That’s so true… or at least the actual writing part is. But with the invention of the internet and writing forums, writers don’t have to feel so alone anymore.
If you’re looking for an excellent writing forum, might I suggest Writingforums.com (Writing Forums, Workshops and Help for Writers—Writing Forums.
Unlike many forums out there, WF.com has been around for years (since 23-Sep-2002), and, like its home page says, is one of the fastest growing writing communities (and I do mean communities in the best sense of the word) on the web. By joining their free community you will be able to talk with other writers, get feedback on your work to improve your writing skills, discuss ideas, share tips & tricks, network and make friends!
Check out the impressive numbers as of this moment. Threads: 77,355, Posts: 948,010, Members: 29,798
If reading original works from the up-and-coming to the professional is what you're after, then WF.com (www.writingforums.com) is the place to find them. If you’re a writer or poet and a Writers’ Workshop or Poets’ Workshop to protect your first rights while improving your work is your focus, then you’ll find them there, too. They also have writing and poetry discussions, challenges galore, and enough forums to satisfy every taste (aside from Fanfiction, of course). There is even the hot Debate and the much calmer Lounge sections, where one can either go head to head with the best debaters around, or unwind and talk about your day or poignant topics. And let's not forget the Writing/Publishing Advice, and so much more.
And since registration is fast, simple and absolutely free, that only leaves one question: What are you waiting for? Go to Writing Forums and join the community today! And tell 'em Hawke sent you. :)
My apologies for my absence to date, Dear Reader, but I have a very good reason. For the last little while I have been working on something near and dear to my heart. To that end, it has been my privilege and honor to work with some of the most talented, hardest working folks on the internet, watching a kernel of an idea grow into something truly lovely, truly tangible, truly amazing. Now that we're ready to rock, I'm very excited and anxious to tell you all about it. So I will.
It's my sincere pleasure to introduce you to The Oddville Press.
Artwork courtesy of Clara Natoli. Please do not copy without her permission. To see more of her Clara's wonderful work, visit her "new blog."
The Oddville Press is an online non-profit magazine dedicated to bringing high quality Fiction, Poetry and Artwork to the forefront and whose mission is to promote today’s geniuses and tomorrow’s giants. The Oddville Press will consider material submitted by any writer, established or not. Our guidelines are simple: submissions must be original, well written, creative and compelling. Serious, thoughtful, yet accessible high-quality fiction, poetry and artwork will constitute the majority of our acceptances, and of course humour is most welcome.
"So, why the name 'The Oddville Press'?" you ask.
Simply put, the word "odd" is something all writers know very well, the first twinge experienced the first time someone asks us what we do. Yes, writer are odd. We know it. And the looks on the faces of the folks we tell says they know it too. So, why not embrace it? The "ville" part is the sense of community we writers gravitate toward. Writing is very much a solo act, and though being unique is kind of cool in itself, being lonely is a real killer. So we tend to group up on writing forums, writing work shops and creative writing classes, in real life and in internet life, helping ourselves by helping each other. Hence, the name The Oddville Press.
Ah, but this new magazine is unquestionably for you, Dear Reader. We bring quality Fiction, Poetry and Artwork from around the world to the public by respecting the minds of those we are invited into, publishing the professional and the burgeoning—today’s geniuses and tomorrow’s giants.
So if you're a writer, poet or artist, why are you still here reading this? Get yourself over to The Oddville Press, see the Submission Guidelines, then submit. Your public awaits!
We look forward to reading you.
EDIT: The Oddville Press' owner has sold it and the domain was purchased by a porn site. Please, if you have posted a link to The Oddville Press, do yourself a favor and delete it.
I'm taking down the ol' closed sign and hanging out the shingle... sorta. Sure feels good to shake off the cobwebs and let some fresh air in here. About time too, by the look. My apologies. Just let me take some inventory to see what I have in that cardboard box hidden under the stairs, dust the place off a bit, juggle things around between The View and The Quill (this is suppose to be the blog about writing, not The View) and we'll be up and running again.
While you're waiting, how about a little music?
Enjoy. And thank you for your patience.
Now you know I don’t usually recommend writing forums on The Quill, but this is one the exception. Introducing:—
Just a few of this forums super features include:
* An excellent and very approachable staff. * Mad-skills-talented members from beginners to the published. * Enough threads for writers of all walks, tastes and genres (including an Erotica thread which is age restricted and viewable by members only, and a *Secret Bonus Track* thread which is another members only thread similar to a Workshop—meaning first rights are protected in both Erotica and Bonus threads). * Poetry and writing challenges. * A monthly newsletter. * Debate. * Music and Arts. * Seasonal Featured Work—the crème de la crème as chosen by the members in the categories of Poetry, Fiction, and Erotica).
If you write or are an avid reader and haven’t yet checked out LiteraryMary, I urge you to do so. And tell 'em I sent ya.
I’ve written about the love of writing here and there and see no need to retrace those tracks at this time, but here’s a confession: I can’t write a word without music. It’s not the lyrics that inspire me (I generally write to voiceless movie soundtracks so there are no lyrics), but the feelings a good piece of music evokes. You see, while not every writer needs motivation, all writers need inspiration.
I’m speaking here of “Character Assassination,” which is my current WIP (work in progress), and a story which illustrates the point I’m trying to make: that writing is a process and not a race, that each story is a one-of-a-kind, handcrafted work that requires patience and care. That rushing often cheapens the read (it does in my case, at least) and lets the author, and more importantly, the reader, down. That is why I have decided to bow out of NaNoWriMo 2006 and give the story its due.
Now, and after all of that, I'm going to go back on my own words and say that inspiration for "Assassination" came in part from the music video below. Just double click the arrow to enjoy.
May you always be inspired.
And because I love this song and have missed hearing it...
The following, set in 1903, was inspired by a true story.
