The Bugbear

This is a short story I wrote in 2019. It’s a group of adults playing D&D. But it’s also about seeing things and people in a different light.

THE BUGBEAR

Immediately upon entering the tomb, all three of them saw something lurking in the corner. Something so big it made the entirety of the confining room feel suffocatingly smaller. The hairy, seven-foot-tall creature was grunting and digging through the inventory packs of a pair of dead and unlucky adventurers. Still far more unlucky than dead.

They could smell it too; its stench was overwhelming. “What is it?” Steven’s warrior asked.

“Though its back is turned, and it is caked in dried mud from the hips down, you know, unmistakably, that this is a bugbear.”

Steven’s eyebrows jumped. “A bugbear?” In all their adventures thus far — through all the realms their party had journeyed, and all of the monsters they’d vanquished — they had yet to actually see a bugbear. It was Steven’s white whale.

Meggan knew it, too. She had been running the campaign from its inception, so she was well aware of every time Steven’s character had ever hopefully asked, “Is it a bugbear?” But for some reason, it was never a bugbear. Meggan, Steven, Nick, and Jasper had been playing the same Dungeons & Dragons campaign for eight months now. Every Sunday night for eight months — after Nick got his kids to bed, after Jasper finished his security shift at the mall, after Steven wrapped up his afternoon campaign with his other gaming group, and once Meggan was free with whatever it was that kept her busy until eight o’clock on Sundays — the group had been exploring caves just like this one, as well as countless spooky mansions, haunted islands, and faraway lands, all in the comfort of Nick’s own cave, the modest basement in his four-bedroom house.

From behind the DM screen, and rolling a handful of many-sided dice around in her palm, in an attempt to calm the group’s nerves, Meggan tells them, “The tomb is already lit by the bugbear’s own torch, so your presence is not immediately sensed. It won’t be long, however, as bugbears are known to have an incredibly sharp olfactory system.”

Hirreluge the Doubter — duly named for Jasper’s own nature to be skeptic about absolutely everything — asked, “Why would he need a torch? Bugbears can see in the dark! Probably even better than they can in daylight.”

After a brief pause where the players considered exactly what the limits of a bugbear might be, Meggan said: “Hirreluge, the reasons for why or how anything should see or can see are forever a mystery. It’s the way it works in this world. In every world. And in everyone.” Meggan looked at the three guys oddly, like she was reminding them of something they didn’t know.

Nick asked, “What’s the bugbear doing now?”

“Still scavenging the bodies of these poor, dead adventurers. You know you don’t have much time to act. Hirreluge?”

“Are we sure they’re definitely dead?” Jasper asked. “Maybe we can still help them?”

“The bugbear has severed both of their heads, which are currently across the room, beneath a rusted hanging cage, and upon a pile of molten, metal remnants. Zemorin?”

Nick’s thunder wizard pondered which spells he might be able to cast, but he was unsure if bugbears typically had magical buffers or not. He did not have an immediate answer for the Dungeon Master, prompting Jasper to turn to Steven.

“Ren—?”

Steven’s character, Ren the Warrior, had nothing to contribute. For Steven himself was caught in a memory from months before.

“Steven—?”

~~~

“What’s the matter, Steve?”

“It’s a comfort thing, guys. I’m just not comfortable with playing in a campaign run by someone I don’t know.” The mall was starting to empty, shoppers exiting out every door to the parking lots and bus stops.

“Because she’s a girl?” Jasper was quick to ask.

“Certainly not. Because I’m not ready to be vulnerable. Around new people.”

“Around women, you mean?”

Emily had left Steven a few months before. No one ever goes into explicit detail about just what a divorce costs; financially, emotionally, and the bitter punch to one’s heart. For Steven, it continued to take everything he had to not fall apart on a daily basis. Meeting new people was the hardest; promoting the Escape Room he managed to garner new clients was difficult, too.

“It’s not just women,” Steven answered. “I’ve lost some confidence in myself, is all.”

Nick said, “What you need is a good release to help boost your confidence. Play this campaign, be a deposed barbarian king or something, maybe a warrior. It’s role-playing, right?”

Emily never knew much about role-playing, or just why Steven would take such games so seriously. Often, she would accuse him of taking the hobby too seriously, like these characters he became were only confusing who he really was, and what was really important to him. And to them.

After Emily left, Steven retreated; disappearing into whatever worlds he could find that were more distracting than the real one. The Escape Room. The video games. The overly-complicated board games. Ever more role-playing campaigns. And it was only then, that Steven realized Emily was right: he was confusing who he really was. Too often, Steven felt like he was still a kid. Being an adult was turning into what felt like role-playing, too. But maybe everyone was simply faking it, he wondered. Steven was losing his identity, while at the same time, his fluctuating personality was leaving him exposed in ways he wasn’t comfortable with. Any new people in his life only complicated things, and made him extremely uncomfortable. On the flip side, he found that -— though he was missing Emily everyday — he was actually happier.

But like a blade of bright green grass that grows taller and taller, eventually it will turn brown and wilt. And a bit more every day, Steven was losing what it was that made him strong.

“Be whatever you want to be,” Nick said. “Don’t worry about the things you don’t want to be. Forget about those for a little while.” Come join this new campaign, he was saying.

“We’ll see about it,” Steven said. “Give me some time to figure out what I should do.”

~~~

“You’ve run out of time, Ren. The bugbear is looking right at you,” Meggan said. Zemorin and Hirreluge are already unconscious in the corner. The bugbear has tossed them both, adding to the pile of downed adventurers. The heat in the cave seemed to intensify, as though a molten river flowed just beyond the slimy wall. “The greeny-yellowy and reds of its eyes are scanning you, challenging you to make a move.”

“I withdraw my broadsword.”

“It backs away from you, bracing a crooked hand on the sticky wall.”

The thing Steven loved about escape rooms — the reason he opened one of his own; a dungeon-themed one, to be exact — was the required amount of problem-solving. There was rarely more than one way to escape, and it was never through brute force.

“He looks scared?” Steven asked.

“It does.”

“Has he got any visible weapons?”

“Aside from blood-stained claws, it seems to only have a belt around its waist. There are some pouches, and a couple of flasks dangle loosely from the belt.”

“I sheathe my sword.”

“The bugbear loosens its posture a little. Muscles beneath its course, red brick hair relax.”

~~~

“You’re too relaxed, Steve. That’s your problem.”

“You’re saying it’s better to be on edge all the time?”

Nick shook his head softly. “I just mean there’s a need to keep your guard up at times. You don’t notice everything when your head’s in the clouds.”

What was there to notice? That Emily was gone? That was obvious by now. Steven had a job, he had hobbies, he enjoyed books and cried at movies. There wasn’t really much else that was worth noticing, was there?

“Meggan likes you,” Nick repeated. Though it was the first time Steven heard it.

While Steven processed this information, Jasper had been the one to answer. “She does?”

It was obvious, really. How the creatures that warrior Ren defeated would always be worth more experience points. How they always seemed to have an extra bag of gold coins on them. The magical items he collected were consistently just a little bit more magical.

Obvious, to anyone who wasn’t so relaxed.

But Steven doubted Nick’s prognosis, becoming more Hirreluge the Doubter than even Jasper could do. If he were being perfectly honest, Steven likely would admit to feeling Meggan didn’t even like him all that much.

“Listen,” Nick suggested. “Maybe next week during the campaign, we — Jasper and I — get our characters out of the picture somehow. Then Meggan will have nothing to do but put all of her focus on you. She might even let her guard down.”

“And then what? What do I do then?”

“You run with it, Steven. Let Ren do the talking for you. I mean, we’re all just role-playing, really.”

~~~

The bugbear opened its palm, curling clawed fingertips inward, beckoning the brave warrior to move deeper into the temperate cave. Ren glanced once more at his comrades, alive but unconscious on the craggy floor.

Obfuscated by the cave’s darkened corner, the bugbear pulled a burlap curtain aside, revealing another room. If Zemorin were still conscious, the thunder wizard’s drift globe could have spotted the makeshift door easily. Ren followed the creature carefully, though still with weapons sheathed and his hands empty but for the sweat. The bugbear continued to grunt, but it seemed to be doing so out of discomfort, more than beastial asperity. Like it was fighting something inside of it.

