Flash Fiction: The path a song takes.

She only screamed as a little girl, never sang, till they made her once in music class. Everyone went silent in a way she could never provoke with mere tantrums. The way they looked at her was a memory that followed her into puberty, into adulthood, across the ocean to another country- the memory shifted slowly, her constant companion, sometimes a mocking, jeering thing, sometimes the sweetest lover, and on the worst days- hope, the last thing that kept the balcony door of her tiny apartment shut.

She spent blood, wrung out of her by abusive boyfriends, and tears, that dripped slowly onto sodden pages full of what she thought of as pastiche-ridden lyrics, on fighting her way to the top of her mountain- a gig at a hotel, where she spent most of her first paycheck on a dress deemed barely acceptable by the pretentious manager that couldn’t keep the disdain out of his voice.

She kept something else in her own voice. A memory of friends and enemies captivated, taken somewhere far from the now, then.

When she was given notice during budget cuts she cried in the staff bathroom and rushed to re-apply her mascara before her final performance in front of indifferent lounge goers eating overpriced food bearing a poor approximation to the salty, home-spun fish dishes of the country she left behind so long ago.

She asked the entire lounge if they could paint with all the colors of the wind. She muttered “and for once never wonder what it’s worth” into the mic, embarrassed, and too aware of the relevance of the line.

When she finished the only person that applauded was one, lone boy of ten, who stood transfixed.

Later she became a waitress and never again sang to a room of more than fifty.

Before the boy clapped he had been running between adult’s legs, straining against his ridiculous dress shirt- all ten years of him aghast at the pomp and ceremony involving the ludicrous buffet. He pestered waiters and defeated his parents attempts to restrain him as he was deeply dissatisfied with the seriousness around him.

The voice of the saddest lady he had ever met stunned him, as she sang his secret- his favorite song from his favorite movie, stolen from his sister’s bedroom and watched after midnight whilst his parents were at a party. When she finished he clapped as loudly as he could manage, slapping his hands red.

He would not stop singing the song in the car ride home till even the chauffeur began to mutter imprecations. He had to Google most of the words, as he did not know what blue corn was, or how the fenced in trees with the laminated labels could have spirits.

Maths and science and his father’s position as vice president of something held little appeal, and could not sway the boy from the path set for him by a wayward song.

So he disappointed everyone who pretended to care about him as he bucked his inheritance and moved to a third-world country after failing his expensive high school education to sing in a small bar near a resort, where he met a beautiful woman who taught him Tagalog and how to fish.

It was sometime after that that he finally thought he understood the lyrics to his favorite song.

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Flash fiction: Two possibilities / One outcome

On Friday he woke early and prepared for, then went to, the job he had chosen at sixteen when he picked subjects in school before he had ever been in love.

Afterwords the friend he was sometimes envious of texted him again, asking him to go out, and he usually didn’t but tonight his internet was inexplicably down.

So he ate dinner and prepared for the night that pricked his stomach-lining with anxious barbs and wondered if he should even bother, wondered it all the way there in the taxi. He met his friend who always smiled and nodded at the names of the other noisy people, and all together they started to converse in bars. Moving on after drinking, and joking, and sometimes he laughed too.

Then they went to the club where the music hurt his ears and the lights confused him, and he stood at the bar between clustered shoulders, whilst his smiling friend and the rest danced, some with girls they had only just met. He had drunk more than usual and felt sincerely sorry that the internet was down, wondering if he had tried hard enough to make it work again.

He heard her first when she ordered a drink- a nonsense word to him, a magic word delivered in a pristine accent that made the back of his neck sweat. Her bare shoulder brushed his forearm and that made him look, dead at her, point-blank range and saw her elfin ears, the way her eyes glittered with a secret he wished he knew. He wanted something, wanted her he supposed, but more than that as well, except for the inevitable worry that clung to his stomach-lining and made him believe the truth:

That, he would say something stupid first, something boring like ‘Hello.’ or something creepy like ‘Wow, you’re beautiful.’ and she would laugh or frown, or ignore him completely. That he would try that one line his smiling friend kept telling him to use, just to begin with, and he would load his mouth with the words, yet stutter or gasp then die like a fish looking up at her beyond his reach. Instead he stared. Because what if she did in fact laugh, and listen to him as her magical drink was prepared, and then he had to think of other things to say, or to answer questions with banalities like ‘I work in I.T.’ or ask questions dull and predictable in the hopes that she will hear, in between the words, all the amazing things he actually thought. She would reject him brutally, within earshot of others, or sneer at even the fact that someone such as he could pretend not to be the sort of person that wishes dearly the internet wasn’t out, tonight. That even if it all went well, so well they went home to the same place, and later had pet names for each other and shared secret jokes, that she would betray him royally, with someone else’s smiling friend, or that she would tire of him quickly, once he stopped pretending to not be boring, and that would be far worse- letting her get so very close before she ripped away. What if she was not what he imagined right now, what if she was less than, and he was more, and not the other way around.

