Tag Archives: Stories

Gardening Against the Future

 

“DON’T TOUCH THE MYOPATHIC SYCOPHANT PLANT!” The sign read.

The plant was a sickly purple-green. It had wobbly knobbles everywhere, broad leaves, and a great big flytrap mouth. It grew in a cowering shape, looking up at her from its position on the floor.

The little girl wanted to touch it.

She touched it.

It opened its mouth and screamed in pain. Then it collapsed. Upset, the child kneeled and cradled its head. Once this attention was received, the plant immediately started complimenting her and begging for money for its gardener bills.

The exasperated gardener approached. “Who touched that damn thing!” She said, one fist balled angrily on her coveralled hip, the other leading a hose.

The child screamed. She collapsed. She started complimenting the gardener and begging for money.

“You want to act like a plant, you’ll get treated like a plant,” the gardener said. She took the little girl by the shoulder and watered her thoroughly.

The girl stopped complaining and made gurgling noises instead.

When she considered her lesson well administered, the gardener pushed her back in the direction of her mother. “Learn to read,” she said. “Save you a world of trouble.”

The child tottered away, coughing and gasping.

The sycophant plant had seen what just happened. It huddled obscenely at the gardener’s feet in fear until its stem gave out and it collapsed completely.

“Oh, oh, oh,” it said. “You’re so strong and patient, won’t you help me up?”

“Ugh. I’ll get something to help stake you up,” the gardener said. As she headed toward the supply closet, she questioned her life decisions. Plants were getting to be too much like people. Why couldn’t she just garden roses? Roses were beautiful. They didn’t whine or moan or beg. They didn’t even think.

Sure, there were roses in this garden. But they had to be defended by increasing measures from the floral predators. Genetic engineering had gotten really out of hand here. The garden was a noisy place. The plants got into a lot of arguments.

She unlocked the shed and popped the door open. A slight resistance and then a tear. Oh no.

One of the plants and migrated into here and was rooting across the door. She knew which one it was before she even saw the tattered ficus leaves.

“Wandering Masochist! How many times do I have to tell you. You have a home.

“But I like doorways,” the Masochist said.

“You don’t have to torture yourself like this. You have a home. Go where you belong. You have supportive friends there.”

“I don’t want to.”

“If you don’t want to… then isn’t that all the more reason to do it?”

The ficus’s leaves turned upward cheerfully at that, and it wandered off. Hopefully it would go where it was supposed to be, but she doubted it. It was sure to find a new doorway to root across and wait for the tearing roots again. That thing…

She grabbed a stake, a few ties, and a towel, then locked the door behind her. She stuffed the towel under the crack in the door. That might keep it out, for a little while at least.

On her way back, she tripped over the Deciduous Package Hauler, who, for lack of a job, had grabbed a handful of Panic Pansies and was attempting to haul them to the other end of the garden. She stopped to free them from its clutches, then gave it the stake to deliver to the Sycophant. Package Haulers were working plants, bred for factory life. They struggled in a lush botanical environment.

Letting the Hauler go ahead, she paused to take in an abundant overgrowth of peaceful pink blossoms. Beautifully formed, quiet, unassuming plants. She hung her fingers on the chain link fence before it, careful to avoid the electrified wiring. The fence couldn’t keep out their perfume.

Life used to be simple, back when she gardened with her grandfather. They would pull the biting weeds and spend a guilt-free evening watching them writhe instinctively on the burn pile. They would give graham crackers to the Ghost Cactus. It loved chewing on graham crackers. And as for the roses, all you had to do was plant and water them.

When she sighed and let go, she turned back to work and saw with a shock that the Orange Lynx Fungus had been watching her. Its eyes were dark spore holes, its teeth black drips. It knew the fence was electrified and had been staying away, but now that it had seen her touch the weak spots in the fence, it was sure to figure out a new way in. This thing’s life ambition, it would seem, was eating roses.

Along with everything else in the world.