Upon entering, the bugbear lit an oil lamp hanging from the wall. The hidden room was certainly more den than tomb — exclusion of bones and rot will do that — and there was a pile of leaves forming a bed and pillow in the middle of the room.

Jasper interjected, “Bugbears wouldn’t use pillows! They’re far too feral.”

“But you’ve never seen a bugbear before,” Meggan said. “What do you truly know about them? Plus, Hirreluge is not in this room, nor is he conscious right now, so please allow Ren his own moment to evaluate the details.”

Sitting back in his folding chair, Jasper took another handful of potato chips from the bowl.

Steven looked over his character sheet, as though there was an answer there; some clue that might point him toward the singular way out of this scenario. But he couldn’t find anything that jumped out, and looked up at Meggan, hoping for a hint.

“Make a Wisdom check,” she nudged him.

Steven tossed a jeweled twenty-sided die onto the felt tabletop. He leaned over to check the result. “With my Plus-Three modifier, that’s an eighteen.”

“The bugbear sits down on the leaves, and looks at you carefully. Its eyes tell you it is more scared than you are.”

“Does he say anything to me?”

“She,” Meggan stated bluntly. “The bugbear is a she, not a he. Your Wisdom check told you as much.”

Steven paused. “I ask her, What do want from me?

There’s some hesitation, and a glimmer in the reds of the bugbear’s uncertain eyes. She says, “I sense you have seen through my wretched facade.” Her voice is chaotic mixture of grunts, wheezing, and fluid language.

“Facade?”

“My village was attacked. Those savages, I don’t know why, but they placed a curse upon me. I remember every detail of my body transforming into this…thing. All the terrible pain. Bones breaking and reconstructing themselves. This hair, it was all over me. When I finally gathered myself and realized what was happening, I was already being pelted with stones. My own village had turned on me. They chased me with torches; even my own family. My husband.”

“Your own husband attacked you?”

“I don’t know if he was fearful of what I’d become, or if he presumed I was actually the creature who had come to the village to eat his wife. I’ll never know. Because I can never go back there. Not like this.”

Again, Steven went silent. This was the most unusual of scenarios, and he wasn’t certain if he was regretting his friends’ decision to remove themselves from the encounter. The bugbear had nothing more to say though.

“Do you wish to make a Perception check?” Meggan asked.

Steven reached for the sparkling dice, but stopped himself. He folded the corner of his character sheet back and forth and said, “Emily turned her back on me, too. I don’t know what I did. Maybe nothing. But I feel like I’ve had a spell cast on me ever since she left. I miss her and it hurts constantly. It’s like she threw stones at me; like she came at me with a torch and an angry mob. It hurts so much. So I know how you feel.”

Meggan shook her head and asked, “Is this what Ren says to the bugbear? Or—?”

“Hmm? Oh, I’m sorry, Meggan. I’m sorry.”

“Make a Luck roll.”

