Tuesday, December 21, 2010

What a Novel Idea.

So, I've made some revisions to the chapters of a novel draft I've been working on. If anyone is interested in reading them, I could post. However, it's only for the second and third chapters. With the first chapter being 30 pages (the subsequent ones are half that length apiece), I'll just link you to my WEbook.


Lemme know if the link doesn't work.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

House Dinner.

So on the first Tuesday of each month, the roommates and I have a house dinner where we all come together and commune. This is the third one we've had and it happened to fall on the night before our roomie's 21st birthday.

Going counter-clockwise from right to left: Ben M., Alana, JD, Mike, Ben D., Jake (the birthday guy), and his girlfriend, Amber.

A pile-up.

Lots of balloons.

Various antics were had.

Balls were kicked.

The birthday king.

Our tree.

Justify Redux.

So I've made some editions and additions to my piece, Justify. I have twenty pages written and I am posting them all here for your reading pleasure.

We had advised Justin, our son, against working at a convenience mart. They are the most prominent candidates for hold-ups. But Justin insisted. Said the hourly wage was higher than at other places, that it was convenient to drive there because of his fuel discount, and that its suburban location was peaceful. That last one was bitter irony and only proved our advisory. He wasn’t there a full month.

What I know of the incident, I’ve heard from police reports, witness testimony, and security footage. None of that matters. The “how” is not so important as the “why.” But, since this is my memoir, I might as well relay what happened.

It was a Friday night. Justin was scheduled for the graveyard shift. No pun intended. At 1:13am, according to the camera footage, Wallace Darper entered the store dressed in a baggy orange nylon coat and immediately strolled to the back, near the coolers. He lingered for a while before finally opening one of the units and procuring a 12-pack of beer. The brand is unimportant. He slowly and hesitantly approached the counter where Justin was stationed. Justin had been eyeing Wallace since he entered the store. After greeting him, Justin promptly asked for identification. Wallace set the beer onto the counter, removed the glove from his right hand, and reached into his inner coat pocket. What he removed was certainly a form of identification, but only forensics would be able to read it.

Wallace shakily aimed his handgun at Justin, who complied with raised arms. Fortunately, he’d had the foresight to activate the silent alarm. It might have been his naivety or his nerves, but that premature profiling would ultimately save a life. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t be his. Wallace demanded the money from the register. Justin declared that he could not open it unless he made a sale. Out of frustration, Wallace thrust the gun into Justin’s face while screaming profanities. Justin pleaded with him. Wallace’s hand trembled more violently. He was just as afraid as Justin. Perhaps it was the shaking that caused it or maybe he did it on purpose. I don’t know, the point is moot. At 1:37am, Wallace shot Justin in the face, effectively killing him. He was nineteen. My wife couldn’t watch the video. She had left the room before this part happened.

Wallace, in his own surprise, dropped the gun immediately after it fired. He stepped back, staring in shock at where Justin once stood. He backed into one of the snack displays and spun around, startled. He moved his head around frantically, I guess looking for witnesses, before dashing out the door. You could hear and see police sirens in the video as he exited. From the outdoor cameras, it is made clear that Wallace gave up without a fight, throwing his arms into the air. Authorities promptly detained him.

I was slightly taken aback by the officers’ quick presumption. They had known nothing about the scene beforehand, only that an alarm was tripped. Probably another example of profiling: you see a black kid running out of a gas station where an alarm had been set off and you assume they’re the culprit.

This is as much as we were permitted to see by our lawyers. That much wasn’t even shown in court. What I later learned was that paramedics arrived some thirty minutes after because the police pussyfooted before calling them. Thankfully, Justin died instantly or else he’d have been forced to suffer. The police lingered around the scene for several hours, shooting the breeze and taping off the area. Even though they had caught the perpetrator, they still felt the need to call in CSI. I could only think about one thing: how bad I felt for Wallace Darper.

I saw that footage the same night it was filmed. By the time the videos were finished, it was nearly four in the morning. I thanked the two officers for showing me the footage and met my wife, Joan, outside the viewing room, which was rather drab, containing nothing more than a table, a TV, and a few chairs, with a bookshelf of recent security videos secured from crime scenes. She was sitting on a bench in the hall and she was hysterical, clutching the bag of Justin’s personal effects to her busom. Normally I’d quip about how woman are melodramatic, but this time the drama was called for. I threw my coat over her and walked her out to the car; she hated to be seen all flustered. I went back inside and asked those two officers how I might go about seeing that Darper kid. They told me that, for his own protection, I couldn’t see him until court. They misunderstood. Yeah, I was furious, but I wasn’t gonna fly off the handle and murder the kid. And I don’t think he had wanted to murder my son, either.

I knew where he was being held, anyway. The only prison in the area. A mere fifteen minutes out of the city. I took Joan home and consoled her for a bit. We retreated to our bedroom and sat on the bed.

“We told him not to get that goddamn job, Rick…” She lifted her face away from the kerchief long enough to say that. She usually never swore.

“Yeah, but he insisted.” It wasn’t much consolation. “And he made a good case.”

“Why are you justifying this?” Her head snapped around and she glared at me fiercely, her running mascara akin to war paint.

“Look, Joan, it’s already happened! It’s in the past and there’s not a damn thing we can do about it now!” In hindsight, I really didn’t need to yell at her. And I especially didn’t believe what I had said. Not that I was taken aback by it, but that I felt that there was something I could do for Wallace.

“He would still be alive if it weren’t for that…boy.” She was careful not to say something overly offensive. I think she meant to say that he was a young male, but it incidentally came out sounding just as racist as the term she evaded. Normally, she wouldn’t stoop so low, but I suppose if someone kills your son, they deserve a slur or two. I stood from the bed and stepped for the door. “Where the hell are you going?”

“To the bar.” That was a lie. I figured she’d buy it as most grieving men tend to go to bars to drink their pains away. I didn’t usually drink, but she was too preoccupied to question it.

