t remember the last sip.

“Okay,” she says. He lifts his hand from hers, and her whole body aches in the absence of his touch.

In the mirror across the bar, Kimba lifts her gray trunk, tickling at the edge of the curtain, playing with a fraying cotton rope that hangs from the exposed metal frame above. Kimba is wearing a pink ruffle around her neck. Kimba doesn’t like the ruffle. She endures it. Maya thinks this is how she feels about her pink outfit, too.

The applause becomes a symphony. Spotlights flash by the entryway. Her father sprints past, blowing a kiss to Maya. Her mother slows, reaches up and wraps her fingers around her daughter’s pink-slippered foot. Stand tall, her mother says, then follows her father back into the darker rooms where circus acts are stitched together with sawdust and magic.

“You seem quiet tonight,” he says as her drink is refilled. He notices things. She wonders if this is why it was so easy to say “yes” to spending the night after that first dinner. She had never done that before. Not so soon.

“I’m fine,” she says. He knows this means she needs the quiet; that she’s daydreaming or remembering or sorting. He will touch her again to acknowledge this. And he does, his hand on her shoulder.

In the mirror across the bar, Maya is atop Kimba, carefully adjusting her stance to stand tall as the elephant marches behind a parade of clowns into the biggest ring of the three-ring circus. Fireflies spark from the crowd when the youngest star makes her entrance. The flashes don’t really help, she hears her father say later, on the drive home in a rusty brown station wagon. The cameras are too far away for the flashes to matter. Maya leans against the car door, watching the blurring trees. They matter to me, she whispers to the clouds.

“Do you want to get out of here?” He asks. She feels the weight of his hand on her shoulder. He wants to go.

“No. I want to stay.” When she says it, there is too much bite in her words. She knows this and wants to apologize, but instead she lifts her glass and sips, disappointed by her distraction, then surprised by the taste of pomegranate.

In the mirror across the bar, she is twelve years old and standing on the back of an elephant. Head forward, she hears in echo. Head forward and smile big. The smiling is easy; she feels like she is flying. But she wants to turn and catch her father’s eye. She imagines him standing in the shadows, holding her steady with raised eyebrows and white knuckles, confident in his teaching, hopeful in her learning.

“Where are you?” he asks. His voice is soft, almost too soft to hear above the music that’s playing in the bar. She knows this song.

You don’t even have to speak,
if you keep looking at me.

She catches her breath and turns to look at him.

“Kiss me,” she says and he does. The kiss tastes of salt and lime and ends too soon. It is a perfect kiss. He pulls back and looks into her eyes, not pleading, not probing. Lingering.

In her peripheral vision she sees the girl of twelve in the mirror. The girl turns her head to see her father and loses her balance. She begins to fall.

“Whoa,” he says, catching her as she slides off the stool. “You okay?”

His hands are strong.

“A little dizzy,” she says. He doesn’t let go until a measured moment later.

“I’ll get your coat.”

“Wait,” she says. “Don’t go.” He sits back down. She turns to the mirror behind the bar. The little girl is gone. In her place, a middle-aged woman who looks vaguely familiar, apart from the tired lines on her face and the bags under her eyes.

“I look like a wreck,” she says.

“You look like a princess,” he says. “Is it okay if I say that?” Then he smiles, because he knows it’s one of the things about him she finds charming – the way he asks permission to pay her a compliment only after he’s already offered it.

“Yes, it’s okay,” she says. He’s a good man, she thinks. She reaches across the bar and rests her hand on his.

“I was at the circus,” she says.

“You were at the circus?”

“A moment ago when you asked, I was at the circus. I’ve never actually been. But I was twelve years old and wearing a pink ballerina costume and pink shoes and I was balancing on an elephant as it circled the arena. Everyone was cheering and there were hundreds of fireflies and…my parents were there. They were trapeze artists.” She is watching him watch her as she speaks. He is fully engaged, not queuing up a response, but listening for the things she doesn’t say.

He turns to look at her reflection in the mirror. She turns, too. He is handsome in reflection.

“Am I crazy?” she asks.

He lifts her hand and kisses it.

“Yes,” he says, and she hears “you’re beautiful.” She is about to cry when he speaks again. They are perfect words.

“Tell me more about the fireflies.”

