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One Page Stories
So, recently, I was assigned a writing prompt where I had to quick make a list of ten words (starting with “effervescence”) that had some sort of sound association down the line. Then, I had a few minutes to write a paragraph with a couple of the words. Here is what I came up with.
The Words: Effervescence, luminescence, longitudinals, spectacles, testacles, festivals, faithful, mouthful, mournful, scornful
The drink had such a scornful effervescence, the biting drug, the wild dog, it mocked his pain. “Why do you do this to me?” he asked. The drink did not respond, but turned slightly away, a hand planted firmly on its hip. “Don’t be that way, baby,” he said, but when he reached out, closed his eyes, and extended his lips, the drink inched away from him. “Fine. Fine,” he said. “I’ll just order another drink. What’ll you think of that!” he shouted, trying to get a rise out of the bubbly beverage. But the drink didn’t seem to mind. He slumped his face down on the bar, cupped his hand around his mouth and whispered, “I’m just fooling with you, baby. You know I’m crazy about you. Always have been.” He knew it was over when the bubbles stopped. It didn’t bubble for him anymore.
It’s been a while since I’ve posted a new one-page story. Remember, these are sort of practice stories that I write, limited to one page, and done in ten minutes or so. Here is my most recent one, unedited. Hope you enjoy.
In the dim candlelight, with all of her makeup on, my mother almost looked young, almost looked alluring. Her real name was Susan. She went by Hen (I assume because she worked in a henhouse, though I’m not sure.). I’d found her by way of the christian missionary that had originally given me to another family as a baby. I’d tracked him down to his home on the edge of town. His legs didn’t work anymore, so he spent his days sitting in a rocking chair on the front porch smoking cigarette tobacco through his pipe. When I asked for my mother’s name and whereabouts, he declined to tell me, saying he’d made a solemn vow to her to never tell anyone. He said, “Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay.” So I stuck my Smith & Wesson Model #3 up his nostril and dared him to decline me again. This time he didn’t recite any Bible, just names and places.
While I stood there in her room, having already paid for an hour’s time (they charged by the hour, though it rarely took that long), I told her my name and that I was her son.
She said, “Guess you’ll be wantin’ to know what I been up to, why I give you up.”
I said, “No ma’am. The long and short of it is that I need to be rid of you.”
She cocked her jowled head. “This here’s the only time you’ve not been rid of me. I ain’t got no interest in interfering with your business.”
I sat on the bed and laid my revolver on the sweat-stinking blanket. “See, it isn’t about that, ma’am. It’s about you interfering. But I’ve got some enemies who’d love to find out who and what you are and use that information against me in my business.”
“What business is that?” she said.
“U.S. Congress.” Her head cocked again, not understanding what I was saying, but she didn’t move as I pushed the pillow against her face, pressed the barrel in, cocked, and fired.
I often compare Nicholas Sparks’s ability to earn emotional impact to watching a blind puppy with cancer walking across the road and getting run over by a truck … so I decided to write my own blind-puppy-with-cancer story. Enjoy!
Marie pulled her low-cut, lavender tank over her head, slipped on her favorite tight jeans, then checked herself in the mirror. Her hair was perfect. She never wore makeup, except at her mother’s funeral. She’d wanted people to be able to trace the lines of the tears down her cheeks. From the chair in the living room, she snatched her leather Coach purse and stepped to the doorway, but from the corner, inside a tiny baby fence, came a weak bark from her eight-week old Bernese Mountain puppy named Buckles.
Marie turned from the door and stood over Buckles. He had water. He had food. In fact, he had plenty of food. He wasn’t eating. The vet said he didn’t have too long left to go, that his vision was basically null, and that she shouldn’t get too attached. She wasn’t wearing makeup that morning.
This was her first dog, and the little runt had cost her hundreds of dollars to get in the first place, and since, his vet fees, his destruction, and his incontinence had all but drained her account.
“What’s-a matter, Buckles?” she said, gently kicking the plastic fence that he rested his nose against.
The puppy snapped its head backwards and let out another string of weak barks, but settled back down in his original position, his wet nose pressed against the cage.
