Punctuation

Photo by Blair Fraser

Photo by Blair Fraser

In front of me rests the husk of a plane—its wings clipped, its nose shaved off as if by a surgeon paid to make it something it was not—and I want to give it a pronoun, to call it she like my grandfather would have, but that seems offensive in some way.

And then it seems offensive that that seems offensive.

It is the last one left in the graveyard where they used to bury all the great things, all the conveyances of the last great age. The corpses of its brothers and sisters have been hauled away, their skin and bones recycled for the great windowless domes where we live now, sedentary, fixed, and unmoving, our eyes glued to our screens, our screens the only escape we can stomach anymore. Motion sickness is the great affliction of our time. And we don’t like the discomfort, the feeling that something might spill from us other than commands to the servants who do our bidding and clean up our business.

I am not supposed to be here. ‘Why do you leave your seat?’ they will ask me, without looking up from their screens. ‘What do you think you’ll find out there that you can’t find in here?’ they will say, tapping a query into the repositories to determine which of my thoughts was offensive. They can no longer tell for themselves. They no longer want to.

I will say nothing, but what I will be thinking is about the difference punctuation makes, how looking at the body of a dead plane moved a comma in my mind, and struck a period from existence. I will be thinking about what throwing up in the cockpit of my grandfather’s two-seater meant way back when, and what it means now.

Once, I flew. I never went back.

Once I flew, I never went back.

I write and publish new short fiction for free every day. If you like what you’re reading, support me on Patreon to read tomorrow’s story today.

Tired

Photo by Shlomit Wolf

Photo by Shlomit Wolf

Like a child staring from a train, a rainstorm overhead making every beautiful thing whipping by the window a little more green, a little more gold—like that exhausted child, my head rests against the glass, my gaze slipping in and out of focus.

I’ve been reading all day, yarns spun out for me by the men and women who sit before me every Friday and wait for me to say something profound that they can copy down into their notebooks, their computers, their phones for the moments when they are stuck like I am now. So many words woven together into so many sentences. So much beauty. So many moments rising above other moments.

So much it’s too much.

Like the child, the beauty blurs before me. I close my eyes before it overwhelms me. I know it’s still there. I know it’s still beautiful. But I must go. I must stop eating candy from the Easter baskets, before I never want to eat a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup again.

Even my metaphors are tired now.

I write and publish new short fiction for free every day. If you like what you’re reading, support me on Patreon to read tomorrow’s story today.

Receding

The soldiers smoke their last cigarette on the last boat out, passing the shriveling thing amongst themselves. One of them, the one in the sunglasses, he hangs onto it for too long, sucks too much of the life out of it and leaves too much of himself behind when he finally passes it on.

“You might as well have laid one on me,” his buddy tells him, rubbing the drool off with his thumb and forefinger, then flicking it at Sunglasses.

All of them look forward, these men, paying attention to the pal upfront with the camera who is there to make sure they go down in history; his words, not mine. All of them look forward but one. He casts his glance backward at the fjord they’re leaving behind, wondering if it would be wrong to say the fjord is retreating, wondering if that’s what they’re doing too. And, if that’s what they’re doing, why is everyone else smiling? The sea sprays up and back, white as the snow capping the now distant cliffs.

Receding. That’s the word, he realizes. The fjord is receding.

As he is. As all of them are.

All of us, too.

I write and publish new short fiction for free every day. If you like what you’re reading, support me on Patreon to read tomorrow’s story today.

I Could Just Diary: Round 4

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E. Christopher Clark performed selections from the journal he kept from 1994 through 1996 as part of I Could Just Diary: Round 4 at the Seacoast Repertory Theatre in Portsmouth, New Hampshire on April 15, 2015.

Chris performed alongside Kolby Hume, C.J. Lewis, Jamie Bradley, Thistle Jones, Blake Seal, Roxie Zwicker, Leah Haydock, Spooky Graves, Nikki Hentz, Jacqui Martell, Bartley Mullin, Amanda Giles, Knate Higgins, and Kenley Darling.

