Category Archives: General Fiction

Gold

Sascha limped into the bar and took a table where she could sit with her back to a wall facing the door. A young girl came and deposited a mug of beer on the table. Sascha used a scrap of sleeve wetted with beer to clean the blood from her face. The girl appeared again and left a cleaner cloth. Shascha smiled thanks and went back to her ablutions. She drank what was left of the beer and settled in for a long wait.

A polished steel shield hung on the wall. From what she could see of the bartender in it he looked more troll than human. Sascha wondered what he thought of her. She knew even with her best efforts, blood caked in her eyebrows and hair, turning fiery-red dark. Fortunately none of the cuts and tears in her clothes were in places which could cause trouble.

Well after moonrise, Jacko slid into the seat across from her. The room had filled up and they were able to talk under the boisterous crowd.

“What happened to you?”

“A couple of bravos thought they needed my purse more than I did.”

Jacko winced, “Did you have to let them bleed all over you?”

“One thought he could hold me while his partner finished me. I had to cut his throat.” She shrugged. “It was messy.

“They must have been desperate.”

“I wouldn’t know.”

“After all that you didn’t even check their purses?”

“Whatever else I might be I am not a thief.”

“You could have taken enough for some new clothes.”

Sascha stared at him until Jacko looked down.

“OK, OK, You’ll do anything for gold but steal it. I don’t get you, Sasch.”

“You don’t need to get me.” She leaned forward across the stained wood of the table. “Did you get the information I asked you about?”

“I did, the old man’s holed up in the old monastery outside the south wall.”

“Thanks” She dropped a handful of coins on the table. “Buy yourself a decent meal.”

Her stained and ragged clothing helped Sascha blend into the shadows well enough the guards didn’t notice her climb over the south wall. The moon shone bright enough to reveal handholds, but not so bright as to make her stand out. She reached the bottom and stretched out the cramps in her hands.

The place was more ruin than monastery. Walls and roofs now jumbles of stone. The only building still standing was the crypt for the monks who never left their retreat even in death. She pushed on the door and found it barred from the inside. She smiled, neither corpses or ghosts had any reason to bar the door. With the blade of her thinnest knife she lifted the bar and eased the door open.

The faint gleam of moonlight didn’t show anything but dust and bones. She entered the crypt and followed the faint scent of cheese. An old man waited for her.

“Robson sent you.”

“He wants the stone.”

“Ah,” the old man nodded. “Want some cheese?”

Sascha shrugged and took the chunk of cheese from his hand. She bit into it and almost cried at its sharp flavour against her tongue.

“There is water if you wish to clean up.” He tossed her a bundle of cloth. “My fellows won’t mind if you borrow a robe. The smell of death disturbs me.”

“You’re afraid of dying?” Sascha asked through the splashes of water on her face.

“No.”

“I was hoping you would be. ”

“So I would just give you the stone?”

“I don’t want to kill you.”

“But you will if you have to.”

“I will do what I need for Gold.”

The old man looked at her sadly.

“I don’t see greed in your eyes.”

“Nonetheless.”

He reached into his robe and puled out a tiny bundle wrapped in silk.

“Silk is the only substance that the stone won’t effect. Be careful.” He handed it to her.

Sascha allowed the silk to move from the stone and touched it against a bone that lay on the floor. It turned into pure yellow gold.

“Why?”

“You are at the very edge of darkness. I didn’t want to push you over.”

“Then you understand.”

“Goodbye Sascha, you’re almost free.”

“Without Gold, I will never be free.”

“Remember the silk.” The crypt went dark.

Sascha found herself outside the crypt. She shook her head and patted the small weight of the stone in her pocket.

######

Robson was waiting for her in the room he called his throne room.

“You have it?”

“Gold first.”

He snapped his fingers and one of the thugs beside him pulled a little girl from behind Robson; her hair the colour fine gold.

“Mommy!” the girl cried.

“Hi Gold.”

Robson took the little girl’s hand and kept her from running to her mother.

“The stone first.”

“This is the last time,” Sascha said holding up the tiny bundle.

“Sascha, Sascha, you can trust me. Let me see the stone, then we’ll talk.” He let go of Gold and the girl ran to her mother.

Sascha tossed the stone to Robson and swept up Gold in her arms. She used the bit of silk to wipe the tears from her daughter’s eyes.

Cheese and Whisky

Joe leaned his cane against the counter and put the kettle on for tea. He put some biscuits on a plate and sliced some cheese to go with it. After a moment’s thought, he put a jar of jam out as well. Cups and plates completed the setting. The door bell rang; he took a final glance at the little kitchen. It would do.

