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~700 words: a small piece from a writing exercise

 

There is a man. Every morning he rises from bed and puts on his black slacks and blue button-up shirt and his loafers. He rolls his sleeves. He brushes his teeth—first without any paste, then very softly with some, a mild type with very little taste.

Then he climbs the stairs in his apartment building to the roof. He never takes the elevator. Not because he’s afraid of it breaking and him falling to his death, but because he’s afraid of breaking himself for taking it. So he climbs the stairs. And every morning, when he pushes open the stairwell door, the first rush of air—whether hot, cold, dry, humid—is when he feels most alive.

There are a few finches that keep him company in the morning. He has brought the ends of his bread, breaks these up and tosses the crumbs into some of the roof’s garden beds and sprinkles some in the dish beside the bird fountain. The birds chirp and flit around. He pretends that they recognize him. He lets the rise and fall of their calls guide him to the garden hose.

He enjoys pressing the hose trigger. The water is so responsive, bucks the nozzle in his weathered and thick hands. Shredded droplets turned fine mist turned rainbow. He uses this transformation to water all the plants—the perennial flowers and their stocky vegetable neighbors.

When this is done, he senses that everything is happy around him so then he is happy. He doesn’t let this bother him: the fact his happiness is predicated on the level of others around him. He doesn’t bother with those things. He just does it to be satisfied. Because what else do we have besides our ability to make others happy? Especially if doing so makes us happy? But he doesn’t ponder such ramblings.

Which is why I always feel so strange watching the man on the roof. As he reclines in a stiff upright wood chair like it is some luxurious couch, I feel as though he can’t be trusted. He is too pleased with himself. First off, I tend not to trust men who are too easily humored by their efforts as it seems to me too shallow because what they celebrate then is not necessarily the result of their work or even the process of their work but instead they’re holding on to the idea that them simply doing something is enough, that there’s no need for them to feel, really feel, the work itself. Men like this are not to be trusted. In my humble opinion.

Second, I don’t trust folks who get up so early in the morning. Not for the reason you think though. I love the morning and earlier is better, as close to dawn as possible, better yet if there just before dawn, when the sun is already beginning to light your part of the world but can’t be seen. No, I don’t trust these folks because they keep the morning joy to themselves. They’re selfish people. Inherently, they are gaining a head start, but worse, they don’t like to share the secret of the mornings with others. You see this now, right?

The birth of a morning sun will always tell you that today is new. It’s fresh. Obviously I won’t go into the chemical benefits of such a moment but for your own sanity bear with me and see how witnessing the sun rise anew when it’s not new and has been doing this for millennia over and over again has to be truly the only way to feel that life is so beautiful and doesn’t matter.

How can both be true? But in this man both are true. In the morning sun both are true. Is it strange that humanity’s notion of time, a forever constant, first came from the sun and its relentless orbit, when in truth, the sun will one day cease and go off into a trillion quadrillion bits of star dust?

That is the final reason that I do not trust the man on the roof.

Stuck

Another short for WDG
Roughly 500 words

“We should have taken the train,” Dad said for the fifth time. He looked out the passenger window, a worn map crushed in a hand clutching his armrest. Mom, hands perched on the driver’s wheel, did not deign to look at him. I think if she had, she would’ve socked him good. Her shoulders slowly rose and fell.

“You’ve said that already, Larry.”

“Well it seemed like last time I was talking to an empty car.”

“Look at the birds!” I said from my plastic car seat.

Neither of them responded.

“Great,” Mom said, not to me.

Motorcycles streamed past the idling cars. One bike had four people on it. Daughter and son as small as me sandwiched between their dad driving and mom smiling in the back. It looked like the mom was going to fall off—her only purchase the underside of the seat’s lip—leaning back like that. But her black hair was flowing and her smile was the brightest thing I’d seen all day.

“We’ve been sitting in this traffic for two hours. How far have we even gone?”

“Are you expecting my answer to make the cars move, Larry?” She had a way of saying his name like she would say mine when I was in trouble, one of Mom’s many powers.

I giggled.

