Tag Archives: fiction writing

Spencer’s Story: Volume 3

“What are you doing?” Mr. Grum commanded.

Groggy, Spencer took a moment to answer, to get his bearings. “I was just resting. Just resting.”

“Well get up. Now. We have company.”

A tall man in a v-neck sweater of green stood behind his father, smiling, waiting for Spencer to react.

“Spencer, this is Mr. Blankenship. He’s with the church.”

“Nice to meet you,” Spencer said.

“Very nice to meet you, Spencer.”

Spencer smiled, looking Mr. Blankenship in the eyes. This was how it went with company. Smile politely, make eye contact, don’t step out of line. That line had been drawn in impenetrable stone for as long as Spencer could remember. As much as he tried to forget, his evolutionary mechanism aptly reminded him of its presence in times like these.

“We’re going to be using the dining room. I don’t want any interruptions. You got that?”

“Yes, sir.”

With the church, Spencer mused. It’s always with the church. He had wondered why the church took precedence over family. Why the way the family dressed for church worship services was important enough to scream about, fight over. Why Spencer and his brothers had to be so gosh darn quiet in their company. It was as though, as Spencer had thought before, their Christian development wasn’t matured, or brainwashed enough to fit in.

Frankly, he was sick of it. And he went to bed that evening with a sour taste in his mouth.

The next morning, Spencer woke before the sun came to visit. This was par for the course in the Grum household. Early to rise for chores of cleaning and dusting and organizing. While his brothers still had it in them to whine about it, Spencer had grown to realize that it was how it went. And it wasn’t so bad, he had thought. It usually gave him more time during the day to play outdoors: his most favorite place on the planet.

Later that day, after he had finished his chores, Spencer was given permission to invite his friend Garrett over. And that day, Spencer found adventure in a place hadn’t ever before.

*    *    *    *

Beyond the hill behind the Grum house, horses ran, unsaddled and free. Or at least that’s what Spencer liked to think. He didn’t know much about horses–other than what he gleaned from episodes of Have Gun Will Travel–but he did like to lean up against the fence and watch them as they galloped to and fro chasing jackrabbits and chomped on wild lemon grass in between yearnings to scratch their backs with the crust of the earth.

This one time, however, when he was eight, Spencer and his friend Garrett did just a bit more than simply watch the horses.

It was another one of those sunny weekend days in Southern California: perfect for romping around the neighborhood, exploring new trees to build forts upon, finding new ways to lend credence to the title of hooligan or scoundrel or whippersnapper, terms he heard regularly delivered by Mrs. Walden (for skateboarding “too fast” down the hill near their houses, or throwing water balloons at passing bicyclists).

“Let’s go watch the horses,” Garret said. Garrett lived in a stucco box of an apartment next to other stucco boxes, and didn’t often have the chance to be around animals. Small pets weren’t allowed in his apartment complex. Not even miniature horses.

Spencer wanted to get out of the house anyhow. Miah and Marcus were fighting over the integrity of one another’s building block castle: Miah’s being replete with moat, and imaginary crocodiles for the strict purpose of chomping on intruders, or Marcus’ wandering fingers; Marcus’ castle being the one with the highest towers, or the “better angle to shoot things in the face.” The parents were, as was the routine for Sundays, arguing over bills in their bedroom. They jabbed at each other in exasperated exclamations.

“Okay,” Spencer replied. “Let’s go.”

When they both reached the fence at the top of the hill, they leaned against it and looked out upon the roaming beasts.

“Who’s are they?” Garret asked.

“I don’t know. They’re just here.”

“But who owns them?”

“I don’t know. Maybe no one does. I think they’re just wild.”

A few moments pass before the two exchange grins. The grins, translated, amounted to: They’re wild. We’re wild. Let’s be wild together.

That, at the least, was their collective vision. However naive, it was still theirs. No rules. No parents. No brothers or sisters. Only them, and the wild beasts of the field beyond the Grum house.

Stepping through the barbed wire fence, Garrett looks up, noticing one of the horses trot towards them, only twenty paces off or so. “They’re not going to eat us, are they?”

“Um, no. No, they’re herbivores…I think.”

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Spencer’s Story: Volume 2

When his parents were gone on those church trips, the boys were usually left in the capable hands of any one of the four teenage girls that lived in the neighborhood. But to be capable in his parents’ eyes is to keep Spencer and his two brothers from bleeding from their eyeballs or some such injury that would land them in the hospital. To be capable in Spencer’s eyes was different, though. It was everything.