“Fine.” She moved the hanky from her face and clutched it in her hand as she rested it against the mattress. “I’ll make some calls.” I’d rather not have been there for that, anyway. It was also after five in the morning, but I figured the news was important enough.

On the way to the prison, I thought about Justin. I thought about his first Christmas and the ornament we bought for our tree to commemorate the event, his first birthday where Joan’s and my parents came over, his first day of school and how he was unexpectedly excited, his first trip to the ball game where I missed the foul ball, and on and on. I was barely into middle school when I pulled up to the prison complex. By then, I was even more agitated than before.

The fat man at the gate gave me the stink eye. He gestured for me to roll down my window. Guess I was a bit too distracted to think to do that sooner. I told him I was there to see a new inmate, that I was the victim’s father, which I figured would be an instant pass inside. He told me that I had to be on an “approved guest list” put out by the detained. I got a little agitated and told the guy that murdering my son gave me every right to see him. He didn’t argue with the facts, but he told me he would alert Darper and that I should come back in six months. I did not approve. I threatened to get a lawyer and he scoffed. It was a silly threat. I got back into my car and pulled away. I decided I would meet with my attorney that afternoon.


After that gentlemanly discussion with the guard, I was feeling rough, so I actually went to a bar. It worked out, anyway, because I had decidedly not been gone long enough to make it believable to Joan. By the time I got home that morning, she had already passed out. I skimmed through the caller ID; the first number she called was her boss from the doctor’s office, where she worked as a secretary, followed by her parents, then her sister, then her brother, then her grandparents, then her best friend. I remember being a little miffed that she didn’t call any of my family. But, I determined that a man had to do what he had to do. It was nearly eight a.m. when I finally crashed and when I awoke again at four p.m., I spent the next several hours calling my familiars.

The last call I made was to my attorney, Donald Whittemore. I prodded him about rules and regulations regarding visiting inmates. He basically told me what that pig guard had said, but he mentioned making an appeal to arrange a visit. I told him to get on that and to call me back the next day once he had.

As I had wasted most of the beautiful Saturday sleeping, I figured I’d waste the rest of the day and hit the jogging park for a stroll. Joan caught me on the way out.

“We need to discuss funeral arrangements.” She hadn’t been crying as much as she had the night before, but she was certainly red-eyed.

“I don’t know what to do for it.” I just wanted to get out of there. Maybe think about it at the park.

“I don’t know either, dammit, but we have to talk about it!” I think she might have been on her period, which didn’t help matters.

“Look, we can go over this when I come back. Come up with some ideas until then.” I didn’t waste any time getting out of there. My mind was still too clouded to focus on thinking about a funeral, so I needed some time to clear it. I remember power-walking to the car and nearly dropping my keys as I pried them from my pocket. My body finally relaxed as I was driving out of the subdivision, but my mind was still racing. It tried to pick up from where I’d left off on the way to the prison. Middle school.

There was that time when Justin got into that fight with a bully, I was proud because he stepped in to defend some boy and won. He’d never had a lesson. Then there was that science fair. He tried to make something in the basement I don’t know what, that’s not my thing. It didn’t work out for him, he couldn’t get some contraption to work. He was distraught because he couldn’t compete. And there was that girl he had a crush on. I didn’t bother to remember her name. He was always asking me for advice and I’d tell him to share his lunch with her or something. I didn’t give him any serious advice because it was just a childhood flight of fancy.

I had arrived at the park just in time for high school. I strolled around the jogging path, thinking about his first date. It hadn’t worked out. I remember a chill wind blowing past at the thought of this. It was a rather grey and chilly day and the wind only made the negative thought more prominent.

I was too distracted by the wind chill as I walked, so I took a seat on a bench. I thought about how he never strove for A’s. ‘I’m not perfect, so why should I try to be?’ he’d often say. This would always confound his mother. I rather admired him for it. I thought about how we’d play basketball in the driveway, like any other father and son. I stomped him every time, but I’ll be damned if he didn’t keep getting better. Joan didn’t get that, either. ‘He’ll give an effort for sports, but not for his studies?’ She just didn’t get men.

I thought a lot about Joan as I sat there. Justin never bonded with her as well as he did with me and it probably upset her. That’s probably why she wanted my input so badly on that funeral. I just wanted her to handle that, just like she’d handled our wedding.

I thought a bit about that Darper kid. He was just as frightened as Justin. Someone must have put him up to that robbery. He was probably stealing some beer that he’d never even drink and some money that he’d be too afraid to spend. He didn’t mean to shoot my son. Now he’d rot in that facility for the rest of his life. I wondered what I could do for him.

With all of these thoughts swirling about, I was overwhelmed and lost my composure. A full day after it happened, I finally broke down and wept.

I returned home after a few hours. Joan was sitting at the dining room table. She was expecting me to take the hint and do the same. I purposely took the farthest seat at the opposite end. At the time, I didn’t mean any harm by it; it just seemed appropriate to face her directly. Now, thinking back on it, I may have been trying to distance myself from not only the subject, but from her. About the only common ground we’d had was Justin, and now we’d had zilch.

“I think we should have two days of visitation at the funeral home,” she dictated, as though she were conducting a board meeting. “One day for family, another day for friends.”

“Why can’t they all come at once?” I was a bit offended by the suggestion.

“Because some of Justin’s former friends might give our family a bad impression.” She spoke carelessly and I didn’t care for it. And I knew she was specifically referring to her own family.

“They’re still his friends.” I growled a bit. She furrowed her brow.

“He’s dead, Rick. They can’t be his friends anymore. And quite frankly, I never cared for them, anyway.” She crossed her arms. Despite my growing impatience, I tried to stay level.

“So what about the funeral, itself? Are we gonna watch him get lowered or are we gonna sit that out?” Cremation was already out of the equation.

“Oh, God, I couldn’t bear it…” Her eyes watered. I wanted to stay for the burial, but if she couldn’t, I’d have to stick with her.

“Fine, so separate visitations and no burial witnesses. Why don’t we just completely forget he existed while we’re at it?” To this day, I regret saying that. It just blurted out, my mind hadn’t even had time to process the words. Needless to say, Joan reacted as expected. I voluntarily slept on the couch that night. That was probably my second mistake.


