Real Flashfiction This Time: “Clouds”

“Clouds”

It rained on me.  Again.

Three blocks left, I had.  Three blocks to walk with my knee and hip trying to one-up each other for who could hurt worse.  All with on-again, off-again rain to liven my morning.  Lovely.

And, no, the pain wasn’t some noble suffering for a life well-lived, or any other such nonsense.  It was just the normal breakdowns we all eventually suffer.  It was too many miles, and too much abuse, on a body not meant for that shit.

“I’m sorry,” she yelped as she dodged me at the last moment.  A heartbeat’s pause, then, as she looked at me.  “Do you need a hand?  Can I help with anything?”

No, I hadn’t been looking where I was going, dear reader.  Thanks very much for reminding me.  The girl, however…

Red hair and green eyes.  The hint of an accent.  Young and pretty and active, if the agility with which she had jumped was any guide.  Her smile was open and artless, warmth and concern all at the same time.

The rain stopped even as she spoke, because…of course it did.

I was grateful for the pause, and for the diversion.  I smiled back.  Well, at least I tried to smile in answer to her warmth.  There was a grimace in that smile, unfortunately, when my hip decided to jump into the conversation.  I hoped she thought it was just the rain I mopped from my face.

“I’m fine,” I lied.  She nodded dubiously, then showed the barest hint of a turn.  I was a bit desperate, I admit.  But those eyes, that smile.  How long since I had felt the warmth?  “Your accent…you’re from Dublin?”

A laugh, then, to go with the smile.  “County Cork, actually…”

Just then, just as she looked to say more, the clouds opened up again.  Streaming, pouring, soaking rain.  A flush, and a little skip of her feet, and she said, “Stupid rain.  I have to run back to work.  Take care!”

And then she was gone.

I looked up.  I don’t know if I was looking to the clouds, or at God Himself, but I looked up and started cursing.

{Music Note — it’s a stretch, but we’ll go with it because I like it…and because the protagonist has a lot more history than just 345 words!}

Okay, final random note — thank you, Matt Groening, for today’s inspiration!

Flashfiction (sorta): “I Waited For You”

This is weird for me.  This is my normal flashfiction…and it ain’t. This is a spur-of-moment creation based on a line from a song…and it ain’t.  This is a story about Oz and Connor…and it ain’t.

Oh, I tried to do this like any other flashfiction piece, but I failed.  I failed even before I started.  I mean, c’mon, this if freaking Oz!  This is, in the millions of words and dozens of stories I’ve written, my favorite character…

As it turns out, I took the exact opposite approach for this than I do for my other flashfiction pieces.  I took a thought and an inspiration and I…thought about it.  I had to think about it, by the way, because it is a scene that matters to me.  It matters to me a lot.

In the end, it took me better than a freaking week to write this “flashfiction” piece, rather than the usual hour.  I would love to say the extra time was invested in editing and perfecting the words, but that would be complete bullshit.  The extra time was invested in…working up my courage to write the fucking thing.

This was harder to write than you might think, by the way.  There aren’t many scenes — topics, thoughts, concepts — that I shy away from writing, but there are some.  This particular piece scared the living shit out of me.  It still does, even now, after I’ve written it.

Although this scene has no “official” existence in Somewhere Peaceful to Die, it nonetheless exists in the space between Oz’s request — his cry, really — to meet with Connor when everything was going to shit, and his eventual betrayal of the only person he loved.

This little bit of writing hit me at least as hard as did the process of writing Oz’s death, to be honest.  There are three scenes (well, three now) that are inextricably linked in the story.  They are linked not just in the characters involved, or in the story, but also in the amount of me involved in each.  Of the three, Oz’s death was actually the “easiest” to write.  His suicide note, on the other hand…

As someone who has lost three close friends to suicide — two of them Oz’s age — writing Oz’s suicide note quite literally broke me for several days.  And, yes, that does indeed mean I drank myself down to the bottom of the bottle after I wrote that bit…then took those several days to come back up.  This scene was…

Well…

This seen was almost as hard.  A big part of that, by the way, is that I did not have my “normal” safe, comfortable space in which I could write without others staring at me.  When I wrote in Grimm Brothers’ taproom, no one bothered me.  Everyone knew the guy writing in the corner was good-people.  Everyone forgave the tears in my eyes as I wrote because they knew me…they also knew my characters and my stories.  But today?  Today, I write in strange places, with people who have no idea just what the hell I’m doing.  Today people just think I’m a freaking lunatic…*

*Err…I’m a writer.  “Writer” is, of course, just pretentious-speak for “lunatic.”