Steven looked over his collection of dice, and picked his luckiest one.

~~~

The change of seasons was palpable that night. Winter becoming Spring is not always so obvious, but there was a warmth seeping through just-blooming tree branches that was not there earlier.

The friends cut the campaign a bit short, and spent the rest of the evening just chatting. Much to Eric and Jasper’s chagrin, warrior Ren and the monstrous, cursed villager sat for a while, sharing wine from a flask she carried on her belt. They spoke about relationships, fantasies, life goals, and the disappointments that come with all of them. The lines between the discussion of what was actual reality and what was campaign world imaginings were blurred from the start, though they didn’t seem too concerned.

When Jasper received a message about some incident at the mall, he was the first one to leave. He was also Meggan’s ride home, so Steven happily offered instead.

It had occurred to him that the anticipated, though unexpected encounter with the bugbear may not have actually counted in the end. It was merely a role someone else was playing. So the creature remained a white whale to keep chasing. But Steven didn’t mind so much.

Advertisements

The Great Rise

THE GREAT RISE is a short story I wrote for the Owl Canyon Press Winter 2018 Hackathon Contest. My story placed in the 24 Finalists, and was published in an Owl Canyon anthology collection. You can purchase your own copy HERE!

It’s a quirky, fantasy world tale about life, death, hope, and the lack thereof, inspired predominantly by Neil Gaiman’s Stardust.

Enjoy!

The Great Rise

by R.Tim Morris

Beyond the cracked sidewalk, and the telephone pole with layers of flyers in a rainbow of colors, and the patch of dry brown grass there stood a ten-foot high concrete block wall, caked with dozens of coats of paint. There was a small shrine at the foot of it, with burnt out candles and dead flowers and a few soggy teddy bears. One word of graffiti filled the wall, red letters on a gold background: Rejoice!

The letters — as crimson as fresh blood from one angle, copper-brown like dried blood from another — had always been there in one hue or another. The enormity of the single word was near-overwhelming, looming over the surrounding scraps and vestiges of heavy hearted human regard. The town of Buffleton was filled with them. Photos of lost loved ones. Crumpled notes of melancholic thoughts, stuffed into coffee cans meant for donations. And yet, if one looked closer, one would see that the tiny, complex details within the surface of the wall — written in red and scribbled in gold — belied the word’s monolithic presence. Rejoice! The intricate details ranged from fine brush work to thick stabs of muted color. All of it added irony to the larger message: these were names of each and every citizen of Buffleton who had died. And how each one of them met their end.

From Alwyn EmberStone (natural causes) to Remi FrostBorne (lost at sea). From Tobias Brownbranch (eaten by goblins) to Her Highness Jaelynn Dew Rider (medical complications related to goblin bite). From the clumsy Bumper Marshburn (electrocution) to the brave Owl-Phoenix PhoenixBone (bee sting) to even the unfortunate Sir Ludwig FireScribe (bicycle accident).

On and on it went. Every moment that ended in tragedy was plastered to the surface of the wall; on what was known as The Great Rise. On and on. Were these meant as warning signs for the poor people of Buffleton? Lessons in the dangers that might present themselves to anyone at any time? A statement on the fragility of living? The trouble with goblins? Well, it was all of that. And none of that. On and on and on.

In all the annals of history, folklore, and wisdom, the word “hero” is not a word to be tossed about lightly. But for the sake of this tale of The Great Rise, young Jonathon Morningmist, by default, might be considered as such. To Jonathon, the wall was an enemy. It was a thief, having stolen his father from him years before. As his father would explain it — and just as all of Buffleton would carefully explain to every curious child — on the other side of that painted concrete wall was a whole other land. To even the most hopeful, it seemed virtually unattainable, like another universe entirely. The official belief, as Jonathon’s father first illustrated with his son on his knee, was that upon the grass on the other side there were no shrines. No candles or wilted flowers or stuffed bears. No names scribbled onto the surface of The Great Rise. Because there was one more thing that did not exist on the other side: death. There was no death by natural causes over there. No accidents. No goblins. There was only the possibility of ever more life and happiness. Ever more wonder and journeys of discovery. And always more love. A bottomless well overflowing with love. Jonathon Morningmist was both in awe of and afraid of this possibility.

But no one knew for certain what was over there. Over time, there had been a few who hopped the wall. Against town orders, they chose to leave everything in Buffleton behind in favor of the Forever-Life. They just wanted to know. They were so curious that they were willing to forget lovers, friends, and neighbors. Leaving vacant their blacksmith shops, janitorial supply stores, sushi bars, and generations old, family-run plumbing and heating businesses. Even young sons who once sat upon knees listening to fairy tales and legends of caution were abandoned with little more regard than day-old goldfish. All of the makings of these admittedly moderate lives were coldly, categorically dismissed in favor of what might be discovered beyond The Great Rise. For these were only ever temporary desires anyway, weren’t they? The hope for something more, shrouded by the unknown — that was the more powerful siren call, wasn’t it?

And yet, as the story goes, any and all who ever crossed over were never to be seen again. For whatever reason — whether it was the verisimilitude of the Forever-Life, or maybe something better, perhaps something worse — they never returned to the more hopeless and the less brave who continued to wait, and who continued to write ever more names on the wall.

Young Jonathon Morningmist did not know what to believe, only that his father chose hopping The Great Rise over the life he had in Buffleton. So Jonathon did not know much about heroes. He was just a kid — exactly as his father always called him: “a kid” — who wished for a day when the flames of hope might flicker. And one day they did, when a particularly curious wanderer found his way back to Buffleton again.

Jonathon had just finished his shift at Ye Olde Espresso, his aunt’s coffee shop, where he’d spent the majority of his day serving mintberry tea and cleaning the washrooms. Jonathon was not a terribly happy kid; he hadn’t felt much happiness since his father decided to make a spectacle of himself, catapulting over The Great Rise and disappearing forever. Unhappiness was not so uncommon a feeling around these parts, even for the majority of kids who hadn’t watched their fathers launch themselves into the unknown via a creaky contraption they’d cobbled together in their sheds the night before.

Truthfully, most kids were like Jonathon Morningmist. For one, they disliked school, because there was nothing worth learning at school that could possibly ever get them out of, and as far away as possible from Buffleton. To add further layers to their melancholy, there were a few more factors at play: boys were in love with girls and girls were in love with boys and all sorts of children were in love with all sorts of other children, but every last one of them was unable to show it. Also, the weather was always terrible in Buffleton, and no one is happy in terrible weather. Not to mention: there really wasn’t much in the way of hope for the children, since the grown-ups only ever seemed to care about what was or wasn’t on the other side of The Great Rise. Grown-ups, it seemed, were weak and afraid of everything. All of them. And all kids would become them eventually. And what is there about being weak and afraid that might ever be appealing enough to make a kid wish to become one of them? Better to simply make coffee but pour tea and be lonely until your aunt’s cafe is your cafe and you’re left with nothing but fleeting ruminations regarding what could have been had you not been so weak and afraid to be something better. And on and on it went.

On his way home, Jonathon Morningmist walked upon the crumbling sidewalk which ran alongside The Great Rise. Jonathon brushed his smooth, youthful hand along the rough bumps of the wall’s weathered concrete surface; generations of paint slapped on, layer after layer after layer. On and on and on.

Jonathon had just reached an aged, crooked telephone pole when he stopped. There was a new shrine that wasn’t there that morning, painted rocks were still drying. It appeared as though Finnigan Hambone met his demise sometime that afternoon (cause of death still unreported). Jonathon had heard distant sirens earlier and wondered who they might have been for.

It was then, as Jonathon contemplated the details of what might have taken Finnigan Hambone away, that Jonathon looked up. And it was as he looked up, that he spotted a pair of hands at the top of the wall; fingers from the other side, clutching the rim of The Great Rise. Jonathon gave his head a good hard shake, for no one had ever seen hands on the wall before. Never. It shouldn’t have been possible.

But those hands were definitely there. “Hello up there!” Jonathon called. The fingers were more gray than his own, but they were definitely human so the fear of another goblin attack was probably out of the question. For now, at least. “Hello?” he called again, perhaps with more emphasis on self-concern this time. After all, one never could know when one could definitively rule out another goblin attack. The fingers quivered a little; enough to make Jonathon quiver himself, and he stepped backward onto the road without even noticing. Then the fingers disappeared, sliding slowly from sight like slugs and snails might travel over a hilltop. And with that Jonathon shrugged to himself, believing the vision had to have been brought on by still-lingering death fumes in the air, and he stepped back up onto the sidewalk, and continued on his way.

To say something about his sheer indifference, Jonathon Morningmist had merely made it to the next twisted telephone pole by the time the whole occurrence was out of his mind; those gray fingers had slipped from his memory far swifter than they had from the wall. But Jonathon stopped immediately upon hearing a voice calling from behind him. He shook his head again, this time trying to recall what he’d seen mere moments before. “You, down there!” the voice called to the kid. It was a man’s voice. “Might you give me a hand?”

Jonathon turned. “Me?” he asked, and pointed limply at his heart. As though there had been any creatures around besides himself, a few scuttling sluice-newts, and piles of crusty, mud-soaked stuffed bears. Then he saw the fingers again, up on the cusp of the wall. The best he could do was continue to stare blankly, and while he was already at his most incompetent, Jonathon went ahead and gave his slipping pants a bit of a tug.

“Nevermind,” the man said, struggling to keep himself aloft. “I — I’ve got this.” Then, with every bit of strength he could muster, the man heaved himself up and onto the top of the wall. He sat down and wiped his brow with a cloth he’d plucked magically from his pants pocket. “Boy, you really aren’t very good help, are you? I’m not the man I used to be, but looks like I still got it. Don’t I? Not that you would know what it was I had before what it is I’ve got now.” This man, even from Jonathon Morningmist’s point of view ten feet below, was slight. His bare arms were taut and sinewy, but overall he was certainly small, like a branch that had fallen months ago and begun withering. He wore a vest, torn pants, a belt with many pockets, and no shoes. Jonathon found it difficult to not stare at the man’s gray feet and blackened toenails.

“Who are you?” the kid asked the man on The Great Rise. “And what brings you to Buffleton?” A good question, since not only has there never been a single soul who had ever crossed The Great Rise from the other side, but no soul had ever willingly come to Buffleton before now.

The stranger laughed an impish laugh. The kind of cackle that clattered unsatisfyingly off of everywhere and nowhere at once. “What you mean to ask is: What brings me back to Buffleton?” Jonathon wasn’t sure if that was what he’d intended to ask, so he chose to say nothing more instead. The man stood back up and stretched his wiry arms out wide. “I am Doyle Finncaster! Rejoice! I’m back!” Jonathon could not even be bothered to shake his head in transience. “You don’t know the name Doyle Finncaster? I owned the auto shop on Blocker Street!”

The auto shop on Blocker Street had been vacant for years, before finally being razed and replaced by yet another paint store. But Jonathon didn’t mention any of that. He asked, “So what brings you back to Buffleton? And is anyone else coming back with you? And also, why are you so gray?”

“Well, you see. As it turns out, I forgot my wrench. Did you know there’s no such thing as wrenches over there?” With a traveler’s thumb, Doyle Finncaster pointed behind him, back over to the other side of The Great Rise. “I don’t know how I’ve gone so long without a wrench.” The man scratched at his scalp for a few long seconds, then inspected his hands, first the fronts, then the backs, and then the fronts again. “And what do you mean I’m gray?”

“Your skin—” The grayness reminded Jonathon of the eldest mountain range or the freshest of ash. The shadow of a dark rain cloud or the brackish marshes in Buffleton Valley. “You appear to be…well. You look like an old tea bag. Are you certain no one else is coming back with you?”

Doyle just shrugged. He observed the ground below him, scanning the heaps of mementos and shrines. It was not long before his eyebrows jumped. “Well, what do you know. Boy, do you see that shiny object over there?” At the foot of the telephone pole and partially hidden beneath a cardboard poster with the picture of a woman who had recently been eaten by goblins, someone had left behind an open toolbox. Jonathon crouched to look, though he could not identify any of the tools within. “The contraption that looks like the anticipative claw of a hungry crab-bear. That’s a wrench! Toss it up here, would you?” With an unsure arm, Jonathon miraculously launched the tool upwards and into the slight gray hands of Doyle Finncaster. “You may seem a bit angsty and angry, but you’re not so unhelpful after all. Enjoy the rest of your walk, kid.” And with that, Doyle Finncaster leapt off the wall, disappearing back into the waiting, curious land of the Forever-Life.