I didn’t sleep well that night, and it didn’t help that I was rudely awakened by the phone ringing at 8:30 in the morning. Thankfully, the news was worth hearing. It was Whittemore; he told me exactly what I wanted to hear. He had already arranged for me to meet with Darper at 3:30 that afternoon. I was simultaneously happy and upset. Happy because I would have a chance to meet with him finally and upset for the same reason. I was afraid I’d wind up trying to kill the kid, despite my previous inklings as thoughts had had time to settle in, although the interview would likely be conducted through a pane of glass and a telephone.

I grew anxious during the interim. I’d wished that Donald hadn’t called me so early so that I could have killed some more time with sleep. I tried to think of something to do to keep myself composed. Joan had left that morning for church and to set up the funeral arrangements. She didn’t tell me where she was going at the time, she just walked out the door as I was on the phone with Donald. She made sure to slam it so I’d know she had left.

I tried to watch television, but there was never anything on during the day, especially on a Sunday. I would have gone to church, but I stopped attending months ago, to Joan’s chagrin, and I felt like it would have been construed as me looking for sympathy. I really didn’t want to deal with peoples’ grief and apologies, at least not before the funeral. Joan would benefit more from wallowing in their pity.

I finally turned off the TV and sat for a moment, not thinking about anything; just staring at the glare on the screen. I noticed that my hair was a mess and that I was still in my casual wear. I needed a shower. I stood up and dragged my feet into the kitchen. I was hoping for a pot of coffee already brewing, as Joan was known for setting up in the mornings. Nothing. I sighed and fished around for the coffee packets and filters. I had a less than convenient time of it and I wondered whether Joan had hidden them from me intentionally.

I had finally found them tucked away in the pantry, behind several larger items. I prepped the machine and then headed upstairs. I had to pass Justin’s room along the way; the door was closed. Justin had always left it open. Joan couldn’t stand to look at it anymore. I stared at it for maybe a minute, I don’t remember. I pulled myself away and into my room. I removed my clothes and did the usual shower prep. You don’t need to know the specifics.

I stood in the shower and lathered with my loofah. I started at a steady pace, but then I started to slow down as I began to think about that door again. Since Justin died, I hadn’t even considered looking at his room. I felt awful that it hadn’t crossed my mind until seeing something out of place. It really helped to set in the realization that he was gone. I was mad at Joan for having closed it, but I couldn’t blame her. I’d been biased towards her because my own grief was different and I lashed at her for grieving the way that I should have been.

With a splash of water to my face and a prompt shiver, I recollected myself and finished the shower. I thought about what I should be wearing when I meet Darper. Should it be a suit? No, that would be too somber and would look like I’d be sending a message to him that I was dressed for a funeral. Should I wear a tee and jeans? No, too casual. I wasn’t trying to make friends with him, either. I decided on a pair of khakis and a plain white tee, which I would cover with my leather jacket zipped up.

I left the room once I had dressed and stopped again outside of Justin’s. I gazed at the doorknob, feeling a bit intimidated. I never had to open his door before, he would even change his clothes with it open, when he knew we wouldn’t be walking past. I was afraid that he really wouldn’t be there if I opened the door. Of course I knew better, and I feel ashamed now for thinking otherwise, but hand-to-God, I was terrified. I finally mustered the courage to grab the knob and slowly turn it. I hesitantly pushed the door open with my grip on the knob, allowing the light from the hallway to trickle in.

I continued to stand in the doorway, my hand still firmly gripping the doorknob, staring into the dim room. It was almost symbolic; his life cycle had waned and now his room reflects the waning of the moon. I finally shook the nerves off with a shiver and flipped the light switch.

It didn’t look familiar. Joan had cleaned and organized his room rather than preserving it. And Justin was clearly not there. My fear turned to anger at what I was seeing. I marched over to Justin’s bed and tore the sheets and comforter from their tucked positions and tossed them back onto the bed in disarray. “This is how he kept it; he never made his bed!” I called out afterward.

I then stomped over to his closet and flung the door open. Everything was neat and tidy, as expected. “This is wrong, too!” I grabbed the boxes and milk crates and dumped their contents onto the bedroom floor. Then I separated the clothes hanging on the line. “He didn’t keep his shirts pressed together, they were spread unevenly across the line!” Looking back on this, I realize I was saying silly things aloud. But no one was around, anyway.

I reached for his dresser next. Again, clothes neatly folded. “Nope!” I went from drawer to drawer, bottom to top, snatching shirts, shorts, socks, briefs, and pants and tossing them behind me onto the floor and the bed. As I was ripping through the clothes in his underwear drawer, I came upon a small box. It was once used to hold bank checks and it reminded me of when we took him to open his first account. I opened it and was somewhat surprised to discover that there were no checks inside, but various items.

The first thing to catch my eye was a baseball card which he had gotten signed by the player depicted when he went to his first Major League game. It was Sammy Sosa. There was also a necklace which must have belonged to one of his girlfriends, probably Trixie, that blonde he dated for a few months. Several folded sheets of notebook paper lined the bottom. I pulled them out and found an instant camera photo underneath. It was a picture of Justin and I when he was ten. It was Christmas and he was wearing his favorite pajamas, the one with the blue pants and the white shirt with long blue sleeves. He was holding a toy fire engine that he had been eyeing since that October. I was knelt down to his right with my left arm around his back, grabbing his left arm and my right hand on his right shoulder. I had the biggest wide-mouthed smile ever and Justin was grinning so wide, showing off those expensive pearls. There was a caption in the white space in Joan’s handwriting that read “Rick and Justin Christmas 2001.” This was a photo he must have cherished dearly. I stepped back and plopped a seat on the bed, setting the other items beside me and just staring at the picture. My face grew hot and I could feel tears streaming down my cheeks. My eyes welled up and I strained my face to keep from losing it, but it was no use. My teeth clenched hard between sobs as I pressed the photo to my face in an attempt to embrace Justin, knowing that I never could again. After what seemed like an eternity, I finally calmed myself. I took one more look at the photo before standing up and placing it into my wallet. I still have the photo today. It’s framed and sitting above my work desk. I’m looking at it as I write this.