And yet even if everything did go wrong he knew his smiling friend would say it was well that he had at least tried, and learned or felt pain that was not as bad as he thought it would have been.

That instead it might be very different.

He was not like the others here after all, he was just a pretender and that made him special. So when he said to her “HI! Look I know you aren’t exactly pining after an I.T tech with thick black glasses and a fetish for strange online subcultures, but I was hoping you’d at least give me the chance to say something interesting, because like it or not you’re the most stunning person I’ve met tonight and I’d like to challenge you to prove me wrong.” Which was sort of the truth.

And she would say “WHAT?” Because it was way too noisy, though she would not brush him off as he looked so sheepish in an endearing way. Sort of grateful that she didn’t hear him actually, he took that opportunity to yell “IT’S REALLY NOISY AND I WANTED TO ASK YOU SOMETHING IMPORTANT WANT TO GO OVER THERE?” And she hesitated because he looked so incredibly docile and yet was so confident and thus she’ll shrug because she’s far more bored than he would believe, and they’d go to a corner, get a table together, and she asked him what the question was, and he said, “What exactly do they put in your drink? It had a really cool name.” And they somehow moved onto things he knew about, like old cartoon theme songs and math rock. They leaned in closer, allied against the dubstep, talked about how they never really do this at all- talk to strangers in clubs. There is a lull. They parted awkwardly when he made a joke that she doesn’t get and then he gets up saying: “Well, I guess, uh, good bye.” Turned and walks away, got his coat whilst his smiling friends continued to dance. Outside he looked at all the cigarette smokers and wondered if he was missing out and then he hears her voice, cracked from the strain of all the shouting inside and she’s got her number on a bent napkin. He called and she picked up and all his immediate evenings and weekends are filled with her. She introduces him to rock climbing and he inspires her to put her strange videos online. They find a stray kitten one day in an alley and shuttle it between them till a year later all three of them move in together. Spending a whole weekend either in bed or watching reruns of cartoons. Her parents die and he keeps her going. His stomach problem turns out to be cancer but they beat it anyway.

None of those things happened except in his head. He finished his drink in one stinging gulp and left without saying a word.

The weekend passed.

On Monday he woke early and prepared for, then went to, the job he had chosen at sixteen when he picked subjects in school before he had ever been in love.

Flash Fiction: Sewed Shut

Claudia biked with her husband, through the same paths they always took. Past the same trees that wrapped their limbs across the same, too-near fences. This time when they got to the crossing, they kissed with eyes closed, and raced- Hugo started first, got ahead, and Claudia was too focused on his sweat-clinging back. So that when Hugo yelled “LOOK…” and she did, she failed to hear the next thing he said, before the van hit her.

Claudia woke into a room she had never been in before. Everything about her was wrong. She could not move her legs or arms that were tied to a teal wall. She could not speak, or turn her neck. She tried to stay awake, instead she fell into a sleep, where she dreamed of pain and snapped twigs. The man woke her, the scary man who moaned at her, words she did not understand. The man who went about her, he poked and prodded and moaned some more. Made noises abhorrent and incomprehensible. She could not turn her head to look and see what he thought in his eyes. He would go. Leaving her there, trapped. She would wonder, had he always been waiting for her? At that crossing? Was her happiness too much, was she guilty of being too content? She wished Hugo would find her and rescue her, and these were her last thoughts usually, before she slept and dreamt of broken twigs.

The man came back, and she resolved to finally do something, anything at all- even if it was only to scream.

So she tried to open her mouth. She attempted to widen her jaw. But the sewing between her lips, the thick black threads would stretch and cut her and the pain was too much to bear. The stitching was so tight she could not even open a centimeter. She tried to scream and could barely moan. The man however paid attention, to the box beside her head. He stopped and then would make moaning noises near her face. She tried to moan back, but the threads hurt so, and cut against her mouth. So she mumbled instead, and he didn’t seem to hear. He left her to sleep and dream of a cage, the bars of which thrust through her belly, that wrapped around her flesh, piercing her so that any movement would bring the tearing agony.