He picked up the cane on the way to the front door. A young women stood on the other side of the door. Everyone looked young to Joe now, but she couldn’t be thirty yet. Youth glowed in her red hair and blue eyes. She smiled when she saw him. Joe liked that, even better were the faint smile lines around those blue eyes. He revised his estimate of her age upwards a decade.

“Hello, Mr. Baldur,” she said, “My name is Gina, I talked to you on the phone yesterday.”

“I remember,” Joe said and opened the door, “Come on in. I’ve put water on.” He led the way back to the kitchen. She put her purse under her chair and laid a pad and pencil on the table.

“Do you mind if I tape the interview?” Gina asked, “It’s helpful to make sure that I don’t misquote you.”

“Fine by me,” Joe said, “What do you take?”

“Just milk thanks,” Gina said as she fished a tiny recorder out of her purse and placed it at the top of the pad. “Gina Stapopolous, interviewing Joe Baldur, January 28, 2010 at his home. Anything you don’t want recorded just let me know and I will stop the recorder.”

“Thanks for coming by Gina,” Joe said, “It’s nice to have a new audience for my old stories.”

“I should start off with a few questions then. How old are you?”

“According to my birth certificate I am one hundred and fifty one this year.”

“That’s an extraordinary age Mr. Baldur.”

“Please, call me Joe.”

“OK then, Joe,” she said, “Do you have any other way of proving your age? It isn’t that I doubt you, but the oldest person on record is one hundred and seventeen and they live in a nursing home.”

“I’m afraid that anyone that might remember the day of my birth is long gone.” Joe smiled her. “I have no interest in trying to claim any record. I’m not interested in going through the media circus that would entail.”

“Yet you took my call and invited me here…”

“I wasn’t going to turn down the opportunity to have a pretty young woman give me her undivided attention.”

Gina laughed and marked a point in the air with her finger.

“So tell me what it’s like being your age?”

“Boring.”

“Boring?”

“Not many people are interested in the elderly anymore. Getting other people to take care of your parents or grandparents is big business. Put them in a safe place and get on with the important work of living. No one gives much thought to what it’s like for the old people who’re pushed to the edges. The last decent conversation I had was with the paper boy. He was collecting his money and told me all about the hockey tournament he’d played in on the weekend. That was five years ago. Now the paper is delivered by a girl in a car and I pay online for the paper.”

“Sounds lonely.”

“That too,” Joe admitted. He pushed the plate of biscuits toward his guest. “Help yourself.”

Gina took a biscuit and put a slice of cheese on it.

“So if you are bored and lonely, why live by yourself and not talk about your age.”

“All the fuss about my age would just add annoyed to bored and lonely. I don’t want to be Methuselah.”

“Methuselah?”

“The only thing anyone knows about him is that he lived to 969 years and was Lamech’s dad. That would be me. I would just be ‘the old guy’.”

“So, what do you want to be known for?”

“That’s a good question.” Joe took a long sip of his tea and looked up at the ceiling. Gina picked up the biscuit on her plate and took a bite.

“O my, this is good,” Gina said, “Where did you buy them?”

“I make them myself,” Joe said, “I can teach you how.”

“Really?” Gina gave herself a shake and looked at Joe. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to distract you from your answer. What do you want to be known for?”

“A baker of really good biscuits wouldn’t be a bad start,” Joe said, “Try the jam, it’s from the strawberries I grow out back.”

Gina dutifully spread some of the ruby red jam on her biscuit and bit into it. She closed her eyes and sighed.

“Heaven,” she said, “So what else can you do?”

“I make most of my own food from scratch,” Joe said, “It isn’t like I don’t have time to give what I’m doing my full attention.” He bit into his own biscuit and sighed.

“That sounds like good advice. My dad used to tell me something similar.”

“Sounds like he’s a smart fellow.”

“He is, but he lives on the other side of the country now and I don’t see him much.”

“Don’t have time?”

“He’s pretty busy too,” Gina said, “He’s always off golfing with his buddies.”

Joe just looked at her.

“All my friends are my age. They are just happy not to have their parents telling them how to live their lives anymore.”

“Yes, that is a weakness of the elderly.”

“Not just the old,” Gina said, “You wouldn’t believe how many times my girlfriend tries to tell me what to do with my life.”

“Is her advice good?”

Gina laughed, “Heck no, she’s into relationships like an alcoholic is into beer.”

“Right, so it’s about the effect not the taste.” Joe took another bite of his biscuit. “So you put up with bad advice from your friend, but not good advice from your father?”

“Just because he’s older doesn’t mean the advice is better.”

“True.” Joe got up and opened the fridge, pulled out a tiny block of cheese and brought it back to the table. He carefully cut a slice. “Try this.”

Gina took the tiny sliver of cheese from him and popped into her mouth. Joe watched as something close to ecstasy passed across her face.