Trouble

Photo by Luis Llerena

Photo by Luis Llerena

As he packs cables and dry-erase markers and his worn tablet into the hand-me-down backpack he’s held onto through three jobs and more years than he can count, one student lingers. He senses she is waiting for him to acknowledge her before she speaks, and he tries hard not to rub at his temples or to run his fingers through his hair. He is horrible at hiding his tiredness, his impatience, and evaluations are coming up. He cannot afford to be the asshole he’s sure they’re all beginning to see him as.

Slowly, as he zips up the backpack, he raises his eyes to meet hers. “What’s up?” he says.

“I don’t know what to write,” she says. “I mean, I have ideas. Like, enough ideas for a novel.”

“But you don’t know where to start?”

She nods. “Do you have any advice?”

He does, but it’s all useless. ‘Just write,’ is the first thing that comes to mind, so he says that. But then he backpedals, stumbling over his words, trying to make the simple, terrible truth of facing blank piece of paper a little less daunting for this young woman looking to him for comfort.

“You just have to start somewhere,” he says.

“But where?”

He wants to say with a pen and a piece of paper, but he knows his snark will not go over well. He knows that, even though he doesn’t mean to be snarky, that’s how he will come across. It’s the simplest advice that’s the hardest to hear. But it’s the truth: so many of them don’t know where to begin because they are afraid of sitting down with their notebook and failing. They sit at their laptops, cold coffee in a cardboard cup, stale clichés in the ashtray, the clock in the right-hand corner of their screen flashing toward a looming deadline—they sit there, having left themselves no time to fail.

‘Failing is important,’ he wants to say, but doesn’t. He knows that won’t help her either, not at this stage.

“Where do I begin?” she asks, rubbing at her temples, running a hand through her hair.

“With trouble,” he says. “Only trouble is interesting, so start there.”

“But there’s so much trouble to choose from,” she says. “So many ideas.”

“Then start there,” he says, thinking of the story he wrote at the end of seven pages of chicken scratch about his failures as a writer, a teacher, and a husband. It wasn’t half-bad, that one. No idea where it came from, except maybe from the habit of putting one word after another.

She shakes her head and leaves him alone in the room, muttering something incoherent and angry under her breath.

Later that night, when he has no idea what to write himself, he remembers his own advice and starts there, back in that room.

A lingering student. A worn-out backpack. A tired professor.

Trouble.

It all begins with trouble.

I write and publish new short fiction for free every day. If you like what you’re reading, support me on Patreon to read tomorrow’s story today.

Assumptions

Photo by Tracy Rees

Photo by Tracy Rees

What if the woman who will change the world was that little girl sitting on the fallen tree? What would you have said to her, had you known? What would you have said to her as she sat there on that log, not looking at you? Something about the forest, the vastness of it, how the thick grass was growing? Do you think that would have gotten her attention?

Or would you have commented on her dress and the hundreds of little flowers in its pattern? The gray and white stripes of her tights and how they were quite the fashion statement? Maybe her pink cowgirl boots?

If you’d mentioned the boots, that would have gotten you a look. A look, and a correction. “Cowboy boots,” she would have told you, and then looked away again.

What she really wanted you to ask her—and I know because I asked, and because she told me—was about the deer she was trying to find, the one who’d visited her so many times before the day her father and uncle went out in their orange jackets, with their rifles hoisted over their shoulders. That’s what she would have talked to you about.

That, or Iron Man. The third one, where a girl got to wear the suit. “That’s my favorite,” she would have told you.

If you’d asked.

I write and publish new short fiction for free every day. If you like what you’re reading, support me on Patreon to read tomorrow’s story today.

A Flock

Photo by Mladen Milinovic

The birds have never done anything to me. They gather round the marble bench I sit upon and eat what I give them, whatever I give them. When the food is gone, they don’t look up to me expectantly, imagining the glare of their pretty eyes will transfigure the thin air on my wrinkled palm into thick slices of day-old bread. No. Maybe they are strange birds, unlike the bottom feeders you shoo away whenever they draw near, but my birds simply take what they can get and then move on.

They don’t expect a smile from me either, not while I serve them, not while I watch them. Not at all. If I cry, they eat. If I shake, they eat. If I sleep—you get the point. If I drop the loaf whole upon the ground, not even bothering to break it up before dashing away, they do not ask me what’s wrong. They eat, and that’s it.

