An Excerpt

July 12, 2007

from “Black Swan Green” by David Mitchell

Note: 1982, England. Having had enough of bullying, Jason Taylor (the novel’s protagonist and narrator) had just destroyed the new solar-powered calculator of Neal Brose, the school’s “Golden Boy” but a cruel bully leader with cronies Gary Drake and David Ockeridge). Jason is sent to the schoolmaster and proceeds to reveal Neal Brose’s bullying activities to the disgruntled schoolmaster. As a result, Neal Brose is expelled. Jason Taylor narrates what happens next during the afternoon.

Neal Brose normally sits up front in English, slap bang in the middle. Go on, said Unborn Twin, take the bastard’s seat. You owe it to him. So I did. David Ockeridge, who sits next to Neal Brose, chose a seat farther back. But Clive Pike, of all people, put his bag next to me. “Anyone sitting here?” Clive Pike’s breath smells of cheese’n’onion Outer Spacers, but who cares?

I made a Go ahead face.

Miss Lippetts shot me a look as we chanted, “Good afternoon, Miss Lippetts.” So swift and crafty it was almost not there, but it was. “Sit down, 3KM. Pencil cases out, please. Today, we’ll exercise our supply young minds on a composition, on this theme … ” As we got our stuff out, Miss Lippetts wrote on the board.

A SECRET.

The slap and slide of chalk’s a reassuring sound.

“Tamsin, do me the honor, please.”

Tamsin Murrell read, “‘A secret’, miss.”

“Thank you. But what is a secret?”

It takes everyone a bit of time to get going after lunch.

“Well, say, is a secret a thing you can see? Touch?”

Avril Bredon put her hand up.

“Avril?”

“A secret’s a piece of information that not everybody knows.”

“Good. A piece of information that not everyone knows. Information about … who? You? Somebody else? Something? All of these?

After a gap, a few kids murmured, “All of these.”

“Yes, I’d say so too. But ask yourselves this. Is a secret a secret if it isn’t true?”

That was a tight knot of a question. Miss Lippetts wrote,

MISS LIPPETTS IS NANCY REAGAN.

Most of the girls laughed.

“If I asked you stay behind after class, waited till we were alone and whispered, in all seriousness, this statement, would you go, ‘No! Really! Wow! What a secret!’ Duncan?”

Duncan Priest had his hand up. “I’d phone Little Malvern Loonybin, miss. Book you a room with a nice mattress. On all the walls.” Duncan Priest’s small fan club laughed. “That’s not a secret, miss! It’s just the gibberish of an utter nutter.”

“A pithy and rhyming assessment, thank you. As Duncan says, so-called ‘secrets’ that are palpably false cannot be considered secrets. If enough people believed I was Nancy Reagan, that might cause me problems, but we still couldn’t think of it as a ‘secret’, could we? More of a mass delusion. Can anyone tell me what a mass delusion is? Alastair?”

“I head loads of Americans think Elvis Presley is still alive.”

“Fine example. However, I’m now going to let you in on a secret about myself which is true. It’s a touch embarrassing, so please don’t spread it around at break-time … ”

MISS LIPPETTS IS AN AXE-MURDERER.

Now half the boys laughed too.

Shhh! I buried my victims under the M50. So there’s no evidence. No suspicion. But is this secret still a secret? If it’s one that nobody, and I mean nobody, has the faintest suspicion about?”

An interested silence played itself out.

“Yes … ” muttered a few kids as a few kids muttered, “No … ”

You’d know, miss.” Clive Pike raised his hand. “If you really were an axe-murderer. So you can’t say nobody knows it.”

“Not if miss was a schizophrenic axe-murderer,” Duncan Priest told him. “Who never remembers the crimes she commits. She might just … turn, like that, chop you to bits for forgetting your homework, whack splurt splatter, flush the remains down the sewer, black out, then wake up again as mild-mannered Miss Lippetts, English teacher, go, ‘Gosh, blood on my clothes again? How odd that this keeps happening whenever there’s a full moon. Oh well. Into the washing machine.’ Then it would be a secret nobody knew, right?”

“Delicious imagery, Duncan, thank you. But imagine all the murders to have ever occurred in the Severn Valley, since, say, Roman times. All those victims, all those murderers, dead and turned to dust. Can those violent acts, which no one, remember, has thought about for a thousand years, also be called ‘secrets’? Holly?”

“Not secrets, miss,” said Holly Deblin. “Just … lost information.”

