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Archive for the ‘Short Stories’ Category

I’ve been so busy with “stuff,” I almost forgot to post about the beginning of a new course that I am enrolled in. It’s Fiction Writing through Gotham Writing Workshop, led by the same instructor as my previous Creative Writing 101, Chip Livingston. It’s week two, in which we learn about CHARACTER. This week’s assignment is to list five personality flaws I see in myself, pick a flaw, then give this flaw to a fictional character, who may or may not be similar to myself and show the flaw in action in under 500 words. I don’t like the word “flaws.” I rather prefer “idiosyncrasies.” So, I picked one of my idiosyncrasies and gave it to one of the main characters in a story that I started last week. I exaggerated and tweaked it, of course, since it’s fiction writing. I would greatly appreciate if you, upon reading the scene, could tell me if I succeeded in showing the unnamed idiosyncrasy(ies). What do you think my character is struggling with?

Her phone rang. “Yes?.. At the toy store… No, I am not done yet… I don’t know. The freaking store is full of ’em and I’ve no idea what to buy… Why don’t you join me and we’ll be done and over with… Of course, you can’t! How could I forget: You never have time for such mundane things…Gotta go. Bye.” Grimacing as if she swallowed an entire lemon, Alys returned her cell phone in the pocket of her jacket and resumed her quest for the perfect toy. Toys, actually. Her sister, Lisa, had triplets: three adorable baby girls, three cute objects for doting by their parents, relatives and friends alike. What do you get for the babies who want for nothing?

She heaved a sigh and continued along the endless isles filled with dolls, transformers, Lego sets, small soldiers, cubes, stackers, puzzles, toy cars, toy trucks, ducks, teddy bears, winny the poohs, piglets, tigers, lions, kittens, musical boxes, books with pictures… With all the bright colours screaming at her and making her head spin, Alys slowed down in the baby section and froze at the sight of an enigmatic blue monster reminiscent of an octopus with a crazy eye attached to each of its eight tentacles and complete with an eerie toothless grin. Are you kidding me? Is this horror meant for babies? She grabbed the toy and squeezed it lightly.

The monster squealed.

Alys winced, threw the toy back on the shelf and spun on her heels. Maybe instead of trying to pick the most attractive toy… She smacked herself on the forehead. How could she possibly know what toys babies find most attractive? She kicked at the bottom shelf in frustration and glanced around surreptitiously: to her relief, toys were the only witnesses of her outburst.

Chewing on her lip, she pulled out her cell phone to check the time. Oh, crap! She had already spent two hours inside the store and was still empty-handed! Lisa would kill her if she were late tonight for the triplets’ birthday party. A hot wave of anger, anxiety and frustration washed over her. She tore her jacket off and was about to throw it angrily on the floor, then thought better of it, took several deep breaths and raised her face toward the top shelf so as tears welling in her eyes didn’t spill and ruin her makeup.

A middle-aged woman with a look of deep concentration on her face stepped into the narrow isle.

“Excuse me,” Alys said quickly, swallowing her tears and forcing the friendliest smile she could muster. “Do you happen to know what kind of toys are liked by babies?”

The woman broke off her concentration and smiled back at Alys. “How old is the baby?”

“One…I need three. Toys, I mean. They are triplets, my nieces. Today’s their birthday,” she said all in one breath.

“Oh! That’s a doozy!” the lady exclaimed shaking her head. She eyed Alys noting her dishevelled appearance. “But I am sure it can be helped.”

There was nothing special about the nice lady, but Alys could have sworn that for a brief moment she caught a glimpse of a halo above the lady’s head and heard angels sing.

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image by reflectionsinapuddle

“Today, my boy, I’ll give you your last lesson. I am getting old and frail; my health is no longer what it used to be even 80 years back; it’s time for me to move on. You want to say something? You have my leave to speak.”

“But where would you go, roshi? Isn’t this the only Sanctuary in the entire world? Why would you want to leave this magnificent mountain, with only snow leopards and eagles to keep us company?”

“What do you know of the world or beyond it, boy?”

“Whatever you taught me, roshi.”

“What I taught you is but a speck of dust on this great mountain. Don’t you fancy yourself a sage. Remember, you know nothing. But enough of idle talk. Brace yourself for your last lesson. Almost half a century has passed since you entered the Sanctuary as a brainless youngling. Half a century of hard work and learning the secrets that most mortals consider either lost or never in existence. Half a century of isolation and solitude… save for the company of this old fool… So let’s get to work. I’ll give you my final secret recipe that you must learn and you’ll be ordained to become the Great Master yourself. But first I must see what you are made of.”

