Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Flash Fiction Friday Challenge 9-15

So...it's been a while. But I figured I'd try to start back up (I know, I keep saying that I will be more consistent) and I thought I would start with a Flash Fiction Challenge from Chuck Wendig, over at Terrible Minds.

This week's prompt: The Fix. We were given a theme: "To fix something, you first must break it."

This is from the POV of a character in one of my WIP that I haven't explored too much yet, but I really like where this went.

Here we go:

Edison McIntyre is having an off day. He can’t figure out why, but there’s something definitely not quite right.
He follows his brother as he walks into school, keeping a safe distance. Normally Edison would be at his high school, instead of the middle school where Shai goes. But something compelled him to check on his brother today. Edison’s been gone for a while, but for some reason he’s having a hard time remembering where he went and why. And though he’s sure Shai will be happy to see him, there’s also a nagging in the back of his mind telling him that maybe he won’t. 
The halls are crowded, but nobody seems to notice him there. Which is strange because he stands a good seven inches taller than most of the kids here. But these pre-teens are too absorbed in their own melodrama and self-centered lives to notice anything outside of a radius bigger than themselves. 
Edison watches his younger brother, intently, trying to figure out what’s different about him. He looks taller, thinner, but not in a good way. He walks with a sense of purpose, but it seems forced. Edison can’t be sure, but it’s been at least six months since he’s seen Shai, maybe even longer. Time is a hard thing to pin down these days, it doesn’t seem to matter as much as it once did. 
The bell rings, signaling the start of homeroom, and Edison decides to wait until the next passing period to talk to Shai. He finds a spot under the nearest stairwell to hide so that he doesn’t have to have an awkward conversation with anyone about why he’s there. 
The bell rings ten minutes later and once again the halls are flooded with kids. Edison spots Shai and hurries to catch him. As he’s pushing his way through the crowd a kid walks right into him.
“Hey!” he says. “Watch it where you’re going!”
But the kid doesn’t respond. He doesn’t even acknowledge that Edison is there. He just keeps walking. Edison frowns. How strange. He looks back the other way and sees Shai about half down the hall. 
“Shai!” Edison shouts. “Hey, Shai!”
But his brother doesn’t seem to hear him. He doesn’t turn or look or show any indication of hearing Edison.
***
Somehow, he ends up at home around four. He tries to remember how he got from Shai’s school to home, but there seems to be some time missing. He’s standing in the foyer, just inside the front door. He can hear someone in the kitchen, so he heads down the hall. 
“Dude, finally, I’ve been trying to find you,” he says, when he sees Shai. “I’ve had the weirdest day.”
But Shai doesn’t say anything. He doesn’t look up from the sandwich he’s making. He doesn’t react at all. It’s as if Edison is invisible. 
“Bro, c’mon, I know you can hear me,” he says, smiling. 
But Shai still acts as if Edison isn’t there. 
“Shai?” Edison tries to shake his shoulder, but he doesn’t budge. Edison taps on his face and he can feel the contact, but Shai seems to feel nothing.
Shai turns and puts the knife in the sink. He pours a glass of milk, picks up the plate, and walks out of the kitchen. Edison follows him, wondering what the hell is going on.
Shai goes upstairs and stops just outside their parents’ room. The door is half open and he knocks softly before pushing it open and going in.
“Hey, mom,” he says, his voice quiet and soft. “I brought you something to eat.”
Edison sees a bundle of blankets in the middle of the bed stir and a head pop up. A raspy voice mumbles something that he can’t quite make out.
“You need to eat something,” Shai insists. “C’mon, just a couple bites.”
The raspy voice says something else and Shai’s shoulders slump. He sets the plate and glass down on the nightstand and he stares at the bundle of blankets for a few long moments. 
“I’ll be back in a while,” he says, with the kind of resignation no thirteen year old should possess.
“What’s going on?” Edison asks his brother as he passes by. “Shai! This isn’t funny.”
But his brother continues on. Edison is starting to freak out. This is has to be some sort of weird dream. A freakishly realistic nightmare. What else could explain it? But, more importantly, how does he fix it?
***
Edison follows Shai around the next day. He tries to get his attention every which way. He screams in his face. He tries slapping him, then when he can’t seem to make any sort contact, he throws a couple punches. Nothing works. 
Then he notices something else. Nobody seems to see him. He tests this theory out in several different ways. He walks into Shai’s classes with him. He does what he can to cause as much of a ruckus as possible. He bangs on the lockers in the hall and purposely runs into people. But no one reacts to him and no one sees him.
Half way through the day he gives up and sticks close to Shai. He racks his brain trying to remember anything from last several months. But there’s nothing there. The last thing he remembers is being at swim practice, back in July, and some crazy dad showing up with a gun. But he doesn’t remember how that ended. He doesn’t remember what happened next. 
There’s only one moment where Edison has a glimmer of hope. Towards the end of the school day, he stands at the end of the hall and screams Shai’s name as loud as he can. Shai is at his locker and, after a long moment, he looks right at Edison. But the glimmer of hope fades quickly because his brother looks at Edison with such horror that it knocks the wind out of him.
***
After school, Shai doesn’t go home. He takes the city bus half way across town, then walks half a mile to Calvary. Edison follows him through the wide, wrought iron gates, and across the sprawling green lawns. Shai walks between the headstones as though he knows exactly which one he’s looking for. He stops in front of a black granite headstone that gleams in the late afternoon sun and Edison has a bad feeling. He hesitates, not sure he wants to know who’s name is engraved there. But he already knows.
He works up the nerve to stand next to his brother and he looks down at the epitaph:
Edison Charles McIntyre 
April 19, 1990-July 17, 2006
Son and Brother, Always Loved and Never Forgotten 