: : : : : : : : : :

By day, Steve Parolini plays a “doctor” where he doles out fabulous, free editorial advice at noveldoctor; by night he occasionally spins word magic at Counting on Rain where you can find his original post.
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@noveldoctor

Featured by Story Editor Robin Dance :: @PensieveRobin

5

There’s nothing shiny here

{by She Was}


Cylence Gray was 12 years old when she stopped believing in god and started believing in love. Standing alone, and to the side, slender pale arms wrapped around her black waist, Cylence watched the magpie, head cocked, watching her. Cylence liked that her face was turned to the sky. It meant that she didn’t have to look at the spring wet hole they were slowly lowering him into.

Cylence had been cracked open by grief and from that opening faith flew. Many years later she remembered. The tugging was the worst part. Being forced to look, to acknowledge, to know. As if somehow she could unknow. The tubes and the rattle rattle death breath, the corridors, closing in on her, as she waited, as they all waited. The mashed potato and gravy portrait her mother painted on the white wall. Her mother’s anger, at her, at her, for being there, for having held his hand and for having heard his heart beat when it stopped. She would never not know. Never unknow.

But on this day, with her mudcaked shoes and her splattered stockings, Cylence forgets and blurs it all. Face turned to the blue she closes her eyes and wishes. Cylence wishes for love, for love that knows how it feels to walk on ground that cracks and opens under your feet, for love that holds safe. 12 days later, standing in that same spot, Cylence smiles at the tall boy standing six plots over. And as she shyly walks over to him, flowers in her hand, she sees his name engraved in the hard stone, just like hers, 6 plots back. She thinks it strange that they both already know where it ends. They shouldn’t know. He asks her about her ending and tells her about his. They know where it ends but they don’t know how to get there. Cylence memorizes the face of the boy with the ocean in his name, and later, when it rains, as it always does where they live, she feels warm.

She Was is a storyteller.  This story is the second one about Cylence Gray.  The first story can be found here.
Subscribe to She Was for more.

Featured by Editorial Director, Jennifer Doyle | @playgroupie

26

What Happens After The Happiest Day of Your Life

{by Jonniker}

She picked up the glass, twirling the crystal stem in her fingers, holding the paper-thin bowl up to the light. They were the perfect glasses–Baccarat, not Waterford, as everyone knew Waterford was too fussy. All those facets, she thought bitterly. I don’t want to drink out of the Chrysler building.

She remembered the day they picked them out–well, the day she did, anyway, whirling around Neiman’s with the glowing red gun. He resisted initially, insisting that they were too expensive.

“Babe, I don’t want my grandmother forking over $300 for a single water glass,” he said. “Can’t we get these instead?”

He’d pointed to a display of Lenox glasses. Goddamn LENOX. She rolled her eyes at the memory. As if I’d be caught dead entertaining with a $36 glass. She won him over by insisting that the glasses were an investment.

“An investment in a lifetime of memories,” she cooed.

Stupid. I’m so stupid.

She turned the Baccarat upside down again, watching the light bounce off the rounded stem. She put it back on the table and twisted her hands for a moment before letting them fall into her lap. They rustled in the folds of her tulle slip, and she realized with horror that she was still wearing her wedding dress.

Her hands smoothed the fabric as she glanced down at herself admiringly.

Well, no one can say I didn’t look fabulous.

She almost snorted. Of course she looked fabulous–she was wearing a seven-thousand dollar dress. She’d loved it immediately–made of the softest silk, it was strapless and perfectly fitted to the waist before cascading into a million tiny little ruffles so fine they looked like delicate feathers. Monique Lhuillier herself probably hired twenty thousand Filipino children to hand-stitch each individual fold in the fabric.

That, too, had been an argument — this time, with her father. Her parents were generous to a fault, but even they were less than thrilled with the cost of the dress. They’d asked her to stay under three thousand dollars — a perfectly reasonable sum, she now realized — but she’d wheedled and begged, insisting on its critical role in the most important day of her life. It was her father who finally caved, and when he’d written the check, she was oddly triumphant. She’d known he wouldn’t refuse her.

She sat back in her chair and picked up the glass again. The day had been perfect, she realized. Precisely what she’d always wanted. The flowers — cascading orchids in the deepest velvet purple — were of a dream. The cost of those, too, had been staggering, fueled by their purported rarity.

