Horror flash fiction: Phoebe’s Game

Phoebe looked at the knock-off Operation Game. She had to lift a couple of worn stuffed animals off of the box to see the whole thing, but she was careful to avoid putting the stuffies on the ground. No sense in making the people running the yard sale angry! 

Yup, it looked almost exactly like the real thing, except that it wasn’t called “Operation” and it didn’t look like it had been store-bought. The cardboard looked like it belonged to a boot box, and when she rubbed her fingers on the lid, it felt like something laminated. She took the lid off all the way and her mouth dropped at the detailed mannequin inside. 

“Wow,” she said. 

The game board resembled the copyrighted one that she couldn’t afford unless she did a ton of chores, but it wasn’t made of plastic. It looked like it was made out of carved wood. And where the fun little pieces should be — the water bucket for the knee, the broken heart, all those things — there were miniature, realistic organs. She put out a finger to poke the worm-like intestines. They were so shiny, she almost expected them to feel squishy, like gummy candies, but piece was hard. So were the stomach, the lungs, and the brains. 

“It’s all hand-made,” the kindly old lady told her over her shoulder. Phoebe jumped, nearly dropping the box. “Oh, be careful there, dear. That’s a one-of-a-kind, that is.” 

“It’s really cool. Way better than the one in the toy department.” Phoebe reluctantly put the lid back on and set the box on the table. “Probably really expensive, too.”

“That depends. Why do you want it?” The old lady paused to accept a handful of change from another visitor to the yard sale, tucking it into her apron pocket. “I know the one you’re talking about, it’s very popular, and really not that much money.”

“My Uncle Joe has one of those, and he’s really good at it,” Phoebe said. “Like, an expert. I thought maybe if I got my own, I could get really good at it, too. Then he wouldn’t beat me all the time, and call me a bad loser afterward. Even though I’m not one.”

“Ah, I see.” The old woman smiled. “How much do you have on you?”

Phoebe took out her change purse and carefully counted the coins inside. “Four dollars and fifteen cents.”

“Oh, dear, I really couldn’t let it go for so little.” The old lady crossed her hands in front of her, shaking her head. “It was a gift from my late husband. He knew how much I liked games, but rest his soul, I can’t bear to play them without him.”

Just then, Phoebe was hit with a sudden inspiration. “Maybe, if you keep it, I could come to your house and play with it!”

“No, I’m trying to declutter so I can move into a smaller place, sweetie.” The old woman paused, biting her lip. “But I could use some help with the packing. I’ll tell you what: If you can come and help me with boxing up some of my things, after school this week, you can earn the game for yourself. Sound good?”

“Yes please!” Phoebe was practically jumping up and down with excitement. 

“You go on and ask your mother. I’ll hold the game for you until you have an answer.”

* * *

The old lady, whose name turned out to be Mrs. Rekcstir (which Phoebe found hard to pronounce, so she just called her Mrs. R.), welcomed Phoebe every day after school with a glass of milk and a plate of cookies, to “fuel her up,” she said. It was almost fun to help her pack up her figurines and books. The old lady — Mrs. R. — would tell her little stories about them as they wrapped each piece in bubble paper and tucked it safely into a box. And after a while, Phoebe would tell her stories, too, about that rotten Uncle Joe who never let her borrow his game, but who always made her mother let him take her to her swim lessons that fall. She didn’t like that he wouldn’t let her change out of her bathing suit. Every time, she had to sit in his crummy old car all cold and wet until they got back to his place, because he said he had to be quick to let his dog out, but then he’d make up for it by playing the game. Except he never let her win. Mrs. R. was very understanding, and said she wished she could take Phoebe to swimming instead. 

But the best moment came at the end of the week, when Phoebe was ceremoniously handed her game. 

“You’ve definitely earned this, dear,” Mrs. R. smiled at her. “Just be careful when you play with it. Some of the bits and pieces tend to fall off, but you can glue them back on again if you have to.”

Phoebe wanted to race home, but it was hard to run with the large game box in her arms, so she settled for an awkward fast-walk instead. And it was working, until she got to the curb. She didn’t see the step-down and tumbled forward, dropping everything onto the pavement and scattered dead leaves. 

“Oh, no!” she cried out. “No, I haven’t even gotten to play with you yet!”

“What’s that you’ve got there, Phoebe?” 

She froze at the sound of her Uncle Joe’s voice, calling to her down the sidewalk. 

“Do you need a hand?”

“No, I’m okay,” she told him. She quickly grabbed up whatever she could see, not caring if gravel and twigs ended up in the box with the game pieces. “I’m late for supper, I have to go.” 

“I’ll come along with you,” he said, jogging a little to catch up. “Your mom’s doing me a favour tonight and giving me a trim.”

