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Category Archives: Fiction

The Stranger on the Train (unedited)

A short, short story that I’m working on for class. It’s all rambly, and I’m going to need to make some cuts, but I figured I’d share it before I make any changes. Enjoy.

The Stranger on the Train

I thought that I had seen your face among the flashing windows and parallel lines, lines headed in the same direction, lines that would never meet even when they had arrived – perhaps I have not seen you but merely a hopeful illusion cast by searching eyes. Even so, the traces of life that seem to crowd around me hint that you have been here. Black, not quite-circles checker the dimpled, caution yellow platform edge. I know they paint the platform that color to protect passengers from the train, but I can’t help the feeling that it’s to protect the passengers from themselves, a not-so-subtle reminder that stepping any further might be a bad idea. The black dots suggest that the reminder had been largely ignored.

These dots patterning the platform had once belonged to restless mouths, rows of teeth gnashing the fruity or minty or cinnamon life from thin strips of dry rubber, only to cast them away to become the problems of other men. These dots had all once had their own color, artificially dyed to resemble something that might taste like whatever it was they were supposed to taste like. But they had long endured the journeys of a million pairs of feet, a million characters forcing their stories on the hapless substance which had all but forgotten its own color. The dirt had collected; the blackness had become permanent; time had left a visible sign of its passing.

I walk next to a million people and yet our parallel lines will never cross. I can walk behind, in front, above, under, and even diagonal of them and yet our lines will never cross. Shoes can only be worn by one pair of feet at a time. I can know the feel of sole against sole, the lightness of one’s weight against the unyielding earth, but I can know all of these things without knowing the feeling of shoes on feet that are not my own. They say “step into my shoes,” but I know that to step into your shoes is to step out of mine, and in my becoming of you there is the unbecoming of me, all that is left, you, The Stranger.

I sit next to the walls that people build around themselves: a newspaper, held full-spread; a pair of headphones, played full-volume; a phone, tapped full-speed. I myself am wall-less, but I know that even without them, there is unbreakable glass separating all of us. Eyes are glass lenses, barriers that harvest the world of light to bring to the feast of experience. But the truth is that the food remains on the other side, and the fear is that we may never know its taste from within these glass walls. So we gather food from within and prepare feasts of our own, waiting, hoping that this meal will be shared. We are destined to eat alone – the newspapers and headphones and phones are signs of our resignation to this fact.

Aboard the train, ghosts had taken up residence in every corner that one could occupy. You had come and gone, leaving only vague clues of your sojourn. I want to reach out and feel the ethereal, the overlapping of existence, but the feeling can be nowhere but in the glass walls of mind. You pass into me as a memory of a life that I know only through its traces, the visible signs of your having been there. It is through these signs that your feet leave their prints on my mind, dents decorating the forgetful snow, fast disappearing in the sheets that continue to lay themselves over your passing.

The train plows through the thick morning air, molecules desperately clinging to the night’s repose before the sun comes to set them to work again. I am writing, my eyes fogged from having seen the full cycle of night, when you suddenly speak to me through a mouth sitting across the aisle. You ask about my writing. I ask about your life. We are exchanging the recipes of our lonely meals, the only way we can ever hope to share the taste of our existences. We hope others will enjoy its flavor.

The face you are wearing now had once been beautiful, but here too time had left signs of its passing, other lives had left their traces, and what was left was nothing but fatigue. Perhaps, if the hour were different, this face would have other things to show, but right now it is at its most naked. To an observing eye, the distance of strangers can sometimes reveal more truth than the closeness of lovers. Perhaps it always does.

In another time one would have had to pay close attention to see the signs of destination’s approach, but the world of the human is much smaller than it was yesterday – it takes a seemingly endless stream of electronic banners, automated announcements, conductor declarations, station signs, and perhaps even a personal phone alert system to precipitate people back into the larger world at hand. You look out the window and perhaps spot a familiar tree and begin to gather your things before the assault begins. You say it is your stop, but I already know: just as a tree can be a signal to something greater, so too can a certain grasp of hand, or a certain motion of legs. We exchange our goodbyes, knowing full well that we will never see the other’s face again. There is an easiness in the parting of strangers, no sorrow nor trepidation, just faring well. This face is gone without a second glance and you, The Stranger, are again faceless.