She buried her head in her hands. All those details, she thought. The centerpieces. The dupioni silk custom chair covers blended of the subtlest of colors — a light cream and the softest pearl.

She lifted her head and looked at her engagement ring. Nine months later, and it still took her breath away. She twisted it around, remembering that just yesterday it had stood alone. Yesterday, when things were completely different than they were today. Yesterday, when she was happy and warm with the anticipation of her wedding day.

Yesterday, before she realized this was all a horrible mistake.

Jonniker is a mother, a writer, a twitterer, and a force to be reckoned with.

Her original, glorious post debuted the now-disbanded Polite Fictions, and it now lives for eternity here on Story Bleed.  Subscribe to her personal blog through RSS or Networked Blogs
Follow her on Twitter @jonniker.

Featured by Story Editor Shannon | @MrLady

4

Cheating at Golf

{by Joe Flood}

That morning, Ted got dressed, picked up his clubs and headed for the links. At the clubhouse, he had a drink, a Bloody Mary reeking of vodka and Tabasco. The TV played CNBC, news of the financial storm overturning all boats. Ted ordered another drink, handing over his credit card to the bartender.

“Charge it while it still works,” he said.

The first golfers were heading out into the humid dawn air. A group of vacationing orthodontists were looking for a fourth. Ted fell in with their group, a little tipsy from the vodka.

Ted sent his first shot racing into a drainage ditch, a line drive that sent up a big splash in the early morning mist.

“I’m taking a mulligan,” Ted said.

“Yea, it’s practice!” the shortest of the lot said. He was the oldest, the richest, and was the leader of the group. His name was Danny.

Ted’s second swing wasn’t much better. He seemed to slip on the dew-wet grass, his left leg jerking out, as if it had been yanked like a marionette. The ball overflew the drainage ditch and bounced over the neighboring fairway.

“I should’ve hit the driving range,” he explained.

“Hey, it’s early,” Danny said.

Ted took another mulligan and, on his third try, sent a decent drive down the middle of the fairway. Danny then launched a ball high over his, by a good fifty yards. His colleagues congratulated him.

“It’s the Bertha’s!” Danny exclaimed, holding the oversized driver in his hand. The club was nearly as tall as he was.

Ted scooped his ball out with a nine iron and sent it arcing onto the green. Danny did likewise.

The men lined up for their putts. The orange sun was just over the palm trees, starting to heat up the day.

“Did I tell you?” Danny said. “Winner buys drinks.”

“Got it,” Ted said, aligning himself with the hole. He was short by a good ten feet. Danny sunk his ball, a smile alighting on his face.

“Well, you got plenty of time for golf now, you bastard,” one the other orthodontists kidded him, “now that you got other people working for you.”

“That’s right,” Danny said. “No pulling teeth for me. I got a couple Chinese gals to do that. I just collect the money!”

On the second hole, Ted lost another shot in the water and took another mulligan.

“You’re going to run out of balls,” Danny said with a laugh.

As they rode in the cart down the fairway, Ted listened to Danny describe the house he was building. The total cost was “north of a million bucks,” with marble imported from Italy, an Olympic-sized pool and servant quarters.

Ted began cheating on the next hole. It went beyond just taking mulligans, which he continued to do. He deliberately undercounted his shots and insisted on “do-overs” when he missed a putt.

For the first couple holes, the orthodontists were amused. At the ninth tee, the beer cart caught up with them. Ted chugged down a Bud light. No one was talking to him.

“I’m calling that a four,” Ted said at the tenth hole.

“You sure?” Danny asked. “You got some funny accounting. More like a five or a six.”

“Oh, I don’t think so,” Ted said with a grin. The sun was now well over the horizon. Sweat rolled down his temples.

“They say if you cheat at golf, you cheat at life.”

Ted was glad that his eyes were hidden behind sunglasses. He thought of his wife, the money, everything else.

“Who believes that shit?” he said, forcing out a laugh.

The rest of the round continued in silence. A couple of times he caught Danny looking at him with disdain when he announced his score. But the man didn’t say anything. And neither did his colleagues.

On the 18th hole, Ted sent his putt wide by a couple of feet. He tapped it in.

