On crafting a story

Over the past few months I’ve been thinking about how I have crafted stories, both the ones that are complete and the ones I’ve been working on. The novel I’m working on was a combination of two things. I began writing it in December of 2014 after the protagonist (name and all) popped into my head. The other thing was a few pages of a story beginning I had written in I think it was 2008. I don’t know what happened to those pages and it still kinda haunts me. The story itself was really just a scene or part of a scene I could never figure out what to do with it. I tried different things and nothing worked.
It is odd how things work themselves out eventually.
The other project I’ve been working on this year is a short story that I started last year, one that I have since abandoned which is partly the reason for this post. It was quite a journey with that short because when I wrote it initially I thought it was very comedic then I read it months later and was stunned to discover the opposite. It’s just weird. And I love the ending. I think a lot of that story has to do with current events and I tried to present something positive. I think on that front it succeeds, on a certain level. But ultimately I decided the story didn’t work because I found upon a few read-throughs that I did not care about the protagonist at all. Even after I tried to give to flesh him out more. I cared even less.
But there was an idea I had about the story that would involve tearing the whole thing apart and rebuild it from essentially nothing and I decided I didn’t want to do that. I didn’t believe in it. I still don’t. I found that what I liked was the ending. That was a lot of what the story always was for me. There are two images that I dreamed up that I loved and I haphazardly put a “story” around it.
That approach has worked for me before but after some thought I have decided I can’t do that anymore. I need to be more intentional. I don’t really want to be someone who creates only popcorn fun entertainment.
I’ve been listening to Brian McDonald’s INK SPOTS which is a collection of blog posts on writing, his other book INVISIBLE INK is probably my favorite book on the craft of writing that I’ve come across. There’s a part in INK SPOTS where he talks about a writing student who was having trouble with an ending for her short story and he asked her:
“What is a story?”
She thought it was a trick question but he wasn’t playing at anything. He just wanted her answer. He believes that every writer should have their own definition of what a story is or rather a definition that fits their writing.
It really helped me and I’ve thought about it a lot. I keep coming back to the word intentional. As I’m making my way through the third draft of my novel I’ve kept that word in my mind. There are things I want from the story and their are things the story wants. It’s fascinating how a certain idea has come out of it that I didn’t see until recently but it has been there since the first draft. I just couldn’t see it and that’s why the previous iterations have had disappointing endings because there was something there but not fully there. I don’t know if that makes sense to anyone but me…
One thing I have learned so far this year is about slowing down. I didn’t have a plan for the novel when I wrote the first draft of my novel and I’ve rebuilt it so many times, it’s been exhausting but also very informative. But going forward, I have other novels to write and I’ve actually been working on those ideas in the background over the past few months. I’m developing these ideas rather than just diving into things headfirst. I’m not sure what I’m going to write first but there are two novels vying for my attention once this one is complete-ish. One is the obvious sequel and the other is something new and exciting. I’ve been careful about crafting and preparing it. I’ve been building the characters and not thinking about the plot much. I have the broad strokes because the character stuff informs that. It all has to work together to form a unified thing. I should be saying I’m building a novel rather than writing one because it’s more like building than just writing.
I don’t want to craft stories based on one or two cool images. I can’t stop my brain from having those cool things pop in and out but those aren’t stories. An arrow isn’t an arrow without a point.

A preview of my most recent published short story

Below is the first two thousand or so words of A Vast Eulogy, a short story about how a young woman while attempting to discover who she wants to be stumbles into another world…

One.