Edison McIntyre isn’t having an off day. He’s dead.
***
The emotion hits him the gut, a hard blow that sends him staggering a few steps back. He's dead? But then, how is he here? How did he die? But as fast as the questions come, other answers begin to fall into place. The weirdness he sensed in Shai, his mother being in bed and refusing to eat, why nobody can see him. And then, a fragmented memory surfaces, sudden and painful.
He was at practice, at the pool, the last place he has any clear memory of being. The same practice that the crazy gun-wielding dad showed up to. He sees the memory play out like a bad dream. He moved in front of Shai, out of reflex, and the dad was shouting and going on and on about something. One of the security guards tried to get the gun away from him, but a couple of shots popped off. And then…nothing. That’s it. 
Edison looks at Shai and can see now what he’s been missing this whole time. The dark circles under his eyes, the hollowed out cheeks, the darkness resting just under the surface. He can almost feel the guilt and anger that consumes Shai, as though it’s palpable, monstrous thing. Tears soak his cheeks as he stares down at the headstone.
“I’m sorry,” he murmurs over and over again. 
Maybe the myths about ghosts having unfinished business are true. Maybe his brother is the reason he’s here, now, so suddenly. It’s clear to Edison that Shai blames himself for his death and that breaks his heart all over again. He can’t bear the thought that his brother is torturing himself like this.

He can’t waste any more time wallowing over his misfortune. Edison isn’t sure how, but he knows he will find a way to fix this. After all, he’s dead, not helpless. 
***

Let me know what you think, if you want :)

--TAP

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

NaNoWriMo 2016


A helpful calendar that escaspulates all the emtions felt during NaNo


Another November is upon us and with it comes NaNoWriMo. For those of you not in the know, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month and the premise of the challenge is to hammer out 50,000 words in 30 Days. It is chaos and, at times, takes some hard work and elbow grease to stay on task, but it's a good time.

This is my sixth year participating and hopefully my fourth year winning. Currentlty I am ahead of the game and sitting at 3,000 words.

As always, Chuck Wendig has some pretty spot on advice for NaNo and also some good life advice (funny how those two tend to go hand in hand). Check them out from the links below. :)

A pep talk:
NANOWRIMO PEP TALK: THE PURE FUCKING JOY OF GETTING IT ALL WRONG

http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2016/10/31/nanowrimo-pep-talk-the-pure-fucking-joy-of-getting-it-all-wrong/

Some NaNo advice:

A COOLING MIST OF NANOWRIMO-FLAVORED NOVEL WRITING ADVICE

http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2016/10/25/a-cooling-mist-of-nanowrimo-flavored-novel-writing-advice/

HAPPY WRITING WRIMOS!!

