When We Are Our Works: Flash Fiction

An arborist works his magic at the Missouri Botanical Garden, summer 2014. Photo by Leigh Ward-Smith.
An arborist works his magic at the Missouri Botanical Garden, summer 2014. Photo by Leigh Ward-Smith.

In honor of Labor Day, and all the hard-working people out there, worldwide, I am taking the day off, with an “oldie” but, I hope you’ll agree, an existential goodie (of flash fiction) that I wrote a year or two ago.

Speaking of which (and to be very serious for a moment), I offer big props to one such dad-blogger, Andy Chih, whose blog is, sadly, on hiatus. But understandably so. He is taking a break so he can support his daughter by working hellacious hours at two jobs. My kudos to you, Andy.


 

When We Are Our Works

Copyright Leigh Ward-Smith, 2014

Almost nothing was under my control. That knowledge began to leach into me one day when I got back to my soda can–forted workspace.

Hunched over a crumby communal keyboard at the Weekly News, referred to by our sports editor/graphic designer/advertising supervisor as “Weakly, News,” I was jolted to learn that my neighbor, Candy Mangold-MacGuffin, had plummeted to a pancake death (Dale’s term) about an hour prior in the elevator shaft. It was exceedingly strange, made more so by the fact that there was no elevator in our building.

The pizza grease–laden telephone handle almost slipped out of my hand.

My roommate, photographer Marcy Heart, said she’d gotten a few decent shots of the scene. But it had defaulted to me to do the story. Everyone in this Everglades sinkhole of a newsroom had naturally assumed I’d give my eye teeth to write it. Although I was as curious as the next person—I mean, what horrible luck for Candy: recently finding love or something approximating it after 46 years of widowhood, with playboy and visiting artist Maximilian Capricorn—murders weren’t my beat. Really, they weren’t anybody’s beat around here. Those sticks had been dropped long ago, if they ever existed. In short, this place was too boring to have anything other than garden-variety deaths. More likely: deaths in gardens. Lots of old people equal lots of gardens, I learned here, if nothing else.

When I got to the scene I saw only a seeming rivulet of red hair hanging from the metal gate drawn across the shaft, now bereft of elevator. Five floors below lay a human jumble in a scarlet dress. From here, she looked sickeningly akin to a swastika with a couple little red and apricot Pollock splats next to it. That would be her poodle, Pepé, and what apparently was her auburn wig.

I hadn’t even noticed it was the 13th, and a Friday, until I glanced at my watch. I’m not sure why I did that just now, because I normally am content to let the time sift by. Maybe it was the building excitement of a new kind of story. In any case, the damn Timex was so tight on my wrist that you’d think someone else had put it on me.

The reporting flew by that afternoon, and soon I was back at my desk, typo’ing away.

I almost began to marvel at the taut phrases that muscled their way onto the screen, and the sound of the keys clacking made me feel I was conjuring Joplin at the ivories. The ghosts of Chandler, Carver, and Christie (Agatha, not Chris) thundered in my ears, cinching the writer’s garrot, from forearm to heart to head, tighter.

When I woke up at my desk, I was surprised to find a Denou Mint dangling from a cleft of curls. More startling still, the iron-y taste of epiphany:

Holyshit! I, Paige Turner, am inside an actual book! Does that mean instead of blood I have words—of course! it all makes sense now—coursing my veins, adjectives sardined into my arteries, hyperboles latched onto teats of hemoglobin like similes on this hack’s half-blank page? Was I the only character outside Faulkner or Joyce to escape the prison of the page, to become self-aware? I mean, the story here, it’s basically what happened to me. 

And now that I’ve spilled my Vonneguts to you, dear reader, maybe you can enlighten me on the sense of existence. Help me transcend this setting, assist me in copyediting the meaning, or the lessness, of my life. By relinquishing control to you, maybe I might yet win some of it back.

Unless . . .

Are you written, too?