“What is that?” Gina whispered.

“That is a ten year old cheddar,” Joe said and passed her another sliver. “Some things, like cheese and whisky improve with age. If you have the patience and the knowledge to enjoy the difference.”

“And you’re saying that people are one of those things.”

“Some people, in the right conditions,” Joe said and cut himself a sliver of cheese. “I guess what I want is to keep improving with age.”

Gina looked at him and smiled.

“I think I could say the same thing.”

“It’s no easier at my age.” Joe cut her another slice of the cheese.

“But you manage.”

“I hope so.”

Gina pushed the stop button on the recorder. She looked at the blank pad that sat in front of her and picked up the pencil.

“You offered to teach me how to make these biscuits, how about you give me the recipe, then you can teach me how to make it work.”

“Only if you promise to make some for your dad and….”

“And?”

“Come back to visit me.” Joe looked at her, his heart thumping with nerves. He didn’t want to be disappointed again.

“I think I can promise you that,” Gina said.

Joe grinned, “I’m feeling a hundred years younger now.” He went to the cupboards and began pulling out bowls and ingredients. “The trick to good biscuits is in how you mix them…”

First Boy

This story was a response to a challenge to write about a first pet. I took a little different slant on the idea and come up with this.


 

The place smelled like a dozen dogs had peed in the corners; about right for a dog pound. Nicer than some places I’ve stayed. When you’re a pit bull you see a lot bad spots. The yard had real grass even. I was alone when they brought in a litter from a puppy mill. Sad cases every one of them. Breaks my heart how people abuse us in the name of having a pet.

One pup broke loose from the squirming mound drinking from their mom, and staggered over to the cage that divided us.

“Hello,” he said.

“Hey,” I said and eyeballed him from where I lay on my mat. The rest of the pups were black, but this one had black blotches on grey fur. Reminded me of this Aussie I once met. The kid had these crazy blue eyes. All pups have blue eyes, but I wondered if his wouldn’t glow a little when the humans turned off the lights.

“What are you doing?” He tried pushing his nose through the mesh, but the humans were onto that and it was too small for even his nose. I crawled over to put my nose against the mesh and we breathed each other in.

“Sleeping, kid.” I said after we’d done sniffing each other.

“Where are we?” He shook himself and peed on the floor.

“This is the pound,” I said, “The beginning for some, end for others. You might want to pee over on the paper there,” I pointed with my nose. “Humans are funny that way.”

“So what about the humans?” he said. “I don’t need ’em”

“Yeah, kid,” I said, “you do. I was only a little older than you when I got my first human. Boy came in and didn’t know a pit bull from a poodle, He wanted me on account of the black patch on my eye. It reminded him of some movie he’d just seen. I was going to be his very first pet.”

“What’s a movie?”

“Beats me, kid. Never seen one. Anyway they put a collar on me and he led me away on a leash. He named me Patch; proudest day of my life. I had no clue. The boy put out some of that paper in a box and a bowl of food and left me there. All night I howled in terror. I had no idea where I was or what was going on, and I missed my mom and my litter mates. The mom came and shushed me, then the dad came and yelled at me. The boy came after them and carried me up to his room. Don’t tell Mom. He whispered to me. I slept on his pillow. He took me outside in the morning to do my business on the grass.”

“I thought you said to do it on the paper?”

“On the paper when you’re inside and a pup, but outside the rest of the time. Nothing makes a human happier than a dog peeing on the grass.”

“Oh.”

I could see the wheels turning in the kid’s head. This pup was a smart one. He stumbled back to the pile and attached himself to his mother. She hardly had the energy to look at me. Poor girl was worn out, but then I was pretty worn out myself.

Woke up next morning to the sound of pee on paper and opened my eye to see the kid whizzing like a pro on the paper. He pranced over to me.

“Tell me more about humans, Patch.”

“Sure, kid.” I got up and stretched, then shook the cobwebs out of my head. Enough exercise for the day. I lay down on my mat. “Well, soon as I learned to pee on the grass, the boy started teaching me tricks.”

“What’s that?”

“That’s when a human tells you to do something silly, then gives you a treat, food usually, but I’d do tricks just to get him to scratch behind my ears. The boy, his name was Sam, taught me to sit, and stay, and rollover, simple stuff really. When I got good at those he started teaching me to shake a paw or play dead. We had this game where he’d put a biscuit on my nose and I’d balance it until he said Go then I’d throw it in the air and catch it. That game was my favourite thing in the world. Most of the time we just ran around and wrestled.”

“Wow,” The kid panted at me, a natural. “So, then what happened?”