Angry? Jonathon Morningmist did not know he was angry, just as Doyle Finncaster did not seem to realize he was gray. Sure, he was unhappy that his father left him. And he was unhappy that he couldn’t seem to admit his feelings toward Gisele Cloudskimmer, the toothiest girl in his class. And he was unhappy about the angle of the sun on most days. But angry? The kid thought about the whole peculiar exchange that had just transpired. He thought about it a bit harder than he usually thought about anything, for he knew the chances of its details fading from his mind were very good, and he did not wish to forget them. So he continued to think all night, and all the way into the next morning when he suddenly — and most surprisingly — had a plan: that he would be the next resident of Buffleton to cross over The Great Rise. If Jonathon’s feelings were becoming muddled, then maybe there would be answers on the other side. And like his father did before him, he sounded the town gong in the middle of the Square the next morning, and made certain a crowd would be there to witness his bravery. And there was a crowd indeed.

~~

The kid got up onto a milk crate and raised his hand. A murmur went through the crowd and then it fell silent, except for a few people shouting words of encouragement at him. The kid acknowledged them with a nod and a shy smile. In the full light of day, he looked less angry and more beautiful. He waited until people stopped shouting. A siren could be heard, maybe five or ten blocks away. The kid raised the bullhorn, pressed the button, and began to speak.

He started, “Yesterday—”, and then realized the junky bullhorn he’d scavenged from the garage wasn’t working. But he continued to speak into it nevertheless. “Yesterday, a gray man named Doyle Finncaster appeared over The Great Rise, like a neighbor might stick his head over the fence, and he asked me for a wrench.” Some of the oldest amongst the crowd muttered and whispered, recalling the name immediately, for Finncaster’s auto shop was not only reputable for great service, but also offered a complimentary mug of mintberry tea with every visit. “So I tossed him a wrench and then he simply disappeared again. Just like my father disappeared many years ago. And like people you’ve all loved have disappeared from your own lives. Even though the wall tells us to celebrate. Rejoice!”

“Rejoice!” the people repeated, as was Buffleton custom. Even Gisele Cloudskimmer, the object of Jonathon’s affections, was calling out amidst the crowd. And maybe it was just Jonathon’s imagination, but Gisele appeared incredibly invested in what he had to say.

Jonathon bumbled a little, but he would not be deterred from delivering his somewhat awkward and poorly-planned speech. “Rejoice? Why are we meant to take delight in their leaving? Living forever sounds like a terrible bit of burden, don’t you think? What do you imagine they find when they get there? Do they ever get where they think they’re going? Do they ever find what it was they hoped to find?” He thought about the possibilities of what he could say next and how he might say it. What words would hit Gisele Cloudskimmer just right, so he might catch that wonderful, toothy smile of hers? “Do they ever think of the people of Buffleton? Do they miss us? Doyle Finncaster missed his wrench — enough to come back for it — and yet no one has ever come back for us. No one has ever really been a hero.”

Jonathon paused; a hope in the front of his mind that someone in the crowd would ask if he might be that hero. If he would cross over the wall for the good folks of Buffleton, rather than escaping in the middle of the night like so many cowards, launching themselves from crudely constructed catapults. Aside from fear, what was stopping him from treading into the Forever-Life? But no one asked these questions. They were too afraid to ask. Maybe it wasn’t heroism, but Gisele Cloudskimmer seemed impressed nevertheless. And to prove it, there was that smile of hers.

Then, someone did call out from the tense crowd. He said, “So what are you going to do, Ditch-Nut?” Hmph. I am going to cross The Great Rise, Jonathon thought to himself in his most bravest of inside voices. I will be the hero you all need. Another asked, “Will you bring them more wrenches?” Jonathon shook his head. Still another worried, “If you’re not here, then there’s one less person for the goblins to eat before they eat me. I don’t like those odds!” Jonathon shrugged his shoulders.

The interim Mayor of Buffleton — who was only in power until next Tuesday, when the body of the late Queen Dew Rider would be ceremoniously sent down the slough into the waiting maw of ocean-wolves and her successor would then be plucked from a lottery system held at the bingo hall (the caste system in Buffleton was nightmarishly complicated) — was there with his royal entourage. He had a working bullhorn, and he himself asked, “Son of Morningmist, are you saying you spoke with Doyle Finncaster?” Jonathon nodded. “He just popped up over The Great Rise and asked for a wrench?” Jonathon nodded at this, too. “He didn’t say anything about my car, did he? It’s long due for a fuel injection cleaning, and once you find a mechanic you trust, it’s terribly hard to change!” It seemed Jonathon was all out of nods. The town didn’t care, or they were too scared to endorse or reinforce his decision. Even his aunt — who was initially at the forefront of the crowd — was silent at the very back. Did anyone in Buffleton have any encouragement at all for him? Did

“When do you leave, Jonathon Morningmist?” It was Gisele. “When does your hero’s journey commence?” More sirens clamoured off in the distance; nearly everyone scattered so they could do a head count in order to find who was missing this time. Jonathon and Gisele remained amid the chaos. The two of them locked eyes, as if each was just now noticing that the other had noticed all along.

Jonathon motioned behind him. “Just as soon as I cross this wall,” he said. The Great Rise had felt so imposing before, now it seemed as though he could simply hop over it. Alas, even on the single milk crate, he still couldn’t reach the top. “Looks like I may need a boost, however.” Jonathon held out a hand for Gisele to take and she ambled closer. “I do have but one request of you, after I cross over.” Gisele cocked her head a little in anticipation of his inquiry. Jonathon patted the wall and said, “When I’m gone, please do not add my name to The Great Rise. Because I plan on coming back.”

From the milk crate to Gisele’s surprisingly sturdy shoulders, the kid lifted himself to the top of the wall. He had some difficulty balancing, but managed to stand on his two awkward feet. Bisecting the two lands, Jonathon could see the town of Buffleton behind him Gisele Cloudskimmer below him but he could not see anything before him but thick vegetation on the other side. With a deep gulp and a big breath, Jonathon Morningmist leapt off, eventually landing into the plushy palm of some still-dewey, exotic shrub.

Planting his feet in the unknown dirt, Jonathon immediately saw the other side of wall, covered in thick fingers of ivy and other similar vines; some blooming flowers of fuschia, cerulean, and ivory; others full of prickly though harmless-looking spines. Every spine and thorn on every plant in Buffleton looked like it would kill someone instantly. And though everything on the other side was as green as the greenest of poster paints made from the freshest of harvested mountainside joonee fruits, Jonathon did stop for a moment and wondered if there might be any beaches over here. He’d always wanted to see a beach, feel the ocean breeze, and smell the surf. He may have even had dreams of taking Gisele Cloudskimmer there one day.

When considering if she might enjoy that dream too, he turned back to the wall and called out for her. “Gisele!” he called, but was answered by silence. “Gisele Cloudskimmer!” he yelled louder. But there was no answer. Already he was having misgivings about crossing over. Should he turn back now? He asked himself aloud: “Did I just make a grave mistake?”

This time he expected silence as an answer. But then, a woman’s words startled him: “Of course ye made a mistake, ye bloated fool!” The words were spit from some knee-high bush. Its leaves rattled harshly, though none came dislodged. But Jonathon did not even step back. He actually leaned in and dipped his face of burgeoning courage even closer to the foliage.

The leaves parted in a kind of indescribable exoticism, like a magician might reveal some sleight of hand, uncovering what Jonathon could only describe as: “A goblin!?” Indeed, this scraggly woman was merely knee-high; her skin a green-gray sort of worn leather; her mouth a toothless cavern of echoing, virulent hisses.

“Nay!” she yelped. “I’d have eaten ye whole t’were I a goblin!” Jonathon wasn’t sure how that would have worked exactly — the eating-him-whole bit — considering how much bigger than her the kid was. “I crossed that wall, just like ye! Buffleton gave me the ol’ scaly hoof too, be knowin’ it.” She scuttled closer, seemingly unafraid of this new traveler in her midst. Jonathon steeled himself, determined to remain fearless. One of her eyes twitched so fervently it almost appeared shut. “Name’s Barbara. Barbo, I calls meself here. Use’ta teach kids like ye — smaller kids, mind ye — over in Buffleton.” Barbo spit into the dirt so hard some grubs wriggled loose from the earth. “Teacher?! Shoulda owned the paint supply store on account fer all the coats there’ve been put on that blasted wall. Wouldst have made a killin’. And then…well, then I go and find meself here.” She seemed to transform from indignant to dispirited faster than Jonathon could process. “Well?”

“Well, indeed.” Jonathon confirmed, though he was not certain what it was she was welling about. With hands in his pockets, the kid caught sight of a glint of something within a patch of long grass. It was a wrench. But this wasn’t the same wrench that Doyle Finncaster had brought back over the wall with him the day before. No, his wrench was an adjustable wrench and this was most definitely of the socket variety. Jonathon wondered if this was the woman’s home, here in the overgrown but wonderfully alive vegetation. He wondered if she realized that he was not a bloated giant, but she was likely just a shrunken, grayed version of her old self. He wondered many things. But instead, he asked Barbo: “You have wrenches here?”

Barbo tried to spot where the kid was eyeing, but she could not see anything of the sort. “Wrenches? Everyone perceives this cursed land differently. Be it the size of interlopers or the stink of a gringemeat sandwich. Some folks think they’ve come here to live, whilst others only remain for the hope of death. Some fools see wrenches, some don’t. But surely ye have better questions than this?”

Jonathon Morningmist thought about the perceptions of others. And a little bit about his own. He did not know if the wrench even mattered or why Doyle Finncaster must have stuck his head over The Great Rise in the first place. He did not care to wonder why the denizens of this side of the wall were apparently shrinking, nor did he have a clue what gringemeat was. In fact, for the moment, he was not even concerned about Gisele Cloudskimmer. Instead he asked: “Have you seen my father?” And he took a moment to try to recall the man from memory. “He had one eye of green and another of a color I could never place. He had arms like the mountains in fables. He had a beard so virile and thick it took it him four days to shave and one day for it to grow back. He was a wonderful man but a terrible dad, and he hastily shot himself over The Great Rise from a catapult without even a word. His name was Morningmist.”

“Doesn’t sound familiar. But everyone perceives this cursed land differently,” Barbo repeated. She plucked two grubs from the dirt and swallowed one whole, offering the other to the kid. “Would ye care? Methinks they taste like the pit of arm, but ye might find they taste like fancies.”

Jonathon declined the grub, and Barbo gulped it down. Thoughts of what might be found on the other side kept firing through his mind; crissing and crossing like dozens of zapper bugs in a jar under the moon. How far could his father have gotten on his journey? Perhaps it’s true: that those on this side don’t know death. But are they shrinking and shriveling into crazed goblin-folk and discolored wrench-hunters instead? Do they regret their choices in coming here? Do they ever miss the good people of Buffleton? “I have one question for you, Barbo. Do people here live forever?”

“Tis true we know not of death. But that don’t mean we don’t ever hope to meet her.” Barbo looked skyward; through the overlapping leaves and fronds and stalks and folioles, there remained a pinhole of sky above. She took it in, as though it were sustenance far, far more nourishing than a handful of grubs or gringemeat sandwiches. “Still, ye decided to come here too. But ye have yet to decide if ye be staying.”

It was then that Jonathon Morningmist first concerned himself with what must be the truth. “Once I’ve decided to stay there is no return, is there? This is why no one has ever crossed The Great Rise and come back to Buffleton?”

“Some decisions are our own. Some are not. But rejoice in the decision ye shall make, son of Morningmist. And I will rejoice for ye. But make it soon.” Barbo shuffled back into the vegetation, soon fully faded from both sight and memory. Perceptions of what is, what was, and what might have been, were indeed very much skewed in the land of the Forever-Life.

Jonathon stepped further into the foliage, though he stopped himself before he felt it was too far, or far too late to turn back. Somehow he knew he would know when. There was a luring call from the vegetation; what it was saying, Jonathon could not tell.

Turning back to The Great Rise, he now realized the ivy for what it was. The distance from it proved to be important, for he could not have read the message from any closer: the ivy and vines grew together, forming the words “Never Is Forever.” On and on and on.

Taking hold of the sturdy branch of a mossy and scaly-barked tree, the kid heaved himself upwards. He held tight; the branch seemed to pulse in his grip, like it had a heart of its own. Perhaps regrets of its own as well, if that was even a possibility. Likely it was. He carefully maneuvered along the trusty tree arm, before finally stepping off and returning to the top of The Great Rise. He could still see Buffleton there, but Gisele’s whereabouts were cloudy. He sensed the worry and fear within the town, but also, he could simultaneously sense the misgivings and wantings within the green land of the Forever-Life. And just as a hero would do, Jonathon Morningmist made his decision.

There She Was [2018]

Everyone else had left an hour ago. The only reason she was still there was because she’d promised him a ride back to the station. And although she was ready to call it a night, she was much too polite to say a word. They had been talking, but the conversation had become more trivial, the increased banality correlating almost directly to the number of bourbons he’d consumed.

The bar was the kind of place in the city that didn’t attract many locals, not with the club scene being so much farther West. With its bizarre, kitschy American diner vibe, it seemed to want to draw in tourists, but tourists didn’t typically venture this far East. The bar didn’t even have a name, only an address attached to the door in crooked numbers; an address which was almost identical to the couple of office towers that expunged a variety of worker bees every lunch and evening, and a fraction of them ended up here daily.

So the place ended up being chronically closer to empty than full, but still remained alive with a modest energy of semi-drunken, post-work bliss.

