THE ANVIL

Transmissions from the alternate universe

What?

Here’s where I break character and put items that have nothing to do with news satire, such as writing exercises or flash fiction challenges suggested by other bloggers.

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February 2011 – My buddy Paula at Reflections from a Cloudy Mirror gave me this handsome badge in recognition of a little story (which was intended as an essay but didn’t turn out that way) I submitted to her blog. Thank you, Paula! The story appears below the badge, if anyone wants to read it.

Not very a-Muse-ing

No gods or angels. No artwork or lake view or private Italian garden. No leggy blonde who will never love me back.

No, I don’t have a muse.

So what is that thing that comes ‘round nightly to torment me? My first thought is to call it Beast, mostly because of its temperament. But that implies flesh and blood, so maybe it’s just Shape. Yet, due to a curious property I will describe below, its physical dimensions and boundaries are, at best, unsure.

I will call it The Cloud.

The Cloud has no respect, whatsoever (!), for my schedule, plans, need for sleep, or personal space. The personal space thing really bugs me. I value my privacy, a fact which The Cloud has chosen to ignore. It slips under my front door and through the vents, or it exploits the weaknesses in my energy-inefficient apartment windows. It rides currents along the ceiling and snakes around corners, stalking, always knowing just where I am.

Tonight, I’m lying under three blankets, the icy sheen of the bed sheets having finally given way to my body heat. I’m not getting up for anything. I’ll wet the bed before I give up this warmth. If the house burns, I’ll burn with it.

Then The Cloud masses on the other side of my bedroom door. I can feel it.

A resentful grimace overtakes my face. “Go away.”

Silence. Waiting.

“It’s midnight,” I say. “I have to get up for work in six hours.”

The presence, outside my door, unyielding.

With a pathetic growl, I throw back the covers. The slap of cold is worth it so I can tell this thing to get lost once and forever.  I put on my best scowl and yank the door open.

A helpless breath escapes my lips as I fall to my knees, forced down by the overwhelming power. Like always.

“I’m sorry,” I whisper in subjugation.

The Cloud swirls and billows in the hall but does not enter the room. I gaze into it, sensing but not seeing. Inside are thoughts and ideas, nebulous and fleeting, popping into existence then vanishing before they are fully formed. In spite of myself, I want to reach in and take them, and I am frustrated that I cannot. It’s just vapor.

“Look away.”

I obey, and here’s where we get to the curious property of The Cloud I mentioned before. When I avert my gaze to the side, I can see it with my peripheral vision. That is, the Beast or the Shape or whatever it is. And I begin to tremble.

Reaching nearly to the ceiling, with a barrel chest that must be eight feet around, it has an immense, horned head with red eyes and a massive gaping mouth. What seems at first to be hair is more like streaking rain, bristling lines that cascade down a fluid surface.

The corner of my eye will reveal no further detail, but it’s enough to open the portal to my imagination.

“Here.”

Thoughts flood my brain: Bits of dialog. An image of a graveyard. Or is it a guitar? He’s been in love with her for years but she…  or is she the one who…

My resentment boils up again. “Stop it!”

“Write.”

“I want to watch the hockey game tomorrow night.”

“Write, I said.”

“I did a blog entry,” I say, hopefully.

“Not enough. You must tell a story.”

“I wrote a report at work today on an assessment we did for-”

“Now you’re being stupid. You must tell a story.”

“Listen,” I say, turning to face The Cloud, hoping we can work out a deal. But it’s gone.

After a moment of staring into the empty, darkened hall, I haul myself up from my knees, tendons and ligaments protesting with pops and jabs, and sigh.

Downstairs, I turn on the laptop and make notes, to be deciphered tomorrow: Graveyard. Guitar. Man in love with woman, but for some reason, there’s a problem. Dialog: “You strike me as a cat person, not a dog person.”

I go back to bed, grumbling. I was really looking forward to watching that game.

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Summer 2010 -The result of a writing exercise suggested by the blog My Literary Quest (see my blogroll). The idea is to take the first complete  sentence from page 90 of a book, and start with that. Then take the same from page 40. Use that as the ending. Make up a story to connect them.

I used Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend

***

 

As casually as he could manage, he sat down on the edge of the porch.

