Category: Short Stories

Write On!

That scene is from my all-time favorite movie You’ve Got Mail.

And this is just what I feel like right now.

I’ve been writing a short story every week and sending it out to be considered for publication.  Between that, the creative writing class I’m taking, and the novel I am also working on, my brain just hit maximum stuck mode.

The words just. won’t. come.

I need a break but my Google calendar is the devil on my shoulder reminding me of the weekly goal I set for myself.

“It’s Friday,” she says in her obnoxiously female voice.

“I know that,” I say, “but I’ve been working so hard. Can’t I have an extension just this once?”

This is her reply:

And so I sit here with Nadia, Ella, and Sarek (my characters) staring at me like

waiting for me to write out what happens next in their lives.  But they’ll just have to stare. And I’m looking back at them like:

And I’ve decided I won’t be intimidated by my calendar or my characters who all seem to have bad attitudes today.  And I have no room for that kind of negativity in my life.

I’m going to go read.

Or maybe watch You’ve Got Mail for the millionth time.

So there.

Until I write again….

 

The Drunken Bull

You may remember me telling you that I am participating in a short story challenge at 12shortstories.com.  Well, here is the story I just submitted for August.  It may or may not have been an actual event in my life. 😉

***

I made it a point to have lunch at The Drunken Bull that day after two of my coworkers told me eating there was worthwhile entertainment. I needed something to take my mind off doing way too much work for way too little money. I didn’t really want this job but I took it for two reasons: my husband’s old college roommate said I would love working there and my current job was taking its toll on my health. I walked over to The Drunken Bull around noon. It was only a few blocks from the congressional buildings and the crisp fall air did me a world of good.

The rectangular red brick building looked unassuming from the outside, like it housed offices or apartments rather than a restaurant. The entrance had an inconspicuous blue awning that jutted out over it. The lack of any wording on itgave hints of the infidelity that went on inside. Inside was a stark contrast to the exterior facade. This was the watering hole for congressmen and senators who wanted more than just the draft beers and food listed on the menu, if you catch my drift.

My khaki pants and woman’s polo shirt with the computer installation company logo emblazoned on the shoulder announced to everyone that I was not of the same ilk. The men in their suits and ties looked like desperate johns, and the women in their painted-on suits looked like expensive call girls. I grabbed an empty seat at the bar and was greeted immediately by the bartender with a menu and a glass of water. The chatter was thick and loud. The words “Lewinsky” and “cigar” and “impeachment” were on tap in every conversation. Yes, I worked as a computer installer during that scandal.

I never saw so many people in one place so concerned with who knew whom. But I guess it was par for the course, politics were all about connecting with the right people. Who were the right people? That depended on what your agenda was. I’m not sure what that girl’s was, but I’m almost certain penetration by cigar in the oval office wasn’t what she had in mind. Or maybe it was.

The scandal in the news and the reporters that crawled all over Capitol Hill like an army of ants, hadn’t put a damper on things at The Drunken Bull. This was “the club,” where our nation’s lawmakers made shady deals with rich constituents over burgers and beer and used their political prowess to get laid by women who weren’t their wives.

A tape recorder and no conscience would have made me a rich woman. My ears zeroed in on the guy next to me who called his wife and gave her some bullshit story about congress being in a special session so he wouldn’t be able to make it home this weekend. “No, no, you just stay there and have fun with the kids,” he told her. I choked on my soda. He hung up his cell phone and shot a look at me, displeased I had been privy to his plans for debauchery. I scoffed at his attempt to intimidate me and ate my fries.

This place was filled with young women, none of them more than 23 or 24 years old, who got hit on by unattractive old men whose only lure was their political prowess. They had access to places and these women wanted in. The hypocrisy of it was amusing: these men committed the same sin they were trying to impeach the sitting president for. I kept my gaze on the shelves of liquor behind the bartender to disguise my eavesdropping efforts. I picked up on another conversation, to my right this time. A congressman who convinced his new and gullible-sounding staffer to let him show her around DC to “give her the lay of the land.” She had no idea his words were a double entendre.