From The Midlands _____________________________________
I. The Normal Things Mike could hear a shutter banging lightly, randomly, caught in the drizzly fall breeze that swept down from the mountains. The windows cossets always swelled after the rains and you really had to yank on them to shut them. This one must have been forgotten. He thought of getting up and closing it himself, knowing that if he waited much longer he’d fully awaken and, if that happened, sleep wouldn’t find him again this night. But then he thought how silly it would be to get up and search for the elusive banging shutter, for by the time he actually found it, odds were that he’d be fully awake anyway.
So he lay there in the complete darkness, not bothering to open his eyes, and listened to the banging shutter; listened to the last remnants of rain that had stopped only a few moments ago drip from eaves and levies; listened to the muted rumbles of thunder grow more and more distant as the storm moved further away; listened to Terri as she slept beside him, her breathing steady and deep…and was slightly irritated (and even a touch jealous) that she could sleep through the irksome noise and he could not.
But he wouldn’t get up. Not yet. He was too comfortable.
Comfortable. That was such a relative word. He wasn’t comfortable in the sense that his body felt utterly blissful, utterly peaceful, no. But at least he was more comfortable than he had been for the last two days - the last age-long eternity of days.
He had been ill. Hated it. Always had - even as a child. But compared to some illnesses he’d suffered through in the past, this one really hadn’t been all that bad...apart from a sore throat and plenty of stiff muscles that is...which he’d barely noticed and hadn’t let slow him down in the least. No, quite the contrary. He had worked harder, if only to prove to himself and others that it hadn’t bothered him. After all, it wasn’t as if it was life threatening. No infection, no temperature, no headache---none of the things that usually accompanied illness. Utterly unremarkable, really. It hadn’t even developed into a decent cold; just sort of took hold out of nowhere and then stayed as it was---no better but no worse. Unfortunately, Dr. Ryan had caught wind of it (likely through Terri). And when the good doctor had insisted on examining him, Mike had told him all of that and then some, and in no uncertain terms as well. Had told everyone that would listen, come to that. But it hadn’t mattered. The doctor had fussed and bothered and insisted he get plenty of rest.
“Rest?” he remembered saying, while anger had spread hot on his face like a dark shadow. “Sure. After all, I only have a company to run. But I promise to ‘get plenty of rest’ as soon as I find the time.”
Worse, about the only thing Terri suddenly seemed capable of making was warm chicken broth.
Chicken broth. If he never tasted that again in his lifetime it would be too soon. But red meat? Yes! God, what he wouldn’t give for some kind of dead animal on a plate. Something he could sink his teeth into. Chew. Rip apart. He’d even eat it raw if needs be, then happily beg for seconds.
Terri stirred in the darkness, but he knew she hadn’t woke. It was one of the “normal things” - normal, as in ‘it-was-her-habit-to-toss-in-her-sleep’ type of normal. It was also her habit to turn, which she was doing now. Very soon, he knew, more “normal things” would happen, like if when he didn’t move his arm out of the way fast enough, she would move it for him and then snuggle tight against him. Then her head would magically find the hollow of his shoulder and her arm would drape over his chest. And she would do all of this without even waking.
And she did.
Ah! He knew her so well.
But though he had no way of knowing it, this night would be different. For the “normal things” - her turning, moving his arm, snuggling against him, and then her head finding his shoulder’s hollow - would be the last of the “normal things” for some time to come. Maybe forever.
With her finally positioned in her “normal” fashion, he tried to join her in sleep - tried desperately. But wanting to and getting to are two different things. His mind was now wide-awake and already clicking over at a furious rate. So he abandoned all hope...and was just beginning to mull over the activities of the day to come…
...when Terri’s hand moved over his chest, slowly at first, and a moment later with more urgency.
Then she shot up.
Had she gasped? Or had he only imagined it?
“Mike?” she asked. Then louder, “Mike!”
She placed her hands on his chest and began to shake him, and he wanted to say to her, “Go back to sleep, sweetheart. It’s only a shutter.”
But he couldn’t.
He could not say a word.
II. What Am I?
“Mike,” Terri said sharply, and shook him again.
He wanted to answer her so badly it physically hurt. But he couldn’t. God, he couldn’t do anything at all!
Scaring her? Yeah - her and him both. Terri, calm down. I’m---
“Mike, answer me!” she cried, and he knew she was about to go into a full-blown panic. That made two of them.
I can‘t. Just…just try to stay calm, okay? I’m
(What am I?)
fine. It likely has something to do with that illness. Remember? Now calm down. It won’t do either of us any good to panic. There has to be a reasonable explanation for this. Likely something simple. Something easily fixable. Just stay calm and call Dr. Ryan. I’m---
“Oh...” she breathed. “Oh no.” A pause. “No.” A pause. “Oh please…” A silence. Then, horrified, she cried: “Somebody… Somebody help me!”
I’m in serious trouble.
The first time he thought that had been when he had tried to speak and found that he couldn’t. The second time he thought that had been when he had tried to move and found that he couldn’t do that either. He couldn’t do anything. Couldn’t open his eyes, couldn’t moan, couldn’t force a bigger breath than the minuscule ones he was already taking. He couldn’t move so much as a finger. About the only thing he could do was hear and think and feel.
And speaking of feeling - he was cold. Ice-cold. At Terri’s cry, the neighbours had responded by practically breaking down the front door (by the sound of it). After failing to rouse a response from him, they’d immediately sent for Dr. Ryan who, in turn, had rushed in and yanked the warm blankets right off the bed. His clothes soon followed.
Now there he was, naked, freezing, and trying desperately not to panic...yet. But it wasn’t easy.
God almighty, it’s like an icebox in here! he thought, as the doctor began to examine him from head to toe. But even though he was frozen to the core, oddly enough he wasn’t shivering, couldn’t shiver - another thing he mentally added to the ever-growing list of things he couldn’t do. Did the fire go out? he wondered.