Then finally, Hugo came, with the man, and other shadows. They moaned at her- she could not moan the way Hugo did. She wished she could, she tried so very hard to. She tried so hard to open her mouth that the stitches began to rip. They ripped apart her lips. “Oh.” is all she wanted to say. The threads began to stretch and then came the blood, pouring into her mouth, that tasted of cold iron. And she screamed and screamed and screamed.

Inside the hospital room. Hugo wiped away his tears and regarded his immobile wife on the teal bed. He said to the doctor that he could have sworn he saw something happen on the monitor attached to her head. He could have sworn he saw inside her open eyes a hint of life. The doctor told him it was only an illusion. The doctor told him it was time to say goodbye. So he did, and they turned her off, and she stopped screaming.

Flash fiction: And then she kissed him.

And then she kissed him

Charlene said “It’s so unbelievably hard explaining it to people sometimes, that I have all these thoughts and I just can’t STOP THEM. And the way they always react, the thing I ALWAYS, ALWAYS hear, is that it’s ‘normal’, everyone is like that- or that I’m exaggerating, it’s like what I say isn’t even plausible and yet I have to take these fucking pills for it.” and moving her hand away from her face Lee could see that her palm was red from being pressed against the abrasive carpet, the same red as her eroded eyes. Lee withheld a sigh as he lay his head back against the paint, his lower back aching from sitting there, on the floor, with her, outside the class they’d just taken. The pain distracted him from caring, bringing on thoughts of his age, and how different he was as a mature student, how young Charlene was in comparison, then the pain, without warning, became something positive- a penance suffered willingly so he could help, if only by being around. Lee said: “You sound bitter about being lonely.” He didn’t know if it was the right thing to say, he did not have whatever condition she did, but it was what he thought, and he said it, mouth shutting so hard he thought his head shook.

He waited, worried she would go or want him to leave.

Instead Charlene said “Yes. Exactly.” Which was enough to remove the final hesitation that had kept Lee from telling his story.

He said “You know, before, something happened to me. I used to be terribly lonely. Really, awfully lonely all the time. I’d stare at couples who held hands and wish that were me and think I’m so pathetic for caring so much. During my second job I shared a house with some girls, and I used to get a lot of jokes from my guy-friends about it, they used to tell me I was such a player. Which made me feel worse, as I was practically an asexual dwarf to those girls- I mean I’d make us all dinner every weekend and we’d watch chick flicks, and they’d joke about how they were all my ‘fag-hags'”.

Charlene said: “But you aren’t that short.”

“Anyway. I had this secret thing I’d do, that I’d done all my life. I walked up the stairs on all fours. Really- like a dog. I love it. I still do it. I managed to never do it in front of any of them though- it was my secret, and I did it when no one was home, sometimes multiple times in a row just to get it out of my system. One day, I’m at home right, and I decide to do the reverse- which was rare, maybe one in ten times I do the reverse, and walk down the stairs on all fours, but BACKWARDS. That’s scary, it’s kind of like a thrill. I must not have heard Asha- who uh, was one of the girls, and she was home, and well, on my way down we bumped into each other. Her nose, smack into my ass. Then we fell down the stairs together. She’d been walking up on all fours you see. Swear to God. So I’d broken my arm- yep, and she had to take me to the hospital. On the way there I couldn’t believe my luck. I’d broken my arm after meeting the only other person I’d ever known to walk up the stairs on all fours. So in the hospital, she sits with me and I ask her out, then and there, I actually say really honestly that I’d never met anyone that did that and that my arm was broken so she owed me at least dinner. We started going out and I was convinced it was fate. I was sure of it. And it wasn’t. We didn’t work out. Not at all. I mean, we were together for quite awhile but in the end- it all went to hell.”

Lee paused to breathe. Charlene wanted to ask: So? Well is that it?

Then he started again. “So, after that my life went kind of haywire. I was unemployed for awhile and realized that I really was passionate about something else entirely, something I’d only ever done for fun, in all the free time I ever had.”

“Which is why you’re here?”

“Yes. And then the Internet. I didn’t grow up with it you know- like you have. I mean it was sort of there later, but anyway the thing is, that one day I just looked it up and of course I found out that I wasn’t the only one.”

“Looked up what?”