Phoebe looked sideways at his jiggling belly, heaving after his little run, and the drops of sweat on his thick forehead. “Can’t you go to a barber?”

“Oh, now, don’t be rude.” He wagged a finger at her, keeping pace with her now. “I’m trying to be frugal. Do you know what that means?” 

Phoebe knew, but she didn’t want to say anything else to him. So she let him give her a lecture about what being frugal meant, all the way home. 

* * *

Because Phoebe had been late, her mother had held dinner, so Uncle Joe sat with them and had supper, too. It was a long time to sit, and Phoebe didn’t feel very hungry with her fat uncle sitting across from her, watching her play with her food. Finally, though, everyone was done, and she was able to run up to her room away from him.

“Hey! You still have to help me with the dishes,” her mother called up the stairs to her. 

“Oh, let her have some time to herself,” she heard her uncle say. “I’m tired of my hair on my neck. Ready to practice your barber skills?”

Phoebe closed the door so she wouldn’t have to listen to boring grown-up talk and stupid grown-up jokes, and settled herself on her bed to take a good long look at her new game. 

It was a mess. She almost cried when she saw that some of the the polished flat fingernails were missing, and when it had fallen, some of the doll’s hair had sheared off on the ground. It wasn’t perfect anymore. Still, after she wiped the pieces with a bit of tissue , it looked nearly as good as the first day she had seen it. So life-like. The last piece of the game, the heart, even fit into a tiny indentation behind the lungs. Phoebe had never seen anything so . . . perfect.

Knock-knock-knock.

“Phoebe, your uncle is leaving now,” Her mother said through the closed door. “I want you to come down and say good-bye.” 

“I don’t want to,” Phoebe told her loudly. “He’s sweaty and he always hugs for too long.”

“That’s just because he’s out of shape, and he hugs you for a long time because he loves you,” her mother said. “Come down right now. You’re lucky to have such a good uncle, you know.”

Phoebe sighed and got off her bed. 

When she went down the stairs, she noticed that her mother had swept the cut hair into a pile, but it hadn’t been picked up yet. There were big gross nail shavings in there, too. She made a face at them. 

“Your mom and I were playing hair salon,” Uncle Joe laughed. He swatted her mother on the rear, and she jumped, giggling. “She gives a pretty fancy pedicure, but I didn’t let her use any of your nail polish, don’t you worry.” 

“I wasn’t.” Phoebe said, sullenly. She put her face up for a sweaty kiss and let him pick her up and swing her around, his fat belly and boobs squashed against her chest and belly. “‘Bye, Uncle Joe.” 

“Don’t forget, I’m picking you up for swimming tomorrow,” he rumbled. “I hear you’ve got a brand new two-piece swimsuit, too! I can’t wait to see it!”

He put her back down, and Phoebe moved away, around the other side of the table, careful to avoid stepping in the pile of hair and toenails. 

And then she got an idea. 

She could use Uncle Joe’s gross hair and toenail clippings for her game! That way, she reasoned, she wouldn’t have to cut any of her doll’s hair, or use yarn, which would just look stupid. So when her mother’s back was turned, she quickly grabbed up a handful of the stuff and raced back up to her room, taking the stairs two steps at a time. 

She wasn’t sure if the craft glue on her little desk would stick on the carved wood, but it did. She worried at first that the clumps and pieces of hair would look silly, but after she was done, the figure almost looked like a miniature copy of Uncle Joe. Well, a copy if you could see inside his body . .  but it was funny, even the outline of the game board looked chubbier. It might have been a trick of the light after she’d cut some of his nail shavings to fit the little hands of the board; the real nails looked fresh and white, almost like they’d been painted. 

She washed her hands while she waited for the glue to dry, and then picked up the tweezers that had come with the game. This was the part she had most looked forward to trying, because instead of there being a buzzer if the tweezers touched the sides, fishing line had been threaded throughout the game board and attached to a bell on the side. So it wouldn’t be scary if she missed. 

It was getting close to bedtime, so Phoebe knew she wouldn’t have long before her mother would make her have a bath and brush her teeth. She might be able to pull one organ out, maybe, just for practice. 

Phoebe decided to try the heart. The lungs were in place, but she could see how the heart was mainly underneath the left one, so if she plucked the other one away, it would be almost like picking a berry off a bush.

Carefully, slowly, she slid the tweezers in between the lungs, lifting the right one slowly and gradually until she could put the points around the valves of the little wooden heart.  It was so funny how it didn’t even look like the proper shape, all round and lumpy and veiny, but Phoebe knew this was good training for the other game. The little white plastic heart would be easy-peasy if she could master this . . . 

The bell rang. Phoebe sighed in giddy frustration; under the rules of the game, she had to try again. 

