Chuck Wendig: The Last American

Last week’s Chuck Wendig challenge wasn’t to write a story, but rather to come up with a three word title for a story.  Chuck randomly selected ten of those titles, and this week’s Challenge, Ten Titles From You, the objective was to pick one of those titles and give it a go, staying under 1,000 words.  I picked “The Last American” and came in at 791 words.  I’m not entirely sure it’s that great of a story, but the title brought an image into my head so I wrote the story to get to that image.  Please to enjoy.


THE LAST AMERICAN

Lonnie Barksdale, the last American, stood between two of the towering white columns, staring up into the great stone face of Abraham Lincoln.  He read the words engraved on the walls.  One sentence in particular caught his attention:  “It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.“  He chuckled, a wry laugh that he liked to think Lincoln would have shared had they ever spoken.

He descended the steps, remembering the famous speeches he had seen, Martin Luther King and Forrest Gump, wondering what it must have been like to look out over so many thousands of people.  He shook his head.  It beggared description.

He walked down the Mall, stopping at each of the monuments and memorials to reflect on their meanings.  He ran his fingers over names on the Vietnam wall.  They were names of soldiers long dead, many of whom had died to defend an ideal that they hadn’t believed in.

Lonnie could relate.

He stood at the base of the Washington Monument and looked up, up, up, to where its four sides met, hundreds of feet in the air.  George Washington had been a great man.  He had given Alexander Hamilton his shot, made Hamilton his right-hand man, and together they had battled the Democratic Republicans to a standstill until Washington had gone home to Mount Vernon.

A few minutes further walking led Lonnie to the base of the Capitol stairs.  He looked up at the balcony where so many great men had given speeches full of hopes and dreams and aspirations of greatness for themselves and for the nation.  Lonnie stood there, and he remembered.

He did not go into the Capitol.  The dome rose high into the grey afternoon sky.  The building was too large, too imposing, too intimidating.  He had seen it on television so many times, seen so many debates and discussions and briefings and news reports.  He didn’t need to see the Capitol.  He felt like he knew its hallways by heart.

There was one final place Lonnie wanted to go, though, before he finished.

He made his way up Pennsylvania Avenue, past many great buildings, seeing names that he knew, addresses that he recognized.  The National Gallery.  The Archives.  He considered going inside to see the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence but remembered that they had been moved to a more secure location.  He shrugged and kept moving.

He came to the South Lawn.  He looked through the bars of the fence for a few minutes, then clambered over.  He crossed the wide expanse of the lawn, once so immaculately maintained.  He had seen scenes from so many ceremonies and events that had taken place there.  It didn’t even look like the same place any more.

Lonnie walked around the grounds for a while, and came around to the West Wing.  He wandered through the Rose Garden, looking at the remnants of some spectacular horticulture, then he opened a door and walked inside.  Just down the hall was his goal:  the Oval Office.

The door was ajar.  He entered the room.  The gloomy day outside had darkened the room considerably.  Lonnie wanted to see it, and on instinct he turned, found a light switch, and flicked it up.  To his surprise, the lights came on.  They must have had their own generator, he thought.

He walked across the rug with its giant seal to the monstrous mahogany desk and sat down behind it.  The chair was comfortable.  He leaned back and put his feet up, and picked up the telephone.  On a whim he held it to his ear.  Nothing.  Not that he had expected anything.  He hung it up again and started rummaging through the desk’s drawers.

It felt good sitting there.  I wonder if it felt this good to Reagan?  Or Obama?  Did David Palmer ever feel this way?  Now there had been a president.  Nobody messed with America on David Palmer’s watch.  But if they did, Steve Rogers and Clark Kent had been there to deal with it.  Damn good Americans, thought Lonnie, smiling.  He remembered reading their stories when he was a kid.  He’d always wanted a shield like Cap’s.

He dozed off, having put his feet up on the desk.  When he woke up, it was dark outside.  I need to get home.  He had several miles to go.  He considered sleeping upstairs since it was so late already, but no.  He’d head for home.  This wasn’t his house.  He could visit, but he didn’t live here.  He went out into the night.

As he left the Oval Office, Lonnie Barksdale, the last American, turned out the light.