“You going to count that?” Danny asked.

“Are you kidding? It’s a tap-in. You never count tap-ins.”

“You don’t?” The other orthodontists had gathered around their leader.

“Not where I’m from,” Ted said. He quickly added up his score. “I got a 67. How about you gentlemen?”

Danny’s face was red, either from anger or the heat.

“Sixty-seven!”

“That’s what I got. Guess you guys are buying drinks.”

“You did not get a sixty-seven.”

“Sure I did.”

The other orthodontists chimed in, telling him that he was mistaken or worse. Ted grinned tightly. He held up his scorecard for the men to see. Danny grabbed the paper from his hand. “That’s bullshit.”

Ted stepped into Danny, pushing the man back with his chest. “You calling me a liar?” He loomed over the man, fists at the ready. The other orthodontists faded backwards.

Danny looked up at Ted, anger switching to fear. “No, no, for god sakes, it’s just a game,” he said, his voice soft.

The orthodontists drifted away. They walked back to their golf carts, with careful glances back at Ted to make sure he wasn’t going to rush them. He stood strong on the tee, the 18th flag at his back. Ted willed them to turn, to charge him, to fly at him in a flurry of punches and kicks, with Danny, wealthy prick Danny leading the way, encouraging the violence. He wanted all three of them on him like a mob, a desperate and legitimate struggle for survival. He wanted it. He wanted the feel of Danny’s fist in his gut and then an honest fight on the closely-cropped grass.

But they were too good, or too wise. Ted remained on the green, watching with disappointment the steady retreat of their golf carts.

::

Joe Flood is a writer and photographer based in Washington, D.C.
This piece, Cheating at Golf, is previously unpublished.
He’s the author of the novel, Murder in Ocean Hall.
Follow Joe on Twitter @joeflood
Subscribe

::

Featured by Editorial Director, Jennifer Doyle | @playgroupie

15

Heart Masks Mind

{Originally Published on Secret Agent Mama and originally featured right here on November 20, 2008}

Oh fiery colors, how short your stay,
Merrily tantalizing my sense of sight.
Against the blue sky, as if to blaze the way,
Towards the promise of a new day, bright.
It is in autumn that I reflect the most,
The end of the year spinning my mind around.
Like the trees that wait again to host,
My thoughts pause to absorb the sound.
Through the standstill, I look forward and back,
Considering past, dreams turn to a future of hope.
I wonder: Are the trees hopeful while they lack?
Or have they just found a way to cope?
My mind it is filled with worry and doubt.
Though my heart, a hopeful tree, dreams about.

Original Photography ©Mishelle Lane Photography

You can read more from Mishelle Lane on her personal blog filled with love and beauty, Secret Agent Mama.  Don’t forget to subscribe.
See even more of her beauty on her photography website, Mishelle Lane Photography.
Follow Mishi on Twitter.

4
January 31, 2011 | Featured 2, Mr Lady, Tuesday 2

Lessons in Living, Dead.

{By Zombie Daddy}

Some days I’m better at getting out of the house than others. I bring my daughter with me to the grocery store or to the mall while I browse. I don’t buy anything; any cash I pick up here or there goes straight to rent; I don’t work and we need the apartment so that it at least looks like we’re normal. (Aside: Those idiots who hang out in graveyards all day and all night, slowly rotting from the damp and never giving a thought to staying clean and inconspicuous just give me a headache. Make an effort. Fuckers. Take some pride in your being; you have been given a second shot at existence.)

As I was saying, I don’t buy anything. That isn’t the point of the trips to the store. The point is to care. Complacency will be the life of us.  If I don’t care enough every day to get up, get out, and keep track of what is going on in the world then I will wither. The doldrums will win, the hunger will dominate, and my daughter and I will get caught as we rampage down a suburban street picking off soccer moms. So, activity, involvement. Playing among the cattle. Keeping track of who is divorcing whom, and whether or not Bat Boy has finally had a kid of his own; noting the changing fashions; watching books climb and fall from the bestseller lists; I pay attention to all of these things and pretend they matter until I almost convince myself. I train my being to react as though they are important, to behave effortlessly normal.

