The More You Ignore Me…

There’s a man in the distance.

I noticed him first on the desert sands of Arizona two years back. He was a dot on the horizon who shimmered like a mirage in the heat. I didn’t think he was real at first but his faceless shape became a constant in my life.

He followed me to my hometown. Across the long mall parking lots and the over-watered golf fields to the rooftops of my parents’ neighbors’ houses, he was standing there watching me. In the course of our long distanced staring contest, he gained a forgettable face that imprinted itself more sharply on my memory the further along it went.

He stood too casually. His hands deep in his pockets, hip and head cocked slightly to the side. His lips in a perpetual smirk.

Did I know him? Yearbook combing and Facebook searches yielded nothing. I tried walking towards him to get answers. Those were the only times he turned his back towards me. I continued to move in his direction but the gap between us never closed. But he hadn’t moved. Not a step, not even a lean. I called out to him but he didn’t acknowledge me.

I pointed him out to a few friends.

No one else saw him.

After a while and a few concerned whispers, I dropped it. Even as his presence began haunting my darkest dreams where I would wake suddenly and there he’d be looming, hands tightening around my throat. 

Even as I grew to be afraid to be alone with him in a sea of people.

Even when my parents asked me why I was in a hurry to move away just to escape him.

But I should’ve known that even state lines couldn’t sever the distance between us.

His outline appeared in my rearview as I sped down the interstate. He was at the pit stops, the dive bars, the bones of Midwestern barns and the wide-open cornfields.

And he was getting closer.

When I moved into an apartment in the city’s beating heart, he was there. My first night there, I looked down at the streets below and he was there smirking.

I did the only thing I thought would bring me peace. I closed the curtains and refused to look at me. Refused to think about him and move on with my life.

The days rolled on uneventfully for a while. I woke up and he’s outside my window but I somehow forgot. He became another face to ignore and I was able to go on.

Until one night in front of my living room television where there was a knock on the door.

Continue reading “The More You Ignore Me…”

Short Fiction: Billie Jean Can Swing

Billie Jean let her feet tap, tap, tap to the rhythm of that rocking swing. With a holler, she hitched up her skirt and let the music have its way with her. She tapped, turned, and glided so smooth across the dance floor. She was the envy of all those who swung to that same beat.

I swallowed another pint of liquid courage and let the burn going down put some fire in my limbs.

I told the boys I’d join her on that dance floor today. I imagined I would come up on her so smooth and carry her off like the mac I thought I was. But Billie Jean ain’t no fool and she ain’t impressed so easy.

Several jive turkeys tried to strut up to her just to be shoved away by the power of those hips. Had the whole floor cackling and jonesing on those fools for love.

And here I am the biggest fool of all.

The sight of her ease on the dance floor cooled my resolve until I remembered that my mama didn’t raise no quitter. I take another swallow of fire but it goes down hard and makes me choke.

Old Sam behind the bar shook his head. “Take it easy, young blood.”

I waved pops off and turned around. Billie Jean was still cutting rags and rocking with the beat.

Now or never. Now or never.

I took my chance.

I hopped up to her with a twirl and a jig. In one deft motion in the knees, bowed and offered my hand.

She rolled her eyes and turned away.

But Mama ain’t raise no quitter.

I caught her elbow and rocked into her. Her eyebrow quirked as she called my bluff and leaned into me. I kept my feet in time with hers. Grabbed her hand and made her twirl with the swell of music.

The song ended and we were breathing hard, sweating, and staring at each other.

She smiled. “Not bad, country boy.”

I Catch Monsters

I catch monsters.

They gesture in the confines of 8 mm film, screaming at the camera lens. Their mouths gaped, finger-pointing, accusing, in your face.

Their faces can’t find their truths rendered mute by the words they weave. In my prison, they don’t speak but their lips mimic the action.

Black & white, sepia & color.

They exist in all forms. There’s one in every age.

The thing that shakes me to my core when I take in their faces.

They look like mine. Not exactly like mine but they have similar shapes. 

Eyes. Mouth. Nose. Teeth. 

The same but different. 

I can see the monster in me as I do in them. 

Their monstrosity resonating with the stranger in us all. 

I swallow to bile in me, raise my weapon, & let the monsters roll in.

Click.

The Last Bit of Beauty

I wiped my nose and it came away crimson. I swallowed and let the rich metal slide down my throat. 

I’ve never felt more alive. 

