Flashfiction: “Who Are You?”

Okay, so the piece I wrote is not the piece I “promised” a couple of hours ago.

Well…

Err…

You see… 

Yeah, another song got in the way.  I’ll append that song to the end of this post, after the flashfiction piece, but suffice it to say that this particular song is one that absolutely demands a story.  Actually, it demands a far longer and more meaningful story than what I have written here, but this is all I have at the present moment.

One thing I will add is that I have several friends who played professional hockey at the highest levels.  My friends…they lived this song when they retired.  While many had family and friends and enough of a life outside of hockey to cope, for others retirement began a descent into booze and drugs and a need to escape.

For some — a few — it began a descent into death.

In what I wrote below, I couldn’t get away from that.  I couldn’t get away from my friends.  I couldn’t get away from those for whom the loss of the spotlight meant the loss of…everything.

This song, then…

This song has power.  You have to listen to it, and I mean really listen.  To the words.  To the emotions.  To the truths.  To the costs that everyone has to face at one time or another.  In the (sad) words of Connor and Oz, “there’s always a price to pay.”

Who Are You?

A screaming crowd in a full arena.  All the cries for more echoing and drowning out the world itself.  All the warmth and affirmation.  All the love.

He remembered it all.  He remembered the goals.  He remembered the cheers.

He remembered when everyone knew his name.

Now, no one knew it.

He remembered, also, that last game.  He remembered the boos.  He remembered the catcalls for more.

The whiskey went down unnoticed.  Just as the pills had gone down unnoticed.

The crowd wanted more.  He tried, as he always had.  He tried to give more.  Tried to be what he once was.

He tried, and he failed.

But still, the crowd wanted more.

He, too, wanted more.

Another handful of pills.  Another swallow of booze.

Everyone wanted more.  Everyone wanted what he could never again be.

Even as the numbness came, he could remember the crowd…

He could remember the cheers, could remember the emotion…

He could remember the autographs, and the cheers…

Just as he could remember the time — just a few hours ago — when the kid had looked at him and asked, “Who are you?”

**Note — I’m using the live version of this song because it has more power than the original album version.  Look, I know it starts slow, but just listen.  Really, just fucking listen.  It’s well worth it.

 

Flashfiction: “But I Have”

15 years, I spent in Northern Colorado.  I got to the know the place pretty damned well in that decade-and-a-half.  I love the area, in fact.

I love the area, but I left.  For a number of reasons I left…a year and a half ago, to be semi-precise.  Today I’m back for a visit.

I’m back for a visit, and I don’t recognize the place.

Look, I know shit changes, but this is insane!  Blocks and blocks of new developments where once there were empty fields.  I stopped counting major constructions sites at 25 — and that was just in one small area!

*sigh*

As often as I’ve lived it — and that is often enough to know it for absolute truth — I still get blindsided by the feelings and emotions behind Thomas Wolfe’s* famous wisdom that you can’t go home again.

*No, not that Tom Wolfe.  Different writer…but one who was just as brilliant.

I sat down to try and capture my morning in a blog post.  The trouble wasn’t a lack of words, to be honest, it was a surfeit of them.  I couldn’t capture it, that feeling of alienation and distance in a place so intimately familiar.  I couldn’t capture the memory, and the nostalgia.  Just as I couldn’t capture the nagging sense of loss, of something left behind.  Over two thousand words I wrote, and still I couldn’t capture it.

Screw it, I decided.  When a lot of words won’t work, go for just a few.  After a moment to “Select All” then “Delete”, I started over with a blank screen and my normal flashfiction challenge: one hour to conceive, write and post a story.  This time it wasn’t a story based on an image or a lyric, but one based on the hours I just spent driving around Loveland and Fort Collins.

I haven’t written it yet, by the way,  It is currently 12:33pm and I’m sitting on the patio of a small taproom/restaurant in Fort Collins with a beer at my elbow and some pizza on the way.  I have until 1:30 to hit “Post Now”.  Let’s see how this goes…

“But I Have”

The sun baked, hurt his head.  The sweat had given up an hour ago, too tired and hot to flow any longer.  The pain had fled, too, thankfully.  Now the sun’s burns were just a nuisance…one he knew he would pay for soon enough.

The buildings offered no shade, not with the sun directly overhead.  He wandered anyway.  He wandered the town’s central plaza and stared, searching for some sense of welcome.  For some sense of home.

“Can I help you find something?” She asked, all solicitude and friendliness.

It always had been a friendly place, this.

Can you help me find it all again? he thought.  Can you help me find who I used to be?  Who I am now?

“No, thanks.  Just…remembering.  The place has changed since I lived here,” he answered with his own smile.

“Was it long ago that you lived here?”

“A couple of years.”

She looked puzzled, then.  “It can’t have changed too much…”

He sighed and turned, started to walk away.  A look back and he answered, “But I have.”

