Flash Fiction I Pulled From an Old Freewrite When I Wasn’t Feeling It

[Who says freewriting’s worthless? I had nothing today. Zero. I was forced to do constructive domestic things like grocery shop and organize because the etymological muse refused to show. Hearty applause from my husband and children… milk is IN the house.]

Novel update: 22K words. I just signed up for a July NaNoWriMo cabin with a goal of 30K words in July. That is slightly terrifying to me because of all the no’s I imagine I’ll have to say in order to get anywhere near that mark.

email

The Email

She checked her email like always, a quick swipe to see if there was anything good. Checking email was like playing scratch off lottery cards: 99 times out of a hundred, she got worthless promotions and spam, but every so often she’d hear a poem was accepted in some journal or another and it would electrify her soul. Truth was, the English 161 adjunct teacher of Lakeland Community College was a social media junky on par with most of her students. So it was no surprise, ten minutes before class, she swiped on her phone.

Some students were already at their seats, heads in books or phones. The front-row types. Glasses. Carrying around mini libraries. Pencils grafted to their hands, gripped and poised an inch above the paper, awaiting academic revelation. How she loved the sound of pens and pencils, wrestling up and down the paper like Pinocchio’s lie detector. When they scribbled she could believe they hung on her words, gorging themselves on Dickenson. When the lead whispers became faint, this will be on the test would get them hissing again.

Faint scuffs and coughs were the only sounds now. Most students would wander in five or ten minutes late. Miss Tesler made it a point not to look into the high rows until at least ten minutes after starting time. She’d lecture of course, her focus on podium notes or the Powerpoint or on the front row types whose eyes trailed her every move. Love you front row types.

An email caught her eye.

The sender’s name was familiar. Neurologicalzombie. Ridiculous and infantile, but memorable. The hair stood up on the back of her neck immediately. Then the first words: You call yourself a teacher, Tesler? Opening it would not be a good idea, she knew, because she had to focus on her lecture, and with a first sentence like that, it wasn’t going to be a song of praise.

How she wished she’d left it. She figured it would be the usual expletive-laced, mono-syllabic, grammar-challenged complaints she received on a regular basis, but this one– if letters had flavors like ice cream cones, this was a triple scoop of insane.

Scanning the vicious, child-like, mixed up phrases filled her with horror. She wanted to run off to the restroom where she could study the words and not worry about holding her expression steady. She wanted to read until the email became something else, some misunderstanding. She searched for lol or jk to stay her unspooling guts.

She had no choice but to close the laptop and start class. Running home, bolting the door, buying another dog– a Doberman, and a gun, and requesting 911 send a personal contingent to surround her house 24-7 was not an option. Feeling safe, not an option. Feeling safe would never again be an option for Miss Tesler.

She yanked out her attendance sheet with a flair her students mistook for down-to-business, tore out the roster and held a quivering pen over the empty boxes.

“Adams, Marilyn.”

“Present.”

Last Will & Testament of a Mind Reader

lastwillI, Fred Mynes, of Lunati County, Ohio, declare this to be my last will and testament and hereby revoke any and all Wills and Codicils at any time heretofore made by me.

I declare that I am not married and have no children, and that this state of existence is a direct result of my ability to read minds. The mind book opens when I touch someone, so I’ve learned to prevent touching at all costs. Mom, Dad, my sisters… all of them touched me at one time or another. It’s a relief to have them gone, but it makes the bequeathing process more of a reach. I’m practically that dude who bequests his million dollar estate to a waitress, except I don’t have a million dollars. And I don’t eat much– I mean out much. I have a cat and a car, last I knew.

I direct that any and all funeral expenses be paid out of my estate, that my body be cremated and my ashes dropped from the top of the Twin Towers in New York. And I don’t want any lip about it. All things are possible to them that believe. Jesus said that. And it’s my dying wish. Dying wishes take precedence.

I hereby confirm my intention that my estate be bequeathed to the following individuals, each of whom have minds worthy of their respective gifts. I should know; I’ve read them the way you’re reading this now.