 

Summer Peels off its Mask: Story and Gallery

The yellow leaves twisted, icarean, as they helicoptered down from the trees. A soft breeze teased the grass, except where I’d tonsured a path to, from, and around the pool, raised bed gardens and duck yard, shed, and flattened miniature Stonehenge where the kids like to swing on the forgiving branches of the maple tree. A plastic orange horse with unruly blue mane lies sideways on one fallen pillar, and various play paraphernalia punctuate the circle of leviathan stones: an insect-patterned soccer ball stares you down, a blue-green geodesic dome ball peeks from behind blades, a baseball mitt is upended on another flat rock. Other spheres are caught in the trough of the stones’ belly, but a pair of girl’s well-worn tennis shoes, size 10, still tied in double bows but unfooted, wait outside the sacred almost-ouroboros. Their occupant has tromped away on purple-flowered roller skates, lifting her legs as if hoisted by cranes at the knees.

“Look, Mom, I walk like C-3PO in these.”

These scatterings seem to me a forlorn solar system, guideposts gone, lessons unlearned.

Farther back, fresh human dreck of a tricolor beach ball and a spent pool filter litter the ground, half-mown, where the orange snake threads a path among the stones, and meets its dark counterpart in a charged union of opposites.

Mating and molting, and switching one mask for the other, are already underway. The sun metes out its blight to all within blindness’ field-sight, the sky’s flash bulb freezing a moment in the white-heat of infinity.

And the dog days of August lope off in search of dead smells and living motions, that they may loll in the bed of September’s early, protean decay.

Cicada Shadow
Cicada and molted cuticula. By Leigh Ward-Smith

The Power to Shut Heaven: A 100-Word Story

The tattered body resembled a rag-and-bone heap of red gingham.

Stax had caught a bum pouring something flammable on it.

“I doan know nuthin’,” the man snarled, then genuflected. Dingy yellow strips of sleeves fluttered like a 20-foot air-Gumby announcing a Wacky waving inflatable arm flaling tube man 017used-car lot.

“Unh-hunh.” Stax mumbled and shuffled off.

While sweeping the area, he caught a glint and bent to bring the bracelet in range.

“Sentinel, don’t be a hero.” The raggedy man glowered as the identifier’s alert clanged: “This child is wanted for questioning, under suspicion of pestilence warfare.”

Damn, Stax thought, that’s the third mangled kid this week.


This flash fiction story was submitted a few years back to an agent’s blog contest (it didn’t win, place, or show, possibly mostly attributable to the “cliffhanger” nature of the ending). I was re-inspired to dig up this microflash, strategically edit it, and dump it out here on the blog to see what you all think as well. Of course, that I am walking the WordPress realms with 300-word maestro Dieter Rogiers is a thrill and a challenge. Do sink your teeth into a helping of his stories if you haven’t yet, either on his blog or in his new book, You’re Getting Sleepy, the Hypnotist’s Apprentice Yawned: Flash Fiction in 300 Words (or Less).

 

.

Handling the Human Heart: Haiku

Reuters--butchery photo
Reuters photograph.

Youth, flayed

Whistle at one life’s work.

That snug abbatoir, childhood,

skips to your lax blade.

 

Her heart

She forgot to know

words more powerful than belts.

Lacerating tears.

 

His heart

Wet vigils kept you

over pallid self-esteem,

sluicing away flesh.

Crane-Desert poem graphic

Because it is your heart

Seagram’s, your Grail, spears

raggedy id. Pinking shears

sawtooth kith — and kin.

 

 

Fear’s edge

You saw its savage

edge through pocket of apron.

A grin slits your lips.


Haiku for this week’s Haiku Horizons, on “cut,” which lent itself to sanguine verses (for me, anyway; be sure to read the other contributors!).

And now for some comic relief (note: this is the “Barbershop/Lumberjack sketch,” the first part of which might gross out the squeamish).

 

 

Hot Rockin’ at World’s End: Dystopian Flash Fiction

Source: imgur.com via Scribe's Cave, Picture Prompt #34
Source: imgur.com via Scribe’s Cave, Picture Prompt #34.

Short lexicon to follow story.


 Hot Rockin’ at World’s End

Genre: Dystopian science fiction, literary fiction

Word Count: 296 (without lexicon)

Warning!! Harsh adult language & violence might not be suitable for younger readers.