--TAP

Friday, July 8, 2016

Flash Fiction Friday: Insomnia

Well here we are with another Flash Fiction Friday from Terrible Minds. This week's challenge was to incorporate insomnia. A perfect prompt for me as the main character of my current WIP has fairly chronic insomnia. Here is the link to the post: http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2016/07/01/flash-fiction-challenge-insomnia/

Night Swimming



August is the worst month to do anything. Even the night air is hot and sticky as I ease out into the darkness. I’m sweating before I get on my bike and start peddling and by the time I reach the end of the block my shirt is soaked through with perspiration. The night is heavy with the silence of slumbering houses.  

I pedal on, riding the familiar streets until I reach the pool. The smell of Chlorine and sunscreen is a comfort. I lean the bike again the brick of the building and hop the chain-link fence. I check my watch: 2:30 AM. I strip down to my jammers, grab my goggles, and jump in the pool. The water is cool and refreshing.

The night swimming started back in June, but the insomnia has been a thing for almost a year. When I do sleep, nightmares plague me. I figure if I’m awake I may as well do something. Last winter, when the insomnia first became really bad, I watched TV or did puzzles or reorganized random rooms in the house. Anything to keep my mind occupied.

The night swimming has been the best solution so far. Ironic because I haven’t been able to set foot near a pool, let alone get in one, in the light of day. Not since last summer. When it became warm enough to ride my bike around in the dead of night, I would just pedal. I never had a specific destination in mind. The first time I ended up at a pool, I stared at the dark water through the fence for a long time before turning around and going home. That happened two more times before I hopped the fence for the first time.

I’d jumped in the water fully clothed. I’d forgotten how much I loved being surrounded by it, how calming it was. I floated there for a long time, letting the water embrace me. Somehow the darkness made the water seem less frightening. At night I couldn’t see any of the things that scared me. I only heard the sloshing of the water and smelled the chlorine.

This is the third night in a row this week I’ve snuck out to clear my head. Things at home have gone from bad to worse. At first Mom couldn’t stop crying. She didn’t sleep, she didn’t eat, she just lay in bed and cried. Dad finally got her sleeping pills and anti-depressants and whatever else you take when you have chronic sadness and no will to be a person anymore. Now, she either sleeps through the days or she wanders through the house in a drug-induced stupor.

Dad never comes home, claiming he has a lot of work to do with the new accounts he’s taken on at the office. Even when he is home, he’s not present. I know it’s because he doesn’t want to deal with my mom or me. He can’t even look at me, not since the funeral.  

I push off the wall and my mind clears of everything. It’s one of the best things about swimming, the nothingness that fills my mind as I churn out lap after lap. I keep up a steady pace for a while, tallying the laps as I go. Three hundred meters…five hundred meters…eight hundred meters…I go until I’m tired enough to stop.

I finally stop after four thousand meters. My arms ache and my legs burn, but it feels good. It’s the farthest I’ve gone in a single session.

“If you keep these kinds of laps up, you just might become an Olympic distance swimmer,” a voice behind me says.

I nearly jump out of my skin as I turn around to see who’s caught me. And then I know I must be losing my mind because my dead brother is sitting there.

“Seriously, dude, you’re building up some serious stamina,” he says as though we’ve been carrying on a conversation on the topic.

I rub my eyes hard and look again. He’s still there.

“Jesus, I need to get some sleep,” I mutter. “I’m going crazy.”

“You’re not going crazy,” he replies. “But you do look like shit, so you’re probably right about needing some sleep.”

I have to be hallucinating. My overworked brain is playing tricks on me as punishment for not giving it the rest it needs.

“You’re not hallucinating,” he says. “And before you ask, no I can’t read your mind.”

“Edison, you’re dead,” I tell him. “You died.”

“I’m aware,” he says.

I stare at him, at a loss for words. The fatigue of swimming and lack of sleep hits me head on, suddenly and violently, and I grip the edge of the gutter for support.

“I don’t understand. If you’re not a hallucination, then what are you?”