She thinks it’s a big waste of time, of course. “Daddy, can we eat now?” she asks every time we go to the store. “No sweetie. Not now. Now we learn.” I’m teaching her that there is value in normalcy, even if it’s only self-preservation.

Only self-preservation. It’s so hard to get through to her sometimes, to teach her that this existence we have is precarious and precious. She’s young, and impulsive, and driven by the now.

Well, weren’t we all like that once?

Zombydaddy is actually Backpacking Dad, but don’t let that ruin it for you.
Subscribe to Backpacking Dad through RSS or  Facebook
Follow him on Twitter @backpackingdad or @zombiedaddy.

Featured by Story Editor Shannon | @MrLady

7
November 23, 2010 | Featured 2, Fiction, Mr Lady, Thursday 1

What Happens After Impact

{by Two Busy}

And in that instant

I am aloft in a way I’ve never known before, a growing cushion of air rising to fill the space between my skin and my seat, the wheels and the road, my head snapping back with effortless, eyeblink ferocity and colliding with the headrest (the crush of my hair against leather, pressing through the foam to touch the steel within) then a whipcrack snap forward, vertebrae compressing and releasing like pistons firing at neural speed, the engine still running strong and loud and my heart surging with adrenaline and

in the periphery of my vision I can see the earth spin and turn, as if the axis of the world has shifted

I think: how odd

and the sound, the sound, it’s incredible, that terrible squeal and crush of metal bending and tearing, iron wrenching from iron and glass and the compression of air in my lungs and those seconds – one, and two, and the long heartbeat stretch to three – when it all dissolves to echo and gravity fades to myth and I become aware that I am still pressing down on the accelerator, as though I might catch up to this impossibly swift rotation of earth and sky and in matching its speed slow its pace and return to the world I’d known and all I hear is the engine the wheels freed from the restraints of physics straining to catch hold on this cool evening air and

then a corner connects – I cannot tell which one, and in not understanding I lose some illusion of control – and there is a new eruption of torque and velocity, of moving so many different ways at once, and I am the tail of a kite arcing and spiraling in a strong wind, diving and soaring and fighting against myself and this thin brace of fabric that cuts deep across my waist and the forgiving skin where neck and shoulder meet

where you had rested your head, seeking solace and comfort and this

is all

it’s all happening so fast

and the adrenaline fills me with strength and fury and my arms and chest swell — with will, with purpose, with terror and defiance and

something catches

and I feel my leg twist and churn beneath me, the thick muscle of my thigh stretching and turning upon itself and in a flash I think of the nest of tendons and ligaments like ivy wrapping ’round a trunk of bone (I imagine it wood, bending but unbowed) and then something breaks free and I feel it rise through my chest that insane rush of pain desperately escaping my body and

the windshield

the glass dissolves into shooting stars

and it is beautiful and I am screaming and

See the original post on Polite Fictions.
TwoBusy keeps a personal blog, and contributes to MamaPop, DadCentric and PoliteFictions.
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Follow him on Twitter @twobusy.

3

Insult and Injury

Fiction and Poetry Blog Nosh Magazine{Originally posted in The Slow-Cooked Sentence}

She asked for my bag to search it for stolen library books, and she wanted me to come back inside too. I refused. As if I would willingly walk back into the library with a toddler throwing a tantrum. Stupid woman.

“Feel free to take it,” I spat out, struggling to hold on to my angry son.

She blinked at me from behind her glasses, than picked up the bag and marched back in.

“Are we in trouble, Mom?” my older son asked, shrinking himself into the shadows of the building.

I shook my head, silently willing the small, stiff child in my arms to calm down. Instead, he arched his back into the curve of a scorpion’s tail and wailed.

I’d hunted scorpions as a kid. Armed with an empty mayonnaise jar, I’d wander out into the vast stretch of sandy desert that was my backyard and start kicking over cow patties. Scorpions burrow small holes under the dung, flat as a Frisbee, and hide out during the hottest part of the day.

Sometimes, my brother and I would capture five or six at a time. From pincer to tail some of them were longer than my dad’s thumb. Others were small enough to fit on a dime. Of the hundreds of scorpions we captured, grew bored with and released, I remember two: The one found under plywood, whose body alone measured three inches and whose tail was thick as jute, and the mother with a million babies on her back. She got away.