And again.

And again.

Downstairs, the telephone rang. There was a flurry of footsteps, and the door banging open and shut a few times. But nobody came to bother Phoebe, so she paid it no mind.

The sun slowly went down outside her window as she patiently poked and prodded around the silly lungs, trying to get the best hold on the heart she could. Finally, just as the streetlights were coming on, she felt the end of the tweezer hook itself into one of the holes on the side of the heart. 

“Yes!” she whispered to herself, triumphantly — and slowly — pulling the heart free. She did it so neatly, the lungs opened like a door and fell smoothly back into place. 

She held it up to the light, marveling at its perfection. The phone rang again, and this time,, a set of soft footsteps came up the stairs. 

“Phoebe? It’s Mrs. R., dear,” came a familiar voice. “Your mother had to rush out earlier, but she asked me to look after you until she could come home. She’s on the phone for youynow.”

Phoebe got off the bed at once, the tiny heart clutched in her hand. She opened the door wide. “What’s the matter? What happened?”

Mrs. R. handed her the phone. “Talk to your mother.”

Phoebe listened to her mother tell her through sniffles and sobs that her Uncle Joe had felt sick when he was on his way home. He’d fallen down on the sidewalk and someone passing by had had to call an ambulance.  “He had a heart attack, sweetheart,” her mother cried. “Your Uncle Joe is . . . gone.”

Phoebe knew she should feel sad, but she couldn’t help smiling. When she pressed “end” on the phone, she saw that Mrs. R. had settled herself onto the bed next to her game. 

“Oh, my,” Mrs. R. said, clucking. “The hair is coming off again. This won’t do at all.”

“That’s okay,” Phoebe told her. “I heard Mr. Wilson is shaving his head in front of the whole school next week ’cause he lost a bet. He’s a real meanie, too.”

“Tell me all about him, dear.” 


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Plotting Evilly (muahahahahaaa)

Relaxing for a bit, watching We’re the Millers on Netflix, enjoying a Diet Pepsi and Crown Royal because I’m out of wine (cracked open a small bottle hubby’s had for eight years, so he’s less than pleased, but oh well), and halfway the movie, the plot picks up a snag I did NOT see coming. A twist of irony. A complication that the protagonists are not going to see coming.

I love it.

This is the essence of good writing, for me: evil, unpredictable plot points that sneak up on the reader (the term works for movies, too), sending the characters off in unexpected directions. This is what I try to do in my own writing, because otherwise, the story just gets so boring . . . I mean, you want to stick to some kind of formula or pattern that is familiar to readers in order to avoid isolating them completely, but when finding the path of the novel or play or what-have-you, those moments of discovery when an otherwise unthought-of option reveals itself and adds meat to the plot — those are golden.

When I’m teaching writer’s craft, I like to describe it as an unanticipated slap in the face, like what’s done to Barney Stinson (Neil Patrick Harris) in How I Met Your Mother. All the challenges that happen to your protagonist(s) are basically metaphorical slaps in the face, of varying degrees of severity. It’s how your characters respond and move on or grow from those events that helps to inform the story.

See? Plot points (major and minor conflicts, confrontations, challenges) are like slaps! The slap bet is the condition or set-up of the plot point, because it establishes the situation in which the challenge has to happen. The character knows something is lurking around a corner, and you feel the suspense of wondering when and where and how hard the “slap” is going to be. But there’s no avoiding it. In order for balance to be restored (in Barney Stinson’s case, his debt owed to Marshall over guessing wrongly about Robin’s past), the slap has to be gotten through, rather like a testing. There’s a connection here to the Hero’s Journey, I can sense it . . .

And then the slap itself is the most entertaining, particularly for those of us with a sick sense of humour. Doesn’t have to be an actual, physical, facial slap, of course — I’m just using the term as a stand-in for whatever it is that knocks the protagonist down and forces him or her to reconsider things, seek a different path, build his/her resilience, etc. Before a hero can win, he/she has to fall.

Hey — does that mean every writer who puts his/her imaginary friends though this is really a maniacal super-villain?

I like that!

So plot evilly, writer friends! Don’t be afraid to sneak in those unexpected slaps, those moments of WTF and I-did-not-see-that-coming, because they will make your readers sit up and take notice. They will challenge your characters’ abilities and morals, their values and their journeys. And the more creative and dastardly your slaps are, the more I think your work will stand out in the crowd.

Damnit, I’m all out of Diet Pepsi . . .

The Director and the Dragon: Flash Fiction!

Okay, here’s the low-down: Ever since I completed and submitted the flash fiction yesterday, ANOTHER idea has been dancing around and teasing me in my brain. So I’m putting it here for your entertainment (and feedback). I won’t tell you which three criteria had to be met in the original, although a couple of close friends I spoke with already know. Can you guess what the criteria were? Hint: genre, location, object. Go!