—-

1:06pm.  I guess I coulda spent another few minutes editing and re-writing…but that ain’t the challenge, is it?  I don’t know if the story worked, but I’m glad I wrote it nonetheless…

Flashfiction: Stumbling Home

Oh, holy shit!

Someone mentioned that it’s been a while since I did a post, and I thought, “Naw, I just did one!  Didn’t I?”

Oh, crap — it’s been two freaking weeks!!

Ahem.

I suck.  I really do.  I have, quite sadly, embraced the suck in my life.

Anyway, its a good thing I had an urge to do a Flashfiction piece today, or that gap might have stretched another week…

Now, I’ve had the thought and idea for the story below for some time now.  I’ve had it, but I committed the ultimate writer’s sin: I overthought the damned thing.  I spent time planning and working to make sure everything carried weight and meaning, that the story was the perfect allegory for…well…for my life.

And it never worked.

Screw it, I thought it when I sat down to a beer and a burger thirty minutes ago.  Just write the fucking thing!

So, instead of something carefully planned and crafted…

49ED7E39-17B0-47F6-8AED-DE67D6CAFE7AInstead of something much longer…

Instead of something where I try to make every image — every word — have meaning and weight…

Instead of over-thinking the damned thing, you get this:

Stumbling Home

The carpet wibbled and wobbled.  The chairs jumped out in an effort to tangle my feet.  The door tried to run away, and to fool me as to how far away it truly was.

A hand on my shoulder, guiding and helping.  I think it was to help and guide; the pressure and the push were unmistakable guidance.

The snow grabbed at my feet, froze my ankles.

The sidewalk betrayed me, tried to trip me.  A convenient tree helped me, however.  Its branches bare, it still offered its trunk to help me stay on my feet.

From that tree a bench called, then a light post.

People talk about the world as a frightening place, violent and chaotic.  Nonsense.  I found the world helpful and wonderful…all except for that damned sidewalk.  That sidewalk was just screwed up.

A turn off the main street, then, and the snow bit again at my ankles.  My feet started to go numb, and my breath to come in short gasps.

Still, however, the trees and light posts — fewer, now — offered their support and help.  Still I fought the betrayal of the sidewalk, and of the street itself.  Still the snow clutched and grabbed and froze…on my hands and arms now, too.

A moment to sit, to force the sidewalk to crawl back into its proper orientation, and I saw it…I saw the light.

Light is good.  Light means warmth, and stability.  Light means, in oh-so-many ways, home.  I wanted that light.  I needed that light.  But it was far…

I don’t know how long it took.  I don’t know many betrayals I fought, just as I don’t remember how many tried to help.  All I remember is that light growing closer, that warmth starting to reach for me.

The snow froze my hands again, after one last attack from the street.  I fought that attack, however.  I fought with everything I had.  And I won.

I won!

I reached for the door — reached for the light — and it opened!

Another hand, then, pulling me inside.

“Goddamit, not again…” that hand sighed.

I Know What A Combine Does!

I can give you all kinds of reasons why I don’t like to write at home.  I can talk about the stillness and the quiet, and how those (usually welcome) qualities result in prose that is too introspective and contemplative.  I can talk about the distractions and having the cleanest kitchen in the entire town.  I can talk, even, about how this blog got started one quiet afternoon at home.

Err, that last one would be a lie.  This blog did indeed get started at home, but it did so after a (mostly) drunken conversation with a friend/colleague.  We were both lamenting the lack of a very specific type of writing blog that night.

Wait, that’s not quite it, either.  We were actually lamenting the end of the bottle of scotch, and then just went on to lament everything else from there…

In spite of a raging hangover the next day, I pulled up my seat at the bar and have been blogging random, off-topic stuff ever since.  My colleague, on the other hand, decided writing was a bad bet and went back to work as a sales-weasel.  He still likes to tell me how he envies me and my persistence…right after telling me, of course, all about his new house.

Ahem.

Never mind.

Believe it or not, there is (was?) a point to today’s post: this plague sucks donkey balls.  Oh, sure, I can go out to my local coffee shop…on their very limited hours.  Just like I can go to my local dive bar…and listen to the, uhh, rather unique regulars who dominate the place when the tourists aren’t around.  I can even — *GASP* — stay at home and work.

I tried that today, in fact.  The staying home thing, not the dealing with the “local culture” thing.  It…

Well…

Err…

It didn’t go well.

Now look, you all know by now that I love video games.  Hell, I still make freelance money in that industry (although I refuse to dive too deeply, nor am I interested in making it a professional focus).  Work and cash aside, I also like to play the damned games.  Mostly the more complicated, steep-learning-curve simulator and historical games, so when a special sale item comes up on Steam in those categories, I usually jump on it.

Seldom do games overwhelm my urge for writing and reading, however, for more than a day or two.  Seldom do I get so caught up that I not only lose focus on my work, I lose all track of time, too.  It just takes so much more to immerse me, now, than it did when I was seventeen or eighteen.  Back then, I could lose myself in an RPG for days on end…and don’t even get me started on shit live the Civilization series.

