Here’s an excerpt of what I think is one of my better stories, though the lit mag editors haven’t seen it that way (they’re a strange lot).
I wrote “The Letter V” for two main reasons: to highlight the plight of women in our world and out of my love for symbolism. I was inspired in part by Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Birthmark,” a fabulous story. http://www.online-literature.com/poe/125/
“The Letter V” (excerpt)
Violet Naitre looked away from Dr. Olson’s dispassionate, clinical eyes and tried to process what she’d just been told:
She paused for several moments as the room started to spin. White spots appeared before her eyes; they were different from the floaters she’d seen for as long as she could recall. She felt woozy and thought she would faint.
“Are you sure?” Violet croaked as she looked up and her throat constricted like a fist.
“Yes—very,” the gynecologist said drily. Your blood and urine tests verify gravidity to a near-statistical certainty.”
“What?” the high school senior thought. “What did she just say—verify gravidity to a near-statistical certainty?” The star player on her soccer team prided herself on being well informed, but she didn’t know what Dr. Olson meant, except to verify what Violet already knew—she was definitely pregnant. Violet sat on the examination table and felt vomit suddenly roil within her. She leapt from the table and ran over to the wastebasket. Dr. Olson moved ever so slightly to let her by. Violet heaved up her breakfast—valerian tea and toast, which was all she had been able to hold down for the past two weeks. Her stomach acid burned her throat and nasal passages in a now-familiar way. Dr. Olson reached over to her desk and ripped out three tissues with precision and handed them to Violet. Violet wiped her mouth and nose. She bent over the wastebasket and dry-heaved twice more. She felt a wave of dizziness overcome her; the room slanted and blurred. Phantom dark spots swirled before her like puffballs in a vortex of revolving motion. She became aware that her palms were moist; her fingers felt tingly and her knees buckled. Dr. Olson helped her back onto the table.
“Are you okay?”
Violet let her head drop forward slightly as she took several deep breaths. “Not really,” she answered. “I was expecting this; I guess I was still hoping for a miracle.”
~ ~ ~
“Sinkhole” is about a man whose house is being devoured by a sinkhole. His life has also become one.
A mild temblor lasting only a few moments shook Clay Chamber from his half-drunk half-sleep. In his mental stupor he also thought he heard someone utter a single word during the shaking: “Down!” Only as spoken the word stretched out like a tape measure: “Dooowwwwwnnn!” He sat upright suddenly in his easy chair. The TV was still on. The Biggest Loser. “What the hell was that?” he said aloud to no one but himself. It felt like an earthquake, though he’d never been in one before. They weren’t exactly commonplace events in northeast Ohio. He looked around his living room. Everything remained undisturbed in its still-life place; but he thought the floor was askew—something slightly tilted about the room. He blamed his newfound feeling of imbalance on the several beers he’d drunk before nodding off. And as for the voice he thought he heard, he figured it was either the TV or some sliver of a dream he couldn’t recall—not that he tried very hard.
Clay settled in his chair and stared at the TV listlessly. Jillian Michaels was berating an impossibly fat man wheezing on a treadmill. Clay slid into a familiar zone between boredom and numbness. “The only way you’re getting off this damn treadmill is if you DIE on it!” Clay heard himself laugh. All of Jillian’s rants bounced off him like hailstones.
He shifted his legs, resting his right on his left—his favorite position. Clay’s chair was dull grey with a well-worn footrest. The metal bars protruded through the fabric like compound fractures. He had placed a throw pillow overtop the footrest long ago. To his right was an end table that had not been cleaned in ages—well, months anyway. Clay wasn’t overly concerned with cleanliness. He didn’t care to disturb the dust. A dozen cans of Natural Light beer sat empty on the table, cluttering the surface as the beer clouded his mind.