————————————————————————————————————————————————————-

The director was happy with some of the shots that his crew had gotten that afternoon, but something was always a little off in the overall mise en scene. And now they were losing the light in the pretty mountain meadow. 
“Okay, let’s try the redhead,” Alex ordered his assistant. “Get her into costume. We’ve only got about an hour left here.”

As his minion scurried off to do his bidding, Alex sipped at the fresh latte another one of his lackeys had provided, flicking back through the day’s footage. 

It was a simple advertisement for lady’s skin cream, a high-end company that wanted quaint but exotic, nostalgic but contemporary, and fresh but familiar. Also, it had to reflect one of the ingredients in the lotion — the very rare and expensive milk of the dragon. 

Alex’s business, Almanac Advertising, had provided.

They’d found a gorgeous dell on the edge of an Irish mountain (although Alex had a hard time calling it that, lacking an actual snowy peak and rocky cliffs), complete with a ruined castle built up on one side and a distant cluster of thatched-roof stone houses on the other. They had to keep replacing the sheep that the damned dragon snapped up out of boredom, though, and it was a pain in the ass to send interns for repeated truckloads. 

Why they couldn’t have gone with a symbolic dragon . . . or something metaphorical. Did they have to drag the scaly beast all the way from the company barn just for a 30 second spot? It wasn’t as though the commercial was for the Superbowl, after all. Alex shuddered to think what his superiors would have demanded of him for that. 

As it was, he hoped that the great fat pointy-arsed cow had its belly full by now. They were down to the last replacement maidens, too. Sure, they were all fine and doe-eyed when they first came out in costume, hair combed out nicely under a flower tiara (three of his interns now had fingers dyed green from all the picking and braiding of natural Irish flora), but take after take of the close-up shot — the milking of the dragon — not one of them could keep a pleasant smile on their faces. He wondered whether the CGI department could turn their clelnched-teeth grimaces and panicked expressions into more cheerful or interested looks. Maybe, with a tweak here and there, the blonde could look like she was concentrating? The brunette’s footage couldn’t be used at all; she’d barely sat on the milking stool before the stupid beast had snapped her up in her jaws, and then there had been a disgusting spatter of blood all over. They’d nearly had to find a new location altogether, until his assistant had pointed out that simply moving all their lights and equipment fifty feet to the left would solve the problem.

Alex sighed. Fifty minutes until sundown. “Okay, people! I think Brunhilda’s got a fairly full stomach by now –”

As if in response, the dragon belched. Alex coughed over the smell of raw flesh and sulphur. 

“Let’s roll tape! Where’s my maiden?”

Back to the Snowmobile Story, WITH sensory details this time!

The last echoes of the skidoos racing eastward faded. Adam had turned off his ignition, so the quiet was absolute. Even the wind had died down, and it was too cold even for the ravens to squawk. He opened the engine compartment, closing his eyes for a minute to appreciate the odours of gas and oil, and fiddled with some plugs. He kept checking over his shoulder as he listened for any signs of his friends coming back. Not that he really expected them to do that . . . well, maybe Danny would, if only to ride Adam’s butt about his old machine and his girlfriend.

The silence didn’t stop a bunch of thoughts from cycling through his head. In fact, it was hard to ignore them. He checked the oil, shoving the wire harder than necessary back into its slot, willing his brain to stop thinking.

His buddy never said it directly, but Adam knew Danny had the hots for his girlfriend. It was in his eyes when he watched her coming to sit down next to Adam in the cafeteria, the way he looked her up and down, his gaze settling on her chest until someone yelled at him to pay attention. It was in those stupid jokes

———-

Okay, so I know I’m breaking a cardinal rule here by going back through the draft before it’s done, and adding stuff. I’m wondering now, though, whether I should have more conversation earlier in the exposition, showing Danny’s attitude toward Penny. Hmmm . . . (glances back at the complete draft) — How about this? 

———–

Something in that shit-eating grin Danny had on his face just now really bothered him, when he’d said Adam should bring Penny to the party.

He could already predict what that party was going to be like. It would be the same as always: loud music that would get louder as people got drunker, a bonfire in a home-made fire pit that some fool would try jumping over and end up wiping out next to on the ice that formed from the melting snow (next to the fire, if he was lucky — more likely to wipe out on the fire pit), Danny hitting on every girl until he got one who was drunk or stupid enough to think he was actually funny. And if Danny scored with a girl who actually had a boyfriend, there would be a fight.

Come to think of it, Danny would probably focused on a girls with a boyfriends just so that he could get into a fight.