Chuck Wendig: How Does Your Garden Grow?

The Chuck Wendig Flash Fiction Challenge for this week is Acts of Rebellion.  1,000 words about rebellion in any shape, form, or context.  I had intended to keep my story away from our current political situation, as it seemed like low-hanging fruit, but it kept wandering back in that direction without any effort on my part.  I managed to keep it on the fringe of my events, but it still lies at the heart of the story.  My story is a 995 word dialogue.  Please to enjoy.


HOW DOES YOUR GARDEN GROW?

“It’s your move, Claire.”

“Oh, like I didn’t know.”

“Not.  It’s been your turn for almost thirty seconds.  You’ve just been sitting there, staring off into space.  What’s up?”

“Nothing.”

“Not.  You just tucked your hair back behind your ear.  How many times do I have to tell you?  That’s your biggest tell.  You only do that when you’re nervous or lying.  Which one is it?”

“It’s neither, Todd.  Really.  Here, let me take my—“

“Nope.  It’s too late for that, sister of mine.  You’ve got me thinking about this now.  Which is it?  Are you nervous or lying?  What’s really going on?”

“Neither one, I said.  Come on, Todd, let me play a card.”

“Nope.  Answer the question, Claire.”

“Who am I, Molly Ringwald?  Come on, Todd.”

“I want an answer.”

[sigh] “All right.  I’ll tell you.  You’re gonna laugh at me, though.”

“I won’t, honest.”

“You have to promise, Todd.  Promise you won’t laugh.”

“I’ll do my best.  I can’t promise, though.  Sometimes laughter is an involuntary reaction to the release of pent-up stress and Lord knows, it’s pent up with you taking so long to answer the question, Claire.”

“Shut and let me answer.”

“All right.  I’m shutting up.”

“It’s about time.  The answer is, ‘both’.”

“Both?”

“Both.”

“What does that even mean, both?”

“You asked if I was nervous or lying.  The answer is, both.  I’m nervous, and I was lying.  There is something up.”

“I knew it!  What is it?”

“You can’t laugh.”

“I’ll try.”

“And you can’t tell Mom and Dad, either.”

“That I can promise.  I won’t tell.”

“They’ll think it’s bad, Todd, really.  You can’t tell.”

“Okay, okay.  I won’t tell.”

“I…”

“Come on, Claire, it can’t be that bad.”

[sigh] “I went to the march last weekend.”

“The womens’ march?”

“Yeah.”

“So?  Mom had talked about going.  You even told her you were thinking about going with her if she did.”

“Todd!  Shut up and let me say this before I lose my nerve.”

[gasp] “Did you wear a pink hat, Claire?  Is that what this is about?”

“Goddammit, Todd, will you shut the hell up and let me talk?  You badger me to tell you what happened then you won’t shut up when I start talking!”

“Sorry, sis.  Geez.  You don’t have to be so…wait a minute.  Did you just cuss?  When did you start–”

“You know what?  Forget it.”

“Okay, Claire, wait!  I’m sorry!  Come back, please!  I’ll be quiet!  I promise!”

“Todd, this is serious.  I’m not playing around.  This is bigger than a game of cards, and it’s a lot bigger than a pink hat.”

“I’m listening, Claire, really.  Sit down.  Please?”

“…okay.”

“…Claire?”

“I did something this weekend, Todd, and I’m not sure if I should be proud of myself or not.  Mom and Dad would be horrified, and I think I should be horrified too, only…only I’m not.”

“What did you do?”

“I went down to the square and I spent some time walking around and talking to the marchers.”

“You talked to those women?”

“Yes!  Young women, old women, mothers, daughters, wives, girlfriends, grandmothers.  Not just women either, Todd.  I talked to the men who were with them—their husbands, boyfriends, fathers, sons.  Some of the men I talked to were even there without a woman, just marching in support.  I just walked around for a while talking to them, trying to understand why they were there.”

“Who cares why they were there!  They were blocking the streets, making noise, disturbing the city.  Why did you need to understand?”