I glanced down and noticed the folded notebook sheets again. I took another seat and picked one up. I unfolded it and discovered that it was a letter from Trixie, confirming my hunch about the necklace. There were flowers and hearts doodled in every corner of the page. I was almost ashamed that he had been dating this girl. As I read it, I learned that this was her “confession of love” to him. Then I felt more ashamed that she had made the first move, but it was a pleasant shame; I even smiled at it. She went on about his blue eyes and his short brown hair and his “kissable lips.” It became hard to read, not because it was mushy, but because it was just another reminder of him. She signed “Trixie” in huge letters and dotted her I’s with hearts.

The next letter was far too shocking. Apparently they’d had sex and she had apparently loved it. It gave explicit detail of what he did and how she felt. I’d rather not repeat what I read. ‘What the hell does she know?’ I thought at the time. That impacted me more than the fact that Justin was active. There was really no reason to be surprised by that, though his mother would be.

The last letter was a bit more heartbreaking. It was her “I’m dumping you” letter. Heartless bitch couldn’t even tell him to his face. And she left him because she found “a better man who can treat me better.” She must have meant sexually. Justin was a great guy, and I’m not really biased because he’s my son, I just know how bad I am and how he is in comparison. I guessed that I should have taught Justin the ropes. Then I wondered where he’d even learned what he had known. Then I was almost proud.

After sufficiently satisfying my curiosity, I placed the letters, necklace, and card back into the box and returned them to Justin’s dresser. They were his most valued possessions, so they deserved to be kept hidden away and not strewn about in the open. I looked again around his room. I had certainly done a number on it in my rage, but I did not regret it. I walked out of the room, making certain to leave the light on and the door opened.

By now, it was barely after 9:30 and I was growing hungry. I went into the kitchen and checked on the coffee, which was effectively brewed. I pulled a mug from the cupboard and poured some. It was rather bland; not at all the way Joan usually prepared it. I decided that I had screwed something up, but just sprinkled some sweetener into the mug and set about looking for breakfast.

I remembered seeing some boxes of cereal in the pantry from when I was seeking out the coffee grounds. They were Justin’s, but he wasn’t gonna eat them anymore. No sense in wasting them. Honestly, I was surprised that Joan hadn’t tossed them. My choices were among generic frosted flakes, generic raisin oats, and generic grains with marshmallows. I hadn’t had marshmallows in my cereal since childhood. There was no second guessing. I retrieved a bowl and filled it with the cereal before opening the fridge and grabbing the milk. It was skim milk. I hate that shit because it’s so watery. Joan likes it so we had to have it. I poured it onto the cereal and then realized that I still had my coffee. One beverage was normally enough, but I figured I could use the coffee to wash down the taste of soggy marshmallows and water-milk.

Then I remembered: “Sunday paper!” I went to the front door and found the mass of rolled paper upon my doorstep. I bent down to pick it up and heard someone call out to me.

“Hey, Rick!” It was my neighbor to the right, Jerry, calling from the other side of his hedges. “Joan told us about your son. My God, we are so sorry. If there’s anything we can do for you, please don’t hesitate to ask.”

“Thanks, Jerry, but we’ll be fine.” This was just what I didn’t need.

“Oh, but Joan already asked Carol to help her with the funeral arrangements. She’s been through this before, you know. Had a nephew who died.” Great, Joan was getting everyone involved.

“I’ll be okay, Jerry. Don’t worry about me.”

“Oh, alright. See you at the visitation.” That pissed me off. She would invite her friends but not Justin’s? I went back inside and slammed the door. I decided to call his friends myself. Justin’s cellphone was in the bag of his items that we retrieved from the police station, so I ran upstairs to find it, hoping that Joan hadn’t hidden them, too.

I found the back right away in her nightstand. The phone was mixed in the bag with his keys and wallet. I noticed that the police had neglected to remove his work keys from his key ring. I went ahead and did so, intending to return them. I then went through Justin’s list of contacts on his phone, looking for any names that I recognized as his friends’. The first one I came to was Cindy, a girl whom he had been friends with since the sixth grade. I always felt like they should have been dating, as often as we saw her.

I pressed the “Send” button to call her. It rang several times before proceeding to voice mail. I hate those things, you have to sit through the automated woman’s voice then wait for the long-delayed “beep.” It was even worse when you were listening to messages. Just before the beep went off, she answered.

“H-hello?” She seemed nervous.

“Hello, Cindy. This is Justin’s father.” I was firm, but friendly.

“Oh my gosh! I thought you’d be…” She cut herself off. I could hear her sniffing, as though she had been or were about to cry.

“I was calling to tell you about Justin, but I guess you’ve already heard?”

“Yes, I’m so sorry!” She started crying.

“Thank you, Cindy. I just wanted to invite you to his visitation.”

“Oh, yes. Thank you.”

“We don’t have anything planned yet, but Justin’s mother is working on it now.” I briefly considered at this point what Joan might be planning.

“Alright. I’m sooo sorry…”

“Thank you, again. I’ll call you when there’s a date, okay?”


“Okay, goodbye, then.”

“Goodbye, Mister—“ I didn’t mean to hang up on her, but I wasn’t expecting her to respond with the way she was crying. I spent the next hour calling his friends. He had more than I expected. Eventually I found Trixie’s name in the list. I was surprised that he still had her number. I suppose he still cared for her. She still deserved to know, even though she was an unsavory bitch. I figured this was who Joan was referring to before, when she said that she didn’t care for some of his friends. That was still no reason to exclude all of them.

I reluctantly called her. She answered almost immediately.

“What do you want, Justin?” She had this tone of annoyance that just made my teeth clench.

“This is Justin’s father.” I spoke through my clenched teeth.

“Huh? Why are you calling me on Justin’s phone? Weird.” She had this obnoxious valley girl inflection to her voice.