“I’ve never seen a puppy look so old,” she said, tempted to lean down and rub his head, but remembered what the vet had said. Don’t get attached.
She turned and stepped back to the door without looking back at the sick dog.
“Have a good day, Buckles. Hope you have fun.” She realized how cruel that statement was, with the little puppy, basically a baby, in pain, blind, unable to eat, and trapped in a little playpen, surrounded in his own filth.
Still, she stepped out the front door, locked it, and bounded down the stairs of her apartment.
For this one-page story, I decided to do something with having to sell a car. It was a strange prompt, but I had fun with it.
Arnie died six months ago. The doctors said he just pulled off to the shoulder leaned back in his bucket seat and sucumbed to a massive heart attack. He died very quickly, they said. The car, an ‘89 maroon Plymouth Reliant, was in surprisingly good condition for its age. Arnie kept it in his garage all winter, since he drove a plow truck as soon as the snow came, so it only had 97,000 miles on it. Plus, when the car was on the road, he kept the exterior waxed and the interior immaculate. No shoes, coffee, or food were allowed in that car, so when we had to go places together, I drove my car not wanting to put up with the hassle. And he was fine with that.
Still, the car’s been sitting in my front yard with an orange For Sale sign taped inside the windshield since he’s been gone, and I haven’t had any serious offers. When I listed it, I put it $200 below the Blue Book value, just so I could move it fast, though I knew it was worth the full listed price, and I’ve lowered the price two more times since and have yet to get a buyer. I’d keep the car for myself, except that I need the money right now. Plus, it feels weird to drive it, knowing he died in there.
It’s like a tomb on wheels, and when I drove it back to my place, I felt like he was still in there. It still has his smell. It still looks perfect, although on my way home, I wore my yellow Stanley work boots and pulled off to get a large coffee at a Dunkin’ Donuts, taking the lid off to drink it. Nothing spilled, but I wouldn’t have minded if it had.
I’ve moved the car closer to the road since it started warming up again, and I gave it a wash so it’d be nice and shiny and visible, but twigs and bugs and dirt gather on it so fast. And on the inside, I wipe it down with some of those automotive wipes about once a month, but the dust accumulates on the dash faster than it seems like it should, as though his skin flakes were still shedding from him, still depositing onto the deep red interior.
This is my 100th post on this blog, which is fun. In this one-page story, I tried something weird, and that’s the beauty of this exercise. It gives you freedom to experiment.
When the heart monitor produced that piercing monotone sound, it began. The doctors and nurses shook their heads, took off their masks and gloves, and checked their watches, but they stayed there in the room. And very quickly, I watched them age in front of me. The doctor’s gray hair turned a shimmering white, and his face fell, his eyes dropping from his head, his skin peeling back to reveal an increasingly bleached skull.
The nurses were as frozen in place as he was and aged just as quickly. The makeup fell away, the clothes rotted and dried and fell to the floor, and I saw their bodies droop there and dry like hunks of beef hanging on hooks. The paint on the walls fell away like skin, and windows cracked and dropped from their place, and there was an instantaneous blinking from the greater and lesser lights.
In what seemed like a moment’s time, the bed below me dropped, and I was on a patch of grass. The concrete and rebar and sheetrock and wires and pipes disintegrated from ceiling to floor until the bones were standing over me in a green meadow. Long green grass grew up around me, but grass changed to snow then grass then snow, and the flashes of the seasons quickened to a blink.
My senses became dull from overstimulation, with the only constant being the sturdy bone statues standing over me like colossi. Everything slowed in an instant. Light flashed around me, so my vision became nothing but whiteness, and I could feel the fire on my skin, and the sound of the explosion rolled over me in waves, and I could feel the pressure of the sound pressing me into the dirt.
When the light faded, and the sound died down, I could see the outlines of bodies standing over me, and I could hear their voices, and their clothes were bright white like the fire that swept over me.
This is a little one-page story about the trauma of moving. I remember how difficult it was for me as a kid, and I try to tap into that.