Dad turned on me. “What’s so funny, Jordan?”

“Don’t yell at her.”

“I wasn’t yelling!”

A seemingly empty car answered him.

The cars ahead moved slightly forward. As they’d been for hours, everyone fuming.

It was really very quiet, and the crummy felt on the plastic seat was sticky, somehow the gum I’d saved for later not returning to me. I plucked at it sucking and wetting my fingers, the gooey strings coming up, spiraling and breaking. I sniffed. I couldn’t save any.

“Do you guys smell smoke?” Dad asked. “Seriously, though, what’s that smell?” He twisted in his seat to look through our back window. “You smell that, Suze?”

“I don’t smell anything, Larry.”

“Is that a fire?”

I pulled at my straps, the thin gray bands around my shoulders. I kicked my legs. My head cramped by the car seat’s walls. “Let me out, I want to see the fire.”

“Honey, there’s a fire,” Dad said in his goofy-trying-to-be-charismatic voice, “and I think we ought to show Jordan what the fire looks like.”

Mom turned to him, and she was smiling. “Ok.”

They burst out of their doors, yelling, “Fire drill, fire drill!”

Mom came to my door and yanked me from my seat and hoisted me on her strong shoulders, my favorite perch, and we ran around the car, looking for the fire, Dad running in the opposite direction, screaming, “You guys see the fire?” Maybe to us, maybe to the other cars.

We were all hollering at the top of our lungs and it felt so good. We ran in more circles around the car. People yelled at us, honked and held their horns.

We got back in the car.

Mom and Dad were out of breath and laughing.

“Where was the fire?” I asked. “I want to see the fire!”

“It’s ok, sweetie,” Mom said, “the fire’s out.”

“Aw,” I said.

The Cipher

Written for WDG.
~500 words
Saint entered the dusty room cautiously, as a man does who has seen horrible things revealed through swung doors. A mattress with rumpled sheets was crammed into the far corner, and a simple wood chair and desk filled the opposite end of the room. Altogether an unremarkable architecture and furnishing.
The floor boards groaned with Saint’s every step. Perhaps they’d not been stepped on in decades. It’d been that long since he’d been here.
He glanced at the yellowed papers he’d pinned to the walls, the dictates, the stately inversions, the inner workings of a burgeoning nation. The notions held in the words were old, idealistic. And dead.
She should be here any minute, he thought. Ten days into the riots, when the viciousness proved insatiable, they had agreed to meet here—the beginning of all things for them. So long ago, this was where they had written their brilliance and led the people. Apparently, any revolutionary can lead the people. He laughed at the circuitousness of it all.
He sat on the bed, a plume of motes geysering around him. They exposed themselves in the thinning sunlight through the single window above him. Between his fingers, he rubbed the moth-eaten sheets, felt the age and memories. He leaned back against the wall. His eyelids drooped. So much running, when would it end?
A floor board creaked. He jerked from his reverie. It was pitch black, the sun gone. He had slept. It was silent again, but his mind was roaring. He willed his eyes to pierce the darkness. He wanted so badly to call out and for her to call back, the singsong of her voice flying to him, but he had done that before and it had cost lives. The agony!
Five minutes felt an hour. Another five a year. His eyes adjusted and he could discern no other persons or new shadows in the room. He quickly went to the desk, his hands scrambling over the surface for the candle and then his pockets for a match. Rare an emotion more powerful than light banishing darkness.
With the candle he revealed the room, identical as his entrance, yet he knew it had been exposed to another presence. It was the odor. The intruder had smelled of earth, ripped grass, the sweat of a horse. But this virus had been a shadow, leaving no marks on the floor, the only breaks in the dusty patterns his own. He sighed, turned and sat in the chair.
There on the desk was a new paper, outstanding in its garish white.
It was written in the old cipher she and he had used in their childhood romance.
It was signed in blood.
It read: We have Rose. Come to the Fifth Parallel.
Saint’s hands trembled as he pulled the paper before his eyes. Backlit by the candle, a ghostly outline of cramped yet graceful text was pulled into existence in the lower left corner.
Fooled them, she said.