“A ghost,” he says, as though it should be obvious.

A ghost? Now I’m seeing ghosts? Maybe I really am asleep and I am just having the most realistic and bizarre dream. I suppose it’s better than the nightmares. How can you tell if you really awake? I know there are ways to determine the difference between a dream and reality, but my brain is moving too slowly to keep up.

“Shai,” my brother says. “You’re not dreaming. This is real.”

“How can it be?” I ask.

He shrugs. “No clue. But just because it doesn’t make sense doesn’t make it any less real.”

“Are you here to haunt me?” I ask, suddenly afraid that he’s come back for revenge.

He laughs. “No. I’m here to help you.”

I mull that over. I mean, a ghost? Perhaps if I hadn’t gone the last three days with very little sleep I would be more inclined to believe he was real and not some figment of my imagination. Is that all ghosts are? Extremely strong illusions that the mind makes up to help us cope with trauma? And why now? Why is he here now?

I’m not sure that I even believe this is actually happening.

“You can believe or not believe,” Edison says. “But either way, I’m here to stay for a while.”

I look at him, searching for words, but nothing comes to me.

“You really should go home and get some sleep.”

__

Any comments or thoughts are appreciated!

--TAP

Friday, June 17, 2016

Where is All the Love?




So I wanted to write a post on my thoughts of all the recent tragedy--especially in Orlando. However, there are many people who have already written on the topic and have done so much better that I'll be able to, so I'll leave it to them.

One post I would like to specifically point out is over at Terrible Minds and Chuck Wendig has some very good insight: http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2016/06/13/recipe-for-a-shooting/.  Check it out, it's worth the read.

Keep hoping and loving and believing in a better tomorrow. Even though there is a lot of hate in this world, there is also a lot of love and kindness.

--TAP

Friday, June 3, 2016

Flash Fiction Friday: It Starts With a Bang!

Okay, so I'm back with a Flash Fiction Challenge from Chuck Wendig.

Here is the link to the post: http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2016/05/27/flash-fiction-challenge-it-starts-with-a-bang/.

This week's challenge was to start with a bang, right in the middle of the action. Here it goes:



Jolie bangs the front door closed, wincing a little at the loud noise in the otherwise silent house.

“Denny?” she calls out. “Are you home?”

Her heart pounds as she waits, prays, for a reply.  The bad feeling she’s had in her stomach deepens. The car is in the driveway, so he has to be here. He was supposed to pick her from practice, but he never showed up. She called and texted him repeatedly, growing more worried with each unanswered call. 

Jolie rushes pass the dirty dishes stacked in the kitchen sink and takes the back stairs two at a time, dodging the shoes and books that litter them. His door closed, but she can light in the seam between the door and the floor. He’s sleeping, she tells herself. He fell asleep and just hasn’t woken up from the nap, that’s why he didn’t answer the calls or come to get her. Her heart pounds in her throat as she knocks loudly on the door.

Bang! Bang! Bang!

“Denny,” she says loudly, trying to keep the tremor out of her voice. “Are you in there?”

She bangs three more times, hysteria rising in her. She grasps the knob and opens the door, praying, praying, praying…

At first she doesn’t see anyone. Denny’s unmade bed is empty and the computer on his desk is off. Clothes and movies and books are strewn all over the room, as though a tornado blew through. Jolie picks her way through the mess around the bed and there he is, on the floor. Her lungs seem to deflate as all the air in her leaves.  The room tilts and she is lightheaded.

The blood pools under his arm, dark red, and dares her to move, to scream, to do something, anything. But she is frozen, unable to breathe or look away.  Blood stains his shirt and he is so pale that she is sure he must already be dead.  Her mind races with disjointed thoughts, but there are two she is able to grasp onto.

This first is that she needs to help him. The second is that this is her fault.

Jolie pulls out her phone and dials 911.

“I need an ambulance, my brother cut his wrists and he’s lost a lot of blood,” she says when the dispatcher answers.

Jolie gives the woman her address and answers the questions she asks. Is he breathing? She doesn’t think so. Does he have a pulse? A weak one. Was she home alone? Yes.  Where was her brother in the house? Upstairs, second room on the left.  The woman tells her that EMS is on the way, but Jolie isn’t listening anymore. She’s staring at Denny, watching the life literally drain out of him, and she feels so helpless.