It meant he didn’t have to scrub the toilet. It meant he didn’t have to find clever ways to avoid his father. It meant he didn’t have to do as Jesus would do. Wine from stone aside, it just wasn’t that appealing.

Miah and Marcus reacted as most kids would. They went crazy. And as long as the messes were cleaned up before the parents’ arrival, and they kept it within the confines of their bedroom, they were free to do what they wanted.

But, one Saturday evening in August of ’92, things turned out differently.

“Alright kids. I need to make a phone call. Keep it down,” Tiffany, the first-year college student from three houses over, said to Spencer, Miah and Marcus shortly after the Grum parents pulled out of the driveway.

“Who are you calling?” Marcus asked.

“Yah, who ya call…”

“Guys, stop it,” Spencer interrupted. “Lets go to the bedroom.”

“But I want to know who she’s calling.” Miah responded.

“It’s none of your business. Let’s go. Who wants to play Monopoly?” Spencer said.

“I do!” Miah exclaimed.

“I get to be the boot!” Marcus replied.

“I’m the race car!” Miah said.

“I’ll be the thimble, okay? Let’s go.”

Monopoly always seemed to work. It was the one board game they owned that still had enough pieces to make it playable. They had a checkers set that was once used as ammunition for the boys’ grossly inaccurate, and mildly racist reenactment of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The checker pieces that found their way up to the roof never were retrieved.

For the next two hours, the Grum boys sat cross-legged on the floor in their bedroom and played Monopoly. The structure of which typically went something like this:

  1. Game opens with delight, fervor
  2. 30 minutes pass without much change
  3. Miah expresses desire to make his one procured property a “super duper,” that has the power to burn its unwanted occupants with molten lava
  4. Marcus and Spencer roll their eyes and deny the request
  5. Another 30 minutes pass by with a handful of houses purchased, mostly by Marcus and Spencer
  6. Marcus is distracted by Miah’s constant fidgeting and promptly–and throughout the remainder of game–complains
  7. Miah expresses delight at having once again annoyed his older brother. He does so by making “neener neener” faces
  8. Spencer waits patiently
  9. Spencer places mansion on Boardwalk
  10. Miah and Marcus charge Spencer with cheating
  11. Spencer laughs at his brothers’ inability to handle time consumption
  12. Miah calls Marcus and Spencer a “poop eater” and quits
  13. 10 minutes later, Marcus quits for lack of money
  14. Spencer puts the game back in its box, happy to have distracted his brothers for the two hours

For Spencer, the time spent post-Monopoly matches was undoubtedly the best. His brothers, annoyed and pouting, kept mostly to themselves. The babysitter found solace in her phone calls. And he was met with a calming respite from the pressure.

Mostly, he didn’t have to keep up appearances. He wasn’t his father’s little soldier.

He was himself. His own self.

His own self.

His own self.

These are the words that played again and again as he fell to sleep on the floor in the dining room that evening in August of ’92.

When he woke hours later, with a hand around his ankle, the words seemed so far away, so distant and foreign and never to be reached again.

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Spencer’s Story: Volume 1

Spencer slammed the door shut, knowing that he’d hear about it later, but not caring, for in that moment, he was alone, himself.

With each step up the hill behind his house, Spencer could feel the anxiety lessen, allowing for the calming breath of his mind to dissipate the stabbing in his chest.

He climbed.

The long grass under his feet held dew that made his socks all wet, but he didn’t care. He didn’t care that this would be a point of contention later; that the socks, wet and soggy, would somehow find their way into the “reasons why boys need structure” handbook his father so dutifully abused.

At the top of the hill, Spencer looked down into the valley. Horses fed on alfalfa in one-acre lots. Kids ran up and down the street looking for something to prod, someone to play with, some activity to occupy their time. His two younger brothers, Jeremiah (or “Miah” as everyone seemed to call him) and Marcus, played in the oblong patch of grass in the front yard of their home. Spencer, sometimes, was jealous of their innocence. He wondered how they could not know. They lived in the same house.  Slept in the same room. Pooped in the same toilet. Showered in the same linoleum box.

But perhaps they did know, and their alternate universe wasn’t the opposite. Just different. Possibly better.

At least that’s what Spencer wished for.

Something better.

Better like the time he spent the weekend at his friend Micah’s house, when his parents had to make a last-minute trip with the church. Micah’s house, with all of the tasty white bread and sour licorice whips and soda pop, was something better.

Less stabby chest, more sore smiling cheeks.

