Find a Story!
I wrote the first draft of this story in about 45 minutes during an exercise in a Creative Writing class. The inspiration was surprisingly simple and effective: the professor passed out two envelopes, one containing characters and the other, settings on campus. Students were told to choose two characters and one location at random, then go to the location and write. When I returned, this story is what had emerged. Afterward, I polished it a little, cleaned up all the typos and some of the language, and now it’s ready to join the cult of Damn Short Stories. Okay, I lied; there’s no cult. Dammit.
Rope and Whisper
Vinnie closed his eyes and breathed deeply. The soothing rush of water through Strenger Plaza’s fountain washed over and through him, and he imagined that somehow, it cleansed his soul of the grotesque scene which hung in the air not fifty feet from where he stood. One hand rested on the cold metal rail of the gurney that would convey her body back to his father’s mortuary in the back of the hearse; the other stayed solemnly upon his pounding heart as he silently invoked a godless prayer for her. As the soothing whisper of the fountain calmed his restless heart, he breathed deeply and wished it were just a bit cooler. “Why d’ya think she wanted to be hung, Vinnie?” Arnold Johnson, the lone detective sent to review the crime scene, was a peculiarly ordinary man, so extremely plain of face, body and style that he actually stood out only in how completely noteworthy he was not.
Vinnie exhaled. “It’s hanged, Arnie. She hanged herself.” Vinnie opened his eyes and looked again. She was a beautiful young thing, early twenties, and although he’d seen death many times in the ten years since graduating high school and joining his father’s mortuary business, this one was different. “What’s da fuggin’ difference?” Arnold asked, as he took a long pull from his coffee. He eyeballed Vinnie with disdain, irritated by both his composure and what he thought of as his holier-than-thou ‘Oooh, I can spell and say things all grammatical-like’ attitude. Vinnie’s eyes remained fixed on her sweetly innocent face, which even in death seemed to smile with warmth and welcoming. Her body, still suspended several feet above the ground slowly twisted with the rope as he replied, “The latter means a rope is tied around your neck and you’re dropped to your death. The former means that you have a big dick.”
When I started this site a few years ago, the Damn Short Story was defined as a single page in Microsoft Word. Occasionally, I’ve let it be fudged just a bit by shrinking the margins on the page, but for the most part I’ve kept these to single page stories and called anything longer something else. The problem is that very often it just doesn’t make sense to constrain a story to a single page, and it needs a little more, sometimes as little as an extra paragraph.
So as of today, I’m redefining the Damn Short Story as being any story less than two pages in Microsoft Word. Yes, I might still cheat with narrow margins, but I don’t think it’ll be necessary for most stories. And now, it’s time for a new story!
This isn’t all that short, much less “Damn Short,” but seeing as I’ve been neglecting this site for just over a year now, it’s high time I went ahead and put something up. This story was inspired by a scenario last year, when I was fortunate enough to be interviewed for a possible student position at the prestigious UCLA school of film. I didn’t get in, unfortunately, but the experience of the interview–which, by the way, was pretty much nothing like anyone who explained the process to me said it would be like–inspired this story. I’d originally planned to submit it along with an all new application for the 2012 school year, but owing to various circumstances including a change of requirements for admission, that clearly wasn’t going to happen. So instead I’m regrouping, planning to apply again for the 2013 school year, and working toward some further study that I hope will help improve my writing. Practice, practice, practice, as they say.
Insight or Something Less
Robert’s head swam through the murky haze of half-consciousness, eyes bleary and watering as a harsh light burned someplace just out of comprehension’s reach. His heart struck his rib cage with the thundering rhythm of some tribal drummer, wailing furiously against some veiled threat, some outside force he couldn’t see clearly. He squinted and tried to focus, straining against the rubber-like bounce of his neck, starting briefly as an image, a silhouette began to form just out of reach: three heads behind what seemed to be a table.