Nowadays, however…

Nowadays, it takes a great deal more.  Nowdays, games are a distraction for an hour or two — as they should be, mind you — not a sink in which I can lose myself like I can in a good book.CB3AD4DD-9CFF-44F8-A4A5-FFF267798D0B

Then along comes a spider…

Or, in this case, the freaking nerdiest and most inane of games: Farming Simulator.

3E9EFC63-AED1-4776-8607-EBEF4D3E3F92Shit, I grew up in LA, ferchrissake!  The closest I’ve ever come to a real-life tractor was on a date with a local Montana girl and a combine harvester…

Err…let’s just gloss over that one, shall we?  Yet another reason why wine is…well…what it is.

At any rate, I got sucked into this game.  In stupid, overwhelming ways did I get sucked in.  Crap, I drive up the highway, now, and I recognize the difference between silage and hay…

“Hey, look, that’s an old Challenger tractor!6004E79C-EE33-4A68-BC15-331EA97E6881

Ooh, they’re baling with a Krone!”

*Please insert your own series of swear words now.*

At any rate, since I have to get back to harvesting my largest field of canola, I figured I would dodge out of writing a real blog post today by posting something here I wrote for another audience entirely.  Below is a bit I threw together on a whim, after a long session playing FS:

787089A4-8FEF-4D36-82D9-5BFA9D5D310FMarwell Manor

Chapter 1 — Uncle Vic, Is That You?

Do you remember that one relative?  You know the one I’m talking about, the one who scared the hell out of you as a kid?

For me, that was my great-uncle.  I met the man once, when I was nine.  We went to his farm in England to pay our respects, as my father put it, to our family, and to the old family home.  My great-uncle — Uncle Vic, to my Dad — met us at Heathrow.  He smelled like pipes and old socks…and that is, honestly, pretty much the high point of what I remember.  Well, that and the fact that he looked a lot like Freddie Krueger.  Thank God for my GameBoy.

Fast forward, then, twenty years.

I’m still as single as I was when I was nine, but the money is a hell of a lot better.  I build bridges, you see.  Well, I don’t “build” them, I just design them.  It ain’t glamorous, no sir, but it does garner enough to pay for a nice condo, a nicer car, and the odd bit of travel to far-more-interesting places.

The bell ringing at the door, then.  Me, still in bed and without my first of cup of coffee.  It took a few minutes to figure out how to work the deadbolt…

“Sign here,” the man ordered, proffering a fancy clipboard.  His voice was serious.  His suit was serious.  Crap, he was serious.

What the hell?

I signed, of course.

A huge file he handed me, all wrapped up in a heavy envelope.  I’m not sure what was worse: my confusion, or my need for coffee.  Screw it, when you can’t decide, you work on both at the same time.

A deep gulp, finally, of that lifesaving brew and I opened the envelope to pour its contents onto the counter.

Papers.  Certificates.  Bills.  Deeds.  Even some heavy, weird thing I could barely read…Letters Patent, it called itself.

Wait…

What the hell?

A letter I found, finally, under all that other detritus I couldn’t understand.  A note from a law firm in London.  Lawyer, solicitor, bloodsucker, whatever you choose to call them, they’re the same everywhere in the world.  You always read their stuff — carefully — but you never, ever trust them.

Blah…blah…Hampshire, UK…blah…blah…Marwell…even more blah, blah…wait, go back a bit.  Skip the lawyerly blah-blah crap, what the hell did that one paragraph say?

Baron Marwell.  Of Marwell Manor.

Huh?

I build bridges, for Pete’s sake!

I read the letter again.  And again.  And yet again.  Then I checked the deeds.  Then I read it all again.  There was a note, even, from Uncle Vic, in a spidery, struggling hand that was all-but impossible to read.

“…resuscitate the manor…succeed where I could not…better at selling the manor than working it…  Congratulations, Baron Marwell.  Now get to work.”

I don’t remember a damned thing from the next couple of weeks.  A leave-of-absence from my job.  A renter for my condo.  Some stupid rom-com on the flight.  A big Land Rover to pick me up from the airport, and a man who took the “serious” thing and turned it up to eleven.  More papers to sign, more people to see.  A flurry of names and faces, of facts and figures, and not a single bit of made it through my skull.

No, I can’t remember a damned thing from that frantic, hectic period.  All I can remember is waking up in bed to the ringing doorbell, and then…

And then…

Here I stand, in this muddy, wet yard, surrounded by rusting sheds and looming machinery.  The lowing cattle and the cry of hungry sheep.  The smell of diesel and machine oil, of must and loam, of seed and grain.  Hulking marching with logos that said Massey-Ferguson and New Holland, washed almost clean of mud in the rain starting to pour on my head.

What the hell do I know about farming?  I build freaking bridges!

Chapter 2 — Wait, What The Hell is A Combine?!

*pending*