Saint laughed. Laughed so hard he cried.

Upon Their Wings

Short story for WDG, inspired by this picture:

~400 words

Kaleo ran beside the beautiful butterflies flying in the dusk light, tittering before him like fairies, zipping this way and that. They came in the fall, when the rest of the valley became a barren landscape of skeleton trees and scraggly bushes. Yellowed grass crumpled beneath his sneakers.
With the sun behind the largest mountain—though it was really more a tall hill—the sky blossomed into a deep vermilion, and the half moon grew more powerful. Yet between that and Kaleo were the butterflies.
            Underneath their fluttering, he laughed and danced as they did. With dusk nearly complete, light fading in each passing moment, the butterflies and their iridescent wings brightened.
            Kaleo followed one in particular. It seemed to coast more than the others, flapping its brilliant emerald to violet to cerulean hues only to settle on incandescent gold. The butterfly arched high in the air, completing a twist and coasted toward its vibrant brethren. They swirled together in a rainbow vortex before breaking apart like a meteor shattering across the atmosphere.
            Kaleo fell to the ground and lay there, quietly, with his hands rested on his stomach, watching the angels pass in the air. 
He dozed for a time.
When he woke, he smiled; they remained above, as always. He held his hand up, inspecting it in the ghostly moonlight. So plain, the skin. Affording no shimmers in the night.
A brilliant idea occurred to him.
With zest, he leapt to his feet. Then crouched.
Overhead, the butterflies continued their striations.
His mother called to him from the porch.
Just a few more minutes.
Make it one minute, Kaleo, dinner is ready.
Nearly there.
A butterfly broke off from the glittering haze, a lost star. It spun alone in the air, keeping time to its own rhythm. Slowly, in downward spirals, it came.
Clap.
Kaleo cupped it between his hands. He smiled to himself. It splashed around within his hermetic finger cage. Slowly, he separated his thumbs, peering in. Only darkness. He frowned and opened his hands. Nothing remained but black splatters across his palms.
A tear fell from his eyes, smudging the bloody stains.
Above him, the other butterflies flickered and went dark. But he knew they were there. He thought they would never light up again. Their vigil lasted seconds. They left him in the quiet night, upon their iridescent wings.
—-

Upon Me

Short poem for WDG.

just a seventh of a second
all it takes, revealing my penchant
to stand against what may come
maybe better yet worse than some
this moment fast to the grave
keeps me alone in this cave
of my mind where solace finds
a lean somber clock that chimes
it is time for hell or heaven
can I believe and reckon in

just a seventh of a second

This Monster of Mine

Another short I wrote for WDG.
About 550 words.

You wouldn’t know it by looking at me, but I have a monster. We all have one—personal demons lurking in the dark, stale corners of our souls. In the deepest of my being, I can visit my monster. I shudder to think of her.
I have neglected my monster. For so long, in the pit of my humanity, she has lashed against her fraying tether, never biding her time. I admire her relentless fury, and I fear it.
She howls at me as I approach a pretty girl; she snickers when I speak before a group; she laughs at me always. I never confront her about these things—horrible as she is. I’m not brave enough.
You don’t know my monster like I do. She’s different than yours. You’d realize this the moment you met her. This is one crazy sonuvagun. And she’d stare at you through her red, gleaming eyes, quivering maw waiting to spit condescension.
Under the dawn’s light, I plopped into the tractor seat and disked the rows between my fruitless apple trees, riling up the dirt. The green leaves dimmed under the churned dust. I had just completed the last row when Miss Jasper showed up on her horse, Nilly. I turned off the tractor, the loud engine cutting with a cough. I wiped my brow and nodded as they neared.
“Hey Nilly.”
“Very funny, Travis,” Miss Jasper said. She leaned in the saddle and stroked Nilly’s smooth hair. Miss Jasper had fine auburn hair herself. What I wouldn’t give to—
Very funny indeed, my monster says. Why don’t you tell her about all those feelings?
“Sorry, Miss Jasper, how can I help you?”
“Travis, would you please call me Heather? Makes me feel like my aunt when you call me Miss Jasper. Yes, I know you respect tradition. Thank you.”
I nodded, smiling at the wondrous way she always stared into my canopies, as if discovering them for the first time.
“Anywho, I was wondering…” Miss Jasper’s voice continued on, a pageant of beautiful tones and inflections.
From her darkness, my monster thought, How many times are you going to nod like an imbecile? She knows you’re a dumb ape: your jaw too slack, barely sitting straight.
I gritted my teeth behind tightened lips, yet my soul ached under Miss Jasper’s meandering smile. My heartstrings were at their limits.
I won’t fear you, I thought.
Oh, come down to chat for a change? My monster’s voice was cool and confident.
I won’t fear you.
Easier said than done, little man. You’ve not been down here in some ten years. We all know how that shook out. What makes you think this is any different?
I paused, a fleeting moment, collecting myself. Because I can admit that you’re right, yet I’m also right, and if not for you, I couldn’t prove to myself that I can be different. I’ve always been convinced that you are not me. But that’s not true. I am my monster. And I can be greater than myself.
“Travis, are you listening?” Miss Jasper sounded annoyed, despite her radiant smile.
“Yeah, Heather, I am.” 