“Justin was murdered Friday night.” I didn’t bother to sugarcoat for this idiot, she needed harsh reality.

“W-what?! Oh my god! Is this a joke?”

“I’m not fucking joking.” I struggled to restrain myself from calling her insulting names. There was a pause on the other end.

“Justin, quit playing games.” That was it, fuck this bitch.

“He’s really dead, you dumb whore! I hope the man you left him for really was worth it!” I hung up after this. She didn’t try to call back.

After that, I’d decided I’d called enough of his friends and that they could spread the word themselves. I placed his phone back in the bag and returned it to the nightstand. Then I grabbed the newspaper and went back downstairs. I slapped it onto the table and sipped my coffee. It had gone cold and the cereal was completely soggy and nearly disintegrated. I dumped them both into the sink, poured a new cup of coffee, and sat down to read the paper. The front page headline read “Teen Killed Friday Night in Robbery.” There was a picture of Justin’s chalk outline.

I decided that it would be better to read that later and determined that I was pretty tired. I went back to the couch and took a nap.

It was one o’clock by the time I awoke again. I arose with a stretch. My back was aching from the couch. I still hadn’t had my coffee, so I dragged my feet into the kitchen once more, dumped the old, cold coffee and poured a new mug. I sprinkled another packet of sweetener into it, stirred with a spoon, and stood at the sink and sipped until it was gone. I was determined to have coffee in my system that day and I needed the energy.

The meeting with Darper wasn’t for another two hours; I needed to kill more time. I was sick of the being in the house, so I took a drive in the car. I drove around aimlessly for about thirty minutes before stopping at McDonald’s. I went inside and ordered because I hate the drive-thru. I sat in the dining area for a while, enjoying my Double Quarter-Pounder meal when some familiar faces walked in. It was a family that I knew from church. Carl, a balding man with a massive gut, Janice, a brunette woman to lovely to be with Carl, and their teenage daughter, Sara. I deduced that they had come here straight from church, as they liked to linger there for a while after services. I knew that Joan would have spoken to them; she would have spoken to everyone.

Sara saw me first and whispered to her mother, who glanced over at me. My mouth shifted to the side, an indicator that I was not eager for this confrontation. I’d still had food to finish, too. Janice whispered to Carl, who was busy reading the menu board. Honestly, who still needs to read the menu at McDonald’s? He looked back at me. I bit into my burger as our eyes met. I prayed that they wouldn’t sit next to me.

I quickened the pace of my consumption as an attempt to get out of there before they had gotten their food. As I stuffed my face, Sara came over and sat across from me.

“Mom wanted me to say sorry for Justin.” Typical kids, always saying that their parents made them say something.


“I really am sorry.” She lowered her head and started sniffling.

“It’s okay, thank you.”

“I…I really liked him.” I really didn’t need to hear her confession. But I was learning that Justin might have been pretty popular.

“Look, I gotta g—“ I was abruptly interrupted by a fat, heavy hand slapped onto my shoulder.

“Rick, we’re awful sorry to hear about your loss. Justin was a good kid.” Carl bent forward and put his face uncomfortably close to mine. His breath was stale.

“Thank you, Carl. If you’ll excuse me, I’ve somewhere to be.” I stood from the bench. Carl’s hand slipped from my shoulder as I walked off. I didn’t bother to toss my waste. I passed Janice on my way out. She started to say something, but I ignored her. I pushed my way out the doors and got into my car.

I’d still had an hour before the meeting and I was growing very impatient. I decided to just head to the prison and kill my time there. No pun intended.

I pulled up to the same gate as before. There was a different guard this time, one who was more fit to be in his position. I told him what I was there for and showed him my identification. He approved and raised the bar. The fences around the complex were huge, stretching as high as the four-story prison. I parked in the visitor lot and proceeded inside, where I was greeted by more security.

They took me to a waiting room where a large window looked out into the conference area, where prisoners and visitors were chatting through panes of glass using telephones.

“Darper’s with somebody right now, so you’ll have to wait.” The burly guard seemed pretty gruff. Guess he had to be.

I looked out the window and spotted Darper. The footage I had seen at the station was hazy, but I could still recognize him, especially in the orange jumpsuit, which was reminiscent of the coat he wore during the robbery. He was talking to a woman who was wearing a pink long-sleeved blouse and white pants. Her hair was think and straight and curved up at the left and right ends, like Marlo Thomas in That Girl. It was obvious that she was upset. She slammed her fist onto the counter a few times, shook her finger in Wallace’s face, and wiped the tears from her eyes on occasion until she finally stood up forcibly and power-walked away, her left hand clasping her mouth as tears flowed down her face.

To get out of the conference room, she had to come into the waiting room where I stood. Security let her in and I locked eyes with her. It was almost as though she knew who I was, the way she gazed at me, almost in fear, before her face retreated once more to her hands. Security led her out of the room. I watched Wallace for a few more minutes before security returned. He had tried to get up to leave, but a guard sat him down again, probably telling him about me.

When the burly guard finally returned, he opened the door to the conference room and escorted me inside. He took me to Darper’s booth, where I finally stood face-to-face with the kid who killed my son.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Mister Wiggins.

This was written for an activity that someone in the Fiction Collective came up with. We had to come up with a story revolving around three key events:

1. Mr. Wiggins enters an antique shop.
2. Mr. Wiggins eats an ice cream cone from a bowl.
3. Mr. Wiggins dies.

Here's what I churned out:

Mister Wiggins was a very naïve man. He never discounted what anyone would say, ever. He believed everything. One day, he was on stroll and came upon an antique shop. He had always noticed it, but today he decided to explore its insides. As he perused the various trinkets, he came upon a bowl wrapped in plastic. The bowl appeared to be ceramic, with swirls of dark brown and red mixed into the clay. It was glazed and gave a shiny reflection through the plastic wrapping. There was no price on it.

Mister Wiggins was intrigued by this artifact and decided to purchase it. He approached the sales counter and inquired as to its price.

“Ah, for that I am wiling to negotiate,” said the clerk. His eyes narrowed and a devilish grin cut a slit across his face.