Then she realizes she can do something. If she can slow the bleeding, then maybe there is a glimmer of hope that he won’t die. She tosses the phone on the bed, the dispatcher still talking, and she grabs the top sheet off his bed. She kneels next to him, flips his arms over as gently as she can, and presses the sheet against the long gashes that run nearly wrist to elbow. She is kneeling in the blood and the cuts are too long for her use only her hands. She lies across him and presses her forearms against his.

The blood is strikingly dark against the pale pallor of his skin. She looks at his face, willing him to hold onto the thread of life. She wonders how she and her siblings missed this in him. When their mother died five years ago, Denny took it the hardest.  But even then they never worried about him being suicidal.

Everything changed, though, nearly a year earlier. Jolie had begged him to take her to a party. Despite being three years older, she and Denny were very close. She had friends going to the party and after pestering him relentlessly he agreed to take her along. She and one of her friends had a beer or two and were flirting with some boys. They followed the boys to a room and she was feeling woozy, but she clearly remembers telling the boy no repeatedly. It didn’t matter, he and his friends had their way with her and her friend, then left them there to gather their clothes and their broken spirits.

She didn’t want to tell anyone. But Denny knew with one look at her that something was very wrong. She told him, sobbing through the story, and he took her to the hospital. They would have pressed charges, but Jolie didn’t know who the boy was and couldn’t remember enough details about him to pick him out of a line up.

Ever since then, Denny hadn’t been able to look at her.  Jolie thought at first it was because he thought of her differently, that she had disappointed him in some way. She told her sister this and her sister told her that he blamed himself for what happened to her. That he felt he had failed her and he couldn’t bear the thought that he had let something so horrible happened to her.

It was a ridiculous notion and Jolie tried to tell him so. But he could barely make it through the smallest of conversations with her. So she didn’t push the matter and months had passed. She’d wanted to tell him that it wasn’t his fault. That she loved him and that he couldn’t keep blaming himself. But she didn’t know how to get him to listen.

Now, as she presses her arms against his, willing him to live, she knows she should have made him listen. She should have done something to get through to him. There is banging on the front door, announcing the arrival of the EMTs, and Jolie, her heart banging against her ribs cage and covered in her brother’s blood, prays, prays, prays…

Any comments/critiques are welcome!
--TAP


Friday, May 13, 2016

Flash Fiction Friday

So there is a pretty cool dude named Chuck Wendig who has a blog over at: http://terribleminds.com/ramble/blog/. I highly recommend it as he talks about a whole host of things that are relevant and useful. (But fair warning, he likes strong language and is unapologetic about it, so if you are offended by swearing or creatively grotesque imaginings his blog may not be for you).

Anyway, every Friday he does Flash Fiction Friday. He gives a prompt and a word count and you go off and you create something. This will be my first time actually participating :)

So the challenge for this week was to go to: http://photo.net/photodb/random-photo?category=NoNudes and pick a random image and then write about 1,000 words to go with it.

I picked two because they both inspired a scene rattling around in my head:

Morning Fog

Dead Tree





Here is the story:




“Look at what The Creator is capable of, Jack,” Pandora says. “Look!”

I don’t want to look. I know what’s there. I know what The Creator does. But Pandora grabs me by the neck and forces my head up, forces me to see what I don’t want to see. The sun sinks across the horizon. Through the smoke the orange hue of the fires and the sun make the countryside look a picturesque fall morning. From this distance the smoke could be fog, the blackened trees could just be in shadow.

“I get it,” I say, trying to break free from his grip.

“Pandora is not sure that you do.”

He holds tight for another few seconds, then pushes me away. I turn to glare at him. It is about as effective as a toddler throwing a tantrum. He towers over me and is as imposing as the day that I first met him. I hate the condescension in his tone, but I know it is not intentional.

“This is just the beginning. The Creator has been designing and destroying creation since the beginning of time,” Pandora says. His voice inside my head is stern, steady, and desperate. “He is extremely thorough at how he destroys his creations. He studies the patterns of all the living things and then finds the most interesting and entertaining way to destroy them.”