“Sure. So can we agree, a secret needs a human agency to know it, or at least write it down? A holder. A keeper. Emma Ramping! What are you whispering to Abigail?”

“Miss?”

“Stand up, please, Emma.”

Worried, lanky Emma Ramping stood up.

“I’m conducting a lesson here. What are you telling Abigail?”

Emma Ramping hid behind a very sorry face.

“Is it a piece of information that not everybody knows?”

“Yes, miss.”

“Speak up, Emma, so the groundlings can hear you!”

“Yes, miss.”

“Aha. So you were confiding a secret to Abigail.”

Emma Ramping reluctantly nodded.

“How topical. Well, why not share this secret with us? Now. In a nice loud voice.”

Emma Ramping began blushing, miserably.

“I’ll do you a deal, Emma. I’ll let you off the hook if you just explain why you’re happy sharing your secret with Abigail, but not the rest of us.”

“Because … I don’t want everyone to know, miss.”

“Emma is telling us about secrets, 3KM. Thank you, Emma, be seated and sin no more. How do you kill a secret?”

Leon Cutler stuck up his hand. “Tell people.”

“Yes, Leon. But how many people? Emma told Abigail her secret, but that didn’t kill it, did it? How many people have to be in the know before the secret’s an ex-secret?”

“Enough,” Duncan Priest said, “to get you sent to the electric chair, miss. For being an axe-murderer, I mean.”

“Who can reconstruct Duncan’s glorious wit into a general principle? How many people does it take to kill a secret? David?”

“As many,” David Ockeridge thought about it, “as it takes, miss.”

“As it takes to do what? Avril?”

“As it takes to change,” Avril Bredon frowned, “whatever it is the secret’s about. Miss.”

“Solid reasoning, 3KM. Maybe the future is in safe hands, after all. If Emma told us what she told Abigail, that secret would be dead. If my murders are exposed in the Malvern Gazetteer, I’m … well, dead, if Duncan’s on the jury, anyway. The scale is different, but the principle is the same. Now, my next question is the one that truly intrigues me because I’m not sure what the answer is. Which secrets should be made public? And which shouldn’t?”

That question had not quick takers.

For the fiftieth or hundredth time that day I thought of Ross Wilcox.

“Who can tell me what this word means?

ETHICS

Chalk mist falls in the wakes of words.

I’d looked “ethics” up once. It crops up in the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant books. It means morality. Mark Badbury already had his hand up.

“Mark?”

“The answer’s in what you just said, miss. Ethics is to do with what you should and shouldn’t do.”

“Very smart answer, Mark. In Socrates’ Greece they would have considered you a fine rhetorician. Is it ethical to get every secret out in the open?”

Duncan cleared his throat. “Seems pretty ethical to get your secret out in the open, miss. To stop innocent school kids being chopped up?”

“Spot on, Duncan. But would you spill the beans on this one?

BATMAN’S REAL NAME IS BRUCE WAYNE

Most of the boys in the class let out murmurs of admiration.

“If this secret gets out, what is every master criminal in the world going to do? Christopher?”

“Blow Bruce Wayne’s mansion to smithereens, miss.” Christopher Twyford  sighed. “No more Caped Crusader.”

“Which would be a loss to society at large, yes? So sometimes it’s ethical not to reveal a secret. Nicholas?”

“Like the Official Secrets Act.” Nicholad Briar usually doesn’t say a word in class. “When the Falkland Wars was on.”

“Just so, Nicholas. Loose lips sink ships. Now. Think about your own secrets.” (The connection between Ross Wilcox’s wallet and his lost leg. My grandfather’s smashed-up Omega Seamaster. Madame Crommelynck.) “How quiet it has suddenly become. Right, are all your secrets of the ‘Yes, I Should Tell’ or ‘No, I shouldn’t Tell’ varieties? Or is there a third category that, ethically speaking, is not so clear cut? Personal secrets that don’t affect anyone else? Trivial ones? Complex ones, with uncertain consequences if you tell them?”

Mumbled Yeses, growing in strength.

Miss Lippetts got a fresh stick from a box of chalk. “You acquire more of these ambiguous secrets as you age, 3KM. Not less. Get used to them. Who can guess why I’m writing this word … ”

REPUTATION

“Jason?”

3KM turned into a radio telescope aimed at the class grass.