“I will give you ten dollars for it.” The clerk was dissatisfied.

“You will need to haggle higher than that,” he replied. “One-hundred dollars.”

“Is it worth so much?” Mister Wiggins inquired with a raised eyebrow and an innocent look of curiosity.

“Oh, most assuredly. It comes from an ancient South American tribe.”

“Which one?”

“The most prominent one.”

“Oooohh…” Mister Wiggins could not contain his excitement further. He set the bowl upon the counter and pulled his wallet from his back pocket and removed a hundred-dollar bill from within. He slapped it firmly onto the counter and grabbed the bowl once more.

“Pleasure doing business with you,” the clerk declared. “Is there anything else you’d like to purchase?”

“No, no. This took everything I had.” And with that, Mister Wiggins departed from the antique store, quite pleased that he had decided to visit.

Mister Wiggins returned home that afternoon and had an atypical craving for ice cream.

“Hm, I’ll use that new bowl,” he thought. He set the bowl onto the kitchen counter and opened the freezer to retrieve his bucket of neopolitan ice cream. He could never decide which flavor to buy at the store, so he always just bought all three. He scooped even amounts of chocolate and vanilla into the bowl, with a little more strawberry, as that was his favorite.

He procured a spoon and began to dig into the treat by tiny bits at a time until all that remained was milk. He scraped the spoon across the bottom and slurped up what was left.

“Mm, delectable,” Mister Wiggins said with great satisfaction. He placed the bowl into the sink and filled it with water and left it to soak as he retreated to his living room. He took a seat upon the couch and turned on the television using his universal remote control, as he had long ago lost the original.

As he flipped through the channels, Mister Wiggins began to feel a bit uneasy. His stomach was aflutter and his head was growing hot. He settled the television on the History Channel and went into the bathroom. He looked at himself in the mirror and noted that his face was quite pale. Upon raising his shirt, he could see that his belly was red. He stared at himself, astonished and confused.

“How did this come about, suddenly?” he asked aloud before opening the medicine cabinet and taking the bottle of Pepto-Bismol. “This should do it.” But before he could finish filling the tiny plastic cup, he dropped it as his hand muscles suddenly retracted. “What the devil?” He bent over to pick it up when suddenly a very violent sensation washed over him and he vomited all over the bathroom floor, heaving and gagging for a full minute. “My gracious!” he cried in pain. When he had finally wiped the tears from his eyes, he could see that the regurgitation was a vibrant red and looked very familiar to Mister Wiggins. “Is that my—“ he tried to say before another session of vomit possessed him, this time for two minutes. He collapsed sideways onto the floor, splattering his face in the mess on the floor. “Oh, my…”

Mister Wiggins promptly vomited seven more excruciating times before finally succumbing to death. He was discovered three weeks later when his sister came to visit after having not heard from him in a while. After her dear brother’s funeral, she had decided to clean his house when she found the antique bowl that he had bought shortly before his death.

“Hm, what a lovely bowl…”

Friday, November 19, 2010

These Scales Ain't Made for Measurin'.

This piece, titled "Monstrous Scales," was the result of a writing exercise where we had to combine odd phrases and develop a story around it. Mine happened to be "An old lady with monster scales" or some such. I took some creative liberty with it, though, trying to base it in realism. Enjoy.

When I married Janine, I also married her family. Her family is very ritzy, coming from a wealthy background of successful barters. Despite my middle-class caste, they were more than eager to welcome me into their enclave. Janny’s mother was especially welcoming. She is a very sophisticated woman, always wearing dresses and keeping her salad forks in order.

One weekend, we drove out to Janny’s mother’s house. She is a widow and tends to get lonely in her tiny mansion. At one point that Saturday, Janine left for a grocer to purchase some items for the dinner she was to prepare. It was just her mother and I left behind. We sat in the den to chat while we waited. We were having a lovely discussion until she crossed her legs. Her dress hiked up a tad; it was just high enough for me to see something grotesque.

Now, she is an attractive woman and I am not slandering her by any means, but I now know why she always wears long dresses (though she should be wearing pants). What I saw then was so horrific that I could hardly continue the conversation. In fact, from the expression on her face, it was evident that my own was being offensive.

It didn’t take her long to realize why my face was distorted. She promptly uncrossed her legs and straightened the hem of her skirt. She blushed a bit and became flustered. She made a remark to excuse herself and went into the kitchen to begin preparations for dinner. I, too, excused myself from the room and proceeded directly for the lavatory, wherein I got well acquainted with good old American Standard.

When I re-emerged, I tried to avoid the kitchen, lest I make eye contact with the mother-in-law and be forced to remember what she hid in her undercarriage. I wandered into the living room where she has a high definition television attached to a wall. I figured I’d watch a sports event until Janny returned. Or maybe even for the rest of the weekend, skipping dinner, especially. I wasn’t in the mood to eat anything. I could still taste my lunch.

I skimmed the channels and found nothing of interest. Figures with a satellite connection there would be nothing on anywhere in the world. I grew anxious. I grew desperate. I stopped on a cartoon channel. I did not care what was airing. It would get my mind off of that horrible image and maybe even get me laughing. I was mistaken. It was a dumb cartoon and it was unfunny. That network used to have decent programming.

After what seemed like hours of this drivel (it was actually more like eleven minutes), Janny finally returned. I dashed for the door to greet her, but was unwilling to carry anything into the kitchen.

“Why not?” she inquired, a bit confused.

“I’m afraid I’ll get sick again if I see your mother,” I replied. I had no inhibitions about it.

“Wh-what is this all of a sudden?” She placed her hands around her hips as she readjusted her stance.

“I saw it. I saw her secret.”

“Her wha—oh. Oh, my…”

I nodded. My hand clasped my mouth as I did so.

“You saw her—“

“I saw her varicose veins.”

Monday, November 15, 2010

This piece was written for an assignment in CW. The objective was to take the first line of any story from one of our texts and write our own flash stories from them. The line is extracted from Flannery O'Connor's A Good Man is Hard to Find.