I heard politicians were the slimy sort and not trustworthy, but I just sat among scalawags that justified the sentiment. I shoved the last bite of my sandwich in my mouth and raised my finger to the bartender. “Check, please.” I wanted to take my exit before the slime in that place found me and tried to ooze its way over my body like that pinkish-red ickyness in the movie ‘The Blob.’

Then I heard it: “Well, haven’t seen you in here before, pretty lady.”

Shit.

The long and short of it….

Today I took another step toward my goal of becoming a published author: I submitted a short story to The Saturday Evening Post  to be considered for their print edition.

I never pictured myself writing short stories. My goal is to write novels. In fact I am busy working on one while I write these short stories. But I’ve been reading a lot about authors and how they got started and they all have one thing in common: they started out writing short stories.

I read an article about how to establish yourself as a writer and the advice was, you guessed it, writing short stories. Another article said to write three or four of them a month and just start sending them out, so I’ve been doing just that.  I have a long list of bookmarks for online literary journals, e-zines, and shorty story contests that I am submitting to.

My goal is to win four writing competitions and have 15 short stories published by the end of the year.  Sounds like a lot, but if I aim high I’m bound to reach at least a portion of this goal.

Now, I’m not just writing haphazardly.  I’ve been reading articles on how to write short stories and I’ve also been reading lots of shorts by authors who are considered to be the best at this craft.  People like Stephen King, Shirley Jackson, Raymond Carver, J. California Cooper, and Annie Proulx.  If you’ve never read short stories before, give these authors a try. I was a little nervous to read anything by Mr. King, but I’ve managed to get through his stories…so far…without any bad dreams. Although I may or may not look like this while I read his stories:

This style of writing has really been stretching my skills. Most short stories are 3,000 words or less.  That may sound like a lot but it isn’t.  Think of how long a novel is.  That’s like a movie. Well, a short story is like a commercial. Yeah. That.

But it really forces me to be deliberate when I write and use strong verbs that elicit (I hope) a strong emotional response while also painting vivid imagery.

Hey, have you read any good short stories lately? I’d love to hear about it!  I’m always looking for another good book to read.

Until I write again…..

 

 

And Then He Sneezed

Okay, so as a writer it’s important to write every single day.  I joined a website called 12shortstories.com.  It is a year-long challenge to write (obviously) 12 short stories in a year.

That’s harder than it sounds.

Each month a writing prompt and a word count are provided. You have one month to write your heart out.

For July, the writing prompt is “coming undone” and the word count is 1200 words. Here’s what I have come up with.

I’d love to know what you think. 🙂

***

He stood there and stared into the open grave where his best friend’s body sat in a mahogany casket. Two days ago they were together for a July 4th cookout. Now his best friend was a Black lives matter hashtag, another Black man murdered at the hands of those sworn to protect and serve, and Mike’s world would never be the same.

Eric and Mike had no idea that cookout would be the last time they ever hung out together. They ate, laughed, and watched the fireworks. But Eric’s allergies had been unusually bothersome that day so he took a benadryl (he didn’t know that would be a fatal mistake). The benadryl made Eric drowsy so he asked Mike to drive him home. Mike didn’t hesitate to do Eric that favor and said he would just take an Uber back to the cookout to get his car.

On the way home they both noticed a police car had been following them since they got on the highway. Mike double checked to be sure he maintained the speed limit but they got pulled over anyway. Mike’s heart sank into his stomach. He had a bad feeling. But he stayed calm. He signaled, pulled over to the shoulder, kept his hands on the steering wheel at 10 and 2, and he made no sudden moves. He and Eric both knew the drill. The officer approached the car and asked Mike if he knew why he was being pulled over. “No,” was Mike’s reply. The officer told Mike he was speeding and Mike said he was doing 60 in a 55. Another officer walked up on the passenger side of the car with his hand on his gun. Eric’s window was rolled down. The officer looked at Eric for a moment, then asked him if he was high.

“No,” Eric said, “I just took a benadryl for my allergies and I’m a little sleepy.”

“You look high to me.”

“No,” Eric said, “I’m not high, benadryl makes me drowsy, officer.”