“Sam went back to school. That’s some place all humans have to go. It’s like peeing on the grass. Doesn’t make sense, but they do it anyway. I waited by the door for him to come home and we’d go play in the yard or he’d take me for a walk. Every night I slept on his bed.”

Thinking about those days made me want to howl like a puppy. You can’t go back, you just can’t go back. The kid wandered off and piled into his litter mates, and left me with my thoughts. If I could only do that one thing over again. I closed my eye and snoozed a while. To be honest, just watching that much energy made me tired. Hadn’t thought about Sam in ages. Even if humans didn’t grow as fast as us, he’d be a lot older; maybe even finished with that school thing.

The door opened, and some humans came in. A little girl ran over to the cage with the puppies.

Look, aren’t they cute?

The kid pulled himself out of the pile and wobbled over to her.

He’s an unusual colour, looks like a seal.

He’s a catahoula.

Well, wouldn’t you know, the kid’s something more than an odd looking mutt.

Can I pick him up? Please?

The pound human opened the door of the cage and put the pup in the girl’s arms.

“Remember, pee only on the paper!” I said to him. I know what pups are like when their excited. Sure enough he wriggled away from her and went to pee on the paper like a champ. She picked him up again when he came back.

“Lick her face, kid,” I said. “They can’t resist that.”

He did what I said, and the girl laughed. Sam used to laugh like that. I put my head on my paws and watched them.

I want this one, Mom.

Are you sure? We haven’t looked anywhere else.

Please, Mom? I want this one. I’ll call him Patches.

Ok, Sue, if you want.

You’ll have to wait a week for him to be weaned and get his first shots…

The adult humans walked away while the girl cuddled the pup. A little while later they came back. They put a collar on the Patches, then left. The girl walked backwards out the door waving at him.

The pup came running over to me.

“Did you see that?” he said. “This thing feels funny.” He scratched at the collar.

“Wear it with pride, Patches,” I said. “The collar tells the humans that you belong.”

“Wow.”

“Listen, Patches,” I said. “I have to tell you something, so you don’t make the mistake I did.”

He sat down and wagged his tail at me.

“Sam took me for a walk one day. I was grown by then. Humans grow slower than we do, so Sam wasn’t much bigger. We met another kid. He was bigger than Sam. I could tell Sam was afraid of him. The other kid came over with his friends. They yelled at Sam and pushed him around. I growled at the kids. Sam told me to stop. One kid laughed at Sam and punched him in the face. I bit the kid.”

“That’s brave,” Patches said.

“No,” I said, “it was bad. We mustn’t bite a human. We can growl or bark, but we can never, never bite, especially a young human.

“The kids ran away screaming and Sam took me home. Later that night a human came and took me away from Sam. They brought me to a place like this one. I went off with another human. He liked me cause I was a pit bull. He tied me on a chain and left me in his yard. I think I went a little crazy. Another human bought me and put in a worse place. I don’t want to tell you, or I’ll give you nightmares.”

“Is that when you lost your eye?”

“Yeah,” I said, “my eye and more than a little of my soul.”

“So pee on the grass and don’t bite,’ Patches said and panted happily.

“That about sums it up,” I said. “Just make your human happy.”

The week went by in a flash. Patches went off with his girl and the rest of the pups went too. Even the old girl went to a new home. I ate my meals, did my business on the grass though the humans had to help me out there. The place stank of pee, but I didn’t care. There were worse places. I’d been to most of them.

I dreamed Sam put a biscuit on my nose. We stared at each other. All the horrible things melted away. Every part of me waited for that magic word. The one that would make everything right.

Go!


 

The Heron Master and other stories is live!

I’ve released my sixth book, The Heronmaster and other stories with an amazing cover by Wil Oberdier. Check out samples of a couple of the stories on the page link above. If you sign up for my Newsletter, the first twenty people will get a free ebook of the Heronmaster in the format of their choice. The Newsletter will contain a story, a book review and some writing tips and some other goodies. All of this will be exclusive first release to the members of my newsletter list. Sign up by clicking the Newsletter link above.

 

Cover Reveal for The Heronmaster

leaperalex2015leaperstale10My newest book is a collection of stories. The title story follows the life of a frog who must do the impossible to protect his pond. We also follow the adventure of a wolf who is forced to play detective to learn the fate of a bull moose. Two other stories round out the book bringing meteors and red balloons into character’s lives with unexpected results. Look for it Novemember 10th on Amazon and other ebook sellers. The hard copy version will be available by the end of November through Lulu.