“What‘s going on? What happened?” asked a breathless voice from where Mike guessed was the bedroom doorway. It was forceful, but there was also a awkward shyness beneath it, as always. Mitch was his oldest and dearest friend - the daredevil troubles of first-born boyhood had been doubled on each other’s parents - but Mike had in a lot of ways felt like he never really knew him. And it wasn’t just his awkwardness; on a long ago high-school sophomore day when all boys - including the far-too-thin kids like Mitch - were expected to change in a stall-less locker-room after phys-ed, Mitch had been a bundle of nerves and tension. He‘d told Mike he couldn‘t undress, couldn‘t let the athletes see him as he was because his life would be a living nightmare if they did…but he had done both in the end, and his life had indeed been a living nightmare…until his body changed through time and countless hours secretly working out in his basement. Because the reality of Mitch Penner was neither the shyness nor the passive, accepting exterior.
As Mike listened for the answer that didn’t come, he felt a huge sense of relief. After all, if Mitch was there, it stood to reason that Mitch’s wife Vivian wouldn’t be far behind, and he could count on Viv to comfort Terri until this was over.
If it was ever over.
“I need you to stand back, Terri.” Dr. Ryan, most likely; and Mike thought, Poor bastard. He’s about to get an earful.
“How dare you! How dare you! Mike, please!” Terri. She was sobbing. Hysterical.
No, not hysterical, he amended. She was well beyond hysterical.
“Don’t do that! You’re hurting him!”
“Terri, please…” said the one who had spoken moments before, and Mike thought, Yes¾make her leave. Get her out of here. Mitch. Dr. Ryan. Anyone.
But they didn’t, and of course not; no one would have dared try that.
“Do something!” Terri again, and this time her voice came from further away. The doorway, maybe? Yes, or near it. Then, as though someone had heard his thoughts and had tried to do his bidding, Terri, outraged, yelled: “What do you mean - move away? Let go of me!”
Her incensed cries grew louder. Louder. Until at last Vivian’s soft, soothing voice joined the mix, and with it Terri’s harangue ebbed into heart-rending sobs. “Not now. Don’t leave me now,” she was saying through her tears, her voice trance-like and choked with emotion. Then her words fused into one sentence, repeating over and over again: “It’s not your time. It’s not your time it’s not your time it’s not your time…” And with it, Mike felt a pain unlike any he’d felt before. Terrible, it was. Awful. Like a solid punch in the heart.
“Terri, don’t worry. I’ll be fine,” he wanted to say to her, wished he could say to her, though he didn’t believe it himself. But he couldn’t make his mouth work. Couldn’t so much as force his lips open, come to that. And all the while Dr. Ryan poked, prodded, slapped, pinched, tested, and listened.
One thing was sure, he told himself. If this was some sort of a nightmare, he was done with it.
A nightmare. Yes, it had to be. But if it was, it was the most vivid nightmare he’d ever had in his entire life. It was also the most horrible nightmare he’d ever had, bar none; nothing even came close to it. He knew he was in bed, and he could hear and feel and think and smell so it had to be a nightmare. But he couldn’t escape it, couldn’t quite break through to his body that lay unmoving, unresponsive and frozen cold. This had never happened to him before.
Only he didn’t wake up, and after a few minutes of trying he no longer believed he ever would. Nightmares fade, he knew, and these things---the sounds, the feelings, and the heartache - were as vivid as if he were wide-awake. Vivid…and very painful.
Yes - painful, and in more ways than one. For someone had made a fist and then grated their bony knuckles up and down Mike’s sternum in an attempt to invoke an involuntary, primitive reaction: A response to pain.
He wanted to groan. To moan. To cry out. To explode off the bed, grab that someone by the throat, and show him the true meaning of pain.
But had he responded? Had he groaned? Or was that only in his imagination?
Then all sound and activity stopped, and a heavy silence suffused the room - a silence as thick, as daunting, and as weighty as a mighty
stone wall. With it, time itself seemed to stand still, as though the whole world was holding its breath and waiting; waiting for the final verdict; waiting for the final sentence.
A little fantasy rustled up: Will the prisoner (yes - prisoner: something he had come to think himself as, given the situation) please rise, thought Mike rather giddily, though he had no idea why he had.
Then again, why not? If this was a nightmare, he may as well make the best of it.
In the matter of life or death versus Michael T. Summers, president and one-third owner of Summerland Industries Inc. - what say the jury?
LIFE! roared the phantom crowd in his mind. Of course, that would be followed by a thunderous cheer and many sighs of relief...
“He’s…gone,” announced someone in a choked whisper, from somewhere close beside him
and Mike realized that the man was almost crying. This lunacy of a nightmare was as terrible for them as it was for him. Somehow realizing that was the worst shock of all.
There was another silence then, and in it Mike thought, Dr. Ryan? Was that you? You - “the best damn doctor in the country” according to you - could make such a horrendous mistake? And in front of Terri, no less? Have you lost your fucking mind?
His head was spinning. He didn’t know if it was the nightmare, or because he was ill, or because he just couldn’t absorb the enormity of what Dr. Ryan had just said and what it meant. He knew that he most likely looked dead, given the situation. He had known that for some time, but he just assumed that things would work out and everything would be fine. The belief that things always worked out, somehow, had always protected him, really. Now that barrier had fallen away.
“I‘m sorry, Terri. There was--” The old doctor’s emotion-filled voice fell silent for a moment. He finished in a disconnected, detached whisper: “There was nothing I could do.”
NO! Mike screamed silently. I can hear you! I can feel your hand on my chest! I’m right here! Can’t you see that? Terri, for the love of God - tell him he’s wrong. TELL HIM!
But even as his mind shouted that, he knew Terri would tell Dr. Ryan nothing of the sort. At the old doctor’s words she had utterly broken down and was now openly grieving.