“I wonder what Jillian would say to me,” he asked himself as he sat up, wedging the small of his back against the back of the chair. He felt a familiar twinge in his lower right leg. He bit down on his tongue, inducing enough pain to distract him—and counted. He’d learned that the pain usually left him by six or seven. This time he reached eight. He watched the rest of The Biggest Loser and Parenthood came on. Clay reached down in a rote way to get another beer. He had a 12-pack sitting next to his chair. He could reach for a beer just as easily as he could reach the recliner lever, though he rarely touched it. He often slept in his chair all night. That suited him, but he woke in the morning feeling crooked.
~ ~ ~
“The Hollow” is about a boy who loses his best friend and the crisis it creates in his life. It is loosely autobiographical.
“The Hollow” excerpt
Logan and Ian walked through an open field around dusk as they made their way home after a day of ‘splorin’ on a sweltering day in July. The 11-year-olds from Olton, Ohio stayed on the trail used by the neighborhood boys to avoid witches burrs, which clung to their socks and shoelaces like Velcro. Logan was walking a few paces in front of his best friend. They were tired after many hours in the sun. They’d been walking around Lake Wilder looking for frogs and turtles like boys do. Sweat ran down their foreheads and burned their eyes. Logan and Ian used the sleeves of their tee shirts to clear the salty sweat from their eyes. They were about 100 yards from Logan’s backyard. They were anxious to get to his house and put their lips around the outside faucet and turn it on full and make their cheeks puff out like water balloons.
Logan saw it first, though when he first saw it some 100 feet away, it seemed unreal to him, like something out of a Disney movie. He’d never seen a cougar before, except on Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom and in pictures in his schoolbooks. The tawny coated creature sprinted soundlessly out of the woods and came straight for them. Logan turned around and ran directly into Ian, knocking him down.
“Mountain Lion!” he screamed. “Run!”
“What?” Ian shouted, confused. He got up quickly, then he too saw the large cat coming for them. He immediately ran behind Logan, who left the trail in search of something, anything, to defend themselves with. Logan was panicked. He didn’t know what he was looking for. He ran into the woods. There he soon saw a large log, hollowed out by time and weather, lying on the ground. He ran for it and squeezed inside by shimmying on his elbows and knees. Ian followed. He made it about halfway inside when Logan heard his friend scream.
“Aagh! He’s got me!” Ian yelled. “He’s pulling on me!”
Logan froze momentarily. “Hold on to my feet!”
Logan felt Ian grab onto his ankles, and then he felt Ian’s hands slip from his feet as he was forcefully yanked backwards. He heard the scraping of his friend’s fingernails as he dug them into the rotting log. And then he heard Ian screaming.
“HELP! HELP! LOGAN! HELP!”
Ian’s screams lasted for several minutes and then Logan heard nothing, just the sound of the beast feeding. Logan remained in that log for hours. He breathed in its dry, musty smell and waited. He was terrified to come out. He feared the big cat was waiting for him and worst of all, he didn’t want to look at what the mountain lion had done to his friend. He hadn’t heard Ian make a sound for a long time. Logan knew instinctively his best friend was dead. He’d felt him die as he lay inside that log that was his protection and his prison. Just after Ian’s screams stopped Logan felt a hole open up inside him. Something was missing that used to be there. Something vital. His connection to life and the world had been severed.
Much later, when it was dark, Logan heard his father calling for him. He thought it was safe to crawl out the other end of the log. When he came out he ran toward his father and away from Ian. He didn’t want to look at the horror he was sure was there. He ran as fast as he could until he saw his father and Ian’s father holding flashlights.
“IAN WAS ATTACKED! IAN WAS ATTACKED!”
Logan’s father grabbed hold of his hysterical son. “Ian was attacked? By who?”
Tears suddenly spilled from his eyes. “A LION! A MOUNTAIN LION!”
“A mountain lion? Are you sure?”
“I saw it!”
Ian’s father went pale. “Take me to him!”
“NO! I CAN’T GO BACK THERE! I WON’T! I WON’T!”
“Then tell us where he is,” Logan’s father said more calmly. “Tell us where Ian is.”