“Walking up the stairs on all fours. Shitloads of people do that. Seriously- I mean a whole frickin’ city of them, spread out of course, not together at all, and rare enough that they all think that’s there thing, and they are a bit nutty for doing it. I wasn’t alone either when I decided that I loved cooking, even though I was a man- I know, you probably think it’s silly, but the people I grew up with, they thought it was weird. Online I found entire communities- I guess this isn’t that shocking to you, this is your time I guess, or I don’t know, I mean, I grew up when their was just one way you know? One way of living, one thing you’re supposed to like, or ten maybe, but not like now, not the millions and million of communities now. It was only then when I saw online how many people crawl up the stairs on their hands and knees that I believed I was never alone, not even a little bit. Not really. Sort of like you are, honestly- even if all the people you are incidentally placed next to aren’t the same at all.”

Charlene just stared at him, realizing that he accepted her entirely, despite her moods, and despite the pills.

A gentle rant and some flash fiction: The City is a Drum

This post is so far untitled. It’s 1:30 AM, and I must be awake early tomorrow, and it is during times like these that a part of me acts rationally, in quite a despicable way.

This divergent voice argues not to sleep, that the painful morning will come soon after sleeping- and thus must be delayed, at all costs, right here, right now.

My future self shakes his fatigued fist at me- damn you past-self, stop procrastinating and get to bed! Save the night whilst you still can! But what does he know.

In this in-between mood I feel an urge to write some kind of story. A piece of flash fiction perhaps- I’m so close to dreaming, and I have such strange dreams. It’s a real blessing, like some kind of free subscription someone else signed me up for. On that note I will in fact turn a dream, that has never quite left me, into a story.

And I shall write it all in bolded text because I feel that dreams ought to be in bold, before they fade to white.

Flash Fiction: The City is a Drum

Inside the taxi I held on to the door handle, my fingers digging into the rubber that yielded, ever so slightly, as we careened to the left again. In response we all swung the other way, but we held on and none of us complained. If anything we wished he could drive faster.

Max turned to me and said, “He’s coming for me again.” And I did not bother to lie, and tell him otherwise. I was not being hunted, and I was afraid I would be hunted, and so my friend Max could be the bait, to avoid being hunted. 

On the highway we streamed past sad lights, smeared reds and whites seen through rain patterns that remained on our windshield and windows, though outside the night sky was clear, as if there had been a storm, once, however I could not recall it. Then Max released his seat belt and gazed outside the back window, and screamed like a child with an adult’s voice.

This meant he was coming for us, so I sat still, and Max ducked down in front of his seat, curled up in the shaking vehicle. “Don’t worry Max, he can’t get us here.” I said, and was proven wrong immediately, when a black leather gloved hand passed through the ceiling of our speeding taxi, as if it were water, even causing ripples in the roof, right in front of my face, the hand open, clenching at the air, and I sat back in my seat, pressed against the back, thinking- No no no, not this side of the car, Max is on the other side of the car.

And we almost all rolled sideways as the driver took a sharp turn, crossing lanes on this never ending highway.  He could not evade the hunter whose hand came again, to my left, closing on nothing like the claws from those stuffed-toy machines. And again in front of me, withdrawing back up, invisible above the opaque roof it passed so easily. I was screaming like Max now. Then I looked at Max, and his head moved downwards, as I was lifted upwards, by the scruff of my dress-shirt by the hand that took me out of the ceiling of the cab, which I passed through like water. 

I caught a glimpse of that terrible Guy Fawkes mask as he pulled me up. He was above me, flying, towards the clouds with his wide-brimmed hat on. The shirt held me like a sling as we went above the dark highway, the streaming cars, the tiny  taxi. Elevating upwards, we seemed illuminated by the distant spot lights of the city. White light on a dark, upside-down cloudy stage.

We stopped in mid-air. Me, in his death grip, him, calmly static far above the road. He was so tall, and I could not see any part of his face, no skin, with all that black, and that terrible Guy Fawkes mask- he was not human. He was something shaped like a human and if I struggled I would fall, and what does he want anyway. I was trapped in mid-air. I finally found the words, to plead, and I started with “Wh-wh-why-why-me…” and he interrupted me with that bass voice shaking in my stomach:

“THE CITY IS AN INSTRUMENT.” 

I tried to ask “What do you want from me? Why are you doing this?” Instead I said

“Uh. Ah. Ah.”

And he continued with that voice, “AND THIS IS HOW YOU PLAY IT.” and he turned me upside down like a child might a toy, and he flung me down towards the black road and the growing stream of carlights and I dove towards the concrete and the rising vehicles the air rushing past my ears till I SMASHED MY BRAINS INTO 

A night, or early morning, in my bed, waking. I froze then, eyes barely open.