Adam and Danny had never been in a real fight. They’d goofed around, just being idiots and re-enacting MMA bouts, tossing each other off of docks in the summer and into snowbanks in the winter. Hell, they’d thrown each other off of any surface they could climb onto: the roof of the bottom story addition of his house (winter), the railing of Danny’s back deck (winter), the flat top of AJ’s boat house (summer), the flat top of AJ’s grandparents’ garage (winter) . . .

Of course, they didn’t need a bit of high ground to throw each other down. Back in grade five, Danny’d taught Adam how to sweep a leg out from under his opponent, passing on whatever he’d learned in the karate classes that Adam couldn’t afford. And then Adam had shown Danny how to pile-drive, what it took to do a decent sleeper hold that could really knock somebody out, and the pressure points that Adam’s dad had showed him. Danny loved finding out about those, just little sensitive spots between thumbs and forefingers that could keep a kid on the ground for as long as you wanted, if enough you pressed hard enough.

Good times.

But they’d never yet taken a swing at each other. Hadn’t had a reason to. Especially not over a girl.

And Adam honestly didn’t want to do that. Not that he’d ever tell anyone, out loud.

It wasn’t that he was scared. He could take Danny.

It was just . . .

Adam slammed the cover back down on his snowmobile. The bang startled a distant raven into cawing loudly as it flew away.

Guys fought, didn’t they? They fought and then they got over it. Fighting cleared the air. Girls, they snuck around and snarked at each other and sent nasty texts until they were ripping at each other’s hair and rolling around school hallways. Girl fights lasted for weeks, or even months.

When Danny went after some other guy’s chick, the guy would call him out either at the party where the thing happened, or at school the next day. Adam privately thought it was stupid to do it at school, but there had to be an audience. His mom once said, after she’d heard about one of these fights, that it had to do with something called ‘saving face’. Whether Danny and whoever went at it right away depended on the other guy’s temper — or fear.

Adam sat on the snowmobile and stared at the remains of Danny’s cigarette in the snow, his nostrils crinkling in the cold air. The grey ashes looked like dead snowflakes. Zombie snowflakes.

Sometimes, after Danny had a fight with a guy, and there was snow on the ground, there would be blood spattered on it. He only ever needed to fight a kid once and then the problem would be over. Nobody ever challenged him twice.

If Danny was going after Penny now, Adam would have to fight him. Guaranteed.

Damnit, why couldn’t all of this be as simple as gliding over drifts and along the edges of embankments? It wasn’t Penny’s fault that she was pretty and smart; he was lucky to have her as his girlfriend, and he knew it. How long would it be before someone better than him came along and they broke up?

It might as well be Danny as anyone else. Then he wouldn’t have to deal with wondering who she was with. Then again, he might have to stop being friends with the jerk.

The ticking of the engine as it cooled off brought Adam back to reality. It was too confusing to just sit there and think; easier to ride. Pivoting on his heel, he threw his other leg over the seat, rammed on his helmet and started the motor, leaning into the curve as he turned his snow machine around and headed back down the trail.

It felt better once he’d picked up speed, the dark trees whizzing past him on either side. He relaxed his body into the seat while tensing his shoulders and arms, his legs working to mould him against the machine. The heavy vibration blended into his muscles until he felt like he and the skidoo were almost connected, working together to virtually fly over the contours of the trail. All at once, like the driving was blowing cobwebs out of his brain, he saw clearly what he needed to do: warn Penny that Danny was going to hit on her, and then tell Danny to back off. It was as simple as that. He could even run their conversation through his head — his and Danny’s, not the one with Penny — and predict how it was going to go.

He never had trouble talking to Penny. With her, he just felt comfortable. But Danny had a way of twisting other people’s words that was fun to watch, when it was happening to other people.

Adam gunned the engine as he approached a hill, catching air over the crest and bracing himself right before the impact seconds later.

“Dan,” he’d say, keeping his voice serious and low to keep from attracting attention. “Lay off of Penny, okay? She doesn’t like you like that.”

“Lay her? Sure, I’ll lay her for you!” Danny would probably laugh, and he’d do it loudly too, making sure everyone could hear. “I know you’re still saving yourself for marriage.”

The trail forked just up ahead, with the main branch — the official path — leading off to the right and back to town by following the uneven shore of the lake. Adam bent his left elbow and knee to direct the snowmobile over the rough pile of snow toward the southeast, relishing the thrill of the machine diving into deeper powder. The shortcut over the lake would save him five, maybe ten minutes if he really pushed it. Just had to watch out for patrols, but he could just explain that he was running out of gas and needed to get home fast.

“Dan, I need to talk to you,” he’d say instead, so that his long-time friend would know he was serious. “It’s important. Penny wants you to leave her alone.”