“You sound like Dad.  We’re all part of the same family, Todd.  You’re my brother, so even when I know I have no chance of understanding why you do the things you do, I still want to try.  It was like that downtown.  Mom and Dad have been telling us all along how crazy these people are, and how much better things are going to be now.  I wanted to understand why these people don’t agree with them.”

“What did you find out?  Did they convert you?  Are you going to be on Clarksdale Street with a sign of your own next time they march?”

“No.  But now I know enough to understand why they think the way they do.  It’s got me thinking, and I’ve been talking to some friends at school, too, friends on both sides.  We’re getting discussion going without yelling and screaming at each other.  It’s pretty cool.”

“How’s that working out for you?”

“Better than asking Mom and listening to a two hour lecture about proper values.  We’re actually learning from each other.”

“So you’ll be in the street marching the time after next, then.”

“I don’t know, maybe.”

“Are you sure that’s what you want?  Do you want to be lined up next to those people?”

“I don’t know yet.  That’s what I’m trying to find out.”

“Ladies and gentlemen, my sister Claire, the reluctant rebel.”

“Not reluctant, Todd.  Call it cautious.  Call it wanting to explore all the options before I leap one way or the other.  I’ve been blindly following what Mom and Dad have been telling me my whole life.  Now I want to form my own opinions.”

“You want to justify your rebellion.”

“No!  I want to learn about both sides!  I want to be well-informed!”

“To Mom and Dad, wanting to learn about the other side of the issue is rebellion.  You might even decide to stay on their side, but they won’t care.  You went down there and talked to those people.  You’re dirty now.”

“Why don’t you come with me next time?  Get some dirt on yourself?”

“Not.  I’m comfortable where I am.”

“Behind your wall.”

“Where I’m staying nice and clean.”

“You have to play in the dirt if you’re going to grow a garden, Todd.”

“What’s growing in your garden, Claire?”

“I don’t know yet.  I’ll let you know when it sprouts, though.”

#NaNoFinMo2 (the Quickening)

Just a quick update to say look at the progress bars over there and reflect upon my writing goals.  Realize something, people:

I did it!  I finished my book!

NaNoFinMo2 the Quickening) was a success!  Everlasting Tunes is done!  I wrote 3,213 words tonight to put it to bed.  I finished the first draft with a final word count of 94,530!

I did it!  I finished my book!

Now don’t get all crazy and start asking me about revisions, ’cause I ain’t got nothing to say about none o’that right now. I’m just glad to have the first draft done!  I’m going to let it marinate for a while and figure out what’s next.

My immediate plans are to get some rest, then write a First Line piece by 2/1 and my Chuck Wendig story for this week by next Friday.  Beyond that I will see if I want to revise Everlasting Tunes or start some other long-form thing or what.  I have no idea yet.

For now I’m just trying to wrap my head around the thought that I finished this one.  I haven’t finished a piece even close to this length since 2010, when I produced a complete novel during NaNo that was just over 50,000 words.  I’ve never come close to 94K before.  I’m pretty proud of myself.  I did good.

Keep an eye out here to see what happens next, and please remember to support your local blogger as he keeps working on his goals through 2017.

I DID IT!  I FINISHED MY BOOK!

Chuck Wendig: Sadie

This week’s Chuck Wendig Flash Fiction Challenge is to give up to 2,000 words on finding Hope in the Face of Hopelessness.  This one gave me a lot of trouble.  All the ideas I came up with were all “Once more into the breach” or “We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be” or something like that.  It’s hard to write this one without sounding like a cliché.  I’m not sure I did a very good job at avoiding that.  I thought about just writing a non-fiction essay on hope, but in the end I decided that was even more of a cop-out than writing a cliché so I started writing a story and came up with a story about a dog named Sadie.

It’s 1,504 words long.  Please to enjoy and feel free to comment and let me know what you think.  Thanks for stopping by.


SADIE

I couldn’t find my dog.

The storm had barreled through the night before, wind howling like a freight train, trees falling, glass breaking, the neighborhood being ripped to shreds.  I had taken shelter in my pantry.  They always said to find an interior room with no windows.  The pantry was the best I could do.  I had considered going into the bathroom, but there is a big mirror in there that scared me to death.  I could just see that thing shattering and sending shrapnel everywhere.  The worst that could happen in the pantry was a few cans of soup falling on me from the top shelf.  It might hurt, but at least I wouldn’t be bleeding.