“Renee, you need to come home.” The phone line can mask many things but not the almost hysterical sobs that coat every word.
“We’ve talked about this, mom.” Renee sighs. “Look, okay I know it’s not easy to make friends but your daughter can’t be your only friend. I need room to breathe and figure out who I am. And you know I don’t mean any disrespect, it’s just I can’t. I’m not capable of mimicking your life and I don’t want to.”
“So you’re working in the middle of the night behind a glass window that they claim is bulletproof but we both know they are too cheap to have actual bulletproof glass. What happens when you get robbed and… he has a gun…?” Her mother drops the phone. She can hear her mother sobbing, her head resting on the wall that creates the corner of the modest kitchen. The cracked vinyl floor hangs in Renee’s mind like an echo. The texture of it and the memories of baking cookies and sneaking her vegetables to the family dog, Knob. When her mother brought the puppy home, Renee made a series of sounds and the only one that resembled a word was Knob. She was three at the time. Knob proved to be better than her father but still he couldn’t stay.
They say after high school it’s all downhill and Renee found that to be true, very quickly. Four months after graduating, Knob passed away unexpectedly in his sleep. It was a night that was especially hard for her. The longing for her father was strong and Knob protected her from the nightmares. She knows he took them on and fought for her and didn’t make it. She has a tattoo of his paw print on her hip. Knob is always by her side.
After a few moments, she hears her mother pick the phone up. “You’re doing what you promised you wouldn’t do. You know that, don’t you?”
“No. That’s not what this is and you know it, mom. We’ve talked about this. I’m not dad. I told you I was leaving and why and it’s only temporary. I promise it is. I just have to find my own path.” She can feel the anger rising in her. She wants to scream at her mother, again.
Her mother interrupts. “And you think you’re going to find it at that little shit shop?”
“Mom please.” She’s trying to keep her voice level. She knows that her mother is just worried and isn’t really angry. There’s no reason to snap at her. “Mom, look it’s late and we both know you need your rest. You’ll feel better in the morning. You can call me when you wake up. It’ll be like I’m home. We’ll sit and have coffee and chat a little.”
“Could we do that video thingy?” Her mother’s voice perks up like a child asking for entrance into the cookie jar.
“Yes of course mom. I really have to go. The fog really rolled in, I gotta take it slow on the way to work.”
“Okay honey, you be safe. I’ll see you in the morning.”
“See you later, mom. I love you.”
Her mother returns the sentiment and they click the end call button at the same time. She slides her phone into the front pocket of her hoodie, adjusting it to make sure that it won’t slip out. Then she takes her blue and white rectangle name tag and pins it above her left breast. Again taking the time to make sure it’s straight and level. She’ll have a total of ten, maybe fifteen interactions with people during her six hour shift but it’s the principal of the whole thing.
In the bathroom, she brushes her teeth quickly but efficiently. She swears she did it when she got up but the mention of her father left a bad taste in her mouth and she couldn’t recall exactly if she had brushed or not. The last of the minty fresh toothpaste is exiled from her mouth and she taps her worn out brush on the edge of the sink. Looking in the mirror, she adjusts her tight bun ensuring none of her pesky brown hair has tried to escape.
“Mom really has nothing to worry about. I’m a capable woman.” She’s thinking of the other night when a young skater punk pointed to the Skateboarding Prohibited sign and began to grind along the curb outside her booth. When she came out the rear door and he saw her standing there, all five feet and ten inches of her, he hauled ass out of there. Just another case of “look at the little lady all safe behind the glass.”
She wouldn’t say she’s a big or imposing girl. She’s an athletic twenty-five. Athletic. That’s the word her boss, Randy, always says. He’s nice and means well but his mouth doesn’t exactly have a filter. He hasn’t been rude, only that he says things that most probably wouldn’t. It makes her uncomfortable to have to describe people in detail but Randy, oh no problem at all. He’ll give anyone any detail they want and some they don’t. There was an instance a few weeks ago where a young college girl hadn’t paid for the gas she pumped. And Randy described her down to how her pants fit. “Officer, you know what I’m saying when I say that she had these jeans on that fit squarely. Oh man, the pockets were *nicely* seated in the center of her plump cheeks.” Every adjective gets an exaggerated pronunciation. Thankfully the policeman didn’t favor that sort of talk but Renee believes it was mostly for her benefit.
She smiles in the mirror. Then snaps her head around and rushes through her one bedroom apartment, switching lights off as she goes before scooping up her keys and locking the door behind her. The outside air hits her hard. A push of dense humidity. She likes the first floor apartment, easy to get in and out of. Though working nights is troublesome since she has to sleep during the day when her upstairs neighbor is doing yoga and other exercises while her husband is out pretending to work the job he was fired from weeks ago. The lady, Candice, doesn’t seem to care about much besides her advanced internet yoga.
The fog lays over her familiar surroundings. It’s enough to disorient her but at the same time she’s reminded of early mornings as a child—Christmas and the like—when she’d jump in her parent’s bed and they would hide beneath the covers. She would have to grope around to find their heads and hands. She thinks the world is allowed to hide under a blanket whenever it wants, there’s plenty to hide from.
The engine of her early nineties Ford Ranger turns over easily. The gear shift sticks so she has to really jerk into drive before releasing the brake and coasting down the hill. She isn’t sure why or how she started doing it but she won’t press the gas until the very last second. Just before the rising of the hill. Maybe it’s the freeing feeling she is struck by or maybe it’s a subconscious thing. She can almost hear her father saying, “Coast whenever possible—saves gas. It does.” She slams her hand down on steering wheel, cursing aloud. Again, punishing herself for thinking of him.
The street rises and turns toward the left before forking outward, there’s a light that guards the juncture. Another car approaches from the opposing direction but she manages through the light just as it turns from green to yellow. Now, the road is fixed on another hill that rises deeper into the foggy summer night. A few more twists and bends and she is entranced by the routine of the drive to work.
She takes her eyes off the road for a split second to hit the radio, it has cut out. Ahead of her a solitary street lamp glows into the night and through the fog illuminating a change in the scenery. A change to the road. It quivers and rises as her truck passes under the lamp. The road has blended with an otherworldly entity. And the lamp reveals the entrance into that entity, it forms a tunnel. She doesn’t notice the change because she is preoccupied. Even if she was paying attention she wouldn’t believe her eyes.
The road has become a tongue and the street light is the uvula of an entity that doesn’t call this world home. It is an intruder and Renee has returned the favor, unaware.

 

Two.