“What’s the rest of the story?” a voice asked, followed by another. “Tell us what happens next, Alex. What happens next?” Robert’s senses flared to life, aware but afraid; the bright lights and hydra-like triple man warbled in his eyesight and finally began to focus. “Where was I?” he asked, his voice trembling as he struggled to remember, to think of the details he should have known but which were lost in a moment of intellectual paralysis. So close to where I want to be, he thought, how do I get there?
Codey Cooksie was hungry. He marched with determination down the street, clutching a wad of worn-out one dollar bills. He imagined the tasty things he would soon eat at the street fair. Candy apples and fluffy spun sugar to start, with a healthy scoop of rocky road for a fine finish. Codey was so enraptured by his imaginings that he didn’t even notice the lonely foot protruding from a small doghouse. He tripped and fell face-forward toward the ground, slamming his eyes shut as he braced for pain.
Instead, he felt a stout tug at his waistline, and was lifted entirely off the ground as he turned to look behind. He looked into the first face he’d ever thought of as beautiful; a face, he’d recall, connected to an arm that didn’t look as strong as it plainly was.
“What’s the big idea?” he exclaimed, wriggling as his senses returned. The girl in question, about a foot taller than Codey, smiled as she put him down. “I just saved your butt!” she declared, hands on her hips. “You owe me!” Codey scratched his head. “Well whaddya want? I ain’t got much money, just five bucks!”
The girl’s lips hovered somewhere between a smile and a smirk, and she spoke in a confident voice. “What’s your name, anyway? I’m Darla, the meanest vampire in all the land!” Codey narrowed his eyes as he looked her up and down. “I’m Codey, but you don’t look like a vampire. And it’s sunny out, shouldn’t you be on fire or something?”
Darla folded her arms across her chest and declared in a loud voice, her face turned skyward, “I am a cookie vampire, the meanest of them all. I drain the chocolate chips and raisins from any cookie that dares cross my path!” She waited a moment for dramatic effect, then turned back to face Codey. “Since I saved your life, I’ll let you pay me back with a cookie from the street fair.”
Codey chewed his lip, thinking that buying cookies would probably put a crimp in his dinner plans. Still, she had saved his life, or at least his dignity, whatever that was, and he was sure his mother would say it was the right thing to do.
“Alright,” he said, shoving the money into his pocket as he extended his hand to shake Darla’s, “let’s go to the street fair, and I’ll buy you a cookie.” “Great!” Darla declared, her cheeks turning rosy as her smile stretched across her face, “It’ll be our very first date!”
And with that, she took Codey’s hand, meshed her fingers with his and with a tug they were off, and Codey worried—just a bit—whether or not it was a good idea to go on a date with a cookie vampire.
Every day I look down at the beauty of the Earth, and every day, I miss it. No one saw what happened coming–at least, not the way it happened. The programmers had thought of the obvious, of course, and they followed Asimov’s rules to the letter. They were careful about defining our relationship to the Arties; we all were, at first. Well, most of us.
Guess I should explain about Arties. It’s actually ART-I, short for “Artificial Intelligence.” Somebody thinking he was clever chose it, mostly for the “art” part, to underscore that this AI was different. How? The Arties were something else—something creative. They could look at things in a more human way than those that came before. They could be inventive, all on their own. You’d probably never believe it, but some of the most beautiful art came from the minds of Arties. And not just pictures—poems, short stories, novels–even movies. They made great movies about noble heroes and beautifully examined conflicts, the kind that really made you think and feel.
And maybe that was the problem. The Arties were so good at making us feel our favorite things that we forgot how to make those feelings for ourselves. They didn’t care about money–they were happy to work for free as long as they could create and had a place to recharge. And hell—they did a bang-up job of it anyway, so I guess we all figured, why not let ’em work, and enjoy the payoff? We reveled in their beautiful stories. We cheered for their amazing heroes. We sobbed at their touching tragedies and pondered at their thoughtfully examined morality tales, asking ourselves what it all could mean, this human life.