I had brought my dog into the pantry with me, for companionship but also to keep her safe.  She hated it.  She’s never liked storms, anyway.  Even the pitter-patter of a gentle rain has her cowering under my sheets as I try to sleep.  This storm had her completely freaked, and being in the dark, confined space of the pantry didn’t help.  She was wrestling and howling from the moment I shut the door.

I didn’t want to use my phone for light.  I figured the power was going to go off eventually so I was trying to conserve the charge.  I had found an old flashlight, but of course the batteries were half-dead and it didn’t last long.  Sadie and I were eventually left in the dark.

She hated it.  She wouldn’t stay still, thrashing about in my arms, scratching at the door, trying to get out.  The rain pounding on the roof and the sound of constant thunder and the roar of the wind was making her crazy.  Strangely, her own discomfort was helping me stay focused and sane.  I couldn’t be afraid for myself because I was having to take care of her.  I wonder if that’s how it feels to be a parent?  I never had a kid but it must be something like that.

I used my phone to keep up with the time and occasionally checked the radar to see how much longer this was going last.  Because of that I know exactly what time it was when the tree came through the roof of my house and tore the kitchen apart.  The crash was audible over the din of the storm.  Shock and awe.  I didn’t know anything could be louder than that.

The whole house shook and the door of the pantry fell off.  There must have been a bang when it hit the kitchen floor but I didn’t hear it.  Rain was quickly soaking my kitchen, and it was louder than ever.  Sadie completely lost it, scrabbling to get loose, digging her claws into my thighs as I sat in what had been a dark, cozy pantry.  My hands involuntarily released her to rub at the sudden pain in my legs, and she was gone, shooting off into the darkness, up and over the fallen tree outside into the storm.

I started to jump up and run after her, but crashed into the shelf above me.  Several of those cans of soup I mentioned earlier did exactly what I was afraid they might do.  My world turned black as they all landed on my head at the same time.

When I woke up the rain had stopped and the sun was shining.  Looking at my phone I could see that several hours had passed.  I got to my feet and staggered toward the front of the house.  At some point during the night another tree had come down into my living room, and looking down the hall I could see a third in my bedroom.  Every tree in my yard must have fallen on the house.  It’s a wonder I wasn’t crushed.

Most of my furniture was destroyed, and rain had soaked everything.  I looked around and sighed.  I had insurance, but this was going to be a total loss.  I wondered where my dog was.  I called her name a few times and listened.  There was nothing.  I was pretty sure she had gone outside when she ran off but I made a careful round of inside of the house first, calling her, looking amongst the ruin of my home.  She wasn’t in the house as far as I could tell.

I went back up front to go outside, starting to worry a little.  The front door wasn’t there.  It had been crushed by the first tree that fell.  I clambered up and over that tree and went outside.  I stopped, staring.  It was as if a bomb—several bombs, really—had gone off on my street.  There wasn’t a house standing intact anywhere in sight.  Some of them had trees through them, like mine did, others had been knocked to flinders.

Tornado, I thought.  I had thought my problems were bad.  I watched the Jacksons sifting through what had once been their garage, the flattened edge of their car sticking out from under the corner of some fallen beams.  At least I still have a car.  Or did I?  I walked over and saw that, thankfully, my garage was intact, and the car inside.  That was something at least.

I called for Sadie, walking around the house, checking the yard.  She didn’t come.  I was starting to worry more now.  I could feel panic beginning to flutter its wings.  There were trees and branches down all over the place.  She wasn’t a large dog, and the woods behind the house were thick enough that if she had gotten hurt back in there I would likely never find her.

I started down the street, watching neighbors digging out, conducting a triage of sorts to figure out what had survived, what could be salvaged.  I saw other pets, dogs and cats that I knew, but no sign of Sadie.  I kept calling.  Seeing the devastation all along the street and not being able to find my dog, I soon began to plow straight into a full-blown panic attack.