The sun rises in another place, its impending arrival in my own signaled by the gentle gradation of the distant sky’s color. Scraggly trees in their winter repose slide over the rainbow background, their quickness against the seeming fixture of sky suggestive of the relativity of time, of space, of every concept that a human could imagine. The deep blue is the death of night, the smoldering red is the birth of day, but they are both of them the children of light, different only in a certain motion of waves. Yet even in their similarity is the inevitability of identity’s solitude: blue cannot know what it is to be red, for in its becoming of red is the unbecoming of blue. Here, as in all things that are not ourselves, is The Stranger. Our lovers and mothers and sisters and brothers are as separate to us as any other. They are all of them The Stranger, and they vary only in their strangeness.

The Stranger is a reminder of the spiteful truth that it is but a wistful lie to believe that you are not alone.

 

“Stanley’s Gift” (rough)

So here’s the link to my first complete short story written for my creative writing class. It’s only a rough draft so there will be improvements somewhere down the pike. Enjoy.

Stanley’s Gift

 
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Posted by on October 14, 2012 in Class, Fiction, Writing

 

Writing Exercise 5

Write one to two paragraphs about something physical. It can be an action, a thing, a gesture – anything at all, as long as it’s physical.

Everyone was talking in the back of the restaurant, the rain falling as the employees huddled underneath the over hanging roof to smoke their cigarettes and complain about their work. I was the only one who was silent, my attention drawn to a little cigarette butt caught in the cracks of the pavement. Water filled the little crevice, the butt trying desperately to float up to the top, but continually pushed back down by a steady stream of drops trickling from the edge of the roof.

Drip. Drip. Drip. The poor cigarette butt tried in vain to remain afloat, getting only a gasp of air every half second. I considered stepping in, putting my foot in the way of the drops, allowing the cigarette butt an escape from its water torture. Drip. Drip. Drip. I let the butt drown. 

 

Writing Exercise 4: Whimsy

Random little thing I wrote for myself.

To me, a blank page is one of the scariest things in existence. On the emptiness of a sheet of fresh paper stretches the infinity of possibility, where all the beautiful and terrible aspects of human thought wait to be manifested, to reveal themselves to the mind of whomever dares read. I put pen to fresh paper and begin to make permanent a transient version of myself, like a snapshot, a recording of who I was and can never again be. But perhaps this is all too serious and meaningful to start with. Let’s begin anew.

I was smoking a cigarette in the back of the restaurant where I worked. The sun was fading on the little patch of parking lot that was all my own. There was a vague smell of trash in the air, an unfortunate result of the dumpster’s presence just a few yards from the little picnic table where the employees would come out for a smoke. There were a couple of short trees and small stretch of grass between the little lot and the fence that bordered the neighboring community of apartments, an example of nature’s imprisonment under man’s concrete fist. The lamentable trees in their sad patch of grass were alight with the glow of the setting sun, as in some brilliant display of defiance to their captors. It was just me, the rebellious trees, and a cigarette that seemed to be dying faster than I would have liked. It was all so lonely and serene – only the smell of trash, which seemed to be a permanent addition to the environment, was around to keep me company.

My head was off somewhere in the clouds, probably doing something important, while I silently brooded over a blank sheet of paper. My professor had said to just write, to just get it all down and not stop, and yet, pen already to paper, I felt at an utter loss. I looked up at the defiant trees, hoping that any minute that they would sprout to life and impart upon me a tale of magnificent character and meaning, and as they were trees largely without rights, I would steal that story and publish it on my own. Perhaps the trees, upon springing to life, would take advantage of my surprise, crushing me with a mighty blow from their sturdy branches. Maybe I could write about that: the trees, finally tired of their silent vigil would shake off the dirt from their roots and march against man, weaving a terrible, splintery devastation in their wake, their war against humanity finally ready to be waged. But that all sounded implausible and kind of lame – I scratched the idea from my mental notes.