That was when he knew for sure it was no nightmare.
It was far worse than that.
He was not sleeping.
III. In the Living Room. The Grim Brothers. Shoulda Woulda Coulda.
Multicoloured sunlight beamed hot on his bare chest, his arms, his face - its brightness a dazzling collage of vibrant prisms behind his closed eyelids. Because of this, among other things, Mike knew exactly where he was. They had placed him on a stretcher (thankfully with a sheet discretely covering him from the waist down), borne him aloft, and with solemnly and great reverence had carried him to this place: the living room.
At least it was warmer here.
He could see the room clearly in his mind’s eye. Could picture its single massive stained-glassed window positioned a good twenty feet above, its hard-wood floor, its white walls, its white-marble pillars (fiberglass fakes, of course), and especially its most expensive piece of furniture: an impressive oak sideboard, upon which he now lay. The sideboard been placed in the room in such a way that when sunlight streamed though the window above, it would literally glow. Hence the warmth he felt, and the light.
Sounds echoed loudly here. Terribly loud. Shoe heels - normally semi-muted everywhere else in the house - clicked sharply on this room’s polished wood floor, echoing disturbingly, their reverberations stopping only when absorbed by the high ceiling’s wooden rafters. Not since the death of his father has this room rang of these heavy footsteps, and of the soft moans of mourners. It reeked of stale air and the tang of rain-damp, was muted by gathered, silent people, and was thick with pungent sweat.
He hated it. No, he loathed it.
Having never given thought to what his death might mean to his friends, his family and to the company itself, Mike loathed the solemnity, loathed the mourning, and above all, loathed the pain this was causing. He’d been nervous when he had taken his father’s place, felt a quiet warmth at the employees’ instant welcome, gratitude at their loyalty. They had allowed him to lead them. Put their faith and trust in him. And he had taken that trust and secretly vowed never to let them down. Everything he’d done had been with the employees’ best interests at heart. He’d presided over squabbles, changed old policies for the better, and attended the weddings and the christenings and funerals. He had anguished over the failures. Toasted the victories. Protected the lower ranks and previously helpless. But this? This was a kind of helplessness he had never experienced before. A living death. A prisoner of his own body. A captive in a Midland, of sorts.
And worse - if in three days this error was not discovered, he would be
interred alongside his ancestors. A lovely thought - that...if he was actually dead, that is.
Throughout, Terri had held his hand as if with no conscious idea of anything around her. Yet some part of her must have had a very specific goal in mind, Mike knew, because thirty minutes after being here he felt her grip tighten, as so often happened in public when she sought his strength.
“Please, leave us.” Terri’s voice - dry and by now pretty much stripped of all emotion - was barely above a whisper. “We... I,” she quickly corrected, “need to...” A pause. A long, shaky sigh. “Leave us.”
There were no arguments this time, only the twang of footsteps followed by the soft thump of the door as it closed. Then they were alone here in the living room, and it was only then that he heard the full and painful measure of her grief: a series of heart-wrenching sobs, as thought the very world - her version of it, at least - had ended with him. To the room she cried it, and the rafters spirited it away. And as he lay there, listening, listening - a prisoner of his own deceitful body - he felt his heart shatter.
Still crying, she stepped away from him for a short time. When she returned, she set two things down on the floor beside the sideboard: a basin and a water jug, both of which made characteristic ceramic-on-wood pings. Hearing that, he knew what would come next. He should. He had seen his mother do it on that very spot (and later in his nightmares) a hundred, no, a thousand times before. But it had never occurred to him that Terri would someday do for him what so many heartbroken widows had done for theirs.
Soon the crying ended and it was silent here in the living room. Truly, utterly, terribly silent. At first, the room seemed empty - so empty, in fact, that for a moment Mike wondered if she was still there. It broke, though, when something like a sigh whispered through the hush. Moments later, he heard the dip of a cloth, and soon after, warm water mixed with a heady, scented oil dribbled onto his breastbone, pooled there, and overspilled; some trickling down the sides of his chest and some following the gentle slope north to pool in the hollow of his throat. Then gently, carefully, and methodically, she began to wash him - the cleansing ritual as much a preparation of his body for the grave as it was to fulfil her need to touch him, to give her an excuse to be alone with him, to give her time to grieve privately. To give her time to say goodbye.
As the cloth moved over him, she spoke to him---spoke of when they had first met: of what she had thought of him then, and of how she instantly knew they’d be together. She spoke of the company: of her worry and of how proud she’d been of him. She spoke of their engagement: how nervous he had been that day and how he’d trembled at her approach; and that she would never, never forget the look on his face when their eyes had met, nor the moment when he’d swept her up in his arms and kissed her until she was breathless...and right in front of everyone, no less! Even though he shouldn’t have done that, she’d been so glad that he had.
And now here she was - the cleansing complete and fingering his medallion as it lay against his chest, the gold steadfast, even after all these years.
“Do you remember the night I gave this to you?” she asked quietly.
Yes, he did. He remembered everything about that night. Every word and every touch; the look on her radiant face, the colour of her dress, the feel of her so soft skin beneath his hands...even how the moonlight played like shimmering fairies in the cascade of her hair. But more than that, he remembered the glow in her eyes and the love he felt when she’d taken his hands in hers. And afterward... Ah! Afterward, he’d leaned over her, pulled her close and covered her mouth with his. He’d threaded his fingers through her raven hair and kissed her until they were both breathless and the sky had spun.
And then he had kissed her again.
God, what he wouldn’t give to sit up and kiss her now, as he had then.
There was a long silence. At length she spoke again. “If I’d known then what would happen, and this moment too, I want you to know this: I would have chosen the same. These years, though not nearly enough, have been with you; and I wouldn’t have missed them for the world.”
Same here, sweetheart. Same here.