That’s what I wanted to do now, just crawl into a hole as people gave my toddler and his meltdown lots of space. A bitter, angry brew boiled in my belly. I’d been taking my children to this library long enough for a few of the librarians to know us by name, but I didn’t know this one, nor had I paid attention to her face when she stamped our books. Instead, I studied her hands, studded with rings that squeezed her flesh and forced it to ooze around them. Those pale, sticky hands usually busy with musty books and cups of sugared tea were poking through my things, pulling out water bottle, bike helmet, knitting.

“She’s taking out your wallet, Mom,” my older son reported from his hiding spot near a window. “She dropped it.”

I’d given the wallet to my toddler earlier in the day to amuse him, and when it no longer held his attention I’d shoved it into the bag without snapping it shut, so when the librarian picked it up it fell open, spilling coins. Quarters and dimes bounced across the table, tangled in yarn, rolled under the bike helmet. I shot an angry glance through the window, and my jaw tightened, my head throbbed, my arms ached.

Hiding under the helmet, a dime turned from silver to pale yellow and unfurled. A set of tiny pincers snapped and a tail tucked into the belly of armor curved upward to expose a venomous dagger at its tip. On eight small legs it skittered across the table unseen, grabbed hold of the librarian’s dress and climbed. When it reached her neck, it slipped under the fold of her collar, clinging to the fabric as she walked outside.

Outside, my toddler lay limp in my arms, exhausted from his tantrum. My son eased himself out of his hiding spot, and my anger drained away.

“It’s going to be okay,” I tell them.

Doors opened. The librarian set down the bag, and silently marched back inside, carrying my revenge. Pincers clicked, dagger poised, it waited.

Editor’s Pick by Heather at L’Chaim. I love this piece because Rachael Levy does what any good writer would do: she exacts her revenge through story. Her blog reveals a storyteller’s heart as she relates the everyday in engaging and quirky narrative. A couple of Rachael’s stories you might like: Slate’s Loss, Your Gain and We Met in Line at the Fabric Store. You can subscribe to her posts to keep up with her imagination.

1

Between

fiction-poetry-200{Originally Published on BHJ}

I’m in no hurry. You know that guy on the highway? You can’t get into the left lane because it’s a swarm of caffeinated speedsters and you’re trapped behind some fool going 5 under. That’s me. Good morning.

I had a friend. Skip. Every time we parted, without fail, he’d say “Take it slow”.

My path to work winds through a cluster of yawning mountains. Just before the sun rises, the top, just the bare tip, of the jagged horizon’s all lit with the glow of a faint orange hum that aches to be something – looks like the mountains are about to have a big idea, like something’s about to happen. You know what I mean? You know that weird feeling you get when something’s about to go down? Your kid is walking with a glass of juice. A man stares too long at a woman’s purse. You take the first drink. Something’s about to happen.

There’s a subtle negotiation between the black sky of last night and the sleepy orange morning waiting for its time. A deep staggering blue, stumbling, confused. Sometimes it’s blood purple. In some vague space between words, it doesn’t know what it is. But it’s not bothered by this. It’s in no hurry.

I may have missed my calling as a cab driver. Can you imagine? I would look in my rear view, check out my passengers, write little stories about their pasts and futures. That guy. He keeps checking his watch and calling someone who doesn’t answer. I’m taking him to a part of town where only a couple things happen. The crying lady. Going to the airport. And those two, kissing, groping, wearing wedding rings that don’t match. Everyone’s going somewhere. They start out here. I take them there. But me? I spend my days in between. Lingering between what just went down and what’s waiting to happen.

People honk their horns. Flip me off. They gotta get what they’re going. But where are they going? Do they even know? Enclosed in their cars, they lip-synch enraged profanities. But I’m in no hurry. I take it slow. I was born. I’m gonna die. And I love this vague space in between.

Editors Pick by Amy from Doobleh-vay:  BHJ is awesome! He is the kind of writer that I would have hated in my university round table fiction or poetry workshops because of jealousy only. I would have probably stalked him around campus and sent him poems. His writing is just so right. He has a voice and we all love it. The original post and comments can be found here. You can also check out WWBHJ do on Twitter.

0

The Deep End of the Shallow Water

Fiction and Poetry Blog Nosh MagazineOriginally published at Storytellersunplugged.