A bright light shines through the windshield, washing Renee’s face and waking her mind from a slumber she doesn’t recall entering. Yawn and stretch. “Oh fuck! I missed work.” She shuffles around for her phone but it’s gone. It’s not in her pocket. Quickly she unbuckles her seatbelt and leaps out of the truck, searching under the seat and around the truck.
The ground feels softer than it should. She looks toward her feet and almost falls backward. “Sand. What the—”
The truck is neatly nestled in a small sand dune. One of many that she can see. The view is brilliant. The urge to panic is knocked away by bewilderment. Sand rises and falls and glides and glitters under a somber blue sky with a falling sun. The light is quietly bright, the kind that speaks of evening to her mind. Morning sunlight is often too loud and inviting. This light, early evening light, is more of a soothing light that lets you go about your business. The morning sun is one that makes demands. Often, the demands are awful.
*How can anyone say life is awful when there are views like this?* She shuts her eyes gently and inhales deeply. Letting the calm take hold of her. There’s no use for panic.
She scans the land, looking for some landmark, a place to go. The question of how she arrived here doesn’t cross her mind, it might later but now she’s too enchanted by the view to care about what has happened. She’s locked in on what’s about to happen.
Quickly, she kicks her sneakers off and tosses them in the bed of the truck. The sand is delightful between her toes. It’s warm and fine, not coarse. After a few steps toward the horizon, away from the truck, she reconsiders leaving her sneakers and turns back to scoop them up. Her pointer finger rests in the left and her middle finger holds the right. She tells herself, okay and suddenly a loud crash seems to float through the air toward her. She wonders if it’s possible for someone to throw sound because that’s what it is like. Seconds later, another crash. It’s not thunder, she knows that much. It’s something… else.
The truck begins to shake and the ground rumbles with it. The sand dunes are shifting around her. Renee tumbles backward and gasps as her truck is swallowed by the sand.
The sun sets. Renee looks toward the light source and sees it’s not setting, it’s being hidden. A mountain is forming between her and the sun. The desert goes dark. The mountain is enormous and she knows it’s impossible to climb. She has no desire to try but she’s not quite sure how she knows or why she feels this way. It’s just something that is not meant to be conquered. It’s not sinister, though it is the source of the crashing pulses. She isn’t sure how she knows that either.
She wonders if it is trying to speak to her.
The outline of the mountain is beautifully illuminated by the falling sun. She turns around quickly realizing what it is trying to convey—within the clutch of darkness is where she should be focusing. Darkness hides a lot. The light isn’t an answer to her query but a distraction.
She looks away from the mountain, squints her eyes and finally is able to see. There is enough light beaming around the mountain to show her that the desert does have an ending. The horizon is shaded like the space between the two pages of an open book. The spine holds it all together. The horizon isn’t where the sky ends and the land begins. It’s where two ideas fold into each other.
She sees and is walking toward the truth.
*Land is below your feet and sky is above.* She thinks of this while stepping across the horizon. She has one foot on the sand and one on the sky but the blue sky isn’t really what she thought it was.
The sky is an ocean and the sun has fallen behind the solid ground. It shines through the cracks and the crevices. Gravity follows her like a stray dog. She looks back, gazing on the flaws of the solid ground, remembering fondly nights spent staring up at the stars.
“I’m never going to look at the sky the same,” she says with a smile, wiggling her toes in the shallow water.

 

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he chooses flight

Blood.  So much blood.  It’s on the television, in all its violent glory.  Terror is overused, the word not the act.  Though, he would agree on either side of the argument.  If anyone wants to argue.  Chances are most would agree.

“The whole world is doomed.”  has replaced stagnant comments about the weather as the preferred sentences to follow your preferred opening pleasantries.

His rose colored glasses burned in the fires of adolescent ambition, now he only sees hapless faces in a hapless world.

“Sadness stands.  Happiness soars.”  He thinks to himself as the gray sky tortures the earth.  “The wings of spring are nearing.”

Birds.  The landscape is covered in birds.  They call through the air that they soar through.  It belongs to them.  Like anything else that can be owned, it can be stolen.

The glint of sunlight off of his freshly sharpened hunting knife catches the eye of a child.  The plan wasn’t to start here.  No, not now.  Tomorrow at the earliest but the unexpected landing of a red-tailed hawk within arm’s reach cannot be ignored.

The knife eases itself into his hand, then slips into the feathered flesh of the creature.  And fifteen feet away, it carves into a young child’s mind.  A scream pierces the air.  The thing with young children is all their screams sound the same.  He will think of this later but for now he’s dancing in the blood of the hawk.  Or rather, the blood is dancing on him.  The hawk died with its talons in the man’s flesh but he’s too euphoric to care about the pain.

The wings of the creature fall, while loose feathers float through the quiet breeze.  The air has been cut, the hawk has been cut, the man has been cut, and the child’s screaming has been cut short by parental comfort.

The child’s mark on the air has been silenced and now overpowered by a police siren.

The body of the hawk falls to the ground.

The child looks on in horror.

The man leaps over the back of the bench.  The hawk’s wings still in hand.  The tips of their light bones have been exposed, ready to begin their new life.  He cuts the air with a yelp in pain as his knife pierces his flesh just below each of his shoulder blades.

Throughout the park, a colorful choir of screams erupt and tear through the air.  He knows he’s the conductor of this symphony as he injects his wings into the bleeding holes he’s made.

He hears what sounds like heavy boots pounding the sidewalk behind him, closing in fast.  He turns to look and a sudden piercing feeling hits him square in the back.  A bolt of lightning is no friend to any bird.

“Stay down!”  His pursuer shouts, releasing the trigger of the taser.

He feels the feathers of his wings as the police officer cuffs his hands.  The metal is tight and terrible.  He looks back to the bench…

I am the same as everything I hate in this world.  I stole and stamped out something I could never ever use.  Can grounded ambition ever be put to proper use?

Deserve

A shovel lays on my shoulder and with it, I believe I can find relief.  I am walking beneath the clear night sky, alone.  I’m always alone.  Why am I talking to myself again?  She says I should make note of how I feel when it happens.  My therapist.  I’m not sure why I feel like I have to explain the pronoun since there’s no one here but me.  But there it is.  And I feel like I’m being followed.  Who the hell follows someone into a cemetery?

Yes I suppose that is what friends are for.  But she says my uneasy grip on reality prevents me from making proper friends.  Maybe I’m broken beyond repair.  She does look at me like that sometimes.  I have some kind of personality disorder.  I can’t remember the words she used to describe or rather brand me.  But if my personality is incorrect wouldn’t it feel wrong?  She claims I create these separate personalities and she thinks it’s from talking to myself.  But why would I create invisible friends that always abandon me?  Creation can’t happen without some level of control, right?  Maybe I can control it and I just don’t try hard enough.