She spoke of dreams, of plans, and of a future filled with love and happiness...children... Her voice cracked with that, and a fresh spate of tears took her. Dropping the cloth, she draped her arms over him, rested her cheek on the familiar hollow of his shoulder and sobbed - loud, unladylike sounds like his mother of yesterday. In that moment he thought he would have given anything - everything - to speak, to rise up, to hold her close and brush away her tears.
She wept on his chest, hugging him with panicky tightness. And when the door creaked open, she started but didn’t look up. This was her private moment, their private moment; she would not be disturbed here.
“Go away,” she whispered. “Leave us alone.”
The door closed with a puffy thump. A footstep. Another. Someone was definitely here, he knew, violating their sacred sanctity at the worst possible time.
A silence. Her head rose. Then, “I don‘t need help,” she said in a tear-choked voice Mike barely recognized.
But the owners of the footfalls (yes - owners; for he now recognized that there were two sets: one heavy and one very soft) kept coming. When he guessed who they belonged to, at first he thought them figments of my overtaxed imagination and so not entirely sure they were real...until both stopped beside him and someone placed a hand on his shoulder. Then the hand squeezed gently, in an old and very familiar gesture of friendship.
“We’d just stepped off the train,” said a strained voice more to him than to Terri, for the owner of it was facing him, deliberately speaking mere inches from his face, “when someone offered their condolences-”
Paul! Thank God!
“I can‘t believe it,” Kenny said. Kenny and Paul: Mike’s younger brothers fresh back from California - the company was going national, you know. That must have been one hell of a greeting, Mike thought with some guilt.
“He was sleeping,” Terri offered in a barely controlled voice, “but he didn’t...” Her words trailed off as though forgotten. She swallowed hard and tried again, “He wouldn’t...” An instant later, there was a soft sigh - like the coo of a dove - and at that, the hand let go of his shoulder and its owner moved swiftly around the sideboard before Mike realized that Terri had swooned.
Mike heard a swish material (Paul had lifted her, he knew, and at the same time wondered, Is she okay?), and a moment later: “Can you get a chair?”
“Is she okay?” Kenny asked worriedly, echoing Mike’s thoughts.
“Yeah, I think so. Just fainted. Perfectly understandable under the circumstances.” A pause. “Umm, a chair?”
“Oh! Yes! Right!” Kenny cried, obviously flustered; and a moment later he trotted across the room, yanked the door open, and clattered away into silence; his frantic voice bellowing: “Don’t just stand there. Get me a chair!”
“Kenny,” Paul said. “Mister low-key.” He heaved a long, long sigh, and with that Mike could almost picture him shaking his head and rolling his eyes. Paul was always a wise-ass. But there would be no smile on Paul’s lips, Mike knew. Not today. “And on such a rotten day as this.”
Soon, Kenny came rushing back in; the door closed again, this time with a slam. “Here!” he called. Then, “Careful now, careful.”
A sigh. Then, “I‘m all right,” Terri said thickly, haltingly. “I need to finish...”
“Not now. Just rest. There’s plenty of time,” Paul assured her.
The next few minutes passed slowly and in near silence. Then footsteps approach Mike, soft and barely audible, yes, but he could still hear them nonetheless. His hearing, though normally quite keen, seemed even more so now. Compensation, he supposed, though it was poor compensation for this madness. God, if I’m going to live, he prayed silently, then let me wake up now. If not, let me die this instant…because I can’t take another moment of this pain.
A form moved up beside him, its shadow blocking part of the window’s bright warm light. It was Paul, Mike knew. And he was staring at him. Gravely, no doubt. Then he dropped nearer.
“You were always the good looking one, even on your worst day,” his year-younger brother whispered almost in his ear, speaking very low so that only Mike could hear. “Christ you’re pale…but not; like you’re asleep or something. Maybe it’s the light...or my eyes.” A hard swallow. “How did this happen?”
I don’t know. God, what did I do to deserve this? What was so terrible that I have to hear my family in such pain? Am I going to hell? Is that it? Is this a taste of the horrors to come? If it is, then take me now. Please. I’m begging you. Heaven or hell...or even nothing. Anything but this.
Paul leaned far over him then, his hand clutching Mike‘s as though a last hopeless act; their brows touched and huge tears fell from above him, wetting both their faces.
“Forgive me,” his brother whispered hoarsely. “I should have been here.”
But I’m not dead. I’m not. God, please let him see. Let him know, somehow. If only...
Desperate, Mike focused his thoughts, focused with everything he had, and actually managed to force out a larger breath. But even though it was larger, it was still so pitifully small, so utterly puny, that he wasn’t sure Paul would even notice it.
But Paul did notice it. Paul stayed where he was, and when Mike had breathed out Paul started but didn’t move. “I must be dreaming,” his brother commented as though to himself, still leaning above him, his voice soft, slow, and deliberate. “A breeze...or I would have sworn--” He paused and fell silent.
Yes! Now come on, Paul - think. You’ve got to. You’re my only hope--
There came a knock on the door
Not now, Mike groaned inside as Paul’s head snapped up, his attention diverted by the sound. No. Wait. Stay with me; listen to me. Your gut is telling you something. Now follow it!
and a moment afterward, several people entered. Men most likely, Mike knew, gauging by the heaviness of their steps.
Paul, ignore them! Don’t--
“The undertaker is here.” It was Mitch. “These flowers were just delivered, and Viv found the suit you wanted. Can we bring them in?”
“Okay,” Terri answered numbly; and with that, Paul stepped back from him.
No - goddammit! Paul, come back! Don’t--
“He’ll need the company ring,” Terri droned, as though in some kind of a stupor. “It‘s--”
“In the box on the dresser,” Kenny finished for her. “I‘ll get it.”
They mean father’s ring, Mike knew. A large man - their father, Mike shoulda
(Shoulda woulda coulda too late now)
had it resized but never had the heart to change it; often lying to himself when the notion nudged, thinking: Too damn busy to breathe, never mind driving an hour across town to take it to a decent jewellers. The company’s going national, so…
“You’ll need the key. He’s wearing it. Paul?”