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The Conspiracy of Silence

3D

Title         –        THE CONSPIRACY OF SILENCE

Genre      –        Mystery/thriller

ISBN        –       978-1517190316

Excerpt link: http://goo.gl/kYhj92

Book trailer link: https://goo.gl/wZ4F3g

Synopsis    

The conscience of a town steeped in sexism, vanity and hypocrisy is pricked by the brutal murder of a mysterious woman in a park in Los Angeles. But the shock is transformed into a steamy, seductive scandal when the body turns out to be that of Susan Whitaker, the flamboyant wife of the governor of California.

Soon, a dazzlingly intricate shuffle of volatile links leads the police to the delicate theory of secret lover/blackmailer, and to the indictment of Benjamin Carlton, Hollywood’s most influential black celebrity.

Then curious things begin to happen when Carlton’s ambitious girlfriend, Rita Spencer suddenly unearths the shocking secret that Susan Whitaker did not, in fact, exist. She little realizes however that her discovery of this colossal fraud is a mere curtain raiser to a chilling world of ugly skeletons dating back to the assassination of a U.S. senator in a Washington hotel sauna, skeletons connected to riveting sex scandals in high places, skeletons the FBI and political kingmakers will kill for…

                                                                                                                    Author pic

Author bio   –

Augustine Sam is a bilingual Italian journalist and an award winning poet. A member of the U.K. Chartered Institute of Journalists, he was formerly Special Desk editor at THISDAY newspapers, an authoritative Third World daily first published in collaboration with the Financial Times of London. He later became correspondent for central Europe. His poems have been published in two international anthologies: The Sounds of Silence & Measures of the Heart. One of his poems, Anguish & Passion, was the winner of the Editors’ Choice Awards in the North America Open Poetry contest, USA.

Augustine’s debut novel, Take Back the Memory, a contemporary Women’s fiction, received a Readers’ Favorite 5-star medal. His second book, Flashes of Emotion, a collection of poems, was the 2015 International Book Award Finalist. Augustine lives and works in Venice.

Social media:

Author website             –           http://goo.gl/A5jRnj

Author’s blog                –          http://goo.gl/VIRVmM

Twitter                            –          http://goo.gl/Yzan2G

Facebook                         –          http://goo.gl/W7W1Ta

Goodreads                      –           http://goo.gl/NjAxV9

Google +                          –          http://goo.gl/yruj3D

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Writing and Pain

The idea of the suffering artist is embedded in our culture and literature. Everywhere you turn there is the notion the creative person goes through a process of pain and agony to put what they are doing, be it painting, poetry or music out there for the world. In some cases suffering is essential in the discipline, anyone beginning to play guitar knows the pain of practice. Yet I think when people talk of the suffering artist, I think they are meaning some kind of psychic suffering that must happen to enable creation.

I went to a workshop where we talked about the need to balance anxiety and creativity. That we can’t create unless we embrace the anxiety. There is some truth to it for me, but one of our people shared that she can’t write unless she is happy and free of care. She goes through a process to shed the world in order to write. She proves that we have to be careful with generalizations. The pain I experience on a daily basis does nothing for my art but get in the way. Like my companion at that workshop I need to shed any focus on pain in order to write.

Still even if writing doesn’t cause us pain, at some point we need to write about pain. How do we do that in an authentic way if we have never experienced agony of body or spirit? I don’t know the answer to that question. I also don’t know many people old enough to be serious writers who have never felt an earache or toothache. We, as writers, need to extrapolate that pain into our characters, because whether or not we need to suffer for our art, it is essential that our characters suffer.

There are no great books in which the characters coast through their days with nothing to get in the way of their desires. If there were such books, few people would read them. Conflict is the heart of the story. The characters have to deal with one thing after another that keeps them from the thing they desire most. In a great book even that thing is a lie and cheat and by the end they must turn away to find something worthy of them.

So writing isn’t created by pain, but rather is about pain. I think the other disciplines are similar. Pain is secondary to the passion to create. The guitar player doesn’t focus on the aching fingers, but the joy of losing herself in the music. Painters seek to put themselves onto the canvass, but when they paint, they are only conscious of the process of painting. Art is not about suffering, but about life. That there is pain in life is unarguable, but we put that into our art to transform it and transcend it – as in the end our characters must.


 

The following story is a combination of one person’s setting and another person’s character. I blended them into this story. It starts abruptly since it picks up on the other authors stories. You can read the setting here, and the character sketch here. Please take the time to read them, not just because the story will make more sense, but because they are worth reading in their own right.

 

The glacier didn’t stay thawed long.

The woman’s cheery “Lovely day. Makes one glad to be alive, doesn’t it?” only reminded me that I had failed to keep that old man alive. He couldn’t enjoy this life. Here I was shovelling snow and complaining and he couldn’t do that. Maybe if I was faster, if I had seen him earlier in the day? I shook the thoughts out of my head. It was a waste of energy. I started counting my blessings. I had this new home to share with my new wife and soon a baby. She loved me and even tried to understand this greyness that descended on my mind when I wasn’t paying attention.