I give Dee Holme, absolutely and in fee simple, my cat, Kiskable. We met in the checkout line of PetCo back in ’89. Remember, Dee? You were getting a new pair of clippers for Fluffy because the others got dull, and clippers can’t be sharpened, you said. What a waste, you said. And you said, no cat should be tortured with de-clawing– it’s like having your fingertips ripped off at the first knuckle. Goosebumps, Dee. I was buying fish flakes and I didn’t expect you to touch me, but you backed into me while I was distracted by beta fish. When I read your mind, I saw all the cats. You tried to keep up with them, but there are only twenty-four hours in a day. I should have known something was fishy when you said your old nail clipper got dull. One cat or even several cats don’t dull a nail clipper. It takes dozens of them to do that.

…I bequeath my cat to Dee because I know she won’t refuse. Just be sure to use the cat carrier, no matter what the vet says. I’ve been peed on more times between the parking lot and the vet office. The last straw was when my vet advised against using the carrier because it was too cold outside. I protested. Kiskable peed on me every time she came under the canopy of sky, such was her irrational fear of the outdoors. The vet pushed on Kiskable’s bladder. Totally empty, he said. She’ll be warmer in your coat.

That was a leather jacket.

The vet (I used rubber gloves so I wouldn’t see his mind) is buried behind the Salvation Army, just few feet into the wooded area. I give him absolutely and in fee simple to the state of Ohio for investigative purposes.

I give Rob Hurr, absolutely and in fee simple, my Ford Festiva. It’s dinged up like a smallpox survivor, but it runs good. We met at the Seven Eleven, remember? You pulled an airsoft pistol with a painted tip and– until you struck me with it, I thought it was real. Just the first digit of your middle and ring fingers swept my temples as you raked the gun across my skull. Yes, I blacked out, but not before I got a good look at you. Your mind, that is. I figure you could use some solid transportation, nothing flashy in your neck of the woods, just something to get around. Sounds nuts that I’d want to reward you after what you did to me. But I saw you before the world threw you down the way it does sometimes.

Your daddy didn’t mean to orphan you. The blood spout surprised him as much as her, so slippy was the pistol in his hand. Slick like life. Your daddy was just waving it around trying to scare her so she’d know what being scared felt like, and mark this– being next to someone afraid is the most dangerous place on planet earth. I should know. I read minds. So absolutely and in fee simple, I give my car to Rob because I believe in the redemptive power of humanity unless a leather jacket is involved and have always considered my Ford Festiva a safe place. Hope you do, too. If you find any cat toys under the seats, kindly forward them to Dee Holmes.

I give Dr. Kiehl, absolutely and in fee simple, my shoe laces. He took them away when they admitted me, and put his (he thought) comforting hand on my shoulder after I warned him not to touch me in any way or I’d know everything about him. The man speeds, to the tune of fifteen miles/hour over the limit. Therefore, I direct that Dr. Kiehl be eaten in small bites by thousands of carpenter ants over a period not to exceed three months, equivalent to my time here. Don’t give me lip, either. All things are possible to them that believe. Jesus said that. I just need a little help from my friends in Block B for Bad. Not my name. The nurses came up with it long before I got here. Just coordinate your efforts and tie him down, those of you who have shoelaces. Then the ants will come. It’s my dying wish, and dying wishes take precedence.

It’s been a hoot doing all this directing and bequeathing– feels a bit heady, like I’m God or something. I like controlling stuff so much that I’ll be enacting this document as soon as I finish it. You’ll find it stapled it to my gown. (Please return the stapler to Dr. Kiehl’s office.)

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have signed my name on this 30th day of June, 2016, declaring and publishing this instrument as my Last Will in the presence of these witnesses and others present but not visible to the naked eye.

Fred Mynes, Testator

Witness: K. Ray Sea, Room #14, bed A

Witness: Lou Ni, Room #3, bed A

The Red Barn*

Jude could barely guide his truck off to the side of the road, so intense was the jack-hammering of the steering column. The vibrations rocked him all the way up his arms and clattered his teeth like plates. Jude knew instantly what happened. He’d just rolled his eyes about it a few days ago. But did it have to happen in the snow?

“Bald as bedrock, Jude. You gotta change ’em tires,” his father wagged his finger at Jude, same as he did to the dog when he’d chewed up a shoe. On the umpteenth finger-wagging, Jude indulged himself in a little dream of ripping that calloused old finger out like a weed.

“What’s wrong with you, Jude? You on drugs?” Jude rolled his eyes and stomped out the door.