Dani pours the gas. Splashing it on the wall in glistening arches that dry gold on the brown walls. In the halo of silver lights that breaks through the dusty windows, this bloody home seem holy. The last bit of beauty in a world such as this. 

She looks up at me, brows in a crinkle. “Doing alright?”

I took the other jerry can and revel in the weight. “I will be.”

I head into the next room and soak the carpets and tile. The intoxicating smell of ethanol replaces the blood in my nose. The dirty brown couch and coffee table covered in needles and cigarette butts and ashtrays. Of afternoons wasted in coked hazes and dreams of nothing punctuated by euphoria.  I let that dirty brown sop up most of it and throw it away when drained. , the weight of it sagging just enough. 

I walk into the kitchen. This kitchen. Those hollow eternities and crystals forming in the bottom of destroyed pans. I step towards Holland, laying with his brains blown out. He waxed poetic with a knife and used chemistry to make love with the synapses. Now his eyes wide and dilated and hungry to consume what was left of life before the lights went out. 

I press my boot on his cheeks and press down. The fat on his jowl gives easy. The bone feels like it would too with a little more pressure.

Bastard.

My lungs feel sore again with the memory of struggling for breath. Hands around my throat. His teeth crimson with my boot kick.

I spit on him as Dani runs in.

“Let’s light it up!”

We rush out the door. Kiss it goodbye with a match. The flame flew into a rage instantly. 

I imagine seeing Holland’s face crumbling in and I laugh. 

Beauty. 


Written 3/22/2020

I have no idea where this came from. The first line came to me during the sign and I knew there would be laughing and fire. Just casual Sunday thoughts leading to a Monday morn.

Smoke on a Gray Morning

I let the smoke fill my lungs in the first whiffs of morning air. I don’t see the sun. Just see the lightening of the sky when the black shifts to a duller gray.

I hang over the balcony edge. The city stretches beneath in a series of slanting rooftops rotted and peeling towards the horizon. Chimneys belch white smoke and the black exhalations of industry. Already I catch the stink of rotten hops and chemical bleach scenting the air. My bones ache in ways all too familiar. 

I finally exhale letting my breath feed the clouds. The burden of my lungs twists and curls into the air until disappearing into the same nothing.

There are stirrings below. In windows and different ledges. Women blinking into the mourn as men strap their boots onto wearied feet. Their bodies already tired. Tired sighs of a tired living.

Others share my perch on their lonely perches. They enjoy their moments of solitude before the noise of life has its way. Smoke curling and mixing with the breath of their fellow man. 

Coffee sings sweet on the nose. Light switches and percolation and the sounds of hot water and steam sticking to windows. The chorus of alarms and mattress springs groaning. Children giggles and wails playing on the ear like humming engines and brake stalls. 

The world wakes. The sun winks through the clouds and the work whistle blasts in the distance as life begins.


I sat on my apartment’s balcony for the first time in a long time. The weather felt nice though the day’s really overcast in my corner of the world. In the moments of solitude, I came up with this little piece.

I’ll try to write more little pieces like this. I need a bit of a break from my longer projects and I got the time now.

Thanks for reading!

Oh, the Joys of Outlining (again)

I was never much of an outliner.

Being the candy addled 10-year old that I was when I started writing, I wrote what felt right. I followed my heart and my imagination and let that take me wherever it wanted. This energy led to a lot of ideas but nothing that ever got finished.

I look back fondly on this era in my life. Oh, all the ideas I had. The confidence I had in committing every one of them to paper. But I also realize that a lot of them were (oh, how should I put this) really, really awful but still cute in their own way. And in those days, I dismissed outlining. I absolutely hated the idea of it because I viewed it as a constraint on stories. Getting bogged down in the details wasn’t really my thing then and I held onto this belief until about three years ago.

Now I realize how essential outlining is to creating a roadmap to a story and continuing its momentum when you feel lost.

And I’m feeling really lost at the moment. I’ve been revising my Festival of Shadows novel for the last year now and I’m still navigating its fraught waters. I have an outline but after six chapters of pushing through it, it doesn’t feel right. So, these last few days, I’ve been returning to the outline and doing some long overdue research on outlining strategies.

And you know what I found: Premise statements! In fiction, this is a succinct line or two about your story. I know most of you are slapping your foreheads at me wondering how I missed something so basic but this blew my mind. Again, keep in mind that I shook my fist at outlining yelling that it couldn’t contain me.