“Reputation is what gets damaged, miss, once a secret’s out. Your reputation as a teacher’d be shot to bits, if it’s proved you are an axe-murderer. Bruce Wayne’s reputation as this wouldn’t-say-boo-to-a-goose Mr Nobody’d be done for. It’s like Neal Brose, too isn’t it?” (If I can grind a solar-powered calculator to bits then stuffing this rule that I should be ashamed for grassing on a kid and getting him expelled. In fact stuff all rules.) “He had quite a secret going, didn’t he? Wayne Nashend knew, Anthony Little knew. A few others.” Gary Drake, over to my left, stared straight ahead. “But once his secret is out, his reputation as this … ”

To everyone’s surprise, Miss Lippetts suggested, “Golden boy?”

“Golden boy. Excellent term, Miss Lippetts.” (For the first time in God knows how long I earned some class laughs.) “That reputation’s wrecked. His reputation with kids as this … hard-knock you don’t mess with is wrecked too. Without a reputation to hide his secret behind, Neal Brose is … totally … completely … ”

Say it, nudged Unborn Twin, I dare you to.

“ … buggered, miss. Screwed and buggered.”

That appalled silence was my handiwork. Words made it. Just words.

Miss Lippetts loves her job, on good days.

-~-

Now, that’s good writing. Nifty.

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Witch

June 22, 2007

“It’s getting late,” Glenda said to her six year old adopted brother, “maybe we should go tomorrow instead.”

“No, we have to do it now,” Paul said.

“What’s this place anyway?”

“A witch laboratory. The whole house is a witch university.”

“Whatever.”

They squeezed through the broken basement window and went in. Cobwebs covered everything, the furniture smelled of old newspapers. All doors were locked save for one—slightly ajar on the northern wall. Paul reached for the knob. The door didn’t creak. Something smelled inside. Something foul. Paul took a step forward but Glenda grasped his wrist. Paul turned around and froze. “Sister,” Paul said, “behind you.”

Before Glenda could turn, someone pushed from behind. She grabbed Paul as they fell down the stairs, letting go of him when she hit the ground below. It was dark, the ground was wet. She felt a stabbing pain in her left foot. She reached out for Paul. “Paul?” she called out, “PAUL?”

“You shouldn’t have come here,” said a woman’s voice.

Light flooded the room. Dogs and cats everywhere. All dead, all headless. Blood covered the floor. Glenda looked up. An old woman was descending with a large knife.

“All these years,” the old woman mumbled. She raised her knife to strike. “All these years.”

A dead cat hit the old woman in the head. She shifted one foot and slipped. She fell—knife skidding to Paul’s feet.

“Paul!” Glenda exclaimed, “thank God you’re okay.”

Paul looked silently at Glenda. He took the knife and stood over the old woman. She stared at his face. A look of surprise. And recognition.

“You,” she growled in terror and rage. “YOU!”

“Remember the last time,” Paul said.

“Damn you. DAMN YOU!”

“Paul, what is she talking about?” Glenda asked. Paul remained silent. Glenda stared at his face. It was Paul. And yet it was not.

“Never again,” he said before plunging the knife into the old woman’s chest.

Glenda heard the scream. She tried to look away but she couldn’t—her eyes fixed on Paul. He kept his hands on the knife then methodically twisted it. Glenda saw him bury his right hand in and quickly pull something out. As he stood, he raised his hand above his face and squeezed it. Blood poured from the dead woman’s heart into his open mouth. He licked his lips and threw it away.

He walked toward Glenda, knife still in his hand.

~-~

“Why won’t you tell me what happened, baby?” Glenda’s mother asked, close to tears.

“I can’t,” Glenda said without emotion. She shifted her gaze to the window. Outside the psychiatric facility, she could see dark clouds looming at the distance.

“Paul will be here in an hour,” her mother remembered.

“I don’t want to see him.”

“Why not?”

Glenda just stared ahead.

“Baby, what happened?” Her mother pleaded, now crying, “Tell me.”

“I can’t,” Glenda replied and closed her eyes.

Glenda’s mother walked out the door without saying goodbye.

This short story originally appeared in Paperbag Writes as a creative writing exercise.