~~~

He’d seen her in the office on his inaugural day at the new job. Previously, he’d worked across the city in a shinier office tower, but quit because he needed a change. He was the first one from his pod to make it to the meeting in the boardroom across the hall (how does the new guy manage to be the first one to a meeting?), and she was already in the room, laying some innocuous paperwork across one end of the big conference table. She wore a midnight blue pencil skirt and some vintage styled, vanilla ice cream-colored top that had pleating down the front, and little keyholes on the cuffs of the shortened sleeves. She was stunning, and he always appreciated a nice top. Before either of them said a word, another head popped into the room, a woman whose only business was to inform the girl that her team was actually meeting in Conference Room Seventeen instead. “Sorry,” the girl said, and she began collecting her papers back into a manila folder.

She smiled at the new guy on her way out. That “Sorry” was nearly the only thing that rattled through his head during the day’s meeting. And for much of the next three weeks too, because he didn’t see her again until his fourth week on the job. As soon as the elevator doors slid apart he recognized her. It was easy. She was wearing the same clothes, prompting him to begin building up in his head the idea of this girl out of time, or like a heavenly apparition, maybe? They made eye contact, though she was in the middle of a conversation with another girl. She gave him the kind of mask-like look that made it clear he didn’t leave as much of an impression. Exiting the elevator on the very next floor, her careless, teacup-like elbow accidentally brushed into his arm. “Sorry,” she said once again before disappearing. But she didn’t disappear for quite so long this time.

It was that same evening after work when he’d seen her next. At the bar with no name. She was across the room, in a cloud of introverted quietness, but when she noticed him she waved him over, and when she smiled it was with everything she had. Her face looked different; not anomalous, but new. He didn’t know if it was just the way light seemed to fill certain spaces or if there was some otherworldly countenance at play, but her features – though unmistakable – seemed to fluctuate depending on if she was in that office boardroom, on the elevator, in the back of this bar, or wherever they might cross paths next. Like her face was indecisive about whether her eyes wanted to be the most prominent component, or her cheekbones, her lips, or the curl of her ears.

They became friends; there was no secret modus operandi at play. A married man, after all, can be drawn to a beautiful married woman without the need to pursue anything more than friendship. Don’t most people prefer being in the presence of beauty, rather than not? There weren’t any games, maybe some harmless flirting, but they both returned to their families at the end of every day; he to his wife and three children; her to her husband of only two years. She talked about her husband a lot, clearly head over heels in love. Still, he looked for cracks – Did she ever have regrets? Did they both want different things in their relationship, but were too afraid to voice their desires? – even though he knew there would never be an opening wide enough to justify creating a problem involving so many people.

Still.

In his mind he played out the scenarios. He couldn’t help being drawn to her so. That surreptitiously-splintered smile. The vulnerability and solicitude in her unsteady eyes. He envisioned movies and fairy tales, and considered how make-believe worlds only ever wanted to simply be believed. He imagined horrible scenarios too, where good people actually got hurt, or even died.

But the one thought he couldn’t shake was this: if he and she had known one another when they were younger, his life might have been irrevocably and extraordinarily altered. He held onto that thought so strongly, it was beginning to feel like something that was just barely out of his reach.

He knew most all of her favorites by now: the food, the music, the books, the animals, the jokes, the films, the podcasts. He knew her fears too, but likely just the surface fears and not the real ones.

But they were still strangers, really. Unless someone is sharing a world with someone else, then a stranger they will mostly remain. The intimacy of home life, and those behind-doors tendencies could never be fully grasped by strangers. The infinite ways in which lovers need lovers. The availability of shoulders and ears in times of need. None of that existed here. All that applied were the ways in which barely-known people acted around others, how they needed the company in ways they were not aware of. How a picked apple needs a tree, or a tree might need the apple. Like separate pieces of a singular thing that don’t even know they used to be one.

She made him lonely, and he sometimes wondered if he made her feel a bit lonelier too. And within that loneliness existed the possibility of something that could have been.

If he was honest with himself, there were moments when he didn’t enjoy his time spent with her. She had tendencies to go on a bit too long about subjects he had very little interest in. But those slipped into his selfish scenarios too; if they’d known one another when they were younger, then it stands to reason she would have assimilated much of his knowledge and many of his interests, and vice versa.