“Yes, roshi. I am ready.”

“So you think, boy, so you think… Now, take a dash of the blackroot powder. Not that! The other box with a human skull on it. Right. Then add a few drops of the mountain toad venom. Slowly, don’t spill it. Very well. Now take a pinch of dragon grass and a viper’s egg, and don’t forget a good measure of snow leopard scat. Mix it all well. Good… Now you must read the incantation I taught you when the moon was full. Don’t look at me as if you have no clue what I am talking about. Just do it, or I’ll read it myself… Whisper, you oaf! You don’t have to shout it at the top of your voice for the whole world to hear…”

Roshi?”

“Yes?”

“What’s the recipe for?”

“Just give me the vial. Didn’t I tell you I am an old fool? Of course I forgot to tell you what it is. Nothing much. Just a recipe for disaster. As soon as it touches the rocks at the foot of the great mountain, it will bring about great suffering upon this world. But you needn’t worry, boy, for you’ll be spared.”

“Oh, no! Why would you do such a despicable thing, roshi?! Come to your senses I beg!”

But the one called roshi, a desiccated mushroom of a man, with a long white beard and gnarled limbs, left this heartfelt plea unanswered. He sprinted with the agility of a young cougar – in contrast with his withered appearance – and was already stooped over the room’s only window that opened up a vast panorama of a jagged mountain range, snowy tops blazing in the sun, an eagle soaring up high in the azure sky.

Holding the corked vial with the potion in his left hand, the old man reached out, unclasped his gnarled fingers and unleashed the vial on the unsuspecting world. At this very moment, his apprentice flung himself at the window, like a flash of lightning, and dove headlong into the cool air. The Great Master must have gone mad, but I can still catch the vial, he thought plummeting toward the earth, cutting through freezing air like a hot knife through butter, his cloak flapping violently in his wake. He could see the vial; he could reach it… There! He caught it and squeezed it in his half frozen palms, then shut his eyes so as not to see the sullen visage of rocks below barreling toward him. In a matter of seconds his body will become one with the somber landscape. And what about the evil potion? I can’t allow it to touch the rocks and obliterate the world! If only the Great Master taught me the magic of flight! If only I had wings!

At which moment his free fall slowed down and finally came to a halt, when his face nearly touched a massive boulder at the foot of the mountain. From this vantage point, it didn’t look as despondent as from above, covered with cheerful green moss and all. Still hovering over the rocks, the apprentice whirled himself out of his topsy-turvy attitude, and began to ascend, spiraling higher and higher, as if on a pair of invisible wings. And as he  took in the resplendent views around him, reveling in his newly acquired ability, he turned his gaze to the top of the great mountain, where the Great Master, still looking no bigger than a horsefly from down below, was bursting in paroxysms of hilarity.

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I wrote this short story for my creative writing class. The rule was to use an opening line suggested by the instructor. I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed writing it. 🙂

———————————————————————————————

Chris began to question the wisdom of this trip. First, nothing went to plan. Second, his plane crashed.

It all came back to him now: the smell of burning rubber in the cabin, shrieks of a woman two rows behind him, cries for help, a deafening BANG! and an endless gut-wrenching scream above the din.

He jolted in his seat and gasped. Someone was tapping him on his shoulder. Chris opened his eyes. A young flight-attendant`s face was hovering above him.

“Are you Okay, sir? Would you like some water?”

Chris nodded, his heart still in his throat. The flight-attendant rushed to get him water.

“A bad dream, hon?” A soft voice asked.

He turned his head: a benevolent-looking elderly woman was peering at him from above her reading glasses. He recognized her at once. She was the old woman with the cat, and she was responsible for this mess. When they boarded the first time, the stupid cat ran off and hid in the cockpit among some stupid wires where no one could get at it for several hours. And when they boarded the second time, Chris was seated next to the woman, with her stupid pet tucked in a cat carrier under the front seat.

“I get them sometimes. Nightmares,” The old woman continued, ignoring Chris’s resentful stare. “I even scream in my dreams.”

The woman gave him a reassuring smile. Her teeth were white, in stark contrast with her saggy wizened skin covered with brown age spots. Dentures, no doubt. She looked like she could be 80 or 100. Her eyes though…

“Your water, sir,” the pretty flight attendant was back with a glass.