I saw what looked like several people staring down at me in my bed, their silhouettes vaguely humanoid. One wore a wide brimmed and his face looked like familiar mask, and I heard them say “He’s waking up, give him some more.” and my last thought was- holy fucking shit please don’t notice that I heard you say that, and then I passed out and woke up for real.

Turned on all the damn lights and wrote out the dream because I was terrified.

I will be posting the next part of The Sixth tomorrow- finally broken through a sort of block on the thing. Ronel and Eric and then a short story competition and an attempt to pan for Writer’s Gold, and a sharp observation by the class on not having enough vampires.

62nd post, flash fiction: Drinking Alone

Drinking Alone 

I don’t usually drink alone in bars, but the idea seemed great. Ever since she left, the urge was steadily building. Nothing else I did felt like a proper ending. She lingered. So one night I went out, alone, to a bar, aiming at becoming the idea. I sat and ordered my drink. The experience was nothing like the idea. Quietly wasting away, the first twenty minutes or so were horrendous.

Then he sat down- at least I think he did. I don’t remember, maybe he was already there. I do remember the first thing he said: “How’s your beer?” My beer was excellent- I had become an expert on my beer. Sit alone for twenty minutes (or more?) sipping your beer, and you will be quite primed to describe said beer. So I did. And he listened. It was not a very interesting description.That’s how we got to talking. We talked about where we were, the bar itself, and we talked about our beers. We joked about the news, and the weather, then exchanged tiny best-ofs we’d gathered from our lives. Best jokes heard, best one-liners, best pranks. Best tricks, best stories. We shared and drank some more, and we never asked the other his name. We didn’t talk about what we did, or who we were. We talked about what we thought. There is a difference. The night was long, and in a way it was tiring. It was also a release. Hours later, as the sun started to rise, I thought it prudent to finally get my friend’s name. Which is when he suddenly plopped down his final glass, and as if reading my mind, said “No need for names.” We’d gotten into sync with one another. Hours of intense conversation will do that. Then he stretched, got up, and put on his hat. He said something to me then, and I don’t think I’ll forget it. He said, “You know something? I’m not what a lot of people would consider successful, but I love Time. Time and death. I love time, because it means even someone like me is a traveler.” He paused to throw on his scarf.

Then he continued, “You know, I had a physics teacher once, and he explained how space and time are cut from the same cloth- fact, they are the same cloth. You and me, we sat here, and we drank, and we talked, and the whole time we traveled. Time keeps you moving, even when it seems like you aren’t.” He put on his jacket.

I asked him, “And death?”

He stopped, his hands in his sleeves, and said “Death is always the end of the line. So it ‘s the journey that matters. Without death, we’d think the destination was the point.” That was the last thing he said to me.

I said “goodbye” to him, and as was my habit, “good luck.” too. Then I went home and slept, and maybe dreamed, perhaps about how far I’d come from who I’d been.

*************
This is my 62nd post. Some people, that I have never met, have been saying some rather kind things about my writing lately. This is quite an amazing thing. I want to thank those people, for their encouragement. Your praise and pleasure are valuable things.

Flash Fiction: The Lesser Of Two

For a flash fiction contest, 250 word limit

The lesser of two

Beneath her pristine sky, she led her fleeing people, away from the beasts ravaging their home, towards the refuge of the mad climber.

Inside the mountain cave he took shelter from his oppressive rain. His eyes were clouded with a private suffering. Today he could not continue upwards. He lamented the storm that defeated him.

Entering, she caught him whining.

Terrified villagers poured in, and the climber heard them speak of the fell creatures tormenting them. He had encountered such monsters before. Thus he made preparations to leave.

She asked what he meant by defeated. He had climbed so far, the city being a great distance below and besides, there was no storm. She saw only a tragically sunny day.

Rebuking him, who did not appreciate even this, she pointed outside to the bright sky. The climber gathered his things, explaining how she was not cursed, and does not experience the same burdens. She did not understand and he was accustomed to this.

He buckled his scabbard, walking towards the exit.

Furious voices accosted him. Stop coward! We are safe here!

He continued, speaking, sometimes only to himself.

He spoke of being infused with sadness and a storm-wracked perspective. How he may not keep company with the happy. That he climbed alone, wearily, whilst others may settle.

And how monsters do not scare one who contends with such demons.

Thus the man who had been ascending the Mountain Of Hope charged past the frightened villagers, sword drawn, towards their enemy.