This is why I feed the birds. This is why I sit amongst them. While you hurry by, pinching your nose at the faintest whiff of me, of the dirty places I don’t wash because I know I will never be clean—while you hurry by, the birds pay me no mind.

To the birds, it’s like I’m not there at all.

Oh, how I wish I wasn’t there for you. Oh, how I wish you were a bird, or a flock of them, that you would scatter to the winds when I was done with you.

I write and publish new short fiction for free every day. If you like what you’re reading, support me on Patreon to read tomorrow’s story today.

Missed Deadline

Photo by ahmadreza sajadi

Once upon a time, there was a writer who forgot to write. He sat in his car, full of mirth from a night out with friends—mirth and a couple of Mike’s Hard Lemonades—and his stomach sank in recognition of his failure. The car swerved, out of his control for a moment as he thought about streaks broken and readers left hanging.

And then, from the passenger’s seat, came a disembodied voice that sounded quite familiar. ‘Take care of yourself,’ said his invisible muse. ‘Give yourself a break.’

So, he did.

I write and publish new short fiction for free every day. If you like what you’re reading, support me on Patreon to read tomorrow’s story today.

Choose Your Own Adventure

Photo by Ryan McGuire

Photo by Ryan McGuire

The leg the cowgirl carried under her arm was stolen. Her stride—long and bouncing, her free arm flung carelessly back and forth—carried her across the parking lot with feverish haste. And her gritted teeth—well, they told you everything else you needed to know, didn’t they? This leg might not have belonged to her in the first place, but it did now.

It took the now one-legged mannequin toppling to the floor to rouse the shopkeep from his phone-induced trance. And it took a half minute more for him to parse the scene. Only then, looking down at the too-tight skirt riding up along the statue’s hips, staring past the point of decency at its smooth, featureless groin, only then did he yell out for someone to stop.

Someone. He scratched his head, trying to recall who had been in the shop. A man? A woman? For a second, he wondered if there had been anyone at all, if the mannequin had had two legs to begin with. Eventually, he waddled out from behind his counter, pushed the glass door open a smidge, and poked his head out into the world. He looked left, looked right, and then gave up.

At her car, around the bend, the cowgirl popped the trunk open. She set the leg atop the torso she’d lifted from Penney’s, the arms she’d purloined from Macy’s and the Gap, and the head her mama had been gifted by the wig shop on Sixth for her years of loyal service. Only one leg left to go, she told herself as she closed the trunk and made for the driver’s seat. Only one leg left to go.

What happens next? Leave your theory in the comments below, or send me an email.

I write and publish new short fiction for free every day. If you like what you’re reading, support me on Patreon to read tomorrow’s story today.

Make a Dent

The girl stands on the largest rock in a field strewn with boulders and pebbles and every size of detritus in between. With her arms outstretched, she tilts her body against the wind, which is whipping up now, just to see if it can topple her.

As her small body is buffeted by the gale coming up and over the mountains, she thinks of the computer salesman who once told her to go out and make a dent in the universe. It seemed strange, coming from him, the man in the corduroy jacket on her doorstep, with the briefcase that seemed too heavy for his twiggy arms. It seemed strange that he told her this thing, this profound thing, even after her father had told him to scram. And it seems strange now that, of all the advice she’s been given over the years—just say no; just say yes; hang in there, kitten—it is the words of a stranger that are ringing in her ears.

When the wind knocks her over, she struggles for purchase on slippery rock, scraping skin off her palms and ripping a hole in the long sleeve of her thickly striped shirt. As she sits with her back against the rock, collecting herself, she thinks of the man she left behind, the two colleges, the three dogs, and the four jobs at the mall.

‘Make a dent in the universe,’ the salesman told her, before tipping his hat and traipsing back across the lawn to his car.

She stood and brushed herself off, staining her jeans with a drop or two of blood as she ran her palms across her thighs. She had no idea how to make a dent, at least not yet. But she did know how to lean in, how to tilt, how to dare the world to knock her down one more time. So, for now, that’s what she’d do.

The girl climbed back atop the rock and waited once more for the wind.

I write and publish new short fiction for free every day. If you like what you’re reading, support me on Patreon to read tomorrow’s story today.