“I’m sorry if I made her uncomfortable,” Danny would shrug, his eyes all innocent. “I was just joking around. Maybe you shouldn’t be with her if she can’t take a joke.”

Adam shook his head, gritting his teeth. The snowmobile shuddered over a patch of rough ice as he zoomed onto the lake. He had to come up with something to say that Danny couldn’t turn around on him, something that his friend would respect.

What if he told him that if he kept harassing his girlfriend, they couldn’t be buddies anymore?

Did guys even do that sort of thing?

Snowmobile Story continued: trying to stay in a 16 year old boy’s head

The last echoes of the skidoos racing eastward faded. Adam had turned off his ignition, so the quiet was absolute. Even the wind had died down, and it was too cold even for the ravens to squawk. He opened the engine compartment and fiddled with some plugs, checking over his shoulder as he listened for any signs of his friends coming back. Not that he really expected them to do that . . . well, maybe Danny would, if only to ride Adam’s butt about his old machine and his girlfriend.

The silence didn’t stop a bunch of thoughts from cycling through his head. In fact, it was hard to ignore them. He checked the oil, shoving the wire harder than necessary back into its slot, willing his brain to stop thinking.

He could already predict what that party was going to be like. It would be the same as always: loud music that would get louder as people got drunker, a bonfire in a home-made fire pit that some fool would try jumping over and end up wiping out next to on the ice that formed from the melting snow (next to the fire, if he was lucky — more likely to wipe out on the fire pit), Danny hitting on every girl until he got one who was drunk or stupid enough to think he was actually funny. And if Danny scored with a girl who actually had a boyfriend, there would be a fight.

Come to think of it, Danny would probably focus on a girl with a boyfriend just so that he could get into a fight.

Adam and Danny had never been in a real fight. They’d goofed around, just being idiots and re-enacting MMA bouts, tossing each other off of docks in the summer and into snowbanks in the winter. Hell, they’d thrown each other off of any surface they could climb onto: the roof of the bottom story addition of his house (winter), the railing of Danny’s back deck (winter), the flat top of AJ’s boat house (summer), the flat top of AJ’s grandparents’ garage (winter) . . .

Of course, they didn’t need a bit of high ground to throw each other down. Back in grade five, Danny’d taught Adam how to sweep a leg out from under his opponent, passing on whatever he’d learned in the karate classes that Adam couldn’t afford. And then Adam had shown Danny how to pile-drive, what it took to do a decent sleeper hold that could really knock somebody out, and the pressure points that Adam’s dad had showed him. Danny loved finding out about those, just little sensitive spots between thumbs and forefingers that could keep a kid on the ground for as long as you wanted, if enough you pressed hard enough.

Good times.

But they’d never yet taken a swing at each other. Hadn’t had a reason to.

And Adam honestly didn’t want to do that. Not that he’d ever tell anyone, out loud.

It wasn’t that he was scared. He could take Danny.

It was just . . .

Adam slammed the cover back down on his snowmobile.

Guys fought, didn’t they? They fought and then they got over it. Fighting cleared the air. Girls, they snuck around and snarked at each other and sent nasty texts until they were ripping at each other’s hair and rolling around school hallways. Girl fights lasted for weeks, or even months.

When Danny went after some other guy’s chick, the guy would call him out either at the party where the thing happened, or at school the next day. Adam privately thought it was stupid to do it at school, but there had to be an audience. His mom once said, after she’d heard about one of these fights, that it had to do with something called ‘saving face’. Whether Danny and whoever went at it right away depended on the other guy’s temper — or fear.

Adam sat on the snowmobile and stared at the remains of Danny’s cigarette in the snow. The grey ashes looked like dead snowflakes. Zombie snowflakes.

Sometimes, after Danny had a fight with a guy, and there was snow on the ground, there would be blood spattered on it. He only ever needed to fight a kid once and then the problem would be over. Nobody ever challenged him twice.

——————————-

Okay, faithful readers — yes or no? Is this sounding like a 16 year old’s thought processes? 

Once again, night is defeating me, and it’s a bad one because we’re losing an hour of sleep with the stupid time change. I wish I could write through until I can’t form words anymore. I wish I could pound this story out in a whirlwind of writing, because tonight, at this moment, I’m convinced I could get it done in a week. Sadly, that’s not reality. 

But guess what? Tomorrow I’m testing my limits in a downhill ski race! So I’d better get some sleep. 

But do tell me what you think of this part of the story, please? I’d love the feedback.

To the WIP: The Snowmobiling Story continues!

“We’re heading to Rouyn, gonna pick up some two-fours and head back to AJ’s for a party,” Danny said. He exhaled a long puff of grey-white smoke mixed with the condensation of his breath.