“So, he’s just going to rain down fire and brimstone and watch us run around while the world ends?” I ask.

“He isn’t going to do anything,” Pandora says. “He will plant the seeds into the minds of men and then let them do what they do best.”

He pauses, waiting for me to get the answer. “They’ll go to war. A war to end all wars.”

“Yes.”

“But why would he want it to end this way?”

“An empire that is destroyed from within is dead forever,” Pandora says. “By letting your species destroy this organism he is ensuring that it can never be again.”

My head spins. All of sudden The Creator seems very real and very much like the threat Pandora has been warning me about. Before now he was some distant villain, almost cartoonish in my imagination. Now, I am truly beginning to understand why Pandora is so desperate and afraid. If he can plant the seeds of destruction into the minds of every person on Earth, then how can there be any hope? How do you beat a deity who is always seven steps ahead of you?

“It isn’t hopeless.”

I look up at Pandora. “Reading minds now?”

“Your expressions make it pretty clear what you are thinking.”

“All right, then, pray tell me, o great avian warrior of creations past, how is it not hopeless?”

Pandora hesitates for the slightest moment. “Transcendence.”

I stare at him. “Transcendence?”

“Yes.”

“That thing we tried and I failed epically at?”

“You can’t just give up because it didn’t work the first time.”

“Well, I would be more willing to do it if I was certain that it would work and that there wouldn’t be excruciating pain involved,” I snap. “You don’t even realize what you’re asking me.”

“Pandora is asking you to do what is necessary to save your way of life.”

“You’re asking me to sacrifice my life for a plan that might not work. You can’t even tell me how I am supposed to achieve this transcendence.”

Pandora leaps at me, so suddenly I don’t have time to react before he has picked me up and we are soaring over the blazing countryside.  His talons wrap around my biceps and hold me snuggly, digging just enough to be uncomfortable. From this vantage point I can see that the carnage of this field extends to the forest beyond. Smoke rises around us, thick and heavy, enveloping us in its hazy embrace.

“Is this really how you want it all to end?” he shouts at me.

He swoops down through the smoke and sets me in front of a blackened tree, dead from the fire. The smoke is so thick where we are that it’s almost as dark as night, weak sunlight trying to filter through the gaps and reveal the damage to this forest in all its horror.  My eyes water and my lungs burn with the effort to breathe, but I can’t look away from the tree.

“This is what will remain if there is no intervention,” Pandora says. “Everything will be blackened and dead. Pandora knows that what he asking of you is great. But there is a chance this will work. Isn’t that worth the risk?”

“Why does it have to me?” I ask. I know I sound like a whiney teenager, but that’s what I am. I just a kid and I have a hard time believing that there isn’t somebody more qualified than me to take on this great mission of saving humanity.

Pandora studies me for a long moment. “Pandora is not sure how he knows, but there is something about you that feels right. Pandora searched all of Earth for the right candidate and he came across much more accomplished people than you. But you, Jack, have something that he did not find in abundance in the others.

“What’s that?” I ask, both sarcastic and flattered.

“Empathy.”

I can’t help but roll my eyes. “Empathy? You’re telling me that nobody else on this planet empathizes as well as I do? You’re going to have to do better than that.”

“Hear Pandora out. It is not so much that your empathy is greater than anyone else. It is that you have the right kind of empathy. You feel things deeply. Combined with your sense of doing things for the great good of people, rather than just for the good of yourself and that is a powerful thing. Pandora cannot tell you exactly how to transcend to the next level, but he can tell you that you are the right person. But if you do not believe it, then it will not be.”

I look at the blackened tree and let his words sink into my mind. I want to believe that I could do this, but I also know that I am not a hero. I have many faults and while my moral compass usually points north, I am no saint. So then how can I be the right person for this? How can there be no one else?

“No true hero ever thinks himself in that way,” Pandora says and I wonder again if he can read minds. “But there is one thing they have in common. They persevere and they never give up.”


____

And there you have it. Feel free to leave any comments or thoughts, but please be sure to be constructive because being mean and nasty is not good for anyone.

--TAP