Reconnect

May 11, 2007

| | Bianca | | says: Hi. U there?
_Henry_ says: Hey, B. Long time no see :). Haven’t heard from you for some time now.
| | Bianca | | says: Do you still sell load?
_Henry_ says: Yup. How much?
| | Bianca | | says: 150 – 09197159423.
_Henry_ says: Wait a sec.
| | Bianca | | says: Make it ALL TEXT.
_Henry_ says: Ok.
| | Bianca | | says: Thnks. 🙂
_Henry_ says: You got it already?
| | Bianca | | says: Yeah. Can I pay you tomorrow?
_Henry_ says: Sure, no problem. How’s work?
| | Bianca | | says: Work is, you know, work. A lot of our call center agents have been migrating to C_____ so I guess there are a lot of slots to fill. That’s why I’m working an extra day for this week to pick up the slack. I’m really looking forward to my day off tomorrow.
_Henry_ says: It figures. I don’t usually see you online on Fridays.
| | Bianca | | says: You’re working late yourself. It’s almost ten and ur still here. What gives?
_Henry_ says: The usual. Server problems, connectivity problems—nothing new. I’d rather finish it tonight because I got band practice tomorrow afternoon.
| | Bianca | | says: You’re doing a gig?
_Henry_ says: Yup. Outpost, ten o’clock. It’s the opening night of Lisa’s photo exhibit. She invied us to play.
_Henry_ says: invited.
| | Bianca | | says: Cool.
_Henry_ says: You can pass by tomorrow night if ur free.
| | Bianca | | says: I don’t know.
_Henry_ says: It’ll be fun. Neil is going and Zee, too. You can bring Kyle along.
| | Bianca | | says: We broke up.
_Henry_ says. Whoa.
| | Bianca | | says: :(.
_Henry_ says: Since when?
| | Bianca | | says: I don’t know. About three weeks ago.
_Henry_ says: No shit.
| | Bianca | | says: …
_Henry_ says: What happened?
| | Bianca | | says: Please, I don’t wanna talk about it.
_Henry_ says: Sorry.
| | Bianca | | says: Brb.

| | Bianca | | may not reply because he or she appears to be offline.

_Henry_ says: Sure.

The following was not sent to the recipient:

_Henry_ says: Sure.

| | Bianca | | is now online.

| | Bianca | | says: Still there?
_Henry_ says: Hello.
| | Bianca | | says: Sorry, I had to restart my PC.
_Henry_ says: No prob.
| | Bianca | | says: Anyway, how are you? How is Abby?
_Henry_ says: She’s okay. She’s leaving for Canada on the 24th.
| | Bianca | | says: Wow.
_Henry_ says: Yup, her application pulled through earlier this month. She’s spending this weekend in Danao with Mama before she leaves. Mama’s going to miss her.
| | Bianca | | says: I hope Abby sends his big brother those hard to find CDs.
_Henry_ says: Hehe. Yup, I gave her a list already.
| | Bianca | | says: I’ll be going home to Cagayan myself soon.
_Henry_ says: Really? When?
| | Bianca | | says: As soon as my exit interview is scheduled.
_Henry_ says: You’re resigning?
| | Bianca | | says: Effective June 15. Supposedly.
_Henry_ says: Why?
| | Bianca | | says: I need a change.
| | Bianca | | says: I just need to stay away for a while. I don’t know.
_Henry_ says: You going home for good?
| | Bianca | | says: I don’t know. It depends. I just know I need to go and sort myself out.
_Henry_ says: I understand.
| | Bianca | | says: Thanks.
| | Bianca | | says: Hey, I’m not sure if I can go see your gig tomorrow night. How do I pay you?
_Henry_ says: Come on, ur only two blocks away from Gaw’s. You can drop it there anytime.
| | Bianca | | says: Okay.
_Henry_ says: Besides, I’m always hanging around at Gaw’s most weekends. You can just stop by if ever you need some company. Pizza’s on me. 🙂
| | Bianca | | says: Sure.
_Henry_ says: Like old times.
| | Bianca | | says: :).
_Henry_ says: It’s getting late. I have to go—still have to meet with Prix for the demos.
| | Bianca | | says: Thanks for keeping me company tonyt.
_Henry_ says: No prob. B, you take care, okay?
| | Bianca | | says: I will.
_Henry_ says: Gotta go. Bye.
| | Bianca | | says: Bye. Give my regards to Prix.
_Henry_ says: Sure :). Be seeing you.

_Henry_ may not reply because he or she appears to be offline.

| | Bianca | | says: I missed you.

The following was not sent to the recipient:

| | Bianca | | says: I missed you.

This piece originally appeared in Paperbag Writes as a creative writing exercise.