“Seriously?” Adam adjusted the velcro belt on the wrist of his glove, pulling it back and pressing it down again in an awkward rhythm. “I got plans with Penny tonight.”

“Yeah, your plans include bringing her to AJ’s.” Danny jerked his chin and then glanced at the other guys, grinning.

————–

Do you ever find, fellow writers, that composing a story is like carving a sculpture out of a block of wood? Each word is a sliver or a curl shaved away from the whole, adding to the shape a little at a time. I’d like to use the analogy of stitches sewn into a stretched cloth, or maybe woven over and under the strands in a loom; I try to visualize a brush moving over a palette, with a picture slowly growing under a collection of strokes and dots of colour on canvas. But writing feels more like carving to me. Chipping the words out of blank space, marking them on a flat page which, virtual or tangible, has no real dimension, yet in my head and under my fingers those phrases and conversations feel as corporeal as the solid medium in an artist’s studio. The story is solid and whole, but it’s hiding behind the surface of the solid. When I type, I’m just revealing its form. The frustrating part is when the tools are dull or the surface knotted and the words won’t come. 

And sometimes, in some stories, the block I’m chipping away at isn’t even wood at all — it’s marble, and each burst of composition is a scattering of chips in the air. Maybe that’s more in my poetry than in my prose. Poetry suits marble. 

At any rate, this novella (not sure if it’s YA, based on the language it wants to have) on snowmobiling wants to take shape. It’s waiting for its image to come out of the block of wood, a chip and a scrape and a curl at a time. 

Maybe I should sit down and make a more direct plan of attack. I’ve been trying to seat-of-the-pants it, but without regularly spending time on it (sickness, work, life, etc.), there’s no movement. Do sculptors ever find themselves stuck in the movement? Is it terribly pretentious of me to compare writing (my writing) to the work of a sculptor? 

—————-

“Honestly, I don’t think she’ll want to go,” Adam said. The noise of the velcro on his gloves was hard to hear against the growling of the engines. He abruptly stopped playing with the straps and took off his helmet to mess around with the padding, pretending to fix the way it sat on his head. “Kind of off parties right now, you know?”

Steve laughed, swaggering over to bush half-covered in snow with his gloves held under one arm so he could unzip his suit. “What, you afraid she’s gonna check out the competition, see somebody better, and ditch your ass? Bro, just bring her to the party. Don’t be a pussy.” The thin yellow stream steamed and crackled in the hollow it made under the bush. “Shit, I think I might have gotten piss on my boots again . . .”

Danny neatly tossed his cigarette butt in the snow at his feet. “Listen, bring her or don’t bring her, but you’re coming out. You need to relax, buddy. Way too tense. Am I right, AJ?”

AJ shrugged, his face still obscured by the mirrored visor of his helmet. He revved his engine, turning to the east, then took off suddenly, leaving an impressive spray of white powder in his wake.

“Whoa, nice boondockin'” Steve shouted, waving one arm. He zipped up and strode back to his machine,  looking at Danny as he straddled the seat. “Let’s go, we’re wasting daylight. If he wants to wimp out, let him.”

Adam felt a hot glow deep in his chest, watching Steve slam his visor down and zoom off without another word. Why can’t I just tell them I haven’t got enough gas?”

“So you coming or not?” Danny asked. He checked to make sure his pocket flap was down over his cigarettes and lighter. “We can carry more booze with four machines.”

“Yeah, I’ll be right behind you,” Adam said, slowly. “I thought I heard a knock in the engine. Need to check it out first.”

“Hey, want me to stay and give you a hand?”

At least the kid actually sounded concerned. Adam took his gloves off, using them to make a flipping motion at his friend. “No, I got this. Like I said, I’ll catch up. See you in Rouyn, okay?”

“Okay. And remember what I said — bring Penny tonight!”

There was that look again, damnit. Danny was gone before Adam could ask him what the raised eyebrow and crooked grin was all about.

————————–

Okay, I think that’s enough for tonight. Know what sucks the most about being a teacher and a mom and a partner and a writer all at the same time? More often than not, you have to stop once the story gets really rolling. And the story tends to only get rolling when it’s quiet enough to concentrate, which for me is late at night. Still, it’s got momentum. I have to stop or else getting up for Bridget’s skating lesson tomorrow is going to be murder, and it’s already been a hell of a week in a lot of ways. Plus there’s skiing tomorrow afternoon — not sure how much I’m going to be up for that. I might bring my computer and/or marking to the lodge, let the kids have the fun while I nurse my sore nose and dwindling congestion, listening for more sledding slang and plot ideas . . .

LaSalle Theatre 24 Hour Playwriting Challenge is underway!