Once, he asked her what she was like in high school. What he envisioned, he thought obvious: homecoming queen; popular like the stars at nighttime; her initials scribbled inside boys’ notebooks and carved into trees. But she admitted to being a bit more of a wallflower. Unconfident. Insecure. She hated her teeth and loved to dance, and didn’t want anyone seeing either. She cried basically all the time. At parties. At home. She cried for help, but no one ever heard or paid attention. And there were certainly never any boyfriends in sight.

He told her he didn’t believe any of that. She had to have been perfect, because how else could that sad, unsure girl have blossomed into this wonderful creature he was lucky enough to have uncovered?

Her wandering eyes stopped, and she thanked him, though with a near-undetected skepticism. While she was in the midst of considering the limits of friendship – maybe even questioning her own reasons for staying out at the bar after work so late and so often – he was preoccupied with a misplaced nostalgia. Maybe even some animosity toward fate’s unjust hand.

He regretted his own bygone decisions, made in earnest so long ago.

He yearned for a different set of youthful dreams; those dreams he’d once been content with now seemed ludicrous.

He thought about every calculated kiss and conquered courtship, and now considered them wasted moments.

And still, the more he knew her, the more forlorn he became.

~~~

Eight months ago, they sat together for the first time. From there, once a week, they continued to sit together, not really ever picking up where they left off because they tended to talk about many of the same subjects over and over again. An hour ago, the rest of the bar had cleared, and she’d simply been waiting for a sign that he was ready to leave.

He was never ready to leave.

“Come on,” she said with finality. “We’re later than usual. My husband’s probably wondering what’s taking me.” Her phone had been on the table the entire evening, but it hadn’t buzzed or bleeped once. Not once.

There was a lump in his throat. “You could text him. Let him know you’ll be a bit longer?”

She placed a palm on her phone, then warily spun it around on the Formica tabletop. “He never checks his phone,” she says. “I’m trying my best to not be so phone-dependant myself. He tells me it’s actually very liberating.”

“Is it?”

She laughs a slight laugh, just for herself. “Not so far, no.”

How does he say the one thing he wants to say without sounding crazy? I wish I knew you years ago, he thought. Nope. Too ambiguous. Maybe a bit creepy. I’m not really unhappy but I am sort of unhappy and don’t I deserve to be happy? Too whiny. She’d never again agree to meet him after work if he said something like that.

There was a framed picture above the bar of a man who used to work there, but had died some years before. Like the bar itself, the man’s photo did not have a name attached to it either.

He couldn’t take his eyes off that photo, or pull himself away from the tendrils of sad thoughts. “Yeah,” he said ultimately. “I think maybe it is time to go.”

~~~

They barely spoke during the drive to the station. That lump in his throat feeling bigger. She stole glances at him. His stark white shirt appeared fluorescent amidst the moon and street lights, making it easy to take note of the wetness that streamed from his cheek to his collar.

He didn’t show up at work the following week. The sudden, precipitous need for change had found him yet again. Sometimes she wondered what became of him, and imagined, with some degree of melancholy, whatever might have been had they crossed paths in some other time and place.

To Be Honest [2018]

TBH

To Be Honest (2018)

Wattpad Link

Adult Contemporary Humor. 80k Words.

Chester K. Eddy isn’t completely honest. But he’s trying to be.

When the struggling New York stage actor decides being totally open and honest is exactly the change he needs in his life, Chester doesn’t expect being so obnoxiously transparent will only make things worse. After his brother kicks him out, his favourite bar cuts him off, and his best pal Melissa tells him she needs a break from their friends-with-benefits relationship, Chester quickly has few people left who still want to listen to him and his self-professed Honesty Movement.

Along his way to newfound self-discovery, Chester will finagle his way into the tenuous role of Director’s Assistant for a small-time theatre’s production of an unknown play; he’ll accidentally attend Sex Addicts Anonymous meetings; he’ll find himself in the company of suspected serial killers; he’ll drink a bit too much. And he might even have an eye-opening encounter with a talking dinosaur.

But there’s one truth Chester realizes he hasn’t been capable of admitting: he’s in love with Melissa. And he can’t be completely honest until he’s ready to tell her as much.

A Memory Not Remembered

I can’t explain it, but I’m often caught by a very specific memory.
It was maybe 10th grade, Springtime, and I clearly recall being in Mr. Sawatsky’s Social Studies class. I think we were studying BC coastal First Nations tribes, like the Haida or the Salish, but I’m sure I wasn’t paying attention. Sitting at my desk at the back of class, likely daydreaming, I can still remember the windows were open; a cool air blowing the smell of the season’s grass and dandelions up into the classroom. I can still see the second-floor view of the school’s football field and the running track surrounding it; the billions of tiny, unnaturally tinted rocks forming an orange oval in middle of a sea of green.
I know for certain something was on my mind at that moment, in that class. I was thinking of something and I’m sure it didn’t have to do with the Haida. I had to be dwelling on SOMETHING, or else why would this memory keep resurfacing? But I don’t know what it was; all I know is where I was and when. Was it a happy moment? A sad one? Just childhood melancholy? No idea.
Yet, this highly vivid moment keeps coming back to me at the oddest of times, when so many thousands of other moments never do.
I guess it’s kind of a weird thing to have a lucid memory about something that’s mostly nothing, but for some reason this moment keeps returning. I keep thinking one day I’m going to know why I’m remembering this moment.

Words Don’t Come Easily

So, the thing is, nothing lasts forever. Well, most things don’t, anyway.
Friends will leave you, love can fade, dreams can die, and stars will burn out. But the written word is something that’s difficult to erase.
One year ago, I signed a publishing contract with a small, unproven, indie press based out of Kentucky. My book went through a unique – and fun – editing process, and was finally published on March 30, 2017. Exciting! But there’s always a risk in signing with an independent publisher, and the reality of it all hit around mid-June when the whole operation dissolved; the owner’s apparent love for the written word was not as big as other things in his life. Which is fair. It sucks, but it’s fair.
For myself and the group of talented writers who had signed on with the now-defunct company, the whole thing left us feeling stranded, as though all our work was for naught. Having a few long weeks to dwell on it, however, we’ve realized the truth: Endever Publishing Studios was just ONE route to take in getting our work out into the world. There are so many more options out there for us. Best of all, we’ve happy-accidentally (is that a word? it should be) formed a terrific little writers’ group; one that’s spread across three countries and two different continents. Whatever direction our individual works decide to take, I’m certain there will always be a piece of each of us within it all.
And the most important thing to remember, is that although the words within my first published work are no longer definitively out there, they do still exist. And for anyone who has – or still might – read them, they continue to be a part of you too.
Yes, I realize the irony in having titled the book “This Never Happened”, but it did happen. It still might happen again. And it will continue to find new ways to happen. All the while, the words remain, pure and unharmed.
Words don’t come easily, but they do persist.
-RTM-

The First Degree

I was given the following short story prompt: “Write a scene that incorporates the following three things: espionage, a bagpipe player, and bacon.” (1000 words or less)

It’s a little unorthodox, and fairly preposterous, but here it is.

 

THE FIRST DEGREE

“You’re crazy, you know that?”

“I know that. You’ve been telling me for years now. But shut up, okay? The scene’s about to start.”

“Fine. I’ll whisper. How about that?”

“Better. I’d still prefer if you just shut up though.”

“You know, I told myself the last time I helped you that it was going to be for the last time. And now? I’ve snuck onto a movie set with you, and we’re wearing kilts and carrying bagpipes.”

“Honestly? If you truly want to never help me again, you’ve got to start making some better excuses.”

“Define ‘better.’”

“Come on. You were clearly giving me the first — and worst — excuse that popped into that tiny head of yours.”

“I was not!”

“You told me you were bedazzling your grandma’s purse today. Now, granted, that’s maybe not the worst excuse you could have come up with, but it’s got to be pretty close.”

“Shut up.”

“No, you shut up. And you’re holding that bagpipe the wrong way again. Don’t you remember anything I told you?”

“What makes you the bagpipe authority anyway?”

“My cousin played the bagpipes. He was in a marching band and everything.”

“So he knows how to play the bagpipe song?”

“Which one?”

Every song on the bagpipe sounds exactly the same. I thought there was only one song. Isn’t it just called ‘The Bagpipe Song’?”