So what if roses were things of the past. So what if they could no longer hold their own against a rapidly changing environment. She would remain a gardener here as long as they, too, remained. She would protect the roses, even if she could only ever see them through an electrified chain link fence, through razor wire, through impact-resistant terrarium glass if it came to that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

The Ice Skater

 

This is a collaboration between Cowdog Creatives and myself.
It didn’t go perfectly… there was some confusion as to the exact nature or species of our hero, but after we embraced the mystery, it just added to the charm. I suggest you don’t overthink this one. Unless you really want to. If so, I will accept your fully fledged literary criticisms.
Enjoy!

 


 

Once upon a time there was a time traveler named Mickey. He decided to go forward to the future and see how his kid would grow up.

His kid was an honor student in present, but in the future he was sassy figure skater. Not that this was a bad thing… but their grandfather had been tragically killed while watching a figure skating competition, and Mickey was AGHAST. He ran out onto the ice and tried to stop his kid from competing, but he got run over by the skates of a one-hundred-competitor-parade. He lost a head. He ran to catch it as it slid across the ice but it was punted by Mickey’s son while he was performing his last spin. The head landed in a stroller and the mom mistook the head for her baby and left. Mickey and his kid now had to take care of the baby, but this was tough for them since it was a human baby.

Mickey was now a Headless, and he couldn’t really see well. Everything he saw was the other doting parents. Sometimes he would stub his toe and scream profanities at them and they would be startled. Often he had to eat baby food. They always babbled loudly over him when he tried to explain anything to them.

Meanwhile, his body had to be led around by his sassy son, who frequently grew impatient and abandoned him to get lattes.

One time he abandoned Mickey’s body in the bad part of the neighborhood and a pimp found him. His body was forced into prostitution and he was very popular since everyone wanted a good time without any judgemental words. Mickey’s sassy, figure skating son had to use his masculine wiles to entice them to let him go.

But it was too late. The Headless already had syphilis.

The parents of the head watched horrified as its nose decayed off.

“Syphilis,” said the doctor.

Syphilis.

The son put the body out pasture, where it could die a peaceful death in the grass. It leaked many fluids.

On the bright side, the leaked fluids from the Headless fertilized the pasture and a beautiful, large tree grew…it was vaguely shaped like a hydra.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

Journal: on writing characters

This is pretty random. Just thinking aloud.


People are made up of opposites.

A good character, you get to be able to predict their reaction (Ed stands up for himself against anybody, no matter how imposing. He shouts at cops, throws punches at huge bouncers). Then you figure out what their opposite character trait is (Ed cannot say no to little kids. They trample him daily. He spends all his pocket money buying them ice cream).

Here’s another thing to consider: Ed is in danger of being a stereotype. Which one? The Gentle Giant. You know that one. Or if he’s smally built, he’s the juvenile delinquent who talks tough but has a soft heart. Yeah yeah. We all know those guys.

So let’s throw some wrenches in the works. Yes, Ed is brave and scrappy. Yes, Ed loves kids. Ed is also SUPER NERDY. Tiny asthmatic with an inhaler. Angry little asthmatic. An angry little asthmatic who loves death metal and babies. He gets so angry when people mistreat him it’ll spur an asthma attack, and after the fight he’ll gnaw his inhaler. The plastic end is gnawed to hell. It looks like rats got ahold of it. This is not a stereotype. It’s way too weird. And that’s what makes Ed interesting.

You can spend the rest of your spare time trying to explain why he is the way he is, giving him a backstory. Maybe he was bullied. Maybe he is the oldest of ten siblings. I don’t know.

Let’s try making another character.

Gina is a hippie. She enjoys gardening. She never mows her lawn, it’s full of tall weeds and wildflowers and snakes. She calls it wildlife habitat. Her HOA hates her and she’s always having to defend herself. She is severely freckled and never wears makeup.

Gina is also a black belt in Tae Kwon Do. She could take anybody down. But she’s never been in a fight.