—end—

The Lunar Girl

Small short I wrote for a Weekly Write-Up at WDG.
Roughly 600 words.
Her name was Flora, the lunar girl. She tended the Crescent Glaive flowers, those towering silver blades that grew and swayed with the moods of the moon. She glided among them in their patchy groves. Some townsfolk respected her—most fearing her mastery of the Glaives, her instinctive expertise demonized as witchery.
Flora smiled at these accusations. But she never did protest.
A curious old man appeared at her groves one night. He leaned against a wood staff, polished from years of use. He peered between the blades, calling softly, “Flora, I wish to speak with you.” The Glaives rustled beside him. He glanced at them nervously.
Singing to herself, her fingers dancing along the Glaive blades, Flora appeared from the silver spires.
“Hello, my old sir, is there something the matter?”
He waved at the Glaives as they moved with her rhythms and melodies. “I wish you to cease this madness.”
“What madness, old sir?” She tilted her head at him. Her eyes shone like quicksilver in the moonlight. The Glaives seemed to crowd closer, closer yet.
The man took a step back from Flora and reset his staff in the ground. The words came slowly to him.
“You have no idea how your Crescent Glaives are used, do you, Flora?”
She shook her head and smiled, bright white teeth. “What idea do I need to have but that my Glaives are beautiful? That they are grown with love and care and are unrivaled in this world? They are the children of the moon.”
“And they are murder in the sun,” the old man whispered. He ran a cautious finger along a Glaive but pulled abruptly as a thin line of blood bloomed from his skin. “They go to market but are bought for wars and used for death. You know this?”
Flora looked at him suspiciously. “You lie.”
“I do not. My son was killed by one of your Glaives.”
“You lie!” Flora screamed. “They are beautiful. They bring me peace; they grow as only the moon allows. There is no death in them. It is the world that spoils them.”
He raised his thumb to her, the blood congealing. Except it was silver blood. “I will die from this wound,” he said. “As we speak, the blood morphs to liquid silver, poisoning my body. I have a few minutes perhaps. Yet that seems more than I should need.”
Flora stared in horror at his finger. She held it between her hands, mourning it in the moonlight, silver tears falling down her cheeks. “I know nothing beyond these groves.”
“And none know so delicately the power within them. The money from your Crescent Glaives has kept this town alive, yet brought death to many others. Is such beauty worth the destruction it sows?” He staggered, snapping his hand from Flora and clutching his heart. “There is a man, the Silver King, who has made his name in the silvered blood of your creations. They say you are not one of us, just a lunar girl. They are so very wrong.” He collapsed before her.
The townsfolk came from their homes, horrified and awestruck by the fires consuming Flora’s groves. The flames licked the night, burning the stars.
Flora watched, a single shorn Glaive in her hand.
“The Silver King,” she said.