Just

Photo by Wil Stewart

Photo by Wil Stewart

The light at the end of the tunnel may be you. It may be your flashlight that blinds us from down there where the tracks end and the graffiti begins. It may you standing there, one bare foot mingled with gravel whilst the big toe of the other is tracing the knots of a thick slab of wood. It may be.

More likely, though, it is just another train. Just another train waiting for us to skirt off into the yard on the sidetrack. Just another train, with just another conductor, who is hoping, just like me, that there is someone waiting for her at the end of the line.

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.

Villains

Photo by Valentin Petkov

Though you may see him as a pest, the villain who feeds on crops sown with your sweat and your seed, he is in his own mind—however slight it might be—a hero of the first order, the most magnificent beast ever to roam this planet, and, therefore, entitled whatever he can wrap his jaws around.

So it is between man and bug.

So it is between man and man.

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.

Sheets

Photo by Quin Stevenson

We unmade the bed while we unmade ourselves, a decoupling through coupling, one last romp between those sheets you bought at Wal-Mart back in college, the set for the big bed we didn’t have yet but would. You were sure of that, as sure of the king sized mattress as you were of the six kids we’d have.

You were never able to throw them out, the sheets, no matter how ratty they got. But, then again, you’d never been able to give up on the kids either, no matter how many doctors told us no, it wasn’t possible, before handing you the Kleenex. I’ll never forget the look on the last one’s face when you hurled the box back at her, right at her head. I stayed behind when you stormed out, not to apologize for your behavior, but to tell the woman to fuck off for not reading the file, for not realizing you were all out of tears.

You took the sheets with you when you left, pulling them out from under me as I slept, then leaving the signed papers on your bare pillow.

My pillowcase, you left behind. A souvenir or one last bit of hope. I’m still not sure.

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.

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.