I Waited for You

“Please, Spog…” Oz stuttered as the hammering of his heart threatened to tear his body apart.

He could fix it…Oz knew he could.  He could fix it, if only he could talk — really talk — to Connor.  Not over a screen, and not with others around.  No, face-to-face.  They needed to talk face-to-face.

The shake of Connor’s head on the tiny screen once would have told Oz everything he needed to know.  Once, before…

Before he had given up everything.  Before his world had shrunk to a brother he wanted to be so much more.  Before he fell in love with his best friend.

He knew the words that would come from Connor next.  He knew Connor better than Connor knew himself, in fact, and if the words were inevitable, Oz still had to hear them.  They wouldn’t be real until he heard them.  His universe would still be whole until he heard them.

“I’m sorry, Oz, but I can’t.  Later, when things settle down, but not now.  I have to concentrate on getting Nat out of here.  I got her into this, and I gotta get her out.”

More words, then, with his friend.  Words to bring that horrific call to an end.  Banal words.  Meaningless words.  Words of presence and acting, to cover the shaking that threatened to tear Oz apart.

Oz didn’t know where to go, didn’t know what to do.  While there was a small, vicious part deep inside that wanted its revenge, the rest of him knew…the rest of him knew that Connor would need help.  Would need a friend.  Would need a brother.

He would wait, he decided, for Connor to come.  He would be there to offer what help he could when his friend — his beloved — needed it.  There was, of course, only one place Connor would come to seek help.  Only one place that truly was safe for them.  Only one place that was home.

“Wanna try something new?” Marie asked as Oz settled into his usual seat at the bar.  “Just got it from a new in-system brewery on Redux.”

Oz could act.  Oz had, of brutal necessity, built his life around being exactly what others needed him to be.  He fully expected, then, the smile he offered to Marie to put her at her ease.  To forestall any questions, and to allow him to wait for Connor in peace.

“What’s wrong, Oz?” she asked, her soft eyes penetrating easily whatever veil it was Oz used to be able to draw over himself.

“Nothing’s wrong.  I just need to wait for Connor for a bit.  He’ll be here soon.”

Of words there were none, but when Marie placed an opened bottle in front of Oz, her sad eyes told just how deeply she understood.

Oz stared at the bottle to give himself to do.  A glowing moon dominated the label, gave rise to all of the emotions humans had evolved within themselves to greet the rising of a full moon.  But just as strongly as the moon, it was a shadow that drew Oz’s eyes.  A tiny form, perched on a rock.  A wolf howling his loneliness into the night.

The first night his body had been taken, Oz hadn’t cried.  When his mother had died, Oz hadn’t cried.  Staring at that moon — something Oz had never seen, except on a screen — and at that wolf, calling out into the night?  Oz finally felt tears threaten.  He gulped that bottle down, then, as much to have Marie take away the label that both drew and repelled him, as to get the alcohol into his system.

He would wait.  As many bottles as it took, Oz would wait.  He would wait for Connor.

There were tears in Marie’s eyes when she replaced yet another empty bottle with a new one.

“He’ll come…he has to.  I’ll wait,” was all Oz could say to her.  To anyone.

 “I have to get home to Vin,” she answered, the tears in her voice now, “but you stay as long as you need.”

Another bottle in front of him, the last Marie had placed, and Oz continued to stare at that label.

Oz always had wanted to see the moon.

But the moon…the moon was never to be, not for him.  At seven he had lived in terror and dread.  At eleven he had discovered meaning and worth in the form of his tall, confused blond friend.  At seventeen he had…nothing left.  Not Connor.  Not the moon.  Not a thing.

Most of him wanted to go to the Fort, to that fate he had always known was waiting for him.  Most, but not all.  A bit of him — the bit that remembered all too clearly those years of pain and loneliness before he met Connor — wanted nothing more than to lash out; to hurt someone as badly as he had been hurt.

