17 Jun

Stone Still

My exercise from day two. The assignment was to create a scene that incorporated a flashback of some sort.

People don’t like seeing a living statue walking through the streets. They laugh, shout wise cracks, and point unabashedly. It was almost enough to keep Jeff from venturing out in his grey face paint and toga costume. On the way to the park, he was a freak – some lonesome guy with a weird habit of dressing up like a Roman. He had taken the subway to the 8th Street Station, but all the pointing and laughing made him self-conscious enough that he decided to head for the less populous Washington Square rather than the Liberty Bell. There, he could practice his breathing exercises and try out the self-validation techniques he’d recently read about.

But he also knew a little immobility would help. When you stop moving, the ridicule ends. People still look at you, but they’re looking at something different, not at the DSL installation guy with Social Anxiety Disorder. You become a virtual two-way mirror, safe in your secret room.

He chose a bench near the Walnut Street entrance, struck a thinker pose, and focused on his breath. Not two minutes into his act, a boy entered his peripheral vision. The kid was combing the park for something, crouching occasionally to pick up one of his finds. They were stones, Jeff soon found out – smooth, round stones. The boy approached and set his treasure on the bench. “Hey, you wanna play a game?” he said.

Jeff stifled a sudden urge to cough. Clearly, the kid didn’t know the unwritten code. You don’t talk to living statues. Everyone abided by the rules. Jeff depended on them.

The kid looked to be in middle school – certainly old enough to know better. But he didn’t wait for Jeff’s reply. “When it’s your turn, you can take any number of stones away from any one row. But you can only take from one row at a time.” He began arranging the stones in three rows. “The object is to leave your opponent with the last stone. Ready?”

Jeff knew this game. He’d played it with the children in Changsha on his way back from the wet market every day. He glanced sideways to confirm. One row of three, one row of four, and one row of five. Yep. Same game. There was a secret to it, a sort of algorithm that would guarantee victory as long as you didn’t go first. He waited for the boy to make a move, then, remaining statue still, he reached a gray arm toward the stones and removed one.

The kid stroked his chin like an old chess player before removing his stone. Jeff knew the winning combinations. Leave your opponent with a 1-1-1 or a 2-2 and you couldn’t lose. He’d taught the Chinese kids by beating them every day. He didn’t believe in letting them win. The lesson was stronger when they figured it out themselves.

How bold he’d been in China, striking up conversations with shop owners and neighbors. He’d even paused once in the middle of a busy street, turning his head skyward as bikes and buses passed him by. The pungent smells of urine and freshly-killed poultry mingled with the car exhaust and newly-poured concrete. And under the heat of a dirty sun, all his fear had evaporated. He was a foreigner; he was forgiven his foolishness and his trespasses. They’d parted around him like an island in a river.

And here, on this park bench, some odd middle school boy was inhabiting that same world.

Jeff envied him.

Even as he won each new game, he envied him.

“Wow,” the boy said, finally looking Jeff in the face, “you’re pretty good at this game. For a statue.” And then he gathered his stones and walked off.

Jeff broke form at last, yelling after him, “What’s your name?”

The boy turned around and said, “Jeff.” Then he walked on, leaving a statue frozen and waving goodbye.

15 Jun

Camp Revenge

I just started my week-long writing course today, and the first exercise we were given was to choose a nonfiction article from among 7 or 8 options provided and then work some of that info into a scene. It was an exercise in exposition, the point being that exposition is perfectly fine as long as it’s something the reader wants to read — which is to say that it needs to be relevant to the characters and situation. It wasn’t easy. My article was about how to make timers and tripwires using basic household items. Here’s what I came up with in the half hour allotted. The beginning scenario is inspired by a true story, relayed via my mother-in-law.

Two days earlier, the whole camp had gone to the Lumberjack Log Jam for a day of roller coasters and water slides. Todd was being nice to me until he discovered some slightly older boys standing in line behind us. All charity for his younger sister was tossed aside. “Sadie!” he shouted. “Never touch a boy there!” The entire crowd laughed. All eyes were upon me.

Even as I gazed at the discarded candy wrappers on the ground, willing myself to turn invisible, a new purpose began forming in my small, homesick head, a purpose that made our remaining time at camp bearable. I hatched a plan – a plan that needed to be executed before Todd and I returned home, a plan that needed an audience.