Marshall stacked what things he was going to take with him by the door. The rest lay in a mound on the opposite side of the apartment. The move to California was long, and he couldn’t afford to rent a moving truck or try one of those Pod things, so he bought himself a gold Saturn station wagon and decided only to bring what he could fit in the back. That meant the desk he’d written so many lyrics on, the bass amp, the old navy blue nightstand he’d had since he was a kid, they’d all have to stay and either be sold or thrown out in the end.
Many of the objects he was leaving behind held no importance. The white, aluminum-framed bed was cheap. He’d buy a new one out there. The dresser, the bookshelf, the pots, the pans, all of the little things he’d leave behind, while they weren’t very meaningful, they did all add up. The forks felt like his fingers, the set of heavy orange mugs, his hands.
He was reminded of when he was kid. He and his brothers had to take out an old square shrub that had become horribly overgrown. They dug around the thick stem, and once a few feet down, they attached a heavy bend via a chain to a winch system that was, in turn, attached to a thick tree across the yard. He remembered how they cranked and cranked, and the tree barely budged. They dug further and then cranked some more, and little by little the shrub began to pull toward the tree. With each crank, there was a “POP!” sound. Little roots snapping, sending the shrub an inch more toward the tree. The longer they’d gone on, the easier it had been. Smaller roots gave way easily, until the whole thing fell to its side. When Marshall and his brothers tried to pull it away, they saw that there was still one root attached: the tap root. Marshall’s brother pulled and Marshall hacked at the tap root, and as it cracked and splintered from his chops, the whole shrub came loose.
Marshall lifted the last of his boxes, took one long look at the mound across the way, then shut the door, locking it behind him.
In this one-page story, I try to write a story made up mostly of sensory details. Also, I play around with present tense. It’s an odd piece.
I’m in a long hallway. Behind me, it stretches further than my eyes can strain in the dark. Ahead of me, the light is too bright for my vision to penetrate. My feet feel heavy. My clothes are sticky, the collar of my shirt wrinkled and stretched, the skin inside my elbow and under my arms and down my side and between my thighs is sticky with sweat.
I call out, “Hullo!” in the dark, but the buzz from the light is the only response I get.
I take one step toward the light, but immediately, a piercing heat singes my skin, and the light nearly blinds me. I step back to my spot. So, I turn and step back into the darkness, but after a few steps, the light has faded completely. I can’t see my feet, my hands, or the floor. I get the sensation that the room around me is spinning, and the penetrating heat from the light has been exchanged for a sharp and icy headwind. I take a few more steps, but the cold would kill me soon, and the end is no clearer, so I return to my original position.
“Hullo!” I shout again, but again, the only sound I hear is buzzing of the light.
In that spot, in that very spot, I feel OK. It’s comfortable. It’s lonely and desolate, but I don’t feel the burn of the light or the bewildering cold of the dark. So, I lean against the wall and slide down, sitting on the floor with my knees pulled up to my chest.
“Can anyone hear me?” I ask.
“Who’s making that light? Can you turn it off?”
I know I can’t stay there in that spot forever, but I don’t know what to do. I thump the wall with my fist and call for a few minutes, but nothing. I can’t stay there forever.
In this one-page story, I practice writing a character I am using in one of my NH Stories (which I am currently in the process of revising) called “Class Snake.” It’s fun to put him in a different situation and see how he acts.
As Edwin rounded the corner, taking a shortcut from Mr. Mike’s convenience store with a bag of fireballs in his hand and his lips stained red, a brown dog with a white muzzle and grey eyes shot out from under a porch and charged at him, snapping and barking. Edwin fell backwards, his fireballs rolling into the street. The property was lined with a chain link fence, high enough to keep the dog in, but the dog snarled and bared its worn-down and broken teeth.
Edwin had never owned a dog. When he’d visit his friend Henry, his mother wouldn’t even let him enter the house until their rottweiler, Johnny Rotten, was tied in back. He picked himself up, brushed himself off, and started recollecting all of the spilled fireballs.
“Stupid dog!” he shouted. “Bad dog!”