Gina is also a tech whiz. She is fluent in several computer languages and spends her workday creating webpages.

Gina has three disparate fields in her life. None of them seem to hang naturally together. But they do. I heavily based Gina’s character on a real person. (Yes, you can do that too. It’s called cheating. Just kidding.)

These hobbies are all opposites, so she’s already way out of danger of being a stereotype or cliche. But it’s not enough. What can we do with this character?

Gina needs some kind of inner conflict. We need to know about her insides.

Let’s say… she has very poor health and high anxiety. She needs her garden as a happy place but the HOA fights are giving her a stress ulcer. She needs her job for the insurance but the job makes her want to go postal. She needs her Tae Kwon Do to make her feel strong and confident, but her body is always giving out on her.

Now she’s finally getting interesting. I’ve inserted conflict into all areas of her life. Poor kid. Being one of my characters isn’t easy.

Now she needs some kind of a crisis to pull her into a character arc.

Every character has to go through an arc. They can win, or lose, learn something, or even learn nothing. But they have to face something, and near a breaking point.

There are plots which are wholly driven by character arcs. The story can be as big (e.g. dealing with the death of a loved one) or as little (e.g. worrying about the bee in the back yard) as you please. As long or short as you please. Ain’t writing grand? As Bob Ross would say, this is your world.

As an example of a character driven story, let’s try writing the small story, the bee story:

 

Gina sat in the chair on her porch, watching the bees pollinate the wildflowers in her overgrown lawn. She kept it tall just for them.

One of the bees appeared to be a little slower, a little heavier than the others. It landed near her, and she noticed its wing was deformed. It sat still in the sun, resting quietly.

What a sad thing. How did anything make it to adulthood in the wild with such a disadvantage?

It’s a social insect after all. Social creatures can afford to rely on their fellows to share the burden.

Gina shifted uncomfortably in her chair to take the weight off of her bad hip. Tae Kwon Do was getting harder these days. Where was her social support network? She considered, once again, quitting work. She could get by on disability.

The bee twitched, buzzed, and took off with visible effort, buzzing back into overgrowth. It landed on a purple nettle and explored the pockets for pollen.

Then again… even the bee was working.

If the bee could make it, she could. It was only four more years to retirement. Until then, she would have to content herself with only weekends in the garden. In four years, she could spend all her time here.

 

I don’t know, that was just a draft. But you see how pretty much nothing happened? She stared at a bee. But in her head, she made a decision about her life, and chose her pride over her health. That was her character arc.

It’s entirely possible to have a plot driven story instead. This is the kind of story where stuff happens. But it might be a bit hollow if unaccompanied by a character arc. Let’s try writing a story with no character arc.

 

Gina sat on her porch drinking tea when a van pulled up. She knew this neighbor. It was an HOA representative.

“Miss,” the man said, all beer belly and suspenders. “We’re gonna have to ask you to cut your lawn. It’s overgrown by two feet!”

Gina sipped her tea. “This lawn is a miniature nature reserve. I will not cut it.”

He grabbed his suspenders and stuck his belly out. “It’s attracting snakes and vermin!”

Her tone even, she replied, “It’s attracting endangered bees, harmless garter snakes, and monarch butterflies. It’s providing a place for native prairie plants to flourish.”

The man hiked up his pants before forming his next argument. He was turning pink with frustration. “It’s against the homeowners association code!”

Gina leaned back in her rocking chair and met the man’s eye. “If you examine the bylaws from when I moved in, there was no lawn restriction. I never signed any documentation agreeing to conform to this.”

The man huffed extravagantly and waddled back to his van, outraged but out of arguments. For now. He pulled into her driveway to turn around, squishing one corner of her grass to do it. She was sure he did it on purpose.

Gina sipped her tea. What a silly goatee. He would have looked better with a full beard.

 

Okay, so that was hard. I had to make the universe arc around her. It kind of killed me not to make her react, get angry, even smile. A smile would have denoted smugness, victory. I had to get rid of all those character flaws we just painstakingly created. It might actually be harder to not have a character arc than I’d thought.