His brother came forward, and a moment later there was a gentle touch; the clasp opened and the chain holding the small silver key slipped from his neck.
Footsteps again - one light set leaving and in that moment several sets approached. Then...hands.
“He’s still warm,” said someone in a hushed voice, surprised. “It’s been hours. Should he--?”
“Sunlight from the window,” offered another in a similarly hushed voice, and with that, they dressed him; primping and tweaking and straightening just so. Even brushed his hair and trimmed his beard, tucking a slip of paper beneath his chin to catch the clippings as they did. When they were finally satisfied, Mike’s hands were brought to his chest and placed one atop the other just so, as was customary. Then Kenny stepped forward and put the company ring on his finger.
So that’s it then, Mike thought soberly. Everyone believes that I’m dead. Everyone. Even Paul. Then Mike had another thought - one much more terrifying. In three days my wife, my brothers, and my dearest friends will
(bury me alive)
bury me alive.
IV. Perhaps This Really Is Hell After All.
He would lay in state for three days - the first day reserved for family, the second day and part of the third reserved for open viewing. Knowing that the three days to come would be long and gruelling, Paul and Kenny decided it best to split their efforts between he and Terri. A good plan - that. Kenny (together with Viv and Mitch) chose to see to Terri, and Paul chose to see to Mike.
And yes, it would turn out to be long and gruelling days. Interesting ones, though. And enlightening, as well. At least, for Mike.
The first day was relatively uneventful, other than the primping and preening and placements...and then re-placements, for everything having to be just right. Soon the day passed into a cool and silent night.
Mike was not an introspective type of man by nature, but trapped as he was with nothing else to do, he found himself pondering anything and everything. His life flashing before his eyes? He doubted it. Just a need to do...something. Anything. That might have had something to do with it, but likely not much. More likely it was because he was going to die. He knew that. Was he ready for it?–or was he merely readying himself for it? Yes. That felt closer to the truth.
His father had died long ago and under horrendous circumstances - cancer - and Mike had been with him (sitting beside his bed, actually) when he passed on. He remembered how his father’s hand had searched for his and how deep his last breath had been, how his chest had heaved upward as he drew it in. As though he’d known this was it, and so wanted that last breath had to hold for the ages. He remembered how his father had let it out, his sightless eyes fixed on him as his face falling slack, and the sound it made - ahhhh… And how afterward that his chest had stayed where it was. In a way, Mike had lived that next week in just that sort of suspended pause.
Yet there was something else, something even more: the day when he’d sat his younger brothers down, saying that they couldn’t abandon what their father had spent his entire life building; that they had to pull together and keep the company going no matter what...had that been for their father?–or for himself?
He’d made the choice, then - what he thought was the right one. But he just as easily could have chosen to sell the company, split the profits, and walk away. Granted, things had worked out in the end, yes; the sucker flew after all. But had he really chosen based on logic, knowledge, and a determination to see it carry on? Or had he chosen based on fear - fear of disappointing everyone, fear of the unknown, fear of helplessness and loss of control. Working at the company, swinging deals, chasing dreams...with those he was in his element. An element he could control. He’d promised their father that he wouldn‘t let the company die; but really, could he have? Hadn’t he felt a sort of relief when his father had told him to live for himself, to do whatever he wanted with the company, that Summerland was his dream, not theirs? Yes, he’d felt that. Just a little.
Tired. All of this thinking and soul searching was very tiring. He slept...
...and woke to a shimmering haze boiling up behind his eyelids. The sun shone even brighter this next day and Mike sweltered in the confines of his body. The air inside the living room felt thick; it was almost too thick to breath. He found it hard to believe that he’d fallen asleep while facing his own death, but he didn’t like the alternative, which was to think and soul search and listen to his friends and family mourn him.
At noon, a bell sounded three times - a signal for friends to begin the viewing. They filed past him one at a time, each stopping briefly before moving on. Boring? No. Not at all. Because during it, Mike heard several disturbing comments regarding what they wrongly perceived as Summerland’s now vacant presidency.
Little did they know.
One man - an underling named McKellen - went so far as to whisper to Mike his intention of swinging the proxies in order to slip into his now vacant position. The nervy bastard! And speaking of nervy, two others, also believing themselves quiet enough to go unheard - Drake and Broone of Drake and Broone Enterprises - had the unmitigated gall to talk about a hostile takeover. Unbelievably, that conversation had taken place while they were standing before him. Before him! Of course, neither conversation had escaped Paul, and to say “either had gone over well with him” would have been an understatement.
Ah! Glorious greed, Mike thought with disgust, as he listened to his outraged brother usher the three men out of the room, crying: “You back-stabbing bastards! Fly the hell out of here before I--”
And the opportunists circle and circle, Mike thought, each hoping to snatch a crumb. Who else here, I wonder, is a vulture?
The door slammed, and then he and Paul were alone for a time. Silent, it was. Silent as
the calm before the storm. Then oddly enough a clap of thunder broke over the house. When the warmth and light that had been flooding in from the window slowly vanished, Mike knew that the dark clouds were coming in from the east. From California - the place that would soon be Paul and Kenny’s destination, again. Going national, you know.
And me - the grave.
His mind couldn’t take much more.
Paul drew close.
“I hate this,” he said bitterly, from right beside him. “And knowing you, you’d hate it too.”
You have no idea how much.
Paul, heaving a long sigh, began straightening him again. “If I didn’t know better, I’d swear you were asleep. As a matter of fact, it wouldn’t surprise me a bit if you opened your eyes and told me to stop picking at you.” A pause. “Yes - do that. Please. Just open your eyes and tell me off, Mike. Tell me this is a nightmare. Some madness. Even some payback for all of the stupid-ass stunts I pulled on you over the years. Don’t let this be real. I can’t take it,” he whispered, his raw voice cracking.