I couldn’t blame the woman. She didn’t know that being alive was the source of my grief. My life was my failure.

I shovelled snow and counted blessings until I could go into the house and smile at the woman who was sure I loved her. I patted her growing belly and made all the right noises as inside I danced on the edge of despair. I held her all night and held the wall of blessing up between me and the darkness.

She didn’t know that I went for lunch to that same neighbourhood. I talked to the men and women on the street. I listened to their stories. They told me about Jeremiah. He was old, they said, and lucky that he found someone to care at the end. I heard stories about people who lain frozen for days before anyone missed them. It was strange, but the more we talked, the less they wanted my money. I knew from what I’d heard that there was nothing I could have done to save that old man. My problem was that I couldn’t find anyway to save myself.

I was shovelling snow again, and wondering if I wanted to spend the rest of my life shovelling snow. The old woman came by she still dressed in the old coat and scarf, but she’d added a pair of hockey socks over her pants.

“Great day to be alive!” she said.

“Why?” I said, before I could catch the words and keep their bitter taste within my mouth.

“I woke up this morning,” she said. She planted her feet firmly on the sidewalk. “I nearly didn’t one morning. My daughter just happened to call and next thing I was in the hospital with tubes coming out of everything.” She laughed. “I was never so surprised. Now every day is a new adventure. No matter the weather, it is a good to be alive.”

“What if your daughter hadn’t called? What if they couldn’t save you?” My words poured out. I almost put my hands over my mouth to stop them.

“If is a very powerful word for being so little,” the woman said. “If can create worlds or tear them apart. You have be careful with it.” She poked my chest with her finger. “Be glad to be alive, because it is so sad if you are not.” She started herself into motion again and I watched her walk down the street to her home.

I went inside and made supper for us. My wife was at a doctor’s appointment. I still had to shake my head in wonder. Four months ago a wild night was a few drinks then a TV show. If she’d caught the bus, we’d never have met, but we did and a ride became a supper to say thanks. Supper turned into two and then into breakfast. The baby was a shock, but also a delight. Suddenly I was a married father to be and all because of a missed bus.

Except it went back further. I was driving because of Jeremiah. I didn’t want to be without my car if someone needed me. Jeremiah was the reason I’d met Gracie. If it weren’t for the old man, I’d never have had a family. No, if it weren’t for Jeremiah dying. I scribbled a note and went out for a walk. Gracie had the car.

My feet took me to my old neighbourhood. It was getting dark. Even this late in the winter it was cold. I waved at a couple of my friends, but they were busy finding warm places to sleep. None of them wanted to die like Jeremiah, but all of them expected to. The store was still empty, so I sat in the doorway and wondered why life had to be so complicated. I couldn’t imagine life without Gracie, but I couldn’t imagine not wanting to save Jeremiah. Were the choices really so stark? An old man’s death to bring me such joy as I allowed myself to feel?

I felt someone sit down beside me.

“You sent me home,” Jeremiah said, “You cared enough to stay with me.”

“But you died,” I said.

“Of course I died,” Jeremiah said, “It was my time to die. You made sure I didn’t die alone.”

“Does that matter?”

“You tell me.”

I pushed the tears away from my face. How much of my grief was for me and how much for Jeremiah?

“I’m sorry I wasn’t enough to save that man,” I said to myself.

“I forgive you,” I said back.

A little while later my car pulled up.

“I thought I’d find you here,” Gracie said. She came and sat down beside me and snuggled up to me. “Have I ever told you how much I love you?” she said. “You care so much about people.”

“No one more than you,” I said and wrapped my arm around her shoulder. I started counting my blessings; I was alive to care about Gracie, I was alive to care about Jeremiah’s friends. I was alive.

“You know,” I said, “it really is a good day to be alive.”

Writing Live

Writing is not just something that is accomplished in a lonely (read isolated) room alone. While it is important to have a space to write and to do the work needed to seperate good writing from bad, it is just as important for me to interact with people. Whether it is a pleasant arguement over a beer, or a less than pleasant discussion in the snow with a young person who apparently understands law better than ethics, being with people is how stories are created. I, at least, write live at least part of the time.

Musicians have studio time in which they polish and record their music. Each track is laid down separately and the best is chosen to be blended together into the final song. It is long exhausting work. I have my studio time in writing where I edit and rewrork a story until it shines exactly the way that I want it to.