Richard Dansky’s short story, besides being an intriguing story about monsters and possibilities and what hides in the dark, challenges the reader to think about our preconceptions and how they affect what we see.

He introduces the story with this tidbit:

There are a lot of lakes and ponds in the Triangle, many of them man-made. There’s one I pass driving to work every day, and another that sits across the street from my office. You can go there on your lunch break and see people fishing or sailing or throwing frisbees into the water for their dogs to chase. I’ve even availed myself of the facilities a few times, and am pleased to report I’ve only fallen out of a rented canoe once, and briefly.

An admittedly unscientific sample suggests that most of those folks have no idea that Lake Crabtree (and the “lake” part is purely an honorific; it’s about as deep as a Bret Michaels interview and covers only slightly more territory) was dug out with backhoes and bulldozers in the not-too-distant past. Even the signs posted at various semi-prominent points don’t get the point across. Maybe they’re ugly signs. Maybe people have come up with their own stories about where the lake came from and how long it’s been around, and if things are otherwise, they don’t want to know. Either way, it works for them.

Which, I suppose, is the point of the story.

Enjoy.

***

THE DEEP END OF THE SHALLOW WATER

We got out of the car just before sunset, a half-mile down a gravel service road that we shouldn’t have been able to access. The spot where we’d stopped was a pretty one, a clearing in the second-growth pine woods that ran up the edge of the body of water we’d come to investigate. Soft dirt gave way to sticky clay down by the shoreline, and tree roots and tufts of grasses marked the bank all the way down. I could see reeds poking up through the water, stands of them here and there in places where the bottom was muddy enough to support plant life that ambitious. Across the way I could see the other side, red dirt and green grass underneath a purpling sky. It didn’t look terribly far away.

“What do you think?” Lester said, and grinned. His boots crunched on the white rock of the road as he moseyed around to the trunk, the better to pop it and get out the equipment. “Is this spot perfect or what?”

I stared at him for a minute, then pointed at the water. “Lester,” I said, “That is a pond.”

He nodded. “So it is, Tyler, so it is.” The trunk squealed open and his head disappeared inside as he began rummaging around.

“Let me try this again,” I said, and took a couple of steps closer to the water. “Lester, this is a pond. Moreover, if I am reading that sign there correctly” – I pointed to an innocuous piece of metal that proclaimed the pond to be “Flood Control Structure #32? – “it’s a man-made pond. Constructed, I might add, in 1966.”

His head popped out for a moment, now adorned with night-vision goggles. “Is it, now?”

I took a deep breath, counted to ten, and let it go slowly. No sense letting Lester drive me crazy this early in the evening, I thought. He’d have all night to do it, if I let him.

“Lester,” I said in my most reasonable voice, “stop that. What we are looking at is an artificial pond so small I could swim it without kicking my shoes off first. Hell, it’s so shallow I could probably walk it, and never have to hold my breath. If there are any fish in there, they were artificially introduced when this thing was built. There is maybe enough biomass in that whole thing to support one moderately anorexic snapping turtle as the local apex predator, and that’s it.”

“Really.” He sounded distracted, or at least he did until he straightened up too fast and bounced the back of his head off the inside of the trunk lid. “Owww.”

“Oh, for God’s sake.” I stomped over to the car and relieved Lester of half the armload of equipment he was carrying. It was all there, the usual gear for this sort of trip: NVG, infrared cameras, motion sensors, microphones, and more. There was also a sealed thermos marked “rotten fish” in Lester’s wife’s handwriting, more proof that she was the most patient and sainted of women to walk this earth, and what looked like 250 feet of 50 pound test line with no other fishing equipment in sight. “You all right?”

“Yes, yes, fine. Just…put that down over there.” He waved vaguely toward the water. “Ow.”

“Don’t think self-mutilation’s going to get you out of answering me,” I told him, even as I did what he said. “You still haven’t told me why the hell you think we’re going to find something here.”

“Because it’s there,” he said, as if it were the most reasonable thing in the world, and slammed the trunk with casual malice. “That’s the reason we go everywhere, right?”

I shook my head. “Lester, we go where there are genuine, verifiable sightings of cryptozoological specimens, not hysterical impossibilities.”