I wish I could. I’d give anything to do just that.
Trapped. It was like he was trapped in the Midlands - the place between life and death; the home of nightmares and terrors. The place babysitters whisper of, to scare bad children good. The place not unlike...
Did he believe this was hell?
Mike stopped listening to Paul and for the first time gave this nonsensical idea some real thought. What little he’d been told of hell over the course of his lifetime came to him as though added to a checklist by some ghostly hand. And with each mark, the once nonsensical idea grew more and more logical.
Yes, perhaps this really is hell after all.
Tired. So tired. He fell asleep thinking about hell.
And in his dream, the demon came. A face of his past - his mother - her lips painted blood red and her features twisted in pain, flashed before him. Pointed its finger at him. Accused. Taunted. Screamed in fury.
Yes, begged. She’d done that not long after his father died. She’d looked at him over the top of a half-empty wine decanter with wide, glazed eyes and silent pleas. That one - that demon - haunted him still.
And father. Not a single night passed that Mike hadn’t seen his father’s death: when he hadn’t seen his once strong father’s ruined face, heard his final words, felt his pain as if it were his own, watched as the last breath left him. Yes. All of that. But this night was different. This night, his father stood away from his mother. This night, his eyes hadn’t closed wearily, and after a moment, said:
“Live your life for yourself, Mike. Don’t worry about the company.”
No. This night, his father’s eyes roved Mike’s face as though a hanging judge, and after a moment, said:
“You failed me.”
Mike came to my senses slowly.
What day was this?
He didn’t know. What he did know was that he was on the move. Or at least his bed was.
No, that wasn’t right. Not bed - stretcher. They were carrying him. A balmy breeze ruffled his hair and sunlight warmed his face, his hands. Birds sang here and mourners sobbed.
Outside. Yes, he was...
Panic boiled up from his gut like a rushing tidal wave; swamping him, crashing over him, drowning him. Cold, awful fear went through him. Instant. Immediate.
Dear God, NO! Mike cried from within the prison of my inert body. Not now! Not--
All movement jerked to an abrupt halt. Then he heard a grating of stone on stone. Huge stone. Huge and heavy. It could have been one of two things. Either they were grinding wheat to flour (I wish, he thought), or they were opening the lid of his sarcophagus. But that wasn’t right, was it? Was it? He was supposed to lay on it for a time, not in it. However, on or in didn’t seem to matter. They were opening the lid anyway.
The stretcher was lifted and it swung to the side...just a little too hard and not quite high enough. For it thumped hard against the coffin’s lip, jerking him sideways and nearly pitching him off. The knock caused the too-large company ring to slip from his lifeless finger and, with several loud pings, bounce across the family crypt’s stone floor. Several audible gasps instantly followed, and someone near him whispered something about a bad omen. Then he was lowered, and the warmth of only a moment ago fled and cold surrounded him. A bell tolled, its sound pealing the silence. At the same moment, the ring slipped back onto his finger. A brush of fingers met his cheek. Then…nothing.
Mike waited, listening for the sound that would spell his end---the stone-on-stone sound of the lid closing. It did not come. Instead, a voice drifted down from above him.
“Wait a minute.“ It was Mitch. But it wouldn’t do any good now. All was already lost.
“Breathe,” Mitch whispered to him, and something very smooth and very cool lightly touched his lips as Mitch continued. “Something‘s been bothering me - something I can’t explain. Mike, if you‘re alive buddy, then breathe,” he instructed.
“What are you doing?” Paul asked, and the smooth, cool...something or another... left Mike’s lips.
“Get your hands off me,” Mitch growled dangerously.
“Let him go.” Terri.
“Look,” Paul said respectfully. “I know you‘re upset, but I think you‘d better--”
“It’s okay,” Terri said. Then, “What is it?”
“Just give me a minute,” Mitch said beseechingly, and the smooth, cool thing found Mike’s lips again. “Breathe, Mike. Now!”
A chance! Only one, he knew, but he’d take it.
God, help me do this, he prayed. Then, as he had before, Mike once again focused his thoughts, focused with everything he had, and actually managed to force a breath out. But even though it was larger, it was even punier then the one he’d managed before.
No good. It was hopeless. He’ll never--
“Get him out of there!” Mitch suddenly roared. “Hurry! Terri! Paul! Jesus, where’s that doctor?”
“The mirror!” Mitch cried, overjoyed. “His breath is on it. See that? He’s alive!”
VI. The End.
Mike awoke slowly. How long had he been out? He had no way of knowing, no way of penetrating the thick darkness. What time of night was this? Was he alone? More importantly, was he in his bed or in the stone coffin?
He lay as he was, with his eyes closed, and listened; listened to Terri as she slept beside him, her breathing steady and deep; listened to the muted rumbles of thunder grow more and more distant as the storm moved further and further away; listened to the last remnants of rain that had stopped only a few moments ago drip from eaves and levies.
Can I have a few minutes of your time? I just want to talk... and then I’ll thank you. Just a few minutes...
I’ll be posting a few short stories here from time to time, if you'd like to read them. They’re from the so-called Midlands Series—a phrase which has come to mean (in my mind, at least) that place between dreams and awake, life and death. Reality and fantasy. The oldest, “From the Midlands,” was written a few years ago, at a time when Hawke’s alter ego (me, in other words) wasn’t in what I’d call a good place; I was, in fact, stagnate as a writer and, more importantly, ready for a change. I dreamt up the idea, actually, during a casual, late-night chat with a few other writers, and reading it over now makes me feel a little nostalgic for those times. The most recent, “Punch Drunk,” has yet to be finished, sitting on my desktop in bits and pieces.
A friend of mine asked me before I began the series why and how I would introduce such a radical new change. My works, she pointed out, were fairly successful, while the Midlands idea was like starting from scratch. While she spoke, a rough little “how” fantasy rustled up...