Anyway, this story, in the end, seemed like either a bad joke (everything Gina likes is hairy) or some kind of weird morality tale (environmentalists are heroes and always right and if you’re a good person don’t cut your lawn ever).

(Side thought: fairy tales, folk tales, parables, and morality tales rarely have character arcs. These have very consistent characters, which each act in accordance to their established rules. It’s more like they’re outlining the outcome of having a specific character trait than they are telling a story.)

Now if we can blend a character arc with a plot arc, well, then you’ve got something. You go do it yourself though. Feel free to use my characters (share if you do!).

I’ve learned lots. I’m going to bed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

The thing outside

A little horror story.

Alfred Hitchcock said, it’s the things you don’t see that scare you. I wrote this a few years ago as an exercise on that concept.

 

 


 

We shivered in the dark, listening to it scratch against the door. Turning the lights out had not tricked it. It could smell us.

“Let’s go out the back,” my little sister Anita said, casting a nervous glance behind her.

“It moves too fast,” I said, but I glanced behind me as well. It was worth a shot.

Slowly we made our way backwards, feeling behind us, not taking our eyes off the kitchen door. We could hear it outside, scrabbling against the old grainy wood softly, insistently. We got halfway to the back door and then the scratching stopped.

Anita froze. We stared at the door, waiting for it to do something, but nothing was happening.

“We have to shut it inside. Then we can get to the car,” Anita said, pulling the car keys off of the counter and handing them to me.

“Are you crazy?” I whispered back, risking a glance her way. “That means one of us would have to open the door.”

She didn’t flinch. She stared at the door, her long braid resting on her shoulder, her eyes focused, waiting for some noise or indication of what it was doing now. All scratches had stopped. The other side of the door was silent. Too silent.

“Do you think it’s going around to the back door?” Anita whispered.

Suddenly I couldn’t move. I heard a desperate sort of gasp escape my throat.

“What?” She turned to look at me, alarmed.

“The back door isn’t locked,” I choked out.

Anita never hesitated. She dashed to the back room, and I watched her as she raced, her feet thumping loudly on the hardwood floor. It would hear that, I thought. It would hear that and circle around. I could see everything happening in crystal clarity, but was stricken by a horrible paralysis, unable to speak or move fast enough to prevent her from doing what she was doing.

Anita was a yard away from the door when it clicked open before her. Something pale was coming through. Finding my feet, I turned, unable to look, and ran toward the kitchen, toward the door, toward safety.

Anita screamed and screamed.

I burst out of the kitchen and slammed the door shut behind me, but the thick wood only slightly muffled the sound of my little sister dying.

I called her name through the wood. I cried out into the blank night. I kicked the door and pounded until my fist was bloodied with splinters. All this I did. But I could not make myself open that door.

When I paused for breath, there was a wet noise from within the house. It was lingering, distracted by the blood.

I still held the keys in my shaking hand. But I didn’t want to drive away from here, not if she wasn’t with me. Next to the car key was a smaller key with a cheery owl key cover which Anita had bought ages ago; the key to the shed. Where the power tools were kept.

I smiled joylessly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

Failed to write a love story

 

I don’t like romance novels. It’s the one genre I despise. I like a good romance, but not the formula Harlequin stuff. Boring. Easy.
I thought, well, if I’m so cocky, if love stories are so easy, then write one. So… I tried.

Enjoy the failure.

 


 

Daymond looked through the slats of his blinds at the neighbor across the street. She was walking around without a shirt again. Didn’t she think anyone could see her? He turned away. But even after he went to sleep, the image of her followed him into his dreams.