A new character came fluttering into the scene. A lonely napkin, carried by a breeze too slight for me to feel, danced its way onto the lot, its enticing twirls and flares drawing the attention of the lot’s sole inhabitant. Edna. It’s name was now Edna. Edna the dancing napkin. Edna danced across the lot, too focused on her wild waltz to take notice of the me and my voyeurism. I wondered where she was going as she pranced on the pavement and disappeared around the corner with a dramatic flip, the wind playing just one last hard crescendo for her dance. I thought about Edna’s past, about her sad story, about her memories leaving the greasy McDonald’s bag, she and her parents settling into the glove compartment of a little towncar. While all the other napkins were excited about the prospect of being chosen by the Great Hand, Edna dreamed of leaving this wretched place. Edna wanted to make it big out there, somewhere, doing anything. She didn’t want to be used to clean ketchup off of a shirt, or worse, end up all soggy with spilled ginger ale. Her parents never understood her: they said she should be proud, that it was an honor to save people from the many messes that seemed to assault their lives on a daily basis. But Edna could never be satisfied with this, and for a long time she had the small towncar blues. One fateful day, finally resigning to her destiny as the Great Hand clutched at her and her fellow victims, a gigantic puddle of Coca Cola zooming ever closer, a gust of fate pulled her from the grasp of the hand, setting her free into the night air. She was finally free to dance, to make it big out there in the wild and unknown world. By the time she had passed me she was already a star, a radiantly white napkin without a stain on her, dancing madly to the whims of the wind.

I smiled at the happy ending to an otherwise harrowing story, and was glad that I was around to give that life to her. I put out my cigarette and wished Edna well, wherever she was. I stepped back into the restaurant, the clang of clamoring pots, the smell of fried rice, and the vulgarity and rough guffaws of the kitchen staff reminding me that reality can only be put on pause for but a moment – with or without you, the gears are ever-a-turning.

 
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Posted by on October 1, 2012 in Big and Little Books, Fiction, Writing

 

Writing Exercise 3

Describe a scene that is filled with a single color.

Orange called out to me because it wasn’t blue. Bleary eyed I turned the corner into the sun, the city awash in orange glow. I tried not to squint, to let the blaze of the shiny sidewalks and glass buildings fill me with their fire, but I was too cool-eyed to allow more than a sliver of warmth in. It was all surreal, like a painting or a movie, as if the cinematographer had told the director to up the saturation, or the painter had dreamed of pumpkins.

I stood cock-eyed smoking a cigarette. The wind howled, forcing the lit end of my cigarette into a wild but short lived fervor. I was all brown and blue and brown again, but I could feel a glow and knew that like the rest of the street, I was on fire.

 
 

Writing Exercise 2

David is outside and it is about to rain. Where does he take shelter? Who is there? What are they doing? Why was David outside?

David mentally kicked himself as he felt the first drop of rain fall on his nose – he knew he should’ve brought the umbrella when he left in the morning. Feeling the rain start to build, he ran to the nearest shelter in sight – a bus stop that was already crowded with fleeing people. He squeezed himself in between the commuters and the refugees, trying his best to hold back a sneeze as he apologized and pushed his way under the tiny roof. “Achoo!” It wasn’t him who had sneezed but him who had been sneezed on – he considered turning around to give the man a dirty look, but he supposed that he could understand the man’s predicament. David looked out onto the corner where he had been waiting and hoped that Sally would have an umbrella with her when she arrived – he didn’t particularly feel like getting sneezed on again. It began to pour, and somehow, despite his extreme discomfort at being lodged between a bunch of disgruntled people, he smiled and laughed. Sometimes it’s all you can do.

 
 

Writing Exercise 1

Daphne is at the supermarket. Why is she there? What does she see? 

Daphne wasn’t entirely sure why she was at the grocery – it was just a place to go. She had been growing weary of her windowless apartment, the absence of non-mouse life compelling her to flee to the outside world. Why she went to the grocery of all places remained a mystery to her, but a mystery she didn’t really care to dwell on – perhaps it was the big, ostentatiously red tomato on the window that called out to her.

Daphne casually strolled through the aisles, half-heartedly perusing the items on the shelves without any real intention of buying anything. She walked past the fruit section, holding back a snicker when she observed an old lady pressing a cantaloupe to her nose. The meat section was perhaps the most entertaining of all – no one really seemed entirely sure of what they were doing, poking and prodding their way to the perfect centerpiece of their dinner.