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The Pharmacist and His Gun

I am a pharmacist. My pharmacy sits in a precarious spot, far from the casual meander’s eye. As such, I don’t get much business. I thought about moving, but my wife says she could care less about the money it makes, just as long as I can support her codeine addiction.  So it stays in the precarious spot down the alleyway, behind the suspect Arby’s, where they make those agitated roast beef sandwiches.

Often, my pharmacy gets robbed. 37 times, to be precise. Most of the time the purloining fuckheads want drugs. In fact, 99.9 percent want drugs. Oxycontin, methamphetamine, adderall, anabolic steroids, barbiturates. The other .1 percent, believe it or not, find solace in the cool comfort of maxi-pads pressed to their faces. Like dandelions. The next morning they are usually too delirious to make much sense, the chlorine having messed up their brains.

I’ve never been a gun guy before, but I was sick of these pinheads and their pointy handguns. So I went out and bought a 357 Magnum. My brother, the sheriff of Concord, told me it was a good one, and I trust my brother. The night of the 38th break-in started out the same as the others. But as the pencil dick pointed his gun, I responded with my own.

I’ll never forget that feeling. Watching the robber freeze up, caught off guard, turn heel and run out. I chased him, you know. And then I shot at him. But I missed, as pharmacists tend to do with guns. They miss. And the fuckers get away. But I think just maybe he’ll tell his friends that the old man at the pharmacy down the road has had enough. That he can’t shoot for shit, but he’ll sure as hell try.

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Alasdair’s Maroon Mush – An Excerpt

Outside, mariachi music plays on some boom box, emanating along with the early afternoon warmth of a summer in Burbank. Must be Saturday. Those family lovin’ folk, treating each weekend day like it was a new vacation, never to return to the banalities of what the work week represented. I think, reminisce, I wish I had that. The knitted family. The carefree. The homemade cuisine I was forced out of long ago.

Grabbing the can opener from the drawer beside the sing, I plunge its metal teeth into the soft circular kidney bean frame. Maroon mush. And then tuna, packed below watery oil spotted film. With a dab of Dijon, I toss the vacuum-packed melange into a bowl and spoon complacent nourishment into my mouth.

The mariachi is still going and I take a swig of Stoli. Take with vodka, the label reads.

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Giddiness in the Stillness Before the Journey

She sits on the vinyl UFO stool, casually twisting back and forth, with her too-long legs swaying below the foot rest.

Before her, a plate of what appears to be some type of chocolate mousse, and a ceramic mug of coffee. On the stool next to her rests a backpacker’s pack – a long journey of a pack, meant for treks into the wilderness, into the great beyond, into the starry night skies of worlds unseen.

She’s alone, a traveler, but she seems to be fine with this. Content. Giddy almost. With the to and fro of her legs revealing this particular bit about her. The coffee mug at her lips is still. She contemplates its warmth. Her breath exaggerating the steam that tenderly licks her face.

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In the Stillness, the Noise Stirs

In the early hours of the morning, while the cats slept, and his wife dreamed of sailboats and the big, shining sea; as the dew on the grass rested without stirring, as the sun beyond the hills wiped the crust, the dulling filmy sleep from its eyes; as the silence of the stillness, of the unmoved and bountiful, makes the noise in Hank’s head that much more pronounced.

And amidst all of this silence, all of the beauty of the composed stillness, Hank decides that he will shoot himself in the head before the beauty of the morning breaks into day.

Before his wife stirs, before she slaps the alarm clock into intermittent silences; before the cats wake and stretch their legs beside the windowsill; before the busyness and congestion takes hold in the streets, as the commuters embark upon another droll drive; before the time ticks its slow, persistent, reverberating beat, Hank will take his life.

But the noise persists in the morning calm, and before Hank takes the cold, heavy pistol in his hands, he curses the god of his youth, and the god his wife held onto so dearly. He asks himself, softly, why it had to be so.

And with a breath, he puts the gun to his head.

And pulls the trigger.

Stirrings Before the Dawn

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Oh Look! Cool! Let’s Do That! Wait, Let’s Do That!

As you know, and as I’ve mentioned before in previous posts, I am addicted to productivity. I find that to be a good thing, for the most part. But it does have negative, unintended consequences.

Namely, my ability to follow-through with a project is often upended by another new, exciting prospect; another avenue for maximizing productivity.

Priorities may change. Penchants may waver. Production, consequently, is erratic. Like the neurotic amphibian, jumping from lily pad to lily pad, heart astir in manic aversions to stagnation and failure.