The premise statement gets at the narrative heart of your story and it’s the very thing I’ve been struggling with FoS. I had scenes, I had twists, turns, and some motivation here or there, but I couldn’t very clearly explain what my story was about. And now I can (sorta).

It’s a work in progress (when isn’t it, honestly) but my Festival of Shadows premise goeth thusly:

“In a town filled with ghosts, witches, and other miscellaneous members of the undead, stubborn reporter Mariela Hudson seeks answers to the uncanny disappearances of her fellow citizens and to also uncover the mysteries of her past with the reluctant help of an intern who sees spirits and a cynical coworker. Their efforts draw the ire of a monster in the shadows that threaten the town.”

I’m still tinkering with my story outline so I would really love to learn your favorite outline strategies in the comments below. For those who don’t outline, how do you craft your stories?

 

 

The Skate Happy Mixtape

Amari Kendrick was having flashbacks to awkward middle school field trips. Bright disco lights flashed throughout the place. Pop trash from the likes of Justin Bieber and DNCE blasted over the stereo, vibrating off the walls. Was “Cake by the Ocean” even an appropriate song to play around 14 year olds?

Skate Happy always managed to have a dirty feel about the place. The atmosphere felt heavy with a distinct must layered beneath the smell of overpriced concession food and metal. The dark light intermingled with the Technicolor spotlights managed to add to the cheapness of the place. Amari could feel the building’s decades of history brimming like a strange electricity in the air. The memories of families, lovers, and friends trapped in a far gone space and time, continually circling the ring. Grooving out to disco, synth pop, and mainstream mistakes of the past. He could see its age from the scuff marks on the skate floor and the peeling on the walls.  

Now it was taken over by children, high on cake, chasing each other around the rink to the dancehall beats of Drake’s “One Dance.”

He needed a cigarette. He reached into his pocket and swore under his breath. Right, he left them in the car to show his commitment to quitting. He took a heavy whiff of his jacket sleeve to get a small taste of that sweet cancerous ash and nicotine.

A small part of him died when he could only smell the popcorn from the nearby concession stand.

“Will you stop that,” Tamika said as she pulled on his sleeve. “You look silly.”

“I don’t think inhaling my jacket sleeve is the silliest thing about this scenario,” he said as a group of kids passed right by them screaming about Joe Jonas. “Couldn’t you have chosen an adult session? Anything with a bit less awkwardness and overexcitement.”

He eyed the shadows across the rink. The emotions of the place emanating off of every teen like an impenetrable musk.

Tamika rolled her eyes. “Well, I would have, but you’re always busy on Thursdays. I have to take you whenever I can.”

“We could have had a nice dinner alone at your house—“

“And we can still have that later. After a bit of good exercise.” She stood up and performed an effortless twirl on roller blades.

There was a collective scream on the skate floor as a group of kids fell to the ground. They made the mistake of gripping onto each other for balance. The specter of embarrassment hovered over them, haunting a few as they flailed themselves back onto the carpet section.

“Exercise is not good for my smoker’s lung.” He hacked a little for emphasis.

She balanced her hands on his knees and looked him dead in the eye. “You don’t have a smoker’s lung yet, Amari.”

She straightened herself out and glided backwards, the breeze played with the stray curls at the top of her pineapple hairstyle. She playfully pushed out her lips dressed in dark rouge. “Besides, you promised.”

Her whimsy danced circles around her form and tempted him to his feet. He sometimes hated the power it had over him, bidding him to things that he’d never dream.

He balanced himself on unsteady ground. Every step he tried to take back pushed him forward. He swore aloud. He was too old to be dealing with this.

“You won’t fall if you hold my hand,” Tamika said as she attempted to steady him with a touch on his shoulder.

“No, that’ll only make us twice as likely to fall,” he said as he made a grab for her hand.

“I’m willing to take that risk. Besides, falling is more fun if you do it with someone else.”

“I beg to differ.” Amari stumbled forward. “Is it too late to get my seven dollars back?”

Tamika pursed her lips. And then the mood of the room changed.

The lights dimmed and a parade of color dots spilled onto the dance floor and darted about the room. There was silence and then a funky downbeat. There was a lull in the excitement as the kids started exiting the ring. Amari immediately recognized it. Tamika jumped up with a little squeal.

Do you remember/when we fell in love?

We were young and innocent then

“We need to get out there,” Tamika said as she started tugging him to the skate floor. “This is my jam!”