I knew Jason would help me. It’s not that he had anything against Todd. But Jason couldn’t turn down a good prank, so when I told him I wanted to scare the piss out of Todd, he pulled me into the woods and said, “Here’s what we’ll do. We’ll give him a little nighttime visit from Jackie the Red.”

Jackie the Red was the obligatory one-eyed murderer who, according to camp legend, was the butt of a prank 20 years prior. His cabin mates had scared him one night by covering themselves with dyed-red corn syrup and pretending they were all dead. Little Jackie ran screaming and was never heard from again. Except that there were reports of him wandering the woods with a red light, looking for revenge. The red light didn’t make much sense, but it allowed the counselors to scare the bejesus out of the campers on ghost story night, which was just a few days away.

“Bring me an alarm clock, some wire, and some duct tape,” Jason said. “I’ll steal a red flashlight from the counselors’ office.”

I agreed to Jason’s request and went scrounging for the items. The clock had to be a mechanical clock, not a digital one. I found one in the older girls’ cabin. The wire I stole off one of the many “No Trespassing” signs fastened to the fence. And the duct tape I found in the cafeteria.

We met the next day. Jason took apart the light, handing me a battery and the red bulb. We cracked the case of the alarm, exposing the two hands of the clock, and he attached small sections of wire to each hand. One wire ran to the positive end of the battery; the other ran to the exposed red bulb. “When the hands meet,” he explained, “the wires come together and viola! The light goes on. We set it up right by Todd’s bunk and five minutes after he gets into bed, it’s Jackie time!”

It was a great idea, but I wanted to take it further. Sure, it would be fun to scare Todd. But I was more interested in the piss being scared out of him. That is, I wanted him to wet the bed. And I wanted everyone to know about it.

02 Jun

The Orderly Take Three

Another in a series of experiments in tone and scenario-establishing. Based on a premise thought up by my little bro.

I’ve been working here for two years, and in that time, I’ve stolen a couple hundred bags of blood. Until yesterday, no one’s come close to catching me.

I wasn’t even supposed to be in the cooler, much less examining a bag of O+. Shelley jolted me from my salivating when she shouted, “What are you doing in here?” She stood with a hand on her hip and her eyebrows raised.

I had an urge to say, “It’s not my fault,” like I used to do whenever Mom caught me cutting the back of my hand. Instead, I said something even more idiotic: “It’s my birthday!”

Shelley didn’t move. “Congratulations. And what does that have to do with your holding a bag of blood?”

I could have blamed a lazy nurse, but I didn’t want to get anyone in trouble, so I opted for the truth. “I’m a vampire, and I wanted to treat myself to a bag of AB positive.” Most of the stuff in our blood bank was O positive or A positive, and I was getting kind of sick of them. It being my birthday and all, I decided to treat myself to something finer.

“Funny.” Shelley held out her hand, and I gave up my treasure. “Which one of our hard-working staff members put you up to this?”

I hate pawning off my lies on others, but sometimes it’s necessary. You learn to blame the people who are a little scatter-brained, the ones who don’t always know for sure what they did an hour ago. In a sense, that’s what my life is all about — figuring out who to prey upon while causing the least harm.

And now that I’d just lost my blood for the night, someone else was going to have to pay the price.

01 Jun

The Orderly Take Two

An experiment in tone and scenario-establishing. This is the second attempt. The credit for the premise goes to my bro.

I smell death.

Each new patient who gets moved up here brings with them a steady stream of visitors. The visitors bring flowers and balloons and get-well cards. They bring their we’re-gonna-beat-this attitude. And after an hour or two, they leave to go back to their normal lives, where they don’t have to think about blood transfusions or cancerous growths or compromised immune systems. They don’t have to ponder how it is that our bodies turn against us, how we decay from the inside out.

But I’m different. I ponder it every day. I go into those rooms every day. I bring them towels and bed sheets. I change their dressings, fill their cups with water, feed them. I turn them over when they’re too weak to move themselves. And when I’m that close, I can smell death upon them. That’s when the craving hits me strongest.

It’s a complicated urge. The Romans, during their various victory celebrations, used to whisper to each other, “Memento mori” — “Remember you will die.” It made the party better. But of course, no one wanted to die during the party.

When I smell death upon those poor souls, I love them and pity them. I envy their fragility. But I also want to sink my teeth into their necks and break them.