Trip to Florida

The grandmother didn’t want to go to Florida. The salt in the air made her knees hurt. But the granddaughter pleaded, so the grandmother complied. The daughter was reluctant to bring the grandmother, knowing that her mother’s knees were bad, but she went along with it at the granddaughter’s behest.

The drive to Florida was long and cramped. The granddaughter grew antsy after seven hours. The grandmother’s butt growing irritated from the upholstery, and thus she grew irritable. The daughter continued to drive, becoming ever more flustered from all of the complaining and trying to maintain her patience as they threatened to try it.

They were in Georgia when it happened. Just south of Atlanta. At least they had made it out of the city, the daughter said. The grandmother was now completely irritable, swearing at the granddaughter and blaming her for the trouble. The granddaughter cried and clung to the daughter, detracting her from focusing on changing the tire.

The towman came because the spare tire was flat. The grandmother swore some more while the granddaughter clung to her mother and continued to implore the grandmother to stop. They were all cramped in the cab of the truck. The grandmother fussed because she had to hold the granddaughter in her lap and because her knees were aching. The daughter flirted with the attractive driver. The driver maintained his driving so well because he ignored the daughter.

One-hundred and seventy-five dollars, the grandmother exclaimed at the daughter. One-hundred and seventy-five dollars wasted because the granddaughter wanted to swim with some dolphins who did not care about her, anyway. The daughter cried. The granddaughter also cried, but at the sight of her mother crying. The clerk just wanted the money for the job.

The daughter continued to drive to Florida. The grandmother continued to gripe and show hostility toward the granddaughter. The granddaughter continued to cry and plead for her to stop and ask her for forgiveness. The grandmother ignored her and simultaneously insulted her. Five more hours, the daughter thought. Only five more hours.

It was five hours later. Their vehicle was stuck in traffic. It was the middle of summer. The grandmother nagged about the heat and about the skanky teenagers. The daughter’s eyes were affixed upon those skanky male teenagers. The granddaughter’s lips trembled as she tried to stop herself from crying.

Two more hours passed. They had finally reached their destination of Destin. The grandmother refused to leave the car. The granddaughter begged with her to come along. The daughter was distracted by teenage boys in trunks. The granddaughter grew fed up. She stormed away and into the souvenir shop. The daughter figured that she had better follow along.

The granddaughter skimmed and perused, looking for something specific. The daughter remained distracted. The granddaughter finally found what she was looking for, something she had remembered from their previous excursion without the grandmother. She approached the counter and asked for a price. She asked her mother to pay for it, but the daughter was short from paying for the tow and the tire. The granddaughter began to cry again. The clerk cut a deal out of sympathy. The granddaughter became giddy.

The granddaughter pulled some things from her pocket and set them into the souvenir. She raced back to their sedan. She asked the grandmother to roll her window down. “I got this necklace for you,” she said. It was a locket shaped as a heart and held within it two photographs cut to fit: one of the granddaughter and one of the grandmother.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Automatic Summaries are a Breeze.

The first chapter of my work-in-progress novel Totem auto-summarized in Microsoft Word to ten sentences:

Adily replied.

“Koin! Koin, behave.”

Koin inquired.

Koin inquired.

Adily replied.


Koin whined.

Koin groaned.

Koin inquired.

The Spruce Goose is in Oregon.

Thursday night, we at CMU were treated to an extraordinary reading performed by Davis Schneiderman. He is a revolutionary writer, even releasing a book entitled Blank which only features chapter titles, leaving the rest to the readers' imaginations. As my current creative writing professor said, "I'm not sure how he's going to read this stuff." After the show, that professor remarked to me that one of his pieces had no punctuation.

He read snippets from various pieces, including his latest publication Drain, which is set in a world where the Great Lakes have dried up and people move in to inhabit. The excerpt he read involved a machine which takes in human waste from its posterior and regurgitates it from its mouth as the pre-digested entities it once comprised. So if someone had expelled the remains of a candy bar, the bar would be restored fully. He read each piece with such animation and vocal patterns, especially giving life and vibrance to this piece.

This is the cover for his latest novel:
After this and a few other pieces, he performed a reading where beforehand, he passed a rope along through the audience and had them pull on him as he read. He resisted, of course. Schneiderman was quoted as saying he wanted to make his readings more engaging and forcing audiences to pay attention. Quite frankly, he didn't need the gimmicks because he read with such power and emphasis that you couldn't help but become engaged. He read a summary of Alice in Wonderland constructing using Word's auto-summary feature. It was interesting. He also did this for a play, which spat out mostly characters' names.

At one point, he passed along some books which had been sawed into shapes. One was in the shape of a gun. I believe the purpose was to chop off a chunk of a book and read what is left, forcing a new perspective. Afterward, he honored me by gifting me what he called "his favorite one."

He closed the performance with a piece of "prose poetry," recanting various lines both relevant and irrelevant to the Spruce Goose while chanting "THE SPRUCE GOOSE" before each one.

Certainly, he is an author to look out for.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Blinded by the Flash.

This is a piece written for a journal put out by the Fiction Collective, of which I am now president. The journal followed a theme, which each member wrote a flash piece on. This volume's theme was "jumping bridges." There were many interpretations of this, including a story which involved bridges literally jumping about. AubrieAnne designed the cover for this print and it came out fantastically. Glad I knew to get in touch with her. Here's a draft:


Anyway, I decided to take a less literal bridge-jumping. Something more akin to "jumping the gun." So enjoy, please.


Tim nervously fiddled with his tie and the silverware on the table. This would be his first blind date and he was worried that it would not go well. He glanced at his cell phone; she was five minutes late. Small beads of sweat pushed out from his pores.

“Would you like an appetizer, sir?”

Tim jumped in his seat as he had been too preoccupied to notice the waiter’s approach.

“Uh…uh, yeah. Some bread, please.”

“Right away, sir.”

Tim slumped down in his seat and wiped the perspiration from his brow. He snatched the towel which had wrapped the wares and wrung his hand through it. His anxiety turned to mild frustration. He pulled his sleeve back to look at his watch; she was now seven minutes late.