It was just a small bit, but as the rest of him wallowed in the paralysis of loss, and in the devastation of his heart, that small bit finally took control.

A touch to his screen, then, and a face appeared.  A face of strength and cunning hidden under layers of fat.  “You win, you bastard,” Oz said, “I’ll give you what you want.”

A few moments to make arrangements, that was all it took.  While the rest of him cried helplessly, that small bit sold the tiny scrap of soul that was all he had left.  He terminated the call with the swipe of a finger, then stared at the bottle in front of him, surprised to find it empty.

He stared at the moon on that bottle, and at the howling, lonely wolf.

“I waited for you, Connor.  I waited as long as I could,” Oz whispered to no one.

{Musical Note — What, you’re curious about today’s song?  Fine, here’s the explanation: Each of my characters has a couple of “theme songs” I keep in  mind when I think and write about them.  Oz’s primary theme is a tune called Benediction, but his secondary one…  Yeah, look, there IS a reason why Oz’s songs focus on someone else…and that’s all I’m gonna say.  If you want to understand — both the character, and the writer — just listen to the damned song(s)!}

Flashfiction: “Tuesday”

Standard flashfiction warning for new(ish) readers: when I tag something as flashfiction — or micro fiction when I get all lazy and forgetful — it means two things. First off, I give myself only 500 words or less to tell a story. Secondly, I have only one hour from the time I come up with the idea or image I want to use to write, edit and post the piece. That’s it, them’s the rules…

So, anyway, I haven’t done one in a bit, so here you go — oh, and I failed at the word-count rule. this one weighs in at 545 at last count…

Tuesday

The cop sighed as he settled in to the battered, aging cruiser.  A glance at the passenger seat, one that held the mix of pity and derision that only an old cop — or an old crook — could hold for a younger, and he said, “Time to learn the night shift, eh?”

Excitement and nerves hidden by all the blustering self-confidence that only a twenty-year-old could muster, the passenger answered, “They decided I needed to see some action, so I got moved off days.”

“Action?  It’s fucking Tuesday, kid.”

Hours passed, hours with all the life and activity that only a Tuesday night can bring. A car with a headlight out; a suspicious burglar that turned out to be a late-running UPS driver; cases of stolen Monster explained by an impromptu Madden tournament in someone’s basement; all the action, the old cop had joked, the rookie could ever want.

Later, towards the end of the night, the action really did start.  Closing bars and emptying clubs led to fights and disturbances, the odd indecent exposure and drunk-in-public.  A casual wave from the old cop as he screeched the cruiser to a halt in front of yet another small, dingy bar with a sign unreadable at any distance.  The rookie leapt out at that wave, charged headlong for the entrance.

It was no new thing for the longtime veterans to send him sprinting while they strolled along behind, but he didn’t mind.  That was the price to be accepted as one of them.  No, it wasn’t time or age, of that he was sure.  It was effort and courage they would respect, and the ability to deal with any situation, not his age or how long he had worn a badge.

He didn’t need to see the bartender’s pointing arm, the frantic pile of fists and curses and violence in the back corner of the bar was obvious enough.  His pepper-spray answered their punches; his club, then, and someone fucking bit him; a half-panicked call to dispatch for back-up…

Half-an-hour later, the bar was quiet.  He and two other cops, both as young and fit as he, were bruised and sweaty and breathing hard.  There was elation, then — action, at last!  They had triumphed!  Outside, the drunken brawlers were being pushed into an overfull paddy wagon by the last-arriving of the back-up units.

Later would be the time for reports and lessons-learned, just then there was only the elation of victory.  They tried to be professional, those three, but none could hide the grin and the rush of endorphins that came only from triumphing over the worst of threats.  Handshakes and pats on the back, words that seemed cynical and world-weary to them, the camaraderie of the badge.

He glanced over to the bar, then, on nothing more than instinct.  A fresh beer arrived on the counter, to stand beside an empty pint glass.  Jokes between the old cop and the bartender as the rookie’s partner picked up the beer for a long gulp.  As the glass went down, the old cop glanced over and grinned.  “Jesus Christ, you’re done already?  You gotta learn to pace yourself, kid.  It’s only fucking Tuesday.”