Schrödinger’s Cat had rounded up enough interested parties—or,  more to the point, partiers—for one last, big bang-yer-head at the end of time. Sure, part of the lure had been the location. All the underground dead trees had shrieked in King Diamond font:

“Kewlest Party of ANY Century! DON’T MISS special guests Megaton Leviathan and Eddie’s Hammers, Dec. 31, 2099, Erasin’ Hell at the Mosh Room!”

WorldCits with special oc-imps did a slam dance at the prospect offered by the small type, in Britny Fox font of course, promising 37⁰C temps at partytime. “BC’s fridginest freakhouse,” it shrilled.

“But, the acoustics. Color me concerned,” singer and theremin player Blind Watchmaker complained to Schrö.

“It’ll be fine, bro’. Former colliders like the ‘Shroom have excellent sound capabilities, I’m told. Besides, everybody there will be so busy stonin’ and bonin’ . . .” Although he shit-grinned, consummate concert-promoter that he was, Schrö let his voice lose volume, as if the answer to Armageddon was always achingly obvious.

“And the poser was at least partly right,” Blind Watchmaker was to recount years later. “Desperate WCs did surface for the gig—droves of them—and the sounds were tight. I think if a person was outside in the withering Canadian sun at 10 a.m., he probably still woulda felt the music crunchin’,” he pointed at the dead-center of his chest, “about here, instead of hearin’ it.”

The truth was that nobody had anticipated literal carnage. Sardined in the metal musical box, leather on jeans on synfibes like Ex-Spand, ‘bangers were squashed underboot like long-haired lightning bugs. Either trampled or crushed against coils of chilled niobium tin, some 4,700 lost their lives for love of loudness.

And still, the new century dawned, a sunken sun under the skin of night.

 LEXICON:

BC: British Columbia, a Canadian province.

Dead trees: Something like the newspapers and tabloids of the 20th and early 21st centuries.

Oc-imps: Ocular implants.

Synfibes: Synthetic fibers (example: Ex-Spand).

WorldCits (thereafter, WCs): World citizens, as people of this dystopian future are called.


Written for Andreé’s weekly Scribe’s Cave photo challenge. Andreé’s own speculative fiction response to the prompt is here — and stay tuned, prose spelunkers, because her newest spec-fic book is due in November. I always love me a late-Halloween lit baby! And fellow metalfans, see if you can find all the 20th- and early 21st-century heavy-metal bands, songs, and other tropes.

Share Your World: Week 32, The Supermoon Edition

Share Your World bannerI thought it might be nice, for a change, to blog about me, assuming I’m nice, which of course is a big assumption. So, in the absence of protests to the contrary, here goes with Cee’s weekly Share Your World (SYW) challenge, with an ultimately far-out flavor to it . . .