He joined me at the top of the bank and deposited his load of gear next to mine. “You’re absolutely correct, and again, that’s why we’re here. Give me a hand down?” Without waiting for me to answer, he slid down the muddy slope. His heels gouged long, smooth lines in the clay as he went.

I waited for him to find his footing, then started handing pieces of gear to him. “Les, we did not have a genuine, verifiable sighting here. We had a couple of drunk teenagers with a cell phone camera.”

“And the images they recorded clearly show something in the water. Which is why we’re here.”

“For God’s sake, Lester, where’s the breeding population going to come from? Old packets of sea monkeys?”

He shook his head, and brushed his hands on the well-worn fishing vest he always wore on trips like these. “You’re missing the point, my friend. Come on down here and I’ll try to show you.”

“Show me what?” I grumbled suspiciously, but by then I was already moving. “Another cell phone video?”

“No, not quite.” My heels hit ground and I skidded backwards. Only Lester’s hand caught me, stabilizing me from going over while I lurched to my feet. He said nothing until I was upright and steady, then gestured toward the far shore. “Now, look out there. What do you see?”

I peered out into the gathering dusk. Overhead, the sky had settled to a shade of deep-bruise purple, warning us that we were running out of light. The water’s surface was still, an indigo mirror reflecting featureless heavens. Across the way, a single heron picked its fastidious way along the shoreline, pausing every so often to stab at something small and unseen. Frogs, maybe, or minnows.

“I see a pond,” I said.

Lester shook his head. “No, you don’t. You know there’s a pond here, a crappy little hole in the ground they poured some water into, so that’s all you’ll let yourself think there can be. But what do you see?”

“Lester-” I started, but he shushed me.

“You see a flood control structure. Those kids? They saw a pond that’s been here all their lives, dark and scary and with something they’ve never seen the bottom of. Maybe their older brothers told them that it had a monster in it, and they believed.”

“Then they’re idiots,” I muttered, but Lester was rolling now.

“How deep is that water? What moves underneath it? What might have been buried, asleep in the muck for centuries before the return of the waters awakened it? From here, we don’t know; they certainly don’t, or they do, and their answers have nothing to do with what the engineers might say. Us? We can’t know. All we see is that-” he waved out at the smooth surface of the pond before us – “and that reflects all our thoughts back at us. It’s impenetrable, and beyond it lies whatever we can imagine living in those murky depths. Why shouldn’t there be monsters here, if those kids want there to be some?”

“Because there can’t be,” I said weakly. “Because there’s no room, and no food, and no history. There’s a million reasons there can’t be anything bigger than a catfish in there.”

“Ah, but there can, if we want it to be there badly enough. That’s the thing about monsters, you know. They come when they’re called. When they’re possible. When they’re told that they’ve always been there.”

I opened my mouth to tell him that he was crazy, that we’d agreed to do scientific investigation only, that I was done with this partnership if he was going to sprinkle magical pixie dust over everything I’d thought we’d stood for.

And from across the water, there was a splash. I looked up, just as Lester did, just in time to see the heron disappearing in a spray of black water. Its wings beat frantically against the water’s surface for an instant and then it was gone. A handful of feathers floated into view, bright against the dark outline of a vast shape moving slowly to deeper water.

For a moment, neither of us said anything. Lester looked at me. I looked at the ground.

“Did you…see something,” I heard myself asking.

Lester sounded noncommittal. “I might have.”

“Right.” I kicked a pebble toward the water. It hit with an audible thunk, then sank out of sight, instantly. “Why don’t I go set up the equipment?”

“Why don’t I help you?”

I shook my head. “Why don’t you keep an eye on the water?”

Editor’s pick by Heather A. Goodman at L’Chaim. Richard Dansky writes for video games and authored the novel Firefly Rain, a supernatural thriller. Richard blogs, along with a team of writers, at Storytellersunplugged. Storytellersunplugged brings together 30 authors, editors, booksellers, and publishing professionals to offer the reader short stories, tips on writing, and “behind the scenes” glances at the writing industry. On any given day, you never know what you might find: a bit of humor, a horror story, or a piece of advice to keep you typing the words that you love. One thing is for sure: This blog is for all who love words and, specifically, how these words come together to create a good story. You can find the blog here and subscribe to it here.

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