The Final Visit

May 4, 2007

The ceiling fan greets me with its incessant humming. Thirteen days since the stroke, I’ve been lying here on this bed, just waiting. I look beside me and I see him standing there. Not a good sign.

“You,” I say to him. But he doesn’t answer.

“You have come for me,” I continue, “at last.”

“Yes,” he replies.

“I understand.” I look away to the window. It doesn’t offer much comfort.

“How many have you taken?” I ask him. “How many since … since that day?”

“I don’t know. I’ve lost count.”

“Do you take pleasure in doing it?”

“No. Not at all.”

“Is it hard?”

“Yes.” I look at him. He’s looking down on his feet. “Every time,” he continues.

“How can you just keep on doing it then?” I ask.

“It’s what I do. It’s what I am.” A pause. “It’s what you made me to be.”

I look at him. He doesn’t look at me at all.

“Did you think I wanted you to do this?” I ask him.

“I did. Back then.” He turns to look at me this time. “Right after you traded my life for Mama’s, I thought you wanted me punished or something. Punished for something I’ve done to you.”

“You must understand. I had to make a choice. I struck a deal with the goddess Kendra in order to save someone’s life. In exchange she would ask something of me, something precious. I never thought she would make me give up a soul for the one she saved. It was either Helen or you. It was either give up my wife or give up you. I had to make a choice.”

My eyes are welling up with tears. But I continue. “It was never easy for me. It was the hardest decision I have ever made.”

His eyes locked into me. His stare is cold, unfeeling. “So you gave me up. Your eight year old adopted son to the Goddess,” he finally says.

“So I did”, I say to him, wiping my tears. “But I never thought she would turn you into one of her servants.” I stare back at him now. “I never thought she’d turn you into a Harvester.”

Silence.

“Did you hate me?” I finally ask.

“Yeah. I did.”

“Now?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“I would have done the same thing.”

I look at him. I weep openly now. He sits beside my bed.

“Thank you,” I say to him. “For understanding.” He nods silently.

I stare out the window. The orange sky paints a warm, tangerine glow on the town square. A boy is running towards a flock of pigeons, spreading his arms, laughing and jumping. At that moment the church bells toll. It is time.

“Will I see Helen again?” I ask.

“Yes.”

I turn to him and say, “I’m ready, my son.”

“Take my hand, father.”

I reach out and grasp his hand. I feel warmth, comfort and above all—release.

And then I feel nothing.

This piece originally appeared in Paperbag Writes as a creative writing exercise.


Nanofiction

March 9, 2007

The Arrival of Morning

“I’m not gonna miss this meteor shower,” says Chonita as she lies down on the blanket with her digital camera, some Mr. Chips and her iPod. Eyes closed, she thinks about the praises she’ll get when she shows the pictures to her class. Suddenly she hears “Wake up, Sweetie!” It’s Mom. “Breakfast is getting cold.”

The Agony of Defeat

Arms crossed with eagle eyes glued to the screen, Victor prepares for a final round of Marvel vs. CapCom. Kick, spin, punch, dodge! Jump, tumble, duck, evade! He sees an opening and unleashes a deadly combination but alas, his foe’s preemptive strike spells his doom! Again, the kindergarten kid shows him the meaning of humiliation!

Love Potion #2

Emboldened by unrequited passion and driven by unquenchable desire, Gino slips some of his Love Potion Number Two in Daisy’s Pepsi bottle. “Victory is mine,” said Gino, “my soul is in heaven, my heart in cloud nine.” Suddenly, someone is tapping his back—it’s Daisy! “Could you buy me another one? Bob drank my Pepsi.”

These stories originally appeared in Paperbag Writes as a creative writing exercise.


Hinumdum

January 29, 2007

He said it’s inevitable. Almost forty per cent of people my age eventually succumb to it. But he could be wrong, he admitted it. It could be something else.

Maybe. Some of my doctors have been wrong before. This one could be wrong too.

Because I feel fine. At least I would like to think so.

It was only yesterday that my daughter—her name is Chonita—celebrated her birthday. She visited me. We talked about Mike. We talked about Bobby. I remember it so vividly. It was yesterday.

Or was it?

What day is it today? What year is it? I’m sure it was Thursday yesterday.

No, it was Wednesday. Chonita always visits me on Wednesdays. And she always brings her daughter—no, her son—ten year old Thomas. Cute little Thomas. My little angel Thomas.

I can’t remember his face right now but I do remember his voice. He always speaks to me. In my head. In my dreams. In my waking hours. He’s always laughing.