“Definitely not.”

“How do you know?”

“Because that would be a stupid name.”

“My feet hurt. How long do we have to stand here for anyway?”

“Didn’t you log the plan away the last two times I told you?”

“I just like the reminders. And really, I still have no idea why you need to do this so badly. What’s with you and Kevin Bacon anyway?”

“Listen to me. Kevin Bacon is the center of the Hollywood universe! And the ‘Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon’ defines how close you are to the center of that universe. If you’re a First Degree, it means you’ve made it.”

“Wouldn’t a Zero Degree be even closer though?”

“Well, yeah. I guess technically Zero would be closer than One. But that would mean I’d have to basically become Kevin Bacon.”

“Like John Travolta did in ‘Face Off’?”

“Kevin Bacon wasn’t in Face Off. That was Nicholas Cage.”

“What’s his Bacon Number?”

“Two. Same as Travolta, actually.”

“So you’re better than the both of them?”

“Not yet, I’m not. But once you start shutting up, I’ll be one step closer.”

“Can we go over the plan again?”

“It’s simple, really. We already paid off the guys whose parts we’re taking, and we paid them more than they were getting for this gig in the first place. So everyone wins, right?”

“I don’t see how I win in this scenario. That was my money.”

“You know I’m good for it.”

“Do I?”

“Of course you do. But can we please just focus here?”

“What’s this scene we’re in, anyway?”

“Kevin Bacon is the President of the United States, right?”

“No he isn’t.”

“In the film, dummy. Are you telling me you didn’t even read the synopsis?”

“I’d say that’s rather obvious at this point.”

“Okay, so he’s the President, and he’s tasked with stopping a nuclear war before it happens.”

“What year is this? That sounds like every action movie from the 80s. And we’re wearing kilts, because?”

“Because he’s on a Hail Mary mission to Scotland and needs to diffuse a bomb in the middle of the Highland games.”

“The President diffuses bombs now?”

“The details of the thing don’t matter. The fact is that I’m playing an undercover Scottish intelligence officer who happens to be a bomb expert and I help the Leader of the Free World decide which wire to cut.”

“I thought you only had one line?”

“It is only one line. I say, ‘Snip the blue one, me laddie.”

“I don’t know the first thing about writing, but that is terrible writing.”

“I’m not going for an IMDB screenwriter credit here! It’s a minor character role with only the one line. And I’ll get my name in the credits and a First Degree Bacon Number.”

“I don’t think you can stop a nuclear bomb simply by snipping a wire.”

“I didn’t know you were the expert on the subject. Now shut up, we’re almost on.”

(Director) “PLACES EVERYONE! AND…ACTION!!”

“Oh my god. Here he comes!”

“Shh!”

PRESIDENT OF THE U.S.A.

“You fellers play some mighty fine pipes there.

Now what can you tell me about this bomb?

And hurry now, we don’t have much time!”

BAGPIPE PLAYER #1

“Snip the blue one, me laddie.”

 

(Director) “AND….CUT! THAT’S SCENE EVERYONE!”

“Is that it?”

“That’s it. Mission accomplished.”

“Hey, I think Kevin Bacon’s waving you over. I think he wants to talk to you.”

“Probably congratulating me for making it to the center of the universe.”

“Probably.”

“Hi, Mr. Bacon. It was an honor to play that scene with you.”

“Listen to me carefully, kid. I’m going to personally make sure this scene hits the cutting room floor. Nobody gets within one degree of me without my authorization. You hear me?”

“Yes, Mr. Bacon.”

“So what did he say to you?”

“He told me I look good in a kilt.”

“Really? What about me?”

“Sorry. He didn’t mention you.”

“Say, why are those security guards charging towards us?”

“I think it’s best if we got the hell out of here. And fast. Run!”

END.

“Splash”

prompt

I was given the following story prompt “write about blue without using the word COLOR”.

Here’s my attempt. Enjoy!

bridge

SPLASH

Sometimes Blue wishes he could jump. He figures when the time comes, it will be when he’s not considering jumping at all. When he’s not thinking about it. Will he take a deep breath and see how long he might last? See how deep he might go before blacking out? Or will he let the water fill him immediately, like a pasta strainer submerged in the kitchen sink?

The fog has moved in quickly, as it often does on nights like this. The old, wooden footbridge over the creek is his favorite spot to sit when he doesn’t wish to be anywhere else. To his left is everything that pisses him off. But to his right lies the unknown. Surely there must be something in the unknown, or there wouldn’t be a bridge in the first place, would there?

But nothing is ever really for sure in Blue’s world. When something feels obvious to him, he couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s fine though, all things considered; terrible instincts have probably killed billions of men throughout history.

Of course, Blue may as well be dead. He has no car, no real friends, and no relationship to speak of outside of those he has with video games and his fantasy baseball league.

Blue muses over the sound his body might make upon contact with the water. He’s never learned to swim, and has never so much as jumped into the town’s wading pool. In the game Big Stolen Vehicle (Number Five),of the countless times he’s driven the misappropriated sedan off the pier, the sound effect is always strangely similar to breaking glass. It’s the same melody when he drives the delivery van off the pier too. How accurate are these things, really?

There’s an empty beer bottle just out of reach, and Blue stretches for it. The bottle is dry but sticky in his palm. He takes a curious whiff before putting it to his mouth in the hope that there might still be something salvageable at the bottom.

Nothing.

Blue tosses the bottle out towards the murky water, but a tugboat’s fog horn interrupts the splash. What a waste.

His mom and dad were both home tonight, unusual in the way that two leaders of warring nations might spend a cordial evening together. Their arguing had driven Blue out of the house, and where else would he think to go but here? To the wooden bridge.

Blue hears a shuffling off to his right. Not as far away as the unknown; no more than ten yards away. The fog tries its best to obscure the figure, though Blue can make out someone standing atop the guard rail. Blue doesn’t react at all as this unknown person jumps, but listens closely for the sound the body makes as it hits the water.

It’s a lovely crash; a beautiful splash. It’s perfect.

And then, without thinking, Blue jumps; plummeting into the fog himself. Maybe someone can still be saved tonight?

Lacuna Misplaced

In Lacuna Misplaced, I wanted to explore the ends of relationships, and whether there’s the possibility of a supernatural force that predetermines whether a relationship will end amicably or not.

But there’s plenty more to dissect within the story, and it’s only 2200 words, so I’ve tried to leave enough outside the story to dwell upon after a reading.

All comments & questions are welcome. Enjoy!

 

LACUNA MISPLACED

I kill the engine at the top of the parking garage; the old, towering one that overlooks a darkened Manhattan from Brooklyn’s crumbling coastline. You’re already there with a coffee for me and a still-hot pizza from Spadowski’s, inviting me over, not with words spoken, but simply by opening the grease-stained box. You place the box on the hood of the car and we sit on either side. The pizza smells fantastic, like sweet solace. This car hood, however, is freezing my ass off.

I motion toward a seemingly empty spot atop the steaming pizza. That slice there…it’s missing a piece of pepperoni.

You ask, Is it missing if it was never there to begin with? Then you take a slice from the box, folding it in half; the still-bubbling cheese now cradling the grease rather than merely acting as a slippery platter.

She did that too.

She was always bragging about her preference towards Chicago deep dish pizza but then I’d inevitably catch her cramming the thin, bi-folded slice into her mouth, eating like an honest-to-God real New Yorker.

She deceived me. Like the distance between the earth and the moon and the moon and the stars, she was deceptive. I have memories of her, but the memories are only fluid; it’s the dreams that are concrete.

You say, That’s backwards though, isn’t it? Aren’t dreams meant to be the more elusive of the two?

My dreams? They’re like a bridge that spans over everything else in my cityscape, casting an unremitting shadow, while leaving me wondering just where exactly it is they connect to. A bridge you’ve seen a thousand times from beneath but have never stepped foot on either side. One side always being the end, I suppose, while the other will always be the beginning. It doesn’t matter which direction you face; the two are always there. One cannot exist without the other: a symbiotic relationship; like cheese and pepperoni or her and me.

That girl, that girl. I could see the end of us, even from way back at the beginning. The end was always there, like a traffic light in the far distance. A red light that never changes to green.