Tamika glided around the seat with an effortlessness Amari envied. She leaned over him, her eyes furrowed.

He remained stoically still.

“Amari, you promised.”

“I’m sorry, Tamika. My lack of coordination and my developing smoker’s lung prevents me from engaging in any physical activity.” He coughed for emphasis.

She pouted. “But you already paid seven dollars to get in.”

“Fair point,” He said with a slap on the knee. “I should get my money back.”

He made a move forward but it only propelled him back into the seat. That was not how this was supposed to work.

Tamika rolled next to him. Arms folded with a smile on her face. “Give up.”

“What?”

“You can’t escape the blades once you’ve taken your first step. Besides that, I’ll push you out into the skating floor if you try to leave.”

He narrowed his eyes at her. “You wouldn’t.”

“Oh, but I would. I’d love to see you flail back over here.”

Amari smiled as Tamika’s smile grew more victorious. She took him by the hand and coaxed him towards the skating floor.

“Just a couple of laps, okay?”

A pink light caught the side of her face, making her dark eyes shine in the darkness. Her curls also glistened as if they were sprinkled with dew. Amari’s breath caught as the chorus kicked in.

Do you remember the time /when we fell in love?

Do you remember the time/ when we first met, girl?

A spell was cast as they drew to the center of the skate floor. A gentle breeze followed their movements. Tamika took the lead. She laughed out loud as she spun around bringing them both into a twirl. They spun around and around to the beat. Tamika threw her head back, joy exuding off her like a powerful wave. It was enough to overcome Amari’s recurring terror of falling down.

But there was a fun that hung around them like a lucky haze. It intoxicated him.He drew her close until they could feel each other’s body heat. He was surprised at how deftly he managed this.From her wide eyed expression, she was equally astounded but it melted into a smile that hinted at a bit of playfulness. She put her fingers in between his. His hands wandered down to the small of her back.

“Will you have this dance with me, sir?”

“I would be honored madam.”

But they didn’t dance. They held each other close as the lights continued to swirl around them and Michael Jackson continued to ask “Do you remember…”

And Amari did remember. As they continued to slowly turn in the ring, his mind was brought back to that summer night so long ago. When he went out back to escape the stifling heat and the smell of cooking grease to smoke a little. Tamika just so happened to be turning that corner to get home with a carry out box in her hand. At that point, she was just a regular at the restaurant who always ordered the steak burgers and chili fries.

“I compensate for it by skating three times a week,” she confided in a conspiratorial whisper  in one of the  two times that they had talked to each other.

She walked through the excess smoke from the grill and she asked for his number.

He was so caught off guard with a cigarette hanging out his mouth that all he could bring himself to say was, “Why?”

She laughed. “Because you’re cute, dummy.”

And somehow, they’ve been together ever since. His memories weren’t as romantic as places like bars or beaches or Spain. But there was always a latent charm in their simplicity. There were late nights talks, arguments over Star Wars, home cooked meals, microwaved meals, window shopping in thrift stores and dancing to music that no one else could hear. Even being ogled at by a bunch of prepubescents in a musty skating warehouse didn’t seem so bad.

Tamika brought out a side of him that he never knew and that kind of terrified him. It really terrified him. He could see his commitment issues standing at ringside.

And then the spell was broken. “Party in the USA” blasted through the loudspeakers and the kids started to flood back into the ring. A line of overexcited teens got a little too close and Amari tried to maneuver himself out of their way, forgetting that he couldn’t skate that well.

He was suddenly looking at the ceiling before he felt his back slammed into the floor. For a moment, the world went dark as pain shot into his shoulders, his forehead. The next moment, he saw Tamika standing over him with both hands cupped over her mouth.

“You okay?”

“If okay feels like a truck slamming into you.”

She forced back a smile as she held a hand out to him. “Just walk it off big guy.”

“Assuming I can still walk,” he said grabbing hold.

Amari slowly tripped himself back onto his feet and Tamika guided him off the skating floor.

“That’s perhaps enough excitement for today,” she said as she grabbed their shoes out of their shared locker.

“Uh-huh,” he said while rubbing his aching shoulders in the waiting seats. He knew he was really going to feel that fall in the morning. Just in time for his 6AM shift.

“Was it fun at least,” she asked as she took the seat next to him.

He took a moment to think about it. “Yeah.”

“So much so that you’ll come to the next session with me?”

“I’m not sure about that,” Amari said with a smile.