That was not even a week ago. Now Jude needed that calloused finger and the other nine to help him change the tire on his ’95 Ford pickup truck he bought for less than what it would cost him to buy proper tires, but he bought it sans Father and at the time that was all that mattered. The thought of calling his father now turned Jude’s stomach into a cauldron of needles. When he scrolled down his favorites, he passed Mom to get to Pisshead and hit the field to dial.

“You know the Browns are on, don’t you?” His father didn’t do hello.

“Yeah, um, sorry Pop. I didn’t realize the time.”

“Well, what d’you want?”

“My tire blew out.”

“Oh Jeezus-H-Cries you friggen imbecile…” and on it went. Jude held the phone at arm’s length so the words became bugs without stingers that missed his ear entirely and whizzed off into the air.

When his father stopped for breath Jude nearly shouted, “I’m at 58 just over the hill past the BP station,” and hung up.

Jude was on his way home from Buehler’s Hardware & Handy when the tire blew. Jude’s ignorance on all things home repair turned frustrated, coiled customers into exploding Roman candles. All they wanted was someone who could tell them what they needed to fix the damn X or seal the damn Y or for-God’s-sake! Don’t you know anything, boy? Where’s Buehler?

“He’s out, sir.”

“Well, hell’s kittens! …you tell Buehler…”

Of course Jude would never tell Buehler. Buehler was down the road at the internet gaming cafe slaying his dragons. The slaying urge would come randomly as far as Jude could tell. Buehler would be practicing his magic trick on customers, using his amiable and self-effacing manner to fool them into thinking they’d Sherlocked their own way out of their home repair problem. They’d known all along what they needed (and wasn’t it a beauty? nothing but the highest quality) –thanks, John Buehler. Customers left Buehler’s with the most essential home repair product: confidence. I just knew I needed an X.

At 16, Jude was no John Buehler when it came to home repair. He could take the money and make perfect change; he could work the credit card machine and carry a 50 lb. bag of bird seed and sling it in the trunk with a smile. Heck, Jude could recite the Pythagorean Theorem and the Quadratic Equation from memory but please, for the love of honey and hate of bees, don’t ask about home repair.  

Jude knew when the store was about to be bequeathed to him. Like earthquakes, he didn’t know what triggered them, but once begun, Jude could sense the course of events like a seismograph sensing earth’s nerves. Buehler would get introspective, even when a customer was in the store. It only took a few minutes for him to slide away into another place, a glitzy room where Lady Luck did her lap dance on his eyeballs.

Next thing you know Buehler would amble to the door in a forced casual way like he really wanted to sprint.

“Take over, Jude. Back in a jiff,” and the jiff would be till past closing. That was how John Buehler tossed control of the whole store to Jude as if it was just the most natural thing in the world.

At twenty minutes past closing time, Jude would turn the open! sign to closed, turn off all the lights, and leave the door unlocked because he didn’t have a key. John Buehler couldn’t run his own store and make it back at the same time. 100% off at Buehler’s, walk on in. This was the third time in two months. The next shift Buehler wouldn’t mention it. Jude wouldn’t either.

The cauldron of needles got a dollop of jellyfish stingers when Jude saw his father’s dinged-up Volkswagen Jetta crest the hill. He could always tell the car because it had circles for lights which none of the other cars had. The car suited his father.

“Jude! D’ya see this? Tire’s turned clean into dust! And you got gators all over the road… don’t just stand there, pick ’em up!” Jude protested he couldn’t learn how to change the tire if he didn’t watch his father do it. Besides, the pieces would get pushed off to the berm by the snow plow.

Pop wouldn’t hear it. “Not loosening a single lug till you get going on ’em gators. You should’ve done ’em while you were waiting.” He crossed his arms over his chest, oblivious to the puffs of vapor that gusted out and died off with each staccato word.

red barn in snowSo that was it. No tire-changing lesson. Jude saw the red barn while he was walking toward the last road gator, a chunk the size of a dog that probably tore off in the initial blowout. Jude could make out a barn the color of a scab, its red screaming against the white-washed field. Had the trees been wearing their verdant curtains, Jude would’ve missed it, but the brown tree bones let out the secret of the red barn.

Jude considered asking his father if he’d ever noticed it, but he was grumbling oaths as he wrenched the lug nuts tight. The words Monday night, sonofabitch, and football stood out clearly from the rest. Pop’s red nose dripped. Jude could see trails on his leather gloves where he’d been swiping away at his nose, trying to catch what the cold wanted to thrust from him. Next to his father’s hunched and grappling form stood Jude, hands clasped in a cupped prayer, head down, looking for all the world like a graveside mourner.