I know you’re back there behind those bushes.  Come out whenever you’d like.  The way I talk to myself is not meant to frighten you.  My therapist says I should make more of an effort to control it but I’m being myself.  Is that so wrong?  I can’t see you but I feel as if I know you from somewhere.  I understand that you might not feel comfortable talking to the weird guy walking through this place in the middle of the night. But I swear, I know you.  It’s like how a word or a phrase dances and mocks you from the tip of your tongue.  It’s that soft, almost sweet kind of frustration.  Yes it is a rather addictive sensation.  I would introduce myself but it seems like a strange time and place for hollow introductions.  I mean you’re hiding in the bushes and I’m standing over you with a shovel.  I swear it’s not for anything like that.  You probably don’t feel like telling me about the reasons behind your visit here but how about I tell you about the shovel?  I think we both could use a friend tonight and I don’t mind sharing what I’m doing in this graveyard at this time of night.  Well, morning but most consider this time to be night because they are sound asleep, trapped in whatever nightmare happened upon them.  You know, I wish I hadn’t used that word because it is such a nasty word to describe memories.  I mean that is what this is, a place to sit and revisit fond memories of lost loved ones.  Graveyard is an unfortunate word that doesn’t do any of this justice.

Damn man I’m sorry I keep getting off target; it’s just you are so easy to talk to and you don’t say much so I feel like you’re enjoying what I am saying.  To put it as simply as I know how to, I am here tonight to set a ghost free.

You’re a man attracted to mystery.  I am too.  I’d like it very much if you’d walk with me to my destination.  Now that you’ve stepped out from behind the bushes I want to hear your voice.  The question is can you be a friend to someone who is incredibly insatiable in most areas?  I don’t expect you to answer that.  Honestly, I’m trying to bait you.

Okay okay, back to the thing about the ghost; it isn’t exactly a ghost.  I can’t believe in that sort of thing without seeing it first hand and I haven’t so I don’t.  My favorite author passed away a couple of months back and before long, rumors began about the fate of his unpublished manuscript.  The one he had been talking about for years, his so-called best work was rumored to never see the light of day.  Once the rumor got stronger, his agent explained the whole situation.  He wanted to be buried with it and I don’t understand why.  Wouldn’t it be more effective to be cremated?  Did he really believe no one would ever… do what I’m about to do?  And yes I can admit it has been tough so far.  I admire and respect this man a hell of a lot and tonight is fueled by a selfish urge that will carry me to the most disrespectful act I have ever committed.

It’s not like I don’t understand, I suppose she is right.  My therapist.  She says I am a peculiar kind of crazy and I’m not sure if I should take that as a compliment or an insult.  I think I baffle her which is fine; she can fall in line with all of the rest.

Let’s find a new hand hold here in this conversation, my friend.  How do you feel about talking about the weather?  Yeah I know it’s bland and entirely too typical but I think it will clear my mind.  I mean I can’t clear the clouds that have rolled in and covered up the sparkling stars but I can reset and redirect the tone of this conversation.  You know, I don’t ever remember walking this slow in my life.  It is strange walking by these stones and seeing so many different names.  How many of these people lay here, forgotten?  Everyone should be remembered for something but it’s sad knowing that not everyone can be remembered forever.  I find myself reading their names and nodding but it’s not like they can see me.  I know what it is to be standing within reach but completely overlooked.  I think you know what I’m talking about Aaron.  Yes there it is!  Your name is Aaron and I feel you here with me like the night air on my skin.  I think it’s going to rain soon, that’s the sound I hear in the breeze as it moves against me.  The weather is completely against me tonight and maybe I should take that as a sign.  Maybe acknowledging all these possibilities will align things in my favor.  Tell me Aaron, can you see the need in my eyes?  The brain in my head and the heart in my chest will not agree tonight and I don’t blame them at all.  I want your senses to see and agree with me.  I don’t want you to leave abruptly like others like you have done before.  I don’t want to get to my goal without a partner.  I would say “in crime” but I don’t see this as a crime.  I know it is but it doesn’t feel wrong.  I believe that when knowledge and emotion come face to face in a struggle for control that it is a sign that cements the truth within the actions.  I mean life isn’t a one way street, there’s no limits on direction.  Traffic travels quickly on either side of the road.  Does this seem like I’m trying to tell you that you’re playing in traffic?  I hope not because I don’t want you to run to the sidelines.  Please don’t go.  I’m sure you will though because everyone does.  I mean she did.

Yeah I know, there’s always a girl.  But it’s not a typical kind of situation; I thought I was gay before she came running into my life.  Literally, she came running and left just as fast.  You know that park on the other side of town?  Yes the one with those awful wooden benches.  I love the view there.  I used to sit there every single day — rain or shine — and sit silently as the world passes me by.

She came running into my life on an afternoon right after terrible storm.  Which was why I went out to the park that day.  I knew it was going to be quiet because of the rain.  The sun came out as I was walking to the park.  I remember the wet bench which added to the uncomfortable nature of it.  But that park had proved to be a sanctuary, a place where I wouldn’t be hurt.  I remember trying to relax with my head tilted back and how hearing her fast footsteps forced my eyes back to open.  I remember watching her closely.

She jogged a few laps around the park and every time she went by the bench I was perched on, she flashed her nervous little smile.  She doesn’t like showing her teeth which caught my eye because I am guilty of the same.  As she came around again I knew I had to say something; it was a confusing sort of interest because at that point I really did want a guy in my life but there was something about her that I’d never come across in a girl before.  She came around again and I worked up the will to say Hi as she went by.  She smiled again but didn’t say anything then something strange happened.  My legs began to move.  I still don’t understand it because I despise running but on that day I ran after her.  Which of course frightened her, honestly I would have been scared of me too.  I began speaking, which is really difficult when you’re not in shape and trying to keep up with a beautifully fit woman so in place of sentences were fragments of coherent thoughts strung together with panting much like an old tired dog.  It took an entire lap around the park to get my point across.  I knew there was something when she said “One more lap okay?” as we approached the bench.  You better believe that I plopped down hard on that dreadful thing.  I mean watching her run was much more enjoyable.  She wore her hair in this playful ponytail, I’d never been as focused on hair as I was that day.  The way it moved along with her graceful rhythm was captivating and a strange sort of unsettling, though I wouldn’t pay attention to the latter until much later.