Chris swallowed water in one gulp and felt almost himself. He glanced furtively in the old woman’s direction. There was something vaguely familiar about her, but he couldn’t place it. He decided, she looked like a really aged Mary Poppins from the old musical. Besides, she had this really odd looking bag, and sticking out of the bag was today`s paper with the front page headline  “HUNDREDS DIE IN A HORRIFIC PLANE CRASH…”

“Excuse me, sir?” The flight-attendant was back.

Chris turned toward her. Why did she have to be such a nuisance?

“Would you like some lunch, sir? We have chicken and vegetarian lasagna.”

“Chicken, please.”

Now everyone was busy eating lunch. Chris searched for the bag with the newspaper, but the woman must have put it away. He ate his lunch, stealing glances at his neighbour, while she was daintily picking at her vegetarian lasagna, smiling to herself, as if it were a funny joke, her cat getting into the cockpit and causing all the commotion and delays. There were a lot of angry and tired people, who had missed their connecting flights and had been late for their meetings and conferences — all courtesy of the stupid feline. Maybe after this incident, they will ban cats, or any pets, in the cabin.

As if she’d heard his thoughts, the old woman dabbed her lips with a napkin, and said,“You are not a cat person, are you?”

“No, not particularly.”

“Are you a dog person then?”

“Uh… don’t know, never had a dog.”

“Would you like to meet Casper?”

Before Chris knew what was going on, the old woman looked around to make sure no one was watching, then reached under the front seat and pulled out the cat carrier.

“Casper – Chris. Chris – Casper.”

The carrier inhabitant was snow-white and fluffy. He gave Chris a cursory glance, squinting his bright-blue feline eyes, and yawned wide showing all his sharp teeth and a pink tongue. Then he rearranged himself inside the carrier, so Chris could only see his rear end with a bushy tail, which meant the audience was over.

“He is a special kitty,” the old woman said, putting the cat carrier back under the front seat.

“Oh yeah? What’s his specialty?”

“Oh…” The old woman suddenly looked hesitant. “He can perform… tricks.”

“Like the one he pulled off just several hours ago? How many hijacked planes does he have under his furry belt? And how do you know my name? I don’t think I’ve introduced myself.”

Oddly, the woman seemed relieved with the new turn in conversation. She produced a business card that read “Chris LaLonde, Business Development.” It was his business card.

“I must have dropped it,” Chris took his card and put it back in his pocket. He already regretted his angry outburst. Besides, the old lady and her fluffy, if a bit snooty, friend, radiated such peace and tranquility that his anger melted away.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be rude. It’s been a long day and I feel exhausted,” he said.

“No worries, hon. No worries.” The old lady purred.

Chris closed his eyes. Although he was quite spent, he didn’t want to fall asleep, lest he had the same horrible dream and screamed again. The dream seemed so vivid though, almost real, and the acrid taste of burnt rubber was still flickering on his tongue. Deep in his reverie, he missed the point when his thoughts turned from his nightmare to the old lady. Why was she traveling alone? Why would she bring her cat along? Wouldn’t it be better for everyone, including the cat, if it had been left at home? Cats can do that; they are not as attached to their owners as dogs are. Maybe the woman was moving in with her children, or grand children, and couldn’t leave her beloved cat behind. Something about her was still tugging at Chris. It must have been her eyes, so blue, so clear, so young, so out of place on her wizened face.

***

By the gate, waiting for him was Irene, young and pretty, beaming with joy, her lovely blue eyes deep with love and affection. She kissed him passionately and hugged as if they haven’t seen each other for an eternity.

“Let’s go home. I’ve a surprise for you.”

When they got to their little cozy apartment on a quiet street, Irene opened the door with her key, and asked Chris to cover his eyes. He heard rustling in the kitchen; then Irene moved to the living room and called out softly; then she was back and instructed him to open his eyes. He did. Staring at him were two blue buttons on a tiny ball of white fur. The furball yawned wide showing his pink tongue and tiny sharp teeth.

“Casper – Chris. Chris – Casper,” Irene announced and kissed the cute little creature on its face. “I found him on the doorstep last night. He is a very special kitten.”

***

Later that evening, when things quieted down a bit, and Irene was in the kitchen, doling out treats to Casper-the kitten, Chris searched the Internet for the news of today’s plane crash, the one he saw in the old lady’s paper. There was no mention of any plane crash on the Internet though. The only big news today was that of a cat wreaking havoc with the air traffic in early morning and delaying hundreds of passengers. One news website featured a photo of a white cat. It was Casper all right. And although the media said the cat was “scared and miserable,” he looked quite satisfied, almost smug.

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