Musicians also have live performances. They show up on stage with a play list and let it happen. They don’t get there without a lot of practice and knowing their craft, but once they start, anything can happen. Writers need that equivalent kind of space. It isn’t an excuse to be sloppy, but rather a chance to have less distance between them and their audience. Blogs and quick stories posted on challenge web sites are the live performances for writers. It isn’t extemporaneous, but it is raw. There are more opportunities to make mistakes, or wonderful discoveries.

This web site will be a vehicle for you to access some of the final work that came from years of obsessing over a single story, but it will also be a chance to read work that was written quickly for a certain situation in response to a particular challege.

So, having made you read three hundred words to get here. I should show you what I mean by a piece that was written ‘live’. This story was written because the challenge was to write a story about a hole.

 

The Vacant Lot

The pit in the vacant lot was blocked off with steel fencing and yellow police tape. Frankie could just see a small patch of the bottom of the hole. It was muddy. Even with all the police and rescue people that had been down there there were no footprints. Just the mud that covered everything and everyone that had come out of the pit.

The vacant lot had been their playground. Sure, the grass was mostly weeds and anthills and the broken brick and concrete made their baseball games potentially lethal, but there was no other place for them to play. The sere grass and dust were the essence of summer for the gang.

Frankie had always lived on the street with the vacant lot. Ralph and Chrissy had moved in so long ago that he couldn’t remember them not being there, though he could remember the big truck parked in front of their house. Others in the gang came and went as their parents’ fortunes ebbed and flowed. They weren’t so much a gang as driftwood cast on the beach of lost jobs and messy divorces.

It started changing when Joseph moved in with his parents. They both had jobs, they were still in love with each other. Joseph stayed Joseph, not Joe. A contractor’s trailer pulled up in front of his house and workmen carried tools and lumber into the house. A few months later they carried their tools and paychecks out. Frankie’s ma was curious about what they’d done, but no one was ever invited in.

Chelsea’s parents had their house gutted and rebuilt before the moving trucks arrived with endless amounts of furniture and boxes. A couple of the neighbours went by with pies, but they weren’t let into the house.

Frankie thought of the little apartment he and his ma lived in. He could count all the furniture they owned on his two hands. The Feingardens upstairs didn’t have much more. He knew because Mr. Feingarden invited Frankie up to watch baseball on an ancient television. Frankie would much rather play baseball than watch, but Mrs. Feingarden made amazing cookies.

Once the changes started, they just kept coming faster. One by one members of the gang vanished as homes and apartment buildings were sold and made into fancy houses. By the time Fall came and school started it was only Frankie, Ralph and Chrissy.

School was OK, Frankie thought. His ma always kept on him about how he needed an education to get anywhere in life. Problem was that Frankie couldn’t think of anywhere else he’d want to go. He went to class and did his homework because it made his ma happy, and life was just easier when Ma was happy.

This year it was different, just like everything in the neighbourhood. There were a bunch of new kids, but they didn’t act like new kids. There was no shyness or wondering how to fit in. They wore new clothes and carried new pencils and books. They only talked to each other too. By the time the bell rang at the end of the day, Frankie was feeling like he was the new kid. He met Ralph at the doors and watched as shiny new cars came and collected the new kids.

“It ain’t right” Ralph said. “Chrissy went to talk to that girl who moved in next door and the girl laughed at her. Chrissy’s been sniffling all day.”

“We’re like new kids in our own school,” Frankie said, “Everything’s changed while we weren’t looking.”

“I never thought I’d live anywhere else,” Ralph said, “but there’s a ‘For Sale’ sign on our lawn.”

Frankie didn’t say anything. Chrissy came out as the last sleek vehicle glided away from the curb.

“I hate them,” she said, “I hope Dad sells the house soon and we can leave.”

“But then we’ll be new kids in a new school,” Ralph said.

“It won’t be any worse than this,” she said and ran down the steps and away toward her home. Ralph picked up her books and headed off after her.

“Get on home, Frankie,” Mr. Colomb said, “I’m locking up now.” He pulled a key from the huge bunch that he carried and twisted it in the lock.

Frankie shrugged and headed home. He walked on past his apartment to see if there really was a ‘For Sale’ sign on Ralph’s house. There was. He kicked at it until it fell down on the uncut grass.

“Hey there!” Ralph’s dad yelled from the porch. “You stop that.”

“Why do you have to move anyway?” Frankie said. “Isn’t this place good enough for you?”

“It’s gotten to be too good for the likes of us,” Ralph’s dad said. “I can get a good price for this dump and find a new home somewhere. It’s easier to be poor when you have money.”

That didn’t make any sense to Frankie, but he thought of Chrissy so he hoisted the sign up and stuck it back in the ground. It was crooked, but he didn’t care. Whoever bought the place wouldn’t care either. They would tear up the house and flatten the lawn. It would be one more step in making Frankie a stranger in his own neighbourhood.