And thus, I have conversations like the one below:

Cornelius Robbins: How far along are you with the novel?

Non Wels: Not that much further than we spoke last. Hooray! Gosh, that’s pathetic, isn’t it?

CR: Not really. But you’re kind of a freak.

NW: I start too many things. Novel, blog stuff, business plan.

CR: You’re working on the business plan now?

NW: Yah. Full force.

CR: Cool.

NW: Well, until I find something new.

CR: It’s better to have too much than too little.

NW: Right.

(waits a few moments, thinking)

NW: And then I think, okay, I do very much want to write a book. But then the questions start coming. I question myself.

CR: Yah? What kinds of questions?

NW: Like, where will it get me. What will come of it?

CR: Wild success, coke, gobs of free Blu-Rays?

NW: Right. (chuckles) But in all seriousness. I move onto the business plan, and get all into that, and I think, yes, that’s viable, that’s doable. You can do that.

CR: You could make some money. I can see that.

NW: Exactly. And the question remains: will writing a book provide the same?

CR: It does seem possible. More so than making billions, or a ten-spot, off of a book.

NW: (shrugs) We’ll see how it goes.

CR: Definitely. And you know, to that point. It’s really hard to have the whole fiction vs. business debate. It’s like money vs. fun.

NW: It’s like Excel vs. Hookers.

CR: I can’t beat Excel to death. It loses.

NW: But if you happen to manage to do so, Excel doesn’t have powerful Excel pimp entities to then beat you to death.

CR: Dude, you’re totally right.

NW: Darn right I am. Now where’s that Excel spreadsheet I was looking for?

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Old-Timey Candy Shop Pleasantries – An Excerpt From A Thousand Screaming Rabbits

From the ongoing novel:

There are still lights on in the candy shop so we head over to check it out.

A neon ‘we’re open’ sign buzzes in the window. Down a bit further, on the window sill, sit five nutcrackers. They gaze out at the passersby, and I wonder for a moment, if they were real, and had working legs, how they would spend a day away from the candy shop. Surely they wouldn’t want to crack another nut.

We step inside the building. Behind the counter, a young, sandy-haired boy wipes off the counter and tells us it’s almost closing time. He shows us a hand five. We have five minutes.

“It’s really quite fantastic, isn’t it?” Shamus asks.

And I agree, nodding silently into the smells. The varieties. The colors. Every color imaginable is represented. On shelves from floor to ceiling stand long glass containers filled with every type of gummy, fruity, sticky, salty, and chocolaty candy the world has ever known. Or that’s at least what I like to imagine. And so I imagine I’m Charlie for a moment. Shamus is the once bed-ridden uncle. We are here, lucky to be surrounded by the wondrous pleasantries of these delectable treats. This is my wishful presumption, at the least.

Ice cream in tubs the size of mop buckets rest in the cool frozen section behind the glass at the counter. Lassos of black and red licorice drape themselves along the walls. Jawbreakers that would give pause to the sweet-toothed yeti pile atop one another in giant emerald jars. In addition to the modern sweets- the powders and sours and lollipops with the super macho turbo toy attachment- there is a whole section of the shop that has all of the treats an old-timer could familiarize themselves with. The type of sweet you’d find piled in crystal dishes, next to the bridge game, and the hand that anticipates trade in its contents for landscape work.

We gaze longingly at the sarsaparilla drops, lemon ovals, peppermint sticks, gumdrops and horehound candies.

I look over at Shamus and ask “Bring back memories?”

Grinning, he goes “if you could believe it, some of this stuff even preceded me.  But some of it brings back fond memories.” He pauses for a moment and then continues. “With our nomadic lifestyle, we didn’t have much access to candy shops like these. But on occasion, if we were in the right spot, my mother would venture into town and surprise me with a bag full of candies. Some of the same as these,” and he reaches out and picks up a lemon drop and pops it into his mouth. With a wink, he begins to fill his plastic sack with the treats in front of us.

Over the next couple of minutes, Shamus and I load ourselves up with gumdrops, jellybeans, horehound candies, sour balls, licorice bites and chocolate squares.

When the young man behind the counter tells us it’s time to get going, I tell Shamus that it’s on me and he hands over his bag, and the long red licorice lasso that hangs from his shoulder.

Update: writing has come in intermittent lumps, but it has come nonetheless. Alasdair is starting to open up to Shamus, speak more openly of his reasons for being on the road, and they are about to meet Shamus’ cousin, and Alasdair’s first crush.

Gumdrops and Licorice and Candies Aplenty

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