Aaron, my dear friend, this does pertain to the current goal and I’m trying to keep it short.  There is a reason that sunset rhymes with regret and for me that reason is her.  Carly.  That day we sat on the awful bench and talked long past the last rays of sunlight fell out of view.  Afternoon turned into night before my eyes, time moved quickly that day.  It was more like a water slide than an hourglass.  I told her about all the things that brought me to that bench, to her and she did the same.  There was an instant spark, the kind of spark that starts a fast fire and burns and keeps burning until nothing is left.  Before either of us realized, we were moving in together and it was great.  It was really great but only while we were awake, because when we closed our eyes and slept it all took on a new shape.

After a week of living with her, I was terrified of sleeping.  The things I saw in my dreams — the things I saw her do — were burned into my brain and I was frozen in place.  I knew there was a reason I was gay, that I wanted to be gay.  I learned as a young boy that women were not to be trusted.  In my experience, they aren’t even worthy of my thoughts or feelings, let alone my eyes or touch.  Then Carly came along and the way she was matched the Earth’s rotation; sweet in the sunshine and in the night she became a vicious creature who loved the warmth of blood.  I had never put applied much weight to what I saw in my dreams but this was impossible to ignore.  She treated people horribly in my dreams and I couldn’t get it out of my head so I tried to avoid sleeping.  I hated seeing her that way but the problem is sleep deprivation leads to rage and the things I was seeing in my dreams resulted in rage as well.  So whichever way I went, my eyes ran red with rage.  I thought about going to see a therapist around this time but my fear got the better of me.  I tried to bring it up to Carly but she was always so sweet that I couldn’t chance ruining her mood.  I felt backed into a corner and then the news of Avery Gunn broke.  I drank myself to sleep and the dreams I had will never be cleansed from my memory.

I remember the soft light humming along with the cool night breeze and the way it beckoned me.  I walked to the street light and it went dark as I approached, the sound of broken glass above my head and beneath my feet.  Further down the road another street light awakens and calls out to me.  I ran toward it, despite my disdain and my fear of what could be just out of sight.  The street played this game with me for what seemed like hours but my feet never tired.  Neither did my fears.  I stopped when I smelled it.  His blood.  Avery Gunn was laid out beneath another newly illuminated street light, his arms at his sides like resting wings.  His wrists exposed and bleeding.  How did this happen?  Then she stepped out from the shadows, with her pointer finger over her lips and the bloodied knife in her right hand.  My lover killed my hero.  She didn’t have to motion me to remain quiet, there was nothing I could have said.  The only words came from Avery, “Look to Law for help.”

My first thought was Carly’s law books.  The ones that were scattered around our place.  She had been going to law school before we met and she never really explained what made her give it up.  But that wasn’t what Avery was talking about.  I discovered what he meant soon after Carly left.

I don’t want to relive those feelings so let’s leave it by just saying I was in a dark place.  Law introduced himself as Lawrence, then later said I could call him Law.  He was a strong personality and really saved me from myself.  I’m trying to remember what his voice sounds like but I can’t seem to find it in my head.  I wonder what your voice sounds like.  It’s like you are suspended, just out of reach.  Which is the way I was with Carly and the way I feel towards Avery.  It’s strange… Aaron look!  The light of the moon has changed, it’s like a flashlight pointed on that grave.  I think we are here.

What do I do now?  Aaron, I’m scared.  What is this dread that has washed over me?  If you’re going to help me learn something, now is the time.  I’m ready.  Tell me what to do.  Let me hear your voice Aaron.

“Goodbye Isaac.”

“No!  No Aaron I told you that you can’t.  I need your help.  What am I supposed to do?”  I let the shovel fall from my hand and the clang rings through the open air.  The sound seems to bounce off all the headstones that surround me.  I am alone again.  But how can I feel so alone here?  There’s hundreds, no thousands of people here in this place but the distance is too much.  I realize that I’m kneeling in front of Avery and I read his marker:

Avery S. Gunn March 9th 1951 – August 21st 2014

“There’s no real personality here and it’s a shame.  How can we be remembered as people if our memorials are so impersonal?  Avery, is it okay if I call you by your first name?  I feel like we know each other but maybe I should call you Mr. Gunn, out of respect.  Then again what I plan to do cancels out any respect I offer you in words.”  A deep breath of the cool night air relaxes me but the dread still lingers.  I feel as if I’m being watched.  “Avery are you watching me?  Or is it someone else?”

If Aaron was still here I would tell him that I’ve always felt like there was someone watching me everywhere I go — this feeling is nothing new.  Abandonment amplifies it.  I know my mind isn’t right but is anyone’s mind at 100%?  I look down at the shovel and back at Avery.

“Avery I wish I could tell you —face to face— just how much you’ve helped me over the years.  Your books always managed to find their way to me at the perfect times in my life, like when I was 16 and my mother told me how she truly felt about me.  She blamed me for my father leaving and told me how the pills weren’t cutting it anymore.  Your writing provided an escape, a new world, a better world.  My mother killed herself when I was 19 and your art was there again when I needed it.  You became the only person I could count on.  Here I am seven years later and I need you again.  I need that manuscript that you’re resting with.  I don’t mean any harm, I really don’t.”

I pick the shovel up and another sound echoes through my ears.  The shovel falls back to the ground.  “Who is out there?  Show yourself!”

A familiar voice whispers “Don’t.”

“I don’t know what you want or who you are but you can’t stop me.  YOU CAN’T.  Do you understand me?”  I can feel the dread returning as the wind picks up and the moon seems to dim.  I can’t see the shovel anymore.  I can’t see Avery anymore.

“You know and you don’t know.  We can show you.”

“THEN FUCKING SHOW ME.  No games.”  Before I can get the last syllable off of my tongue a dense fog rolls in with the wind.  It feels like the wind is spiraling around me.  I see four, no five shadows standing hidden within the fog.  Could it be?