But that was then. This is now. I don’t recall you agreeing to meet me at this squalid parking garage, but we’re both here nevertheless. Why you asked me about her after all this time I have no idea. It’s been months since it ended, but I guess you were just giving me my space. Or didn’t want to share the space I’ve been in. Maybe that’s more like it. I wouldn’t blame you, really. This place though: it plays in my mind like one of those intangible memories. Its smell sparks feelings I don’t like having. The dusty way its light and darkness play off one another: as though something murky here had done me wrong in the past. Whatever it could be though, I can’t place it.

Your space is your own. I wouldn’t impose, you say.

She told me something about space too. She once described her being in my life as filling all the empty spaces within me. So why do I feel more empty now than I did before? Like she took a little extra from me when she left.

Lucky to have extra to give, I suppose? You wipe your mouth with your sleeve. Mechanically, you seize another piece of pizza and begin anew. I finally take a slice for myself. You know, sometimes I get going and forget the little things I want. That coffee smells good too. Thanks.

Our beginning was improbable. She, a young, ambitious art dealer who already had a half-paid mortgage on her own apartment in Morningside Heights. She wrote what she labeled “a popular column” for The New Criterion, some intellectual critical periodical I’d never heard of before. Me, I was nothing more than a struggling student who had no idea what I was supposed to be studying and, sometimes, no idea where I might be sleeping the next night. But it was she who spoke first when we locked eyes on the subway. We had both – on a whim, it turned out – taken the 6-Train to Pelham Bay for no other reason than because neither of us had been there before. As it happened, the beach was terrible and the two of us bumped into one another, crestfallen while boarding the train back to Manhattan. Purposefully, she sat beside me and started blabbing. “The heart wants what the heart wants, I suppose,” is what she told me later when I’d asked her how it all happened. When I asked her why she would ever choose to strike up a conversation with a total stranger on the subway. She called it her opening move. Her gambit.

All gambits are opening moves but not all opening moves are gambits.

I suppose that might be true. Later that evening, after a lengthy meal at some expensive SoHo brasserie, we sat shoulder-to-shoulder out on the tip of one of those long Chelsea piers. There was a carousel glowing behind us, full of life – lights and laughter – on such a quiet night. It was then that I actually started to believe this could be something. Meaningful, like the way a relationship was supposed to be. I’d been in other relationships before that, so I must have felt the same way before, but I couldn’t recall. It doesn’t matter either, I guess.

It was also then that we spotted something skipping across the Hudson. A light, like an engorged firefly, darted in and out and in-between our senses. We saw it and we felt it. We relished it and we didn’t. At once, we prized it and resisted it. I know it sounds stupid but that light – that will-o’-the-wisp or whatever it may have been – disappeared inside of us. We absorbed it in a microsecond. Each of us knew the other had experienced the same phenomenon, but neither wanted to speak of it. Whatever it was, it was strange enough and weird enough to not want to admit to the experience to anyone else, even that person sitting right next to you the whole time.

And I was acutely aware that something else had entered the relationship then too. Some third party completely unknown to us.

You mumble something with your mouth stuffed. I don’t catch it though. You’ve already consumed a third piece of pizza, and you greedily reach for another.

She was the first thing I would think about upon waking. When I looked in the mirror she was there. Like any youthful relationship, I suppose. Before we’re too jaded to take them seriously anymore. It’s what we were like before we’d been burned one too many times. Or burned ourselves, seems closer to the truth.

But then things end, don’t they? It’s inevitable. Not all at once, of course. That would be too easy. And it would hurt a lot less.

You say, If it doesn’t hurt it doesn’t count, right?

Sure. Like I said: the end was always right there laid out before us. It was no secret. It never is. She had a breakdown one night about some older brother she’d never mentioned before and how he molested her when they were kids. It happened just like that: right out of left field. After that, I don’t think we had an evening that didn’t include some amount of tears in it somewhere. She admitted to wanting to be someone else because anyone else wouldn’t be her. I joked, “You’re crazy! Everything you are is perfect to me.” And then she seemed to take my joke literally. The being crazy part, that is. Through more tears, she blatantly informed me I wasn’t motivated enough to lose weight. I didn’t know I needed to lose weight. She accused me of the stupidest things: everything from swiping five bucks from her drawer to leaving a paper bag of dog turd on her doorstep and even hating minorities. Seemingly at random, she would become verbally abusive towards waiters and baristas and doormen.

I was desperately grasping at straws. I wasn’t sure where things had taken this turn or how to fix them. Eventually, I spoke with one of her gallerist pals to figure out if her current state of mind was in any way normal for her. Is she like this when she’s working? Is she bi-polar? I was expecting him to inform me that yes, she would frequently stop by to intentionally splatter wine on the paintings, or maybe throttle the neck of a potential buyer. But he suggested to me – and quite bluntly – that perhaps I should seek help. Maybe I was the crazy one in the relationship. I recall this colorful painting of a field on the gallery wall. Every time I glanced at it though, it appeared to be a picture of something else. For a tiny moment I considered the possibility that the man might have been right.

It was soon after when we finally reached that red light. When it ended. We’d gone for a walk together and wound up sitting on that same Chelsea Pier. The carousel had been closed for maintenance. We didn’t know what to do with ourselves and I suggested we return to Pelham Bay. I didn’t propose the idea as a last-ditch attempt at resuscitating the relationship. To get us off life support. I said, “Let’s go. Put on your best dress and we’ll hop on the 6-Train.”

“I don’t want to go back there,” she said. “That beach was terrible. I hated it there.”

“But that’s where we met!”

“Exactly,” she brazenly informed me. I think it was the first time in a long while that we’d spent the night together without any tears.

You ask, And that was that, wasn’t it? I’m curious to know how you could tell, and you only say that’s how the end always comes. There are never tears at the very end. If there were, it wouldn’t be over yet.

I’ve never noticed that before. Maybe I just hadn’t paused long enough to think about it. And it was also then – as she and I at once exhaled what we had left inside of us – that the light left. That strange, scuttling thing expunged itself, though we didn’t immediately notice. Then, when she turned to leave, I saw the entity, or whatever it may have been, skipping across the Hudson River once more, this time heading somewhere far away from me. Maybe back to wherever it came from in the first place. She must have sensed its disappearance eventually, but the two of us never spoke again after that. Not of supernatural occurrences and not to each other. I still don’t know what it was that happened.

What did you do with yourself once it was over between you?

What have I been up to? Just coping, really. There are still too many bad thoughts, too many illogical words rattling around inside my head. I want to say I hate her but I hardly even knew her. How can you hate someone you barely know? I drink a lot. And there’s too many bars around here to ever get too emotional about things. I did disappear up to Pelham Bay for some time too.

Was it as bad as you remember it being?

It was worse, actually. But I didn’t meet any psychotics on my way back this time around, so there’s that I suppose. Did you know there’s a place called Throggs Neck out there? I had no idea. That must be the strangest name ever.

I finish off my coffee in nearly one gulp, and I realize there’s only a single slice of pizza left now too. I met someone new the other day though neither of us are really that into each other. I dropped out of college but I do have a regular place to sleep now. You take the last piece of pizza without even asking, and then unconcernedly toss the empty box from the parking lot rooftop.

Listen, if you don’t replace some of those negative thoughts with a positive one or two, they’ll never go away. You must remember some of the good things about her?

If pressed, I might say her hair was orange like the sunset. She appreciated opening credits in movies; the order in which they appeared and how they might be presented. She once told me that love gives meaning to the stars, which I didn’t understand but it made a lot of sense at the same time. I really liked that.

You told me she deceived you. Do you still think so?

She wasn’t the person I thought her to be. Is that enough to qualify?

Are any of us, really? Maybe you were only mistaken. Perhaps she didn’t do any of those terrible things.

Then it’s obvious she’s deceived you too. You wipe your mouth with your sleeve again as I consider the idea of perceived deception. What supernatural element decides whether a relationship will end amicably or in anger? Why do we seem to conveniently forget about the good times? I don’t know if whatever she did to me would have happened regardless of whether we met or not, but I still find myself questioning my own sanity at times. I search myself for some truth to it all; some certainty that I’m still somewhat in control of who I am: my hopes and fears and heartaches.

I catch the light out of the corner of my eye; I see it just as it floats effortlessly off the rooftop. And when I turn to ask if you saw it too, if you caught this maybe-wonderful/maybe-portentous thing skipping away into the distance, you’re nowhere to be found.