{Musical Note — I love this band. I’ve seen them dozens of times, including when they were new and playing bars and small venues around my old university…and, yes, as a matter of fact, I was indeed listening to this album as I wrote this post!}

Flashfiction: “He Had A Hard War”

In general, the flashfiction pieces I post on this blog are conceived and written based on something that struck me at that particular moment in time.  Whether that “call” to write comes from an image or a song or a written line, my flashfiction is generally a pretty immediate response.

The piece below is a bit different.  It is different because the line that gave me the “call” to write is one I read many years ago.  That line has stuck in the back of my mind because the pathos it evokes comes entirely from events that are “offscreen.”  The feelings it brings are those of memory, of things hidden and things forgotten.  It touches, also, on that feeling of uncertainty you get when you realize just how little you truly know about those around you.

As ever, I gave myself one hour to conceive, write and post the piece. I also gave myself a “limit” of 400 words, and managed to squeak in just under that with 397:

He Had A Hard War”

My uncle never talked much about the war.  His only stories had been about basic training, and the trouble he and his friends would get into.  Just how a man so given to practical jokes and petty rebellions could actually have gone on to serve, I never quite understood.

We weren’t close, my uncle and I.  But with no children of his own, and my pwn parents gone, I was all the family he had left.  It fell to me, then, to handle his affairs.

The accounts and minutiae of life had been the easiest, to be honest.  A few calls and forms and the changes were made.  The care home had been harder, a mess of bureaucracy and dead-ends until a helpful worker had cut through the bullshit and pushed the right buttons.

When I asked how, and why, she had gone to such lengths, her answer had been simple and heartfelt, “Semper fi.”

The hardest of all had been the storage unit.  Only after the housing and money and legal affairs had been handled did I work up the energy to deal with the all-but forgotten remnants of his life.  Most of it was sold or donated, until only a few boxes remained.

A photo album, then, buried behind the mementos of my uncle and father as kids.  The first picture was of my uncle in a dark blue uniform, starched and pressed and trying to look as impressive as he could.  Gone was the paunch and the tired face, and in their place…a man impossibly young, bursting with energy.  There were more pictures, of course.  Pictures of him with others, all as young and vibrant and alive as was he in those pictures.

The pictures stopped, however, about halfway through that album.  Page after page, all empty of pictures.  Why?  My uncle had lived a good life before age had caught up with him.  Where were the memories of that part of his life?  I had found other photos, from more recent days, but none of those albums had been as worn and well-thumbed as the one in my hand.

I paged back, then, to study the final photo.  A small armored vehicle in the foreground, about ten yards away — presumably his — and in the background…

In the background an eruption of black smoke, pouring from vehicles twisted and wrecked.

{Note 1 — A real world example of the line I talked about above: I met a man, once, in my old coffee shop.  He was an old man, stooped and slow.  We had never really interacted beyond the normal smiles and morning greetings of those who regularly haunt the same place.  Our acquaintance would never have gone beyond that, except that I happen to be a history nerd.  The man’s car had a license plate that struck me one morning, when I saw him climb out.  That plate bore not a random collection of numbers and letters, but a US Navy hull number.

It was a hull number that I knew*, by the way.  The number of a ship involved in one of the biggest battles in US Navy history.  A ship that, along with her partners in a little escort group, sacrificed herself to shield the big, lumbering, vulnerable assets she had been assigned to protect.  I finally worked up the courage to sit and talk with this quiet, little man…to ask him, with all the fear and hesitation in the world, about his ship.  And he told me.  He told me about the ship, and about his friends.  Over the course of the anecdotes and funny stories, he told me also about that fateful day…

*I knew the ship because I have a picture of her above my desk.  Take a moment, if you will, and click the link to check out DD-533, USS Hoel.}

{Note 2 — Oh, the line in question, the one that spawned this post?  It’s the freaking title.  Believe it or not, that line comes from “Goblet of Fire,” the fourth book in the Harry Potter series.  Now, that book is to my mind the best of the series because it marks the first time you have real depth of emotion and loss in those books.  It is when the series moves beyond the pointless silliness of kids’ books and starts to introduce “grown-up” elements that resonate in ways beyond the grinning nostalgia of “Sorceror’s Stone.”  Although the line itself is something of a “throwaway” from the book’s prologue, I have always found it a fantastically effective bit of characterization crammed into just five words.}