He saw Ralph come up behind his dad, but Frankie didn’t want to talk to him. He didn’t want to talk to anyone right now. He ran down the street until he reached his home. The door was locked so he went up to the Feingarden’s.

“You look like you lost in the ninth,” Mr. Feingarden said. Frankie didn’t say anything. He wasn’t sure that his voice wouldn’t betray him. He was in sixth grade. He was too old to cry over something like a stupid house being for sale. Fortunately Mr. Feingarden was quite happy to do the talking for the both of them.

School didn’t get any better. Frankie went to class and tried to learn, but even the teachers were changing. They wore shirts and ties or dresses instead of golf shirts and slacks. Frankie was moved from the front seat to the back. Mac the bully was his desk partner.

Last year Frankie would have been terrified. This year he just sat and listened as Mac complained how he had to work in the family store now. His mom wanted a new kitchen; so they fired the girl who worked for them and Mac did her job.

Frankie listened to Mac’s endless complaints all through September and into October. Ralph’s house sold and the moving van collected their furniture and drove away. There was no one to meet at the vacant lot, so Frankie hadn’t gone by it for a few weeks.

He didn’t know why he decided to go to the vacant lot. None of the new kids ever went there. He didn’t recognize the lot when he go there. All of the grass and rubble had been scraped away and a snow fence wound in a ragged circle around the deep hole in the middle of the lot. A ‘Sold’ sign stood at a tilt in front of the fence. Frankie kicked and pulled at the sign until he got it loose. Then he threw it over the fence into the hole.

At school the next day Frankie overheard some girls talking.

“This really rich guy has bought the vacant lot.”

“It’s about time, that place was an eyesore.”

“You sound just like your mom.”

“Well, my mom said the man who bought the lot plans to build a mansion there.”

“A mansion, on that dinky lot?”

“It will be the fanciest house on the street.”

“Oh great, Mom will want to redo the kitchen again.”

“Why? It’s isn’t like she cooks or anything.”

“Like your mom does?”

“No, the maid does the cooking.”

Frankie felt sick to his stomach. Maids? Mansions? He didn’t know the place he grew up anymore. He thought about the worn linoleum on their countertop and the kitchen table with the folded paper under one leg to keep it from wobbling. He tried to imagine a different kitchen, but he couldn’t do it. Even though the girls didn’t even care that he existed, he turned red with shame.

After school, he walked home dragging his feet. Mr. Feingarden was sitting on the step reading a letter. He looked like he did the time he had the heart attack and Frankie’s mom called the ambulance. He stared at Frankie like he didn’t recognize him then slowly climbed the stairs without saying a word.

Frankie found his ma sitting at the table looking at a letter. He could see the tracks of tears running down her face. When she saw him she folded up the letter and dried her face on her apron.

“What’s wrong?” Frankie asked.

His mother let out a long sigh and just looked at him.

“They sold the apartments, Frankie,” she said finally, “We have to move in a month.”

“Where?”

“I don’t know,” she said, “There’s nothing in the papers. Nothing we can afford anyway.”

Frankie felt like smashing something, but suddenly everything in his home looked incredibly precious. Instead he went to the stove and turned the heat on under the kettle.

“I’ll make you some tea,” he said.

His ma half laughed and half cried before she smothered him in a hug. He thought that he was too old to be hugged by his ma, but no one was watching so stood there and let her hug him. He even put his arms around her and hugged her back. Maybe he wasn’t so old after all.

He went downstairs later with the garbage to throw in the dumpster. It had started raining so he ran around the building and tossed the bag on top. When he turned to go back inside he saw a light by the vacant lot. Frankie turned up his collar and walked over to the lot.

A man in a suit had pulled the fence apart and was standing with an umbrella in one hand and a roll of papers in the other.

“Hey, kid,” The man shouted and waved at Frankie. Frankie slipped through the gap in the fence. “Here, hold the umbrella,” the man said and pushed it at Frankie. He held the umbrella over the man and his papers.

“You see this hole?” the man talked loudly like he thought Frankie was stupid. “I was going to build my house here, but the lot is too small.” He pointed back toward Frankie’s home. “So I bought up those old apartments. I’ll tear them down and build there.”

“What about the people who live there?” Frankie said.

“Not my problem,” The man shrugged. A gust of wind caught the papers and blew them toward the hole. The man tried to catch them but slipped on the edge and fell to the bottom. Frankie heard the splash then a shout of pain.

“Kid,” the man shouted, “Go get help, I think I broke my back. Hurry! The water’s getting deeper.”

“Not my problem,” Frankie shouted at him, then he let the umbrella go and watched the wind blow it away.

By the time he reached the road, he couldn’t hear the man’s shouts anymore.