The cop asked Eric to step out of the car. Eric sighed. This is bullshit he thought to himself. But he didn’t want things to escalate so he complied. Mike was busy talking to the officer on his side of the car. After about 30 seconds….a minute maybe?….Mike heard Eric sneeze, then

bang…bang bang.

He thought it was just more fireworks. But then he heard something hit the car. He turned to look and saw the other officer with his gun drawn.

“What the fuck?! Eric?!”

Mike tried to open his door. The officer pushed it closed.

“Put your hands on the steering wheel and DO NOT move!” the officer said.

“Okay, okay! Can you just tell me what’s going on please?!”

“Don’t move!”

“I’m not moving!”

Mike squeezed the steering wheel so tight he could see the veins in his arms. He focused on those. He heard a bunch of sirens. He wanted to turn around to see what was going on, but the officer had his gun pointed right at Mike’s head.

“Officer, please, what’s going on? Is Eric okay?”

“I said don’t move!”

“I’m not moving, I just want to know what’s going on!”

The officer told Mike to step out of the car. Survival mode kicked in. He complied even though he had done nothing wrong. He was placed face down on the trunk and handcuffed “for his own protection” the officer said. That’s when he saw Eric’s body laying on the ground, lifeless. He asked over and over again for help.

“Please, someone help him! Don’t let him die!”

He heard the cops as they all talked and tried to get their stories straight. Mike wanted to help his best friend but couldn’t. He did the only thing he could do: hope Eric would be okay.

“Eric? Can you hear me?”

Eric didn’t reply.

“I’m here with you man. I’m here. Don’t die, man, just don’t die. Hang on.”

Mike closed his eyes. He’s gonna be okay. He’s gonna be okay he chanted over and over. It was 20 minutes before an ambulance finally arrived to the scene. Mike watched as they turned Eric over. The front of Eric’s white shirt was now dark.

“Eric! God damnit! Eric!”

His instinct made him try to jump up, but the officer applied more unnecessary pressure to the back of his neck.

“Stay still! Stay still!”

“Stay still?! Come on, man! That’s my best friend!”

Mike’s body filled with rage. But he needed to stay alive. He closed his eyes. Mike didn’t know how long it was before the officer finally let him up and took the handcuffs off. The rest of that night and the week that followed felt like a movie Mike had watched. Every day he woke up to the nightmare of Eric being dead. The days that led up to the funeral came and went like molasses. When the day of the funeral finally came, Mike was a zombie. He didn’t cry. He didn’t talk. He didn’t respond to anyone offering to shake his hand or hug him. He helped carry his best friend’s casket out of the funeral home. He helped load him into the hearse. And now he stood at the edge of Eric’s grave and the finality of it hit Mike like a boulder. His best friend since kindergarten was gone. Murdered by a cop. Because he sneezed.

He overheard people that talked about justice for Eric and his soul died a little more, if that was even possible. No amount of justice would bring his friend back, and, as a Black man, Mike knew better than to expect that the cop that murdered Eric would be charged. The only thing Mike thought about right then was how to get his feet to move, but they were like cement blocks that anchored him to Eric’s grave. His brain tried to send a signal to his feet. Turn. Walk away. But his feet knew that life without his best friend had to begin in earnest once he moved. So Mike chose to kneel instead.

And that was his undoing.

Mike felt something wet drop on his hand. He looked down and saw a drop of water. It wasn’t raining. He looked up and hoped gravity would send his tears back to their source. It was no use. His mind filled with images: Eric’s body lifeless next to the car; the cop’s hands on the back of his neck holding him down; the red lights on the ambulance that took Eric away. All the rage he couldn’t let out that night rose up from his soul, to his gut, to his stomach, to his heart – where it lingered for just a moment too long – to the back of his throat. Then his mouth opened and a guttural, primal, heart-wrenching scream spewed out like vomit. He felt arms around him that kept him from falling into his friend’s grave. Arms that tried to comfort him. Arms that tried uselessly to keep his soul from collapsing.

But those arms came too late. A lifetime of friendship was ended because Eric Jackson sneezed.