But lately, the laughter is fading away. But it will be back. It has to come back!

Make it come back, Doctor! Bring everything back!

Chonita? Where is she? CHONITA! WHERE IS MY DAUGHTER?! Where is everybody?

Where am I?

What am I?

Who am I?

Doctor, please … I want to remember … I don’t want to forget … I’m tired of trying to remember … Just let me …

Just let me sleep …

Will you wake me up before the end? …

This piece originally appeared in Paperbag Writes as a creative writing exercise.


Pink Balloons

January 10, 2007

CAST OF CHARACTERS:
Gino. Struggling dancer. Works as a part time clown in Melvin’s Balloon Shop.
Melvin. Full-time clown, owns his own Balloon Shop.

SCENE:
Balloon shop. Gino and Melvin are inflating birthday balloons (using a helium tank) for a party less than an hour away. Both men are already in clown make-up and costume. Clock on the wall reads 2:33 PM. Melvin is working fast. Gino appears distracted.

Gino: (after staring at Melvin for a minute) Did I ever tell you about Daisy?
Melvin: Sorry?
Gino: Did I ever tell you about Daisy?
Melvin: Daisy? You mean Daisy from the beauty parlor down the corner?
Gino: No, not her. I meant Daisy—the one I’ve been seeing for quite some time now.
Melvin: Aah—him. That cheeseburger cutie you met at school. (smiles)
Gino: (laughs) Daisy wasn’t selling cheeseburgers, actually. He was handing out free burgers as part of the university’s outreach program.
Melvin: Whatever. Hey, look—I’m running out of pink balloons, would you mind kicking that box towards me?

Gino kicks a carton full of balloons towards Melvin. He kicks too hard—the box flips upside down in Melvin’s left side.

Melvin: Dammit, Gino, look what you’ve done?—
Gino: Sorry.
Melvin: We should have prepared more pink balloons—Chonita specifically requested for pink ones. Well, I guess these lavender ones will have to do. Anyway, what about Daisy?
Gino: (pauses) Daisy’s leaving the country. First week of November.
Melvin: (stops and looks at Gino) Whoa.
Gino: Yeah.
Melvin: (resumes air-filling balloons) Well, good for Daisy. Where to?
Gino: Australia. Melbourne.
Melvin: And?
Gino: He wants me to go with him.

A pause.

Melvin: So? What’s the problem?
Gino: Melv, the Rent production will be looking for new talent next Feb and I guess, I want to audish. I mean, this could be the big break I’ve been waiting for. This could be my ticket out of this—clown thing.
Melvin: Hey! This is a legitimate and honest-to-goodness business, Gin! You make it sound like I’m pushing meth or something.
Gino: Yeah, but I want something more than just jumping around in children’s parties. I wanna be somebody.
Melvin: You are somebody! You’re the best clown I’ve ever hired, d’you know that? You’re a natural! I really thought you’d go full time on this. I was even expecting you’d be willing to go partnership.
Gino: Oh come on, Melv. I don’t wanna do this for life!
Melvin: You’re not exactly getting job offers from the theater, that’s for sure! (notices the clock) Dammit, it’s ten to three. Have you seen my rubber nose?
Gino: (looks around) Here it is. (tosses it to Melvin)
Melvin: Shit, it’s all messed up—looks like my weener. Can’t wear this—can you throw me that other one? (Gino tosses a green rubber nose to Melvin) Thanks. By the way, your make-up is wearing off on the left cheek. Try to re-apply some before we go there.
Gino: Daisy says he can get a job easily in the city. You know, with his college degree and all.
Melvin: What did he finish again?
Gino: Vet.
Melvin: (sarcastic) Yeah, right. I’m sure those Aussies have a lot of pets. (sniggers)
Gino: Yeah, but what about me, Melv? It’s not like I got credentials like him.
Melvin: (still sniggering) True.
Gino: You can be a little more sympathetic, you know.
Melvin: Come on, Gin. If you’re gonna go with Daisy, you’re gonna have to look for some source of income, too.
Gino: Like what?
Melvin: I don’t know. Learn HTML programming! Apply for a search engine optimizer position! You can even do that Erasure-Hagibis dance routine for all I care! I mean, YOU ARE A CLOWN, for God’s sake! Use your imagination!

Silence.

Gino: Actually, Daisy said he’s applying for a job for this wildlife conservatory in the city.
Melvin: (laughs) Wow, that’s something.
Gino: You think maybe I can get a job at this zoo, too?