The doorbell rang. Ugh, it was early. He dragged himself from bed, bleary-eyed, pathetic, and answered the door in just his tattered pajama pants.
It was her.
He scooched his lower half behind the door to hide his shameful attire. He always took care in how he dressed, doubly so around her. The pants were an embarrassment.
“Good morning,” he said.
“Good morning, and merry Christmas!” she said, her bright morning energy entering his brain through his eyeballs and burning a channel straight to the back of his skull.
She handed him a bag of cookies tied off with a bow. Cute. Distressingly colorful. Dear God what time was it. He stared at the bag and tried to remember what the etiquette was, was it even Christmas? What planet was this again?
“Ah, I’m sorry,” she said, her face falling. “Did I wake you up?”
“Huh? Oh, y…yes… no. It’s fine, I was just getting up anyway.”
“I’ll let you get dressed then. Sorry!”
She gave him another blinding smile and trotted back to her house.
Get dressed?
She thought he’d answered the door nude? She had the gall to treat him like HE was the nudist? He would burn those pants as soon as possible. They were ten times more mortifying than he’d originally thought.
He shut the door and put the cookies on the kitchen table. Cinnamon and ginger fragrance eked through the cellophane. They were so cute.
He reran the conversation in his mind… he’d forgotten to thank her. How rude he’d been!
He cleaned himself up properly, took his time. Showered, shaved, brushed, put on one of his nicer shirts. She wouldn’t think him a scruffy nudist after this.
Knocking on her door was scarier than he’d expected.
“Just a minute!” She called through the door.
When she did answer, she was dripping wet, in a towel. Just out of the shower. She smelled like coconut and jasmine. The towel was only barely big enough to cover her generous assets.
“I, uh… sorry, was this a bad time?”
“Not at all!” She replied. She looked genuinely happy to see him.
Her breasts were smashed into perfect cleavage under the weight of her arm. Her legs were so long, so long, and they ran all the way up to the edge of the towel… oh dear God. He was getting a little too happy to see her, as well. Why was she always parading like this? Wasn’t she cold? Didn’t she realize what she was doing??
“Thank you. For the cookies! I realized I’d forgotten to say thank you.”
Don’t look down, don’t draw attention to it, hold her gaze. He had to get out of here quick before she noticed. At least his pants were the loose kind. But what was that draft?
She noticed. Her jaw dropped.
The draft… he looked down. He’d neglected to zip his fly. All that care in dressing and he’d left his zipper open. Or maybe it’d come down as he walked?
But that wasn’t the worst of it. Mr. Happy had poked his head out and wanted to thank her, too.
His face bright red, he hastily tucked it all back in and down and zipped everything into place. But the damage had been done.
“That was an accident, I swear! I didn’t know…” what? That his fly was open? That she’d answer the door in full sex kitten mode?
He choked on his words. Never again could he talk to her. He couldn’t even look her in the eye. He was going to be her #MeToo story forever.
In shame he fled her front porch and hurried back to his house.
“Wait!” She called.
To his horror, she ran out of the door after him in her towel. Everything bounced.
“Wait!” She caught up to him in the middle of the street. “It’s not a big deal, really.”
She got off on it. The sexual power. What else could explain her behavior?
He still couldn’t look at her.
“Did you try the cookies?” She asked. Was she actually trying to start a new conversation?
“Um, not yet… they smelled good. Listen, you’re not dressed, don’t you want to go inside?”
She looked confused. “Oh, I have a towel on, it’s fine. I just didn’t want you to leave like that.”
“You don’t think I’m some kind of pervert?”
She beamed another one of her smiles at him. “I haven’t decided yet.”
“Oookay. I’m going home now. Nice knowing you.”
“Wait?”
“What FOR?” That came out harsher than he’d intended, but this was torture.
“Come back into my house. Try a cookie.”
“Wait… you are the pervert here? You’ve been trying to seduce me all along!”
“There are cookies at my house…”
She grabbed him by his shirt front and led him back into her house. He was never heard from again.

 


 

Well, I don’t know much but I know that’s not love. A distinct lack of sweetness, haha. Awkward boners tend to overwhelm a romance. Well, I’ll just have to keep trying until I get one right. Let that be a lesson to me.

I still don’t like dime romance novels though.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

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