He had made certain to reserve a table within view of the host’s station so that he could see anyone and everyone who entered. He perked up when he saw a short-haired brunette woman enter. She was alone. When the host pointed to him, Tim immediately adjusted his posture and re-aligned the utensils on the table.

The woman smiled politely as she approached. Tim raised a corner of his mouth in a shoddy attempt to return the favor.

“Hello, Tim?” she asked.

“Yep, that’s me, Timothy,” he laughed nervously. He knew it was a dumb rhyme. He felt more assured when he heard her chuckle, albeit politely.

“Well, I’m Betty.”

“It’s a pleasure.” He offered his hand to shake hers. She awkwardly accepted. There was a pause afterward as Betty tapped the chair before her expectantly.

“Oh, yes, I’m sorry!” Tim stood from his seat, neglecting to push it out first. He nearly stumbled to the floor.

He regained his composure and reached for Betty’s chair. As she stepped aside, he pulled it out.

“There you go,” he said with a smile.

“Thanks…” She ran her hands down the skirt of her dress to straighten it as she sat.

Tim tried to push her in to the table, but the chair’s legs were held fast by the carpeting. He gave it a shove and it skipped across the carpet, thrusting Betty into the table.

“Oh my god, I’m so sorry!”

“It’s fine, thank you.”

Tim pulled at his collar as he walked around to his seat.

“So, Betty, tell me about yourself.”

“Well, I’m in college, studying to become a nurse.”

“College, huh? When I was in college, I had to pay for every semester with loans. I’m still payin’ them back,” he laughed. “Know what I mean?”

“My schooling is paid for with grants and scholarships.”

“Oh…You must be pretty smart, then?”

“I suppose,” she smirked with pride.

“What else do you do?”

“I love to read.”

“You would have to to read all those medical texts,” he laughed again.

“Yeah, right…” she laughed awkwardly.

“I have to say, you look be-a-utiful.” He smiled nervously.

“Well, thank you. I just kind of threw myself together.”

“Is that why you’re late?”

There was an awkward pause as Betty stared at him wide-eyed.

“Um, no, actually. If I am late, it’s because of traffic.”

“Oh, yeah. Who drives a car in New York? I don’t…”

“Hmm…” Her mouth shifted to one side. “Tell me about yourself, Timothy.”

“Well, what can I say? Tim’s just Tim. There isn’t much to say, really.” He looked down at the table. Betty anticipated more, but it never came.

“Well, what do you do for a living?” she asked.

“Oh, a little of this, a little of that…”


“I take on odd jobs. They’re mostly short-lived.”

“I see.”

At this time, the waiter returned with the bread.

“Would you like a beverage, miss?” inquired the waiter.

Betty hesitated before finally confirming.

“I’ll have a beer.”

“Whoa,” Tim remarked. “We got a partier here.”

Betty smiled reluctantly.

“Very well, miss.” The waiter swiveled in place and returned to the bar.

“So, here’s a crazy thought,” Tim proposed. “How do you feel about marriage?”

Betty closed her eyes and sighed in disbelief. She pushed out her seat and left.

Tim grabbed his head in both hands and placed his elbows on the table.

“Aw, dang. Mom’s gonna be so disappointed.”

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Wave Your Banners.

So Aubrie was nice enough to make these banners for me. I like the top one best. So in return, I'm plugging hers.


Can't get the image to link, so copypasta. It's delicious.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

A Flashy Piece of Sci-Fi.

This piece was inspired after having watched Titan A.E. for the first time. If you're not familiar, it's an animated film set within the expanse of the universe which focuses on a lad and his companions' attempt to find this "ark" that is the last remnant of life on Earth. Showcased in the film was a space station that seemed to form a central hub for trade and whatnot. I drew from this idea and came up with the following.


A trade ship docked into the port of our space station today. I say “today,” though there is no really discernable way to indicate the beginning and end to a day in space. I don’t even know how many years it’s been since Earth was devastated by the invasion. Everyone was displaced after that.

People jogged, serpents slithered, and insectoids scurried to examine the product lineup. I was in no particular hurry. Nothing these alien races owned catered to my interests. I couldn’t even understand their languages.

I perused each kiosk with moderate regard. As expected, there was nothing of value. Everything was foreign to me. There were even some weapons. Utterly useless merchandise used to fuel equally useless endeavors.

I had nearly turned to leave when a kiosk in a distant corner caught my eye. Or rather, something on display caught my eye. I approached the station. It was “manned” by an insectoid. His mouth pincers clicked as his head twitched about. His antennae wobbled in my direction; he was smelling me.

What had initially drawn me to the table was a tall soccer trophy plated with golden paint. The inscription read: Regional Soccer Winners; Carlson High School; 2007. This bug had scavenged his “goods” from Earth’s ruins. I felt a little annoyed, but I knew that this bug was not to blame.

I gazed over his wares scrawled across the table. A pink case for Bubble Tape, a bent baseball card, a roll of Scotch tape with no dispenser, an empty Pepsi can, a silver chain necklace, a football helmet labeled “SSHS Panthers,” a damaged iPod, a scuffed and bent pair of glasses, a pair of ragged Adidas, and so on. All of these items would have been considered junk back in the day, but now I suppose they were a nostalgic luxury.

Then I saw one item. An item that should have never been there. Something only the gods would place before me. I saw this item and I wept. I wept and fell to my knees as I grabbed the item. The insectoid chirped with curiosity. I looked at the item in my hands through blurred eyes. Tied around the plush bear’s neck, the red ribbon with the keychain hanging from it, the engraving on the gold token.

“To our beloved son, Jimmy. May you live a fruitful and enduring life. Love, Mom and Dad.”

There was an issue with the copypasta that screwed with the formatting, hence why the opening is not double-spaced and the font is off. One paragraph pasted in large bold and another in small font. I couldn't fix this to my liking. Anyway, the piece was initially titled "Trinkets," but I was informed during workshop that this term was less applicable.