“Do not dig into something you don’t understand.”  All five shadows speak at once like gang vocals on one of those hardcore punk songs my brother adores.  I still don’t understand the appeal but now’s not the time.

“Aaron?  Are you there?”

The shadows seem to close in around me and the one standing at 11 o’clock steps forward.  “Yes Isaac, it’s me.  Do you understand?”

“No I don’t fucking understand.  What the hell am I supposed to understand?  Five shadows.  Yvonne?”

She steps out from the fog.  The last in line, my 3 o’clock.  “Hi there Isaac.  Do you understand?”

“Lawrence?  I’m surprised that you’re keeping your composure for this charade.”

Law laughs as he takes his step forward beside Yvonne.  “Isaac my boy, this is no charade.  Do you understand?”

“What am I supposed to understand?  Are you all friends and you’ve been messing with me this whole time?  Chris and Ralph go ahead.  Let’s not play this anymore.  Tell me what you’re trying to show me.”  Chris is first in line, beside Aaron.  Why are they standing around me like this?

They begin chanting again.  “She never loved you Isaac.  She never loved you.  Do you understand?”

“No fucking way.  Why do your names spell out her name?  Tell me why right now.”

Aaron steps forward, he looks like he is trying to come closer and comfort me but Chris grabs his arm and shakes his head.  “We have to maintain this alignment Aaron.  Do not go to him.”

“Isaac, you’re not well.  I don’t want you to worry because you were right when you said that no one is 100%.  It’s okay to not be okay.  We have been there for you when you needed us and we are here now to show you what you couldn’t see on your own.  What would you have done if Law hadn’t come to you?  Think about it for a minute.”

“What are you doing Aaron?  We aren’t supposed to explain it all to him like this.”

“Lawrence you need to shut it.  We all care about him, after all we are…”  Before Aaron can finish Chris hits him back into the fog.

“Aaron stay back there, you’re done now.  Isaac look at me, we are here to stop you from doing this.  You won’t like what you find beneath the dirt.  We are the relief you are searching for.”

“Aaron, if you can hear me I want to thank you.  It was nice to finally hear your voice.  Chris, clearly you’re the leader of this, whatever this is and I don’t know that I ever liked you at all.  You’re like the part of me that scares me, the person I think I could be but I have too much respect for myself to be like you.  So shut the fuck up and bring Aaron back.  Actually all of you can go back to where you came from, I only want to talk to Aaron.”

“Maybe you’re smarter than we thought darling but we can’t go.  Not yet.  Once the sun rises you won’t be able to desecrate this grave because the caretaker will come as he always does.”  Yvonne is the kind of girl that looks good and sounds good but she’s completely evil beneath all of the pleasantness.  Your everyday common deceiver.

“You’re all idiots.  We are here to keep him from digging up what he doesn’t deserve to dig up but you’re all talking his ear off.”  Ralph finally spoke up, I was beginning to wonder and it’s almost like he is trying to wink at me.  I always liked Ralph, he was different from the others.  He was like the best friend I never had or perhaps more like a proper father figure.

I look down at the shovel as Chris and the others begin to argue about which approach with me is right.  I focus on the shovel to fight off the urge to laugh at this feud happening before me.  I wonder if they will be able to stop me from digging.  They say they can but how?  They never could touch me before so how could this be different?

I stand with the shovel and break ground.  The dread hasn’t left but I’m feeling more curious than anything.  What is it they don’t want me to find?  They still haven’t noticed what I’m doing.  The ground seems to shine and I look up to see that the moon has brightened again.  Is this a warning or a blessing?  Either way I have to keep digging.  If my sense of time is accurate then it must be after 4am and the sun should rise around 6 so I don’t have a lot of time.

“ISAAC WHAT ARE YOU DOING?”  A shovelful of dirt had landed close to Chris and now the four of them are focused on me again.

“Bring Aaron back and I’ll stop.  He’s the only one I will talk to and I don’t believe there’s anything you can do to stop me.”  Chris looks frustrated as he tries to find the right response.

“You know better than to tempt me boy.”

“Do your worst prick.”

I stop and stare at him, shovel at the ready but he just stares back at me.  I look across their faces and they nod before looking back at Chris.  Is it possible that I can touch them but they can’t touch me?  What is this?  Who are this people?  And most importantly, why me?  Fuck it, I swing the shovel and to my surprise and Chris’ he is sent backward into the fog.  I continue digging as the gang vocals return:

“Do you understand?  Isaac do you understand?”

“I don’t have time for this, okay?  I’m going to dig this hole and get what I came here for.  You can chant if you need to, I don’t care.”

“But Isaac what if there is no relief inside that box?  Have you thought about that?  Think back through your life, how many times have you been sure of something only to be reminded of your foolishness?”  Lawrence has a point.  The only thing that comes to mind is Carly.  Just like my mother, she abandoned me when I needed her and just like Carly these five faces abandoned me when I needed them.  Why have they returned now?  They said they are trying to show me something but I have no idea what.  If sunset rhymes with regret then what rhymes with sunrise?  Demise?

I’m snapped out of the thought by the sound of the shovel meeting Avery’s casket.  I look down at the casket and wonder: what if there is no manuscript?  The fog and the faces begin to fade.

“Isaac, what if there is no manuscript within the box?  What if this whole thing has been a fool’s errand?”

“How did you know I was thinking that?  Get back here and explain all of this to me!”  Another futile effort, they are gone and I’m alone in this hole that I dug.

“I suppose there’s only one thing I can do now.  Avery I hope this wasn’t all for nothing.  I won’t be able to handle it if it is.”

I toss the shovel out of the hole and pry the box open.  My eyes are closed.  I don’t want to see him in this state.  My hands graze his arms and find the paper held in his hands.