Melvin looks hard and long at Gino. Melvin slowly sighs. Melvin walks towards Gino and straightens Gino’s oversized lapel. Melvin brushes away some face powder accumulating on Gino’s right shoulder.  Then Melvin re-applies some of Gino’s make-up.

Melvin: Told you to fix your make-up before we go. You know, you should try to shave those eyebrows more often, too. Come on, we’re getting late. You take those pink balloons and I’ll take these—

Melvin gets the lavender balloons and heads towards the door. He suddenly stops—a step away from the exit. He makes another long sigh. He turns around to face Gino.

MELVIN: Yes, I think the zoo is a terrific idea.

Lights dim, curtains close.
This piece originally appeared in Paperbag Writes as a creative writing exercise.


Vengeance

November 13, 2006

I finally found the vile creature that took my son.
Her coffin—I lay open under the pale moonlight.
Her serene countenance belies the pitiless temptress within.
Her youthful visage hides centuries of murder.
North winds breathe a cold gale.
But I tremble in rage.
This wooden dagger unleashed.
My grip tightens.
No hesitation.

Death.

This short story originally appears in Paperbag Writes.


Mess Hall

November 10, 2006

Cast of Characters:

Jake – army trainee. Former classmate of Tess.
Tess – army trainee. Former classmate of Jake.

Scene:

2:13 AM. Mess Hall, Training Camp, Fort Miner. Tess is sitting on the mess table, brooding. Jake enters, notices Tess, gets a glass of water from the dispenser, takes one sip, approaches Tess. Tess doesn’t look up.

Jake: Can’t sleep?

A short pause before Tess looks up. Returns her gaze to the table.

Tess: No.
Jake: May I? (Pointing to the chair)
Tess: Sure.

Jake takes one more sip. Exhales deeply.

Jake: How’s your daddy?
Tess: He’s … he’s coping well with the chemotherapy. At least that’s what I’ve heard from Aunt May.
Jake: Have you visited him since 2002?
Tess: No. I haven’t been “home” since … well, since we graduated.

A pause.

Tess: How ‘bout you? I mean … your family.
Jake: Ma passed away a year after we graduated.
Tess: I’m sorry … (visibly surprised)

Jake says nothing.

Tess: Jane?
Jake: It didn’t work out for us.

Tess shakes her head. Jake looks at Tess.

Jake: I guess you haven’t been around much lately, have you? (A hint of sarcasm in his voice)
Tess: Jake, I …
Jake: Well, it’s only been four years since you disappeared! (He stops himself)

Tess remains silent. Jake stands up in frustration.

Jake: I thought friends stick around till the end, Tess. I mean, you, Jane and me, I thought we were inseparable! And you just left without even saying goodbye? Where have you been, Tess? All these years, why d’you left?

Tess sighs.

Tess: I left because I had to. I just couldn’t bear it. I just couldn’t.
Jake: What are you talking about, Tess?
Tess: I couldn’t bear watching Jane with you, Jake.
Jake: What?
Tess: I couldn’t bear watching my best friend with you. Don’t you see, Jake? I fell in love with you. I left because I had to let it go. I had to let you go. That’s why I had to get away! As far away as possible. That’s why I volunteered for training here.
 
Jake is stunned.

Jake: I broke up with Jane when I learned she got pregnant while training in Flight Academy. She never even told me. I only knew then after I made an unexpected visit in South Sector. She even got married. And she never told me any of it. Not in her letters. Not in any of her motherfucking long distance calls! (A pause) Afterwards I got myself re-assigned to the Special Forces unit for training.

Tess is now looking at him.
 
Tess: I’m sorry, Jake. I didn’t know…
Jake: You knew about Jane?
Tess: No, I didn’t, Jake. I haven’t spoken to her since … since I left.

A pause.

Tess: I’m sorry …

Jake recovers.

Jake: Why the Special Forces?
Tess: I don’t know. I just wanted to get away. I … I wanted to—
Jake: Kill yourself, is that it?
Tess: Don’t be silly, Jake. No …

Jake doesn’t believe her. He shakes his head in disgust.

Tess: Jake, if you only knew what I had to endure, you wouldn’t talk like that!
Jake: And what about me? You think it was easy for me? When I found out about Jane’s lies, I was all alone! Do you have an idea how hard that was for me?—an excellent military trainee on the outside, a broken man on the inside! You have no idea!