I was hoping for 12 participants, but the five students who came out for the two-hour organizational meeting are enthusiastic and motivated — can’t ask for better than that, especially the first time around. As far as I know, our town hasn’t had a theatre project like this before. I’m hoping it becomes an annual event.

There were some glitches, of course. The theatre space is still under renovation, so it wasn’t nearly warm enough to stay more than 45 minutes in the lobby where we hoped to perform and I’ve had to book a different space in the event that it’s still uncomfortably cold tomorrow night. We tried moving the space heaters currently in use, and then we tried using blankets and quilts to make a blanket fort over the space heaters, but that required sitting on the floor. It kind of worked to capture the heat, but then the cold radiated up through the concrete and tile. Finally, we said “enough” and retreated to the nearby Tim Horton’s (after putting everything back, of course).

For their patience and fortitude, I rewarded the kids with hot chocolates on me.

We had some great ideas coming forward, and now the writers are working away on their scripts. I’m hopeful that there will be three scripts prepared for the morning. Then we will dive into a full day of blocking, memorizing, and rehearsal to the performances at 7 pm. Thankfully, I won’t be the sole supervisor — the theatre’s artistic director and his assistant will be there also to lend a hand. And maybe some of the kids will be able to bring friends with them to bulk up our cast and crews.

I have to say, it was really cool sitting around the table at Timmy’s, talking theatre with these young people. Just general guidelines for what they’re doing tomorrow, the schedule of activities, what is expected of the directors and actors, and the possible contingency plan for the performance space. (The latter has been taken care of, thanks to an open and friendly local church with a terrific space for presentations in the basement.)

But I am disappointed with my inability to get the posters out. I’m trying not to berate myself, accepting that I’m only one person with a full schedule of my own. And yet . . . I know it wouldn’t have taken long to canvass local businesses to put our posters up. So why didn’t I do that? I was able to post the event listing on Facebook and create an online sign-up sheet, coordinate students to record a radio ad and I did an interview with the radio news as well.

I think that I hit a limit, though. As much as I want to be like Leslie Knope, a powerhouse of getting things done, I’ve come to a wall. There is a reason why theatres (or other organizations) have publicity teams in addition to coordinators. It’s a hell of a job, getting the word out about an event or project. It can be a very fun job, too, for someone who is outgoing and has a lot of energy. And if that is your sole focus, the work is even easier. I tried to psyche myself up to go out after school, carried posters in my bag, asked students to help me out, too. I had some lovely offers of help from other adults last weekend, but I think at that point I was feeling like it was too late to put up notices with the event less than a week away. Good advertising needs to happen at least three weeks before the thing, not six days before. Actually, I don’t even know if that’s true for all things, but for theatre, I think it is, especially in winter and during a cold snap when people think carefully about their plans before making them.

I think, too, that I was holding myself back on the posters because I was terrified (and still kind of am) that the project will flop. For days, now, I’ve been afraid to hear the ad on the radio. It’s difficult to put your enthusiasm and energy into a great idea knowing that it’s not going to see the response that you want, yet I know it’s still important to try. The five kids who came out tonight made it worthwhile. I swing between being determinedly optimistic and flatly despairing, pushing forward because I said I would, and because they’re having a good time and a good experience from it.

Plus, an up-side to all of this is the learning experience for myself. I’ve never done one of these and it’s been interesting to feel my way through it, research other similar projects, suss out the potential problems and find ways to close the loopholes. Scary and challenging and exhilarating all at once. I said to my son (who is participating), maybe it’s better that we are starting with a small group.

And anyway, isn’t that how grassroots events and movements begin? Could this even be termed a grassroots event?

I really just want to go to bed. But my son is typing away on the other end of the couch and I cannot abandon him . . . I know what it’s like to suddenly have a creative writing deadline, and I greatly admire and respect him for taking this on. 10 pages of script when you’re 14 and you’ve never attempted to write a play before! It doesn’t seem like much, not at first. Sitting around a table in a doughnut shop, or in a circle of chairs in a theatre, what’s 10 pages?

It’s when you’re staring down the blank screen and trying to come up with character names, actions and dialogue, remembering that the story should ramp up on page four and that it needs to connect with a specific theme — that’s when burgeoning (or professional) writers need support. Once the roll gets going and the words are flowing, it’s all good. The hard part is getting into the flow. And for myself, the hard part is also keeping my mouth shut so that the words are all his. All theirs.

IF you happen to live in or near Kirkland Lake and want to show your support, the students’ performances are tomorrow night (Saturday Feb 21) at 7 pm, likely at Trinity United Church. I’ll put a note on the door of the LaSalle Theatre to confirm the change in locale, weather depending. Tickets for the show are $10, with proceeds going toward  refurbishing the LaSalle, and I know the students would sincerely appreciate the support.

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