“An envelope?”  I pry it from his hands and climb out of the hole.  “Avery what is this?  YOU SAID THERE WAS A BOOK.  WHERE IS IT?”  My hands tremble as I break the seal and pull out the solitary page.

I write these words hoping someone out there has the tenacity required and if this finds a pair of eyes and an eager mind, THANK YOU.  You must be my biggest fan, my truest fan, and you deserve much better than this.  I am sorry for the deception of my death and the manuscript.

Since I am sure whoever is reading this is a fan and a special one, to say the least, I will be honest with you.  These are the only words I’ve written in more years than I know how to count.  That’s another lie.  I know the number but I’m ashamed of myself for lying in interviews.  All those things I said about ‘the manuscript’ were said with the hope I could inspire myself.  When all I did was inspire my own ending.

Now I do know that there is a chance that these words will devastate and perhaps change your opinion of me.  If you’re feeling that way I want to tell you that these words say one thing: You have more courage than I ever did.

I wish we could have met in better circumstances.  I’m honored to know that my writing touched you in such a profound way that would drive you to do what you have just done.  I realize that I have no right to ask anything of you now but I’m going to anyway.  This note, my suicide note, is not meant for the world.  It is meant for you, only you.  Burn it, frame it, do whatever pleases you just please don’t share it with the world.  I am, well I was, a weak man unworthy of the gifts bestowed upon me.  I didn’t even want the world to know I killed myself, I’m ashamed of myself and everything I couldn’t do.  I let myself down and I’m sure I’ve let you down too.

Dear reader, I wish I could have met you.  I can’t stop thinking of someone sitting on a pile of dirt, that they dug up, reading this note and I wish I could know what sort of person you are.  I can’t imagine myself digging up a grave.  You must be a driven individual.  Thank you for reading the words I’ve written over the years.  Whoever you are I want you to know that I envy your strength and perseverance.

Your friend,

Avery

P.S. I know that inspiration is all around us, every minute of every day and I hope you’re able to find it and grab it.  I lost that ability long ago.  Maybe it has transferred to you.

The moon has faded along with the dark of night and the first light of a new day is showing, it is reflecting off of the metal that connects the head of the shovel to the handle.  I stand up facing the light and I can’t hold back the quiet laughter.

“A key.  I understand now it was never a shovel, it was always a key.”

 

* * * * *

The caretaker turns the engine of his pickup truck off and rests his sunglasses on the dash.  The sun is resting behind the clouds, “It is a going to be another nice day.”  He mutters to himself as he grabs the book from the passenger side of the bench seat.  He adores his beaten and bruised 1989 F-150.  Many would assume he is depressed but he loves his job.  This stretch of land and all the people who are resting here depend on him.

The caretaker walks into the little building that is his office, well most people would assume it is but he doesn’t see it that way.  His office is this whole park and he loves being around all the history that rests here.  He tosses his lunch bag into the fridge and sets out with the book in hand to the resting place of his old friend Avery Gunn.

“Hmm, well it looks like you were right after all.  I hope whoever came here last night found something that helps them.  I don’t know what you were buried with though I do know it wasn’t a manuscript.  Don’t you worry Avery, I’ve never made a promise I couldn’t keep.”

After filling in the hole, he sits down in front of the head stone and opens the book.  “Now where did we leave off?  I wonder if it is weird being read your own work and yes I know I should start using a bookmark.  It is a smart thing to do but you know me.”  He laughs and for a moment it is just like old times with his friend.

The Birth of Axis

How could she be like that?
I did as she asked, I’m walking aimlessly
Replaying it all over and over
The street lights flicker, I expect the light to fade out
She was so great to me…
My Connie, she said she loved that
but I suppose nothing lasts forever

“It’s time to say, I’m sick of you.
I’ve had it, I’m tired of this indecision
No longer can I be your sky so blue
I have to cut you away with one incision.”

She was right, I feel like I’m bleeding
Without her I’m just like a starless sky
A city with no power, she was…
No she IS my light
I realize now that life is nothing more
Than an invisible line
All we have is a tightrope to tread
A fence line with forces on either side
Pulling and pushing, it’s all never-ending nonsense
I feel like a tree trapped in winter
I know I am alive but I’m cold
and there’s no real sign of life
CONNIE, my love I’d give it all
I just want to shine beneath your light

“No don’t you dare say a word.
I’m exhausted and unable to be your possession
Do you know you’re just absurd?
It’s overwhelming being your one obsession.”

I wish I could have asked her
All the reasons why
but I just have to accept that I’m wrong
Her light, her presence is all that’s right
The rest of the world is fucking wrong
I hate being just another face
Just another incorrect insignificant imbecile

“Who the hell wants to be your one thing?
I’m just done, fucking finished.  It’s over.
Turn around and find yourself a new song to sing.
Your love is like a drug and now I’m sober.”

Rounding another corner, stumbling through the memories
These quiet streets I wander are perfect partners
To the dark lifeless mental roads
and I wonder why those pills haven’t done a damn thing
I swallowed the whole lot, I expect to fall flat
On the punished pavement pounding at my feet
Or is it the other way around?
and why are these streets so silent?
For once I actually want to hear the city’s song
Perhaps I am dreaming a dangerous dream
Feels as if the city is focused elsewhere
It’s a big place, I wonder where everyone is
Perhaps there’s something happening on the other side?
and like that it’s almost like the city answers…
I hear a siren fade in and then out
Is it possible every siren has died?
A more prominent answer slowly develops
and overcomes my free will
I’ve never seen it in this light

“So just go, walk fast
Our lines no longer intersect
I’ll never say I had a blast
You are nothing but another regret”

Her deadly words, my darling
She led me here to this awing architecture
It’s nestled nicely within the darkness
The lonely street lamp falls a mere five paces ahead
If it’s a warning, it goes on ignored
Dead center now, the view from the ledge is so lovely
On a night like this will I even make a sound?
A grumpy voice calls out:
So what if you die?
You’re only a sugar high.
What? Is someone there?
Yes I’m the voice of the unfair
Reach out and catch more air
You’re out of breath, look to your left
I am the one ushering in your death.
I look to see a creature
What kind of insanity is this?
Wait, it’s one of the stoic statues
Okay fine, I’m a gargoyle
I’m here to either fulfill or foil
It’s really all up to you, stranger
So… you’re too frightened to face her?
Hey, I’m only doing what she asked!
No need to get snippy, just relax
I’m here to help one way or another
So which will it be tonight brother?
It’s rather simple, will you end with a leap
Or do you think your life is worthy to keep?