  1. Do you prefer ketchup or mustard? Um, I have a near-addiction to light agave syrup, as well as the myriad of spices used in Indian, Greek, and Middle-Eastern foods. That said, it depends on what’s being eaten, as to what needs to be covered. I still remember — and am wholly guilty of the food crime mentioned in — that childhood ditty “don’t drown your food.”
  2. If someone made a movie of your life would it be a drama, a comedy, a romantic-comedy, action film, or science fiction? Yes. At one time or another, all of the aforementioned, with documentary, spoof, fantasy, horror flick, B-movie, and musical thrown in for good measure.
  3. If you could be given any gift what would it be? A tough one! Can I wiggle out of it and say je ne sais quoi? No? Okay, then: Foresight, which would likely turn out to be a Trojan horse. Failing that, a supply of self-confidence to not be unwarrantedly cocky yet to still leave the world a better place than when I entered it.
  4. For potlucks or parties do you cook it yourself, buy from a grocery store, or pay for catering? I’ve never given a big or formal party myself, so I’ve never done catering (in the event I could afford it!). Sorry to qualify all these questions, but it really depends on the context. The better I know the people and their preferences and/or allergies or food adventuresomeness, probably the more likely I am to make something of my own rather than grocery-store it. I have a great Indian-inspired spaghetti bread I’m dying to perfect and share with the world, but more accessible dishes are my sausage-stuffing muffins (for those who AREN’T watching their diets, who do have a “cheat day,” and/or who are NOT vegans or vegetarians) or my Greek-based orzo & spinach salad.
  5. Bonus question:  What are you grateful for from last week, and what are you looking forward to in the week coming up? I know I used this in a previous SYW, so it’s an oldie, but it’s also a good goodie. I’m grateful to still be experiencing life, warts and all. I’ve been doing some writing, but on the main it’s been pretty angry stuff (for reasons I won’t bore you with, August is overall a historically cruddy month for me personally); this creative famine follows on the heels — wish I could say heals, Freudian key-slip style — of the feast of a couple weeks ago when I had three or more posts in a single week. Today’s SYW post floats and then gently sets me down at 61. Poet extraordinaire Vic Briggs nomenclatures this ebb-and-flow creative process in terms of “the storm passes, the energy . . . recedes.” (Well-said, my friend!) Honestly, as to looking forward, there are several things in the aether I’m grabbing at: visiting with my friend, who herself is journeying into town from Arizona; writing a joy list, à la Chris Donner’s fabulous open-ended post on “Joy Is . . .”; exiting the draggin’ wagon in terms of blog- and other reading and commenting (like for my BBC Book Club); school starting for one of the kidlets (I love the “youngins,” but I also know they need time away from me to gain independence and so forth); catching up on some weeding and yardwork; doing some un-angry writing; and tackling some technical things like setting up a Facebook page and re-doing or adding a page here on the blog to purtify it. :)

And now, something else to be grateful for, some far-out supermoon stuff (wouldn’t mega-moon sound better? it alliteratively appeals to my sometimes tinny ear) . . .

DragonEye Supermoon
Image by me — & Photoshopped, unexpertly, to sharpen, bring out contrast, & brighten — of the Aug. 10, 2014, #supermoon. Really wish I were a better photographer & had better night exposure ability. Dumbly, I also didn’t use a tripod, other than my knees. The exposure is about 5 seconds. Had hoped you could see how the moon looks (to me, anyway) like a dragon’s eye & all the altocumulus clouds (I’m guessing, but please correct me, meteorologists)  looked like individual scales around the dragon’s eye. Anyway, it was cool to see an astronomical phenomenon like the supermoon, & I am grateful for that. For more on the supermoon (thank goodness it’s not dubbed the perigean moon supersized, for acronymization!), EarthSky is one great resource.

 

 

 

Terminal House: Flash Fiction

Photo copyright Björn Rudberg.
Photo copyright Björn Rudberg. Björn is also an amazing poet and fiction writer.

Terminal House

WORD COUNT: 183 words

GENRE: Paranormal, horror

If Megan Beuchanan had been the type of person to take the figurative temperature of a potential home, she’d have discovered the Turner House was zero at the bone.

Clinging to the cusp of the ravine, every bit the Victorian-era vulture, the now-dilapidated residence was everything the single mother sought: cheap.

It also, then, wouldn’t have come as such a shock when daughter Ava found the small sachet of letters stuck behind a swatch of old wallpaper in her closet. The letters spoke with the ghost-tongue of long-lost lives and lovers. Thomas would come back for Gladys, somehow. His illness—and confinement in the Turner pest house—would be only temporary. She was to pay no mind to the purported mystique of the manor. Indian haints* did not roam the grounds, nor could they be heard screeching as the diseased husks of their bodies were rolled into the waiting arms of Brine River below.

If only Megan could have steeled her psyche for the night Chief Swift-as-Hare John Harris’s smallpox-addled corpse came calling. Ready to reclaim the feathers of his people’s whisked-away souls.

THE END

*A Southern United States (dialectical) word meaning ghost, specter, or spirit.


This flash fiction is humbly submitted for Rochelle’s weekly Friday Fictioneers photo-prompt challenge, though it comes in a bit too long (as usual). If you enjoy writing or reading (or both), I encourage you to take part with your own story or to follow along by absorbing the brilliant fiction out there in Rochelle’s quadrant of the WordPress-iverse. Cheers!