It was a solid as the day it was built.

Nothing odd about that, except the thing had been a crumbling, ramshackle mess. And so the roof, with its missing shingles and countless leaks. The chimney had been cracked and ready to fall in on itself. All that had remained of the once-white paint were a few yellowing peels clinging to rotting wood.

Two days ago.

Now it was new. Glowing. Perfect.

The changes started a week earlier; the night Virginia was born. Robert didn’t want Cathy to give birth in the house, but the truck had been broken for a month. The doc was ten miles away, in town, but it might as well have been a thousand miles. And with no phone, they couldn’t call him to come out. Or pay him, in any case.

Robert hadn’t worked in a year and a half, mostly because of his bad shoulder and the fact there was no work. Cathy tended their small crop and the chickens until they found out she had a baby coming. She was sick everyday.

The house, already weary, got to where it should have been torn down. But that would have meant sleeping outside, or in the chicken coop. Then the mold started, and Robert did what he could to fight it, but with his shoulder…

Robert wanted Cathy to give birth to their daughter anywhere but here. He was ready to drag her in a cart, with his one good arm, a mile up the road to the Culpepper’s, when the storm came. In seconds, the wind was tearing loose shingles from the roof, and jagged blades of lightning jabbed at the Earth without relent. As Robert helped coax little Virginia out, he looked over his shoulder, through the window, at his sorry, feeble truck and the sagging chicken coop getting battered by hail. It was all he owned in the world, right there, and he understood little Ginny’s reluctance to enter this desolate place.

When she took her first breath, the storm stopped dead for ten seconds, then raged on.

At first they thought there was something wrong with her. She just slept, but it was troubled sleep. Like she was having a nightmare all the time. Breathing funny.

The second day, storm or no storm, Robert told himself he was going to fix the damn truck and take her to the doc. It was that mold. The mold wanted to kill his baby and he wasn’t going to let that happen.

The truck started on the first crank and the engine purred like it was new.

An hour later, Doc said nothing was wrong with the baby. Cathy cried but Robert wondered if the doc just wanted to get rid of them, since they couldn’t pay.

Thanks, he said to the doc, and scooped up Ginny.

Robert, Cathy said. Your arm.

He was carrying her with his bad arm. There was no pain.

Now, a week since the baby came, Robert understood. Sort of. He understood why the mold was gone and the truck worked and the house was new and the crops were growing. But he sure didn’t know how.

He stepped from the new porch, which he’d have fallen through a few days ago, and circled the house for yet another inspection. Into the unfettered sunlight. All the creaking noises made sense. It was being repaired. By her.

That first night, he’d thought she was having a nightmare in the middle of that crazy storm. Half the night he’d lain awake trying to single out the sound of Virginia’s labored breathing.

 

***

8 Responses to “What?”

  1. jeanie said

    you should write a book

  2. You obviously don’t know about my scholarly tome entitled, “Classics of Polynesian Horror Cinema: 1969-73” or my poetry collection, “Great Esperanto Limericks”

  3. Say! I didn’t realize that it was YOUR book of limericks next to mine on the shelf! My “Odes to the Everyday” is in good company!

    Seriously, though – I love this story. Next time you have a “slow” news day, please write some more. I’d love to see what happens as Ginny grows. She and her parents are delightfully intriguing characters – I want to know more – which is always the sign of a good read! Are you on WEbook? If not, then join. If you are, what is your pen name?

    Also, it interests me that the years covered in your book on Polynesian Horror Cinema directly correlate to my first years in college! Hmmm. . .I sense something brewing there.

    • You are perfectly welcome to write the next chapter of the story. If you remember, Jodi’s instruction was to select a random title from your bookshelf, write down the first line of page 91 and the first sentence of page 40 (or something close to that, and then compose a brief story that logically fits between.

      I’ll post it here if you do it.

      I’m not on WEbook. I should look into it.

      Unless you wish to discuss the South Pacific horror genre, in which case, to heck with the rest of it.

  4. postadaychallenge2011 said

    Ok I would buy your book, need I say more? You are so creative and think outside the box and I admire that about you.

  5. That has a very nice “feel” to it. I it as if Tolstoy were to write today.

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