“There,” his father straightened up. Jude supposed his father felt he’d done his duty, that he expected a Thanks, Pop. Jude gave it, but not because he felt it. Jude gave the words the way you give weeds to the rotting compost pile. You give because what’s in your hands is worthless, but you believe in time and in ignoring things.

The End.

*This is an entry for my library’s creative writing contest. Please comment me on what’s confusing or what you’d like to see happen in the story. I have 400 more words to play with before I reach the limit! 😉 Tangential fact: this title is the same title as my novel-in-progress. This began as a scene out of my novel and grew into something else entirely. I wanted to nix the title so as not to confuse, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. So I’m also taking title suggestions.

 

 

 

Raising the Flag of My Dream

I have a dream.

No, it’s not as noble as Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream. But it’s mine and if I’m not here (either on social media or in the flesh), it’s because I have to run away and join the circus for a bit in order to accomplish it. Time in craft, you understand. Since May 10th I’ve been whittling away at this dream of mine. I abandoned it for a season because you can’t join the circus when you’re a young mother homeschooling four kids. Responsibility says I shouldn’t really join the circus now, but there will never be a time when it’s the right time to do a great thing.

Like all writers, I was first and am still, an ardent reader. Books open worlds. I remember reading Flowers in the Attic and crying and wishing I could fit myself into the pages of that dark and romantic world. I didn’t want the story to end, and in the hazy transition between the book’s end and reality’s beginning, I wrote my first voluntary essay: a passionate but poorly written commitment to creating worlds like the one on which I’d just closed the cover. Flowers in the Attic was blasted by Stephen King as having the literary weight of flatulence in his excellent nonfiction book, On Writing. Actually, that gives me hope. If FIA seemed spectacular to my untrained egg-of-a-mind, then perhaps my blast-worthy book will rock some other egghead out there. I steal hope crumbs wherever they’re left. I think a would-be writer must.

Since then I’ve wavered in my dedication. Writing fiction feels extravagant, especially when there are diapers to change, dinners to make, laundry to fold, money my time could be making… What’s the difference between a writer and a large pizza? A large pizza can feed a family of four. When I tell people I want to be a writer they look at me like I’ve sprouted a pair of antlers, and then I start to squirm. I know it’s not likely, yes I know it’s the quintessential pipe dream and yet– I must try. And why must I try? Because at some point I crested a hill and now writing is as much of a thrill ride as reading. I try because I have a suspicion God put a love for writing in me.

Which is why I’m posting. I don’t want to forget how it feels to have 12K words written of my novel (a veritable drop), that every day I come to the page with a pang of anxiety in my gut that there won’t be anything there, but every day I begin writing and something comes. Whether or not it’s any good remains to be seen. Common sense and the odds say my first novel will be worse than flatulence. I admit that makes me sad, sad because like everyone I don’t want to stink and sad because it’s sort of but not really a waste of time. I know… I know… it’s a writer’s right of passage, that first poorly-written novel. But petulant and prideful Kelly wants a fast pass like at Cedar Point. I want my first effort to be greatness.

Yesterday my writer friend and I were chirping on and on about writing like crazed birds, and it was almost as delightful as writing itself. She and I decided to take more risks with our writing (cue cringing husbands and families who don’t want the risks to involve them in any way …mwah ha ha). The risks to which we refer are the rejections that are also part and parcel of being a writer. Gathering one’s pile of rejections is an even more painful prerequisite to publishing than writing that first literary gas. Getting rejected isn’t like not placing in a race or losing a game. Writing is the insides of my mind, set on a pedestal like the bearded lady at the county fair. When it’s rejected I have to climb out of the ego canyon I just got shoved into, and it takes time and grit. My pile of rejections is nothing to brag about. But I keep collecting. I keep telling myself that the only difference between a good writer and a bad writer is the bad ones quit. I suppose you could apply that to any dream.

So my writer friend and I committed to getting rejected, and I thought I’d get the ball rolling by sharing my dream with you. It’s better this way because I don’t know if you see the antlers or not. And if I don’t follow though I know I’ll have to field at least a question or two from the handful of folks (I adore you BTW) who read this blog asking whether or not I finished what I started…