You find yourself on a train station’s platform. It is late. Very foggy. And you are nervous. Anxious. Wondering if you are in the right place... or even should be here at all.
As you stand there you begin to second-guess yourself. Reconsider. After all, previous rides from similar platforms have left you wondering. Puzzled. Perhaps even a tad bothered.
Maybe I’ll take a pass, you think, lifting your suitcase from the slatted wooden floor. After all, there is still time to get out of here before—
But you will not finish that thought. For at that moment a glow in the swirling mist catches your eye, and with it, you know the train’s conductor is already coming toward you holding a lantern out before him.
As he breaks though the fog so dense it seems a living shroud, you note that he is a wizened man—very old and heavily wrinkled. But more than that, he is silent—oddly cat-like, given his age. You tell yourself that it must be the fog dampening his steps; that his shoes really are making noise. But even as you do, your heart races and you find that you are worrying your bottom lip tensely. He draws nearer, nearer... and as he does, you see the gleam in his eye and the grin on his gnomish face and can’t help but grin back at him.
Presently he stops a good dozen feet before you, tips his hat and then with a wide smile and a grand sweep of his hand toward the new train’s shiny side, calls out, saying, “Welcome! Welcome! Looks like you’re ready and raring to go. Well, I won’t keep you. Our first stop will be “The Midlands”: a cozy little hideaway deep in the heart of imagination—a place... between.
"Care to board?”
She asked me if I’d thought it all through. The markets, she pointed out, were geared toward novels, while short stories are lucky to get a first read. After I countered that many might like the option of a story they can read from start to finish during a lunch hour, plane ride, or their children’s nap time, she conceded that it might fly. I said not likely, but by then it didn’t really matter; I had already made up my mind to do it—needed to do it—whether it flew or not.
I should send that friend a link to this site with a little blurb. The blurb will say: I’m not going to say how successful The Midlands is or not, since it is yet to be proven either way, but I can tell you this: the series is flying—at least in my mind. PS: Thank you for encouraging me to give this a go.
I think she’d like that.
Except it’s not about success. I mean, success is wonderful; don’t get me wrong here (I'm not delusional yet). Whether it's a pat on the back or nice pay check, success (whether you define it as monetary, recognition, or both) is what every writer hopes to achieve. But at the end of the day, you have to feel good about what you're doing and where you're going. Your name is on it; it defines you as a writer; writing is wonderful, but it’s only a vehicle for your life.
All the same, you don’t write for success or the money, or you’ll fail. You do it because you need to do it. You do it because you have to do it. You do it because to not do it is inconceivable.
Take, for instance, “From The Midlands.” It’s not the best story I ever wrote (nor the worst); it will never win accolades. But it’s not too bad. Kind of fun, really. I had just finished chatting with the writers the minute before (the same ones I’d mentioned earlier on) and I was thinking about the idea and where I would go with it. Mostly I was excited and wanted to get started as soon as possible.
I have nights where I know I’m going to have a lousy sleep even before I try. It happens to a lot of us, I imagine. I fall asleep just fine, but it’s not long before I’m wide awake and staring up at the ceiling with ideas playing a nasty game of bumper cars with my mind, mostly at the speed of light. By the time I had logged off for the night, I was a mix of emotions—trepidation, determination, giddy excitement. Mostly I was dog-tired, which is not something you want to be when you’re about to journey into uncharted territory.
Deciding to put it away for the night and start fresh in the morning, I went to bed and slept from eleven until around three in the morning. I woke up knowing that I would not get back to sleep. So there I lay, mulling it all over, and I got to thinking about the radical change, and the idea of a place called the Midlands. And I thought, “What would happen if a guy woke up one day, and then, when he tried to move, he couldn’t?” That’s kind of the way most of my ideas begin; “What would happen if—?”
Anyway, I stared piecing out the story, not really making up the words so much as trying to get a grip on the idea. I was remembering a true family story from the bygone era about an great great aunt who had been slightly (and mysteriously) ill and couldn’t move, and the doctor, and the family, and everyone thought she had died. Then I thought how it must have felt to be alive and unable to tell anyone.
Then I thought, “What would it be like to attend your own funeral?” And then I got up and began writing it, and you’ll notice it didn’t turn out exactly as I had envisioned. Then again, they usually don’t.
So getting back to writing. You don’t do it for the money or the recognition; you do it because you have to do it. Anything that comes from it is just icing.
Anyway, I hope you like the short stories I'll put up here, Dear Reader. I doubt you’ll like them as well as you would a novel (if you like them at all that is), mainly because they are indeed short. A novel is sort of like being in a relationship. You can take your time. Learn all the intricate little details and inner workings. I can remember a particularly boring period of my life during a particularly boring teenage summer, and having nothing at all to do because of my friends being on vacation coupled with my dad postponing ours out of the blue (Dad was very much a spur of the moment type of man). I purchased Hellfire, by John Saul, and for a space of about a week (I read it more than once) I wasn’t even having a relationship with that novel; I was utterly engrossed by it (my favourite part was when Beth actually became Amy for a little while, saw what Amy saw, felt what she felt—an eleven-year-old, paid-by-the-piece leather cutter in a mill in 1886, and how Amy would purposely shut herself down, letting herself be hypnotized by the dull routine of the work to get through the hours one at a time... and the fire). Needless to say, I spent the rest of that summer devouring anything and everything John Saul.
A short story is a different animal altogether—it’s more like flirting with a stranger at a red light. Not nearly a relationship, but flirting can be sweet, and it can provide a welcome distraction from the mundane.
Well, that’s about it from me I suppose. Thank you, Dear Reader, as always—because without you, it's a one-way street. If any of the stories I’ll put up provide a little entertainment or get you through a boring plane ride, lunch hour, or your children’s nap time, that's success.