Tess just looks at him.

Jake: And seeing you like this–? What am I supposed to think, huh? You just … disappeared! Vanished in thin air! I mean we even thought you were dead!
Tess: I had to get over you, Jake! I had to get over Jane! Over that sick psycho I call Daddy! I needed a new life! A better life than that shithole!

Tess is breathing hard, close to tears. She recovers herself.

Tess: Now? … I wanted to get away so badly and I actually end up in the same company with you, training for a war that I can’t even understand. What irony.

Silence. Jake sits down opposite Tess.

Jake: Why couldn’t you tell me back then?
Tess: I didn’t know how. You looked so happy together, Jake. You were so in love with her. I didn’t want to ruin that. Even if it did ruin me. But I held on because I thought I could live with it. I thought I was strong enough. I was wrong. That’s why I had to go.

Silence.

Jake: Are you over me?

Tess just looks at him.

Tess: Does it matter? Tell me, with this fucking war, does it matter?
Jake: It does to me.

Tess is taken aback.

Tess: I don’t know, Jake. I really don’t.

Tess turns his gaze away. After a long pause, Jake lights up a cigarette. He pushes the cigarette pack and the lighter across the table. Tess picks up a cigarette and lights it.

Tess: I didn’t expect to find you here, you know.
Jake: Same here. At least now we both know the truth.

Tess nods.
 
Tess: So what now?

A pause. Suddenly, the drill alarm goes off. Both Tess and Jake look towards the source of the alarm, they’re both on their feet. They look at each other. Tess makes the first move going out of the mess hall.

Jake: Tess—

Tess pauses by the exit door.

Jake: Give it another shot. What d’you say?

Tess looks at him. She smiles and gives a nod. Then she runs out of the door. Jake picks up the cigarette pack and heads for the door.

End.
 

This play originally appears in Paperbag Writes.


The Last Job

November 3, 2006

“The gymnast survived?” I can’t see him but his gravelly voice snarls from the shadows. “How could you let this happen?”

“She escaped after I burned down her gym,” my master replies. “Badly burned, she won’t last long.”

“But she can still talk … And if she does, you won’t be Detective Lieutenant for long, Gray. She knows too much. She must be silenced.”

My master nods and silently walks out of the dark alley towards the car parked across the barber shop. He slides into the driver’s seat just as the rain starts to fall. He lights a cigarette. Puffs of smoke undulate across the dashboard while his steady breathing rhythmically tightens the strap of the holster—my cage. He starts the engine and drives away. I fall asleep and dream of nothing.

I wake up. The dashboard clock says thirteen minutes has passed but the pale moonlight on the deserted parking lot tells me something else—we’re in the hospital, way past visiting hours. My master walks up to the Information Desk.

“I’m Officer Gray,” I hear him say to the nurse. “A certain Miss Rhaine has been brought in the ER a half hour ago.”

“Yes, Officer,” the nurse replies. “She’s in ICU Two but you can’t see her yet.”

“That’s okay,” my master says. “Be back in the morning.”

He calmly walks out but instead of heading for the car, he makes a left towards the Emergency Room entrance. Upon seeing his ID, the guard lets him inside. Three doors down the corridor, ICU Two flashes its merciless visage upon my now excited brow. It’s been a fortnight and I am eager for some action. The sweet taste of instant recoil and the sheer ecstasy of high velocity lead.

He opens the door. Miss Rhaine greets him with a gasp. Her face is covered with bandages but her eyes reek of fear. She tries to move but the contraptions that were designed to preserve her life have become the very own steel bars of her prison.

He is patting me now. He’s letting me out of my cage. He pulls up my hammer. I get excited. He points me towards the silent recipient. I’ve got six daggers ready but right here, right now, my master needs only one—strategically thrown at impossible speed right at the spot where eyebrows and hair never meet.

Hungrily, I wait for his signal. A squeeze from his finger is all it takes to consume my greed.

It’s coming. I’m all yours, my master. Any moment now …

It deafens.

But no recoil. No smoke that I see. Miss Rhaine is still looking at me. But my dagger remains inside. Unreleased. Unmoving. Unused.

The shot is not mine.

My master weakens his hold. Slowly, I can feel myself lowered. I hit the marble floor a moment before his body crashes beside mine. Eight seconds later, the guard’s shoe kicks me out of my master’s grip.

Out of harm’s way.
 

This story originally appears in Paperbag Writes.