The dog kept on barking. Up close, despite its terrible shouts, Edwin could see how feeble and old the dog was. In the small yard, he could see the worn down track the dog had dug into the grass from years of running up and down the length of the fence.
Edwin kicked the fence, strengthening his nerve.
“Shut up!” he shouted.
The dog barked louder.
“Shut up!” he shouted again, this time kicking the fence back into the face of the dog.
The dog was stunned only for a moment, then resumed its noisy assault.
Edwin bent low and gathered a handful of gravel and tiny stones into his fist. “Shut up,” he said, this time calmly, and waited to see if the dog would obey. The dog continued to bark and bare its yellowed teeth and black gums.
Finally, Edwin whipped the dirt and gravel grape shot at the old, blind mutt, sending it yelping back under the lean-to by the porch. The dog was silent. Edwin popped a fresh fireball into his mouth and walked slowly down the fence, smirking at the huddled and hiding hound.
So, I’ve been talking about writing about faith today, and I thought I’d give it a shot. This is a weird little story, and it was trying to produce, but a good exercise, I think.
Horace and I sat back to back, watching the boy through the flames. He’d appeared a relatively short time ago (though “time” had lost all meaning to me with the death of the sun and moon) chained to a massive stone not ten feet from us. Horace would lean back at me, six charred bones of what was left of the wings of the ex-seraph stuck into my back.
“Why does it scream like that?” he shouted through the crackling flames.
The boy wailed as we all did at first, yet his voice was still high and painful to bear, like hearing the scream of a slaughtered animal.
“He’s just a boy,” I said.
“Are you not a boy?”
“I’m a man. I once was a boy,” I said. “Don’t you have boys where you come from? Younger versions of you?”
Horace didn’t respond. He didn’t seem to understand the question.
“Being younger,” I said, “it’s like a more naive version of a person. He didn’t have a lot of time to try to understand the world, and what time he had was with limited faculties. Didn’t you have to learn?”
“I am what I was. And in the instant of creation, I was. I have never been limited.”
“In ways he’s limited, yeah, but sometimes a lack of understanding is seen as a good thing. We like to think that little kids don’t have the same capacity for evil as an adult, or if they do, they don’t understand what they’re doing or the consequences.”
“And now, he’ll never become a man,” Horace said, then leaned forward again and watched the boy.
The boy was rolled up, his knees pressing tight to his face, his eyes closed. The screams were hoarse now and muffled by knees and the crackling heat.
Sometimes, I like to prompt myself into doing very quick, one-page stories. And usually, it’s about something I struggle with or something I don’t usually write about. In this example, I decided to write about a dead body, and I was practicing using child dialog and a child narrator. It’s called “Priceless.”
Mike and me watched the old man for some time through the passenger side window. His maroon Plymouth Reliant was parked on the side of Route 202 outside Peterborough. Not too many cars were passing by. The old man had his head tilted back against the rest, and his mouth was wide open like he was sleeping, but he didn’t look like he was sleeping. Mike and me lurched up to the car, afraid the old man would spot us and shout at us, not liking us watching him, but he didn’t. He just stayed still.
“I bet he’s dead. He looks dead,” Mike said.
“How you know?” I asked.
“I saw my gram’ma when she died. She looked like that. Frozen. He’s dead.”
I’d never seen a dead body before, so I approached with more care and an increasing curiosity.
“How you think he died?” I asked.
“I bet heart attack. Lots of old guys die from that. My gramps died of that down in Florida.”
“What makes somebody have a heart attack?”
“Yelling. Being mad. Roads do that to some people. My dad’s always screaming and punching the steering wheel when some jerk-hole cuts him off or is going too slow. That vein in his forehead shoots out like when he’s about to go off on me. I just turn up my iPod.”
“Oh,” I said, “I hope your dad doesn’t die of heart attack.”
As I brought my face close to the window and looked in, Mike leapt at the car and smacked it with both his palms and shouted in my ear. I leapt in a panic and he fell to the ground, laughing, holding his sides, saying, “You should’a seen your face!” but the old man didn’t move.
“Priceless!” Mike shouted, pointing.