*Some Time Later*

It’s been hours and she hasn’t slept
Every time she shuts her eyes
His face flashes like an audience applause indicator
Except this flashing sign reads: Torment
There’s only one thing for her to do…

The silent streets whisper a haunting sound
Which offers her zero relief
As she closes in on his street
A flashing precursor fully awakens her
She’s no longer experiencing the drowsy decay
and as the lights and the accompanying racket
Pass by swiftly, her eyes snap back
Another light now fills her view
An uncontrollable gasp echoes out of her mouth
His residence… now only flames
and it’s well beyond saving, though the responders still try
She’s beside herself and forgets to control the car
The ambulance serves as a crashing reminder

Envisioning Eyes of A Soldier Part 2: Salutations

Another sleepless night, why do I even bother
To try to sleep? The ceiling haunts me
WHY ARE YOU LAUGHING AT ME?
I miss the sight of distant muzzle flashes
I need that night light
Home is where the heart is and I left…
I lost pieces of my heart in that distant land
Every bullet that missed my flesh stole a little of me
Stop, please stop calling me a hero
I am not, the red you see is not a cape
It’s the blood of my brothers
The rotten red hurt that stains my hands
and covers my eyes
They didn’t make it home, I didn’t come back the same
I am not the same
I will never be the same again
I don’t remember what it was like before

Should I be thankful?
I know what real friendship is
Those men, my brothers, were the only ones
Who ever truly had my back
Home is about safety, I don’t feel safe
They gave their lives
Their blood stained and dried upon my hands
Though my hands are clean now, I still see the red
All I can see is red
Did they die so I could make it back alive?
but I don’t want to live without them
They had families, they had rings on their fingers
and all I have is emptiness
My father says he is proud
but it doesn’t feel good
I’m sorry father but it just doesn’t feel right
I’m sorry mother I just don’t feel right
This barrel is cold against my burning skin
and it fits snugly against my temple
My finger slides in the guard and graces the trigger
Just one deep breath and then squeeze
Ready… inhale
Before I can exhale the phone rings
and I can’t ignore the sound

I can feel the tears that are flowing down her face
Like an ocean wave passing through sonically
My ears seem far away as they’re drowned by
The sound of a mother’s sorrow
Her only son, my last brother,
One of the strongest men I’ve ever known…
Oh my brothers, war brought us together
and war destroyed us all

Within the sound of the three-volley
I can’t hold back the tears
and I realize what you have done for me
Even though you’re gone, you still have my back
You’ve always had my back
It wasn’t the phone call that saved me
No it was you
and I wish I could explain it all to your mother
You didn’t take your own life because you’re weak
You’ve always been strong
Not many would be able to understand what it’s like
to feel betrayed by your own mind
Brother, you did the only thing you could
You saved my life again
My brothers I know you’re still looking out for me
and I see now that I am meant to live
There’s no blood on my hands
It’s not my fault that you died
It’s because of you, all of you, that I am alive
and the safety I was longing to have still exists
Your strength and courage and love keeps my heart beating
Brotherhood means everything
and nothing can take it away from me
Nothing and no one can take you away from me
The rifle salute concludes
and I see that honoring all of you doesn’t end
Every breath I take, every step I make can be used to honor you
My life is a tribute to you, my brothers
I am a tribute and I will stand tall

Envisioning Eyes of A Soldier Part 1: Homecoming

The fall of American architecture
Like an arrow shot into my heart
A resounding call beckoned me
Before I knew it, my boots met desert
The images of home kept me safe
I dreamed of seeing the fence
That little faded fence out front
The one my father and I painted every year
Except we didn’t this past year

His smile and the tears in his eyes as I left
I know he was proud and is proud
and that hand shake when I returned
“You look just like your father”
So many said that upon my return
Why couldn’t he tell me before…
If only someone told me the way this would feel

I dreamed and wished and longed to get home
and now I’m here and I don’t want to be
Everyone says hero like I deserve it
If only they knew…
I feel forced to be strong
but I feel so damaged, so wrong, so out of place
The world looks different
Like my eyes have been torn out
and replaced with someone elses
but it’s the brain that registers sights seen
So the truth is my mind has been twisted
All the spent cases, the clashing forces
Lives taken and the reasons seem lost
Were the motivations ever even there?

All the bullshit evaporates when she’s near
I never imagined she could be so strong
A lot can happen in a few months
What an understatement…
Her letters transported me across the planet
Even so far away she kept me safe
and now I’ve been back for 6 weeks
Her bags are packed, she’s walking out the door
She wasn’t strong enough
I pushed her away
With tears in her beautiful eyes she turns back
and I wish I could tell her not to go
I just can’t find the words
She deserves better
and I fear I’ll never get any better

Another doctor and another fistful of prescriptions
Why should I follow their directions
When I already feel numb to everything
I served because I felt had to
No one has to serve me pills
At least taking a bullet makes me feel human
I’m so exhausted from all this dangling
This life I lead beneath this fresh hurt is too tiring