Soon I was running down the street, calling her name to both sides as I ran.  I knew people were stopping what they were doing to watch me, but I was unable to stop myself.  I needed my dog.  Mr. Wesley Parsons stepped out of his driveway and caught my arm.  Frantic, I tried to pull away, but he wouldn’t let me.  I kept calling.  “Sadie!  Sadie!”

He pulled me around until I was looking at him.  I kept trying to pull away, he kept redirecting me so that my eyes finally locked on his.  “It’s okay,” he said.  “We’ll find her.”

I over the edge now, crying, sobbing, snot mixing with my tears as they rolled unchecked.  I’m a classic ugly crier.  “I’ve lost my dog,” I said, barely comprehensible.  “I’ve lost everything else.  I can’t lose her too.  I need my dog!”

“I know,” Mr. Parsons said.  “She’s your normal, isn’t she?  She’s your link to the way things were yesterday.  We all need something to place our hope in.”  He looked at his wife and smiled a bit.  “I’ve got her.  I’m all right.  You need your Sadie.”

He started walking with me, still holding my arm, and the two of us called.  I had calmed some, but I was edging beyond panic into despair.  Where was my Sadie?  As we made our way further down the street others joined us.  Before long there were six or eight of us spread all over the neighborhood, calling her name.

The houses at the far end of the street had escaped Nature’s fury with just a few downed branches.  One of those houses belonged to the Barnes family, and I found Sadie there.  Mike Barnes was one of the kids who liked to play catch with her in the street when I took her for her walk.

Mike had found her when he was walking through the neighborhood that morning, huddled behind some bushes, scared and shivering in the rain.  He saw that my house was in bad shape so he took Sadie home and fed her and kept her warm and safe until I could get to her.  She heard her name and came running out to me now, barking joyfully and frolicking.  I feel to my knees in the wet grass and hugged her tight and rolled around with her in the grass.  I wasn’t the only one crying.

There were a lot of people who lost things possessions that day.  Cars, homes, pictures, books, furniture, things.  But as the rebuilding went on over the next few months, one by one they came up to me and they rubbed Sadie’s head, and they thanked us.  They all told me that seeing our joy at being reunited that day had helped them keep the most precious thing that any of us possessed.  More precious than any home or car or television set.

We helped them keep their hope.

Writing Goals Update

A couple of weeks ago I posted here about some of my writing goals for the year.  I thought I’d check in and see how the year has started.  I have added some progress bars over on the sidebar of the blog to give a sense of where I am.

My first goal for 2017 is to finish my NaNoWriMo book from 2016.  #NaNoFinMo in December was a colossal failure, so I declared January as #NaNoFinMo2 (the Quickening) and set forth.  Then, of course, I didn’t touch the story at all this month until a couple of days ago, when I sat down and added a little over 1,700 words.  That puts me just over 88,000 words total.  I have set an arbitrary goal of 100,000, but there’s no real sense yet of whether that actually means anything.  I can see the end beginning to warm up (and wander a bit away from my outline.  As stories do.) but I have no idea if I have 12,000 words of story left.  Might be less.  Might be more.  It doesn’t matter, I suppose; the story will be as long as it needs to be.  I just think it would be cool to have a draft of over 100K.  I’ve never come close to that length before.  I hope to get some work in on it this weekend.

My second goal is to write more short stories this year and post them to the blog for everyone to read.  So far, I have fulfilled the first two 2017 editions of the Chuck Wendig Flash Fiction Challenge.  If you haven’t read them yet, please go check them out!  The third challenge was just announced today, so that story will be a project for the weekend or early next week.  I put up two progress bars for Chuck, one that shows the total percentage of challenges I have completed this year, and the other that reveals whether I have done the most recent one or not.

I have put up two similar bars for The First Line.  The First Line is a literary journal that publishes quarterly.  The prompt each quarter is a line that serves as the first line for every story in that quarter’s issue.  I have submitted to TFL several times without being published.  I plan to submit all four prompts this year, and if the stories are not accepted I will share them here.  The stories are due 2/1, 5/1, 8/1, and 11/1.  That is why the YTD bar for TFL currently says 0/4.  It will not be at 100% until sometime in October.

My third goal is to blog more often with non-fiction posts.  Updates such as this one don’t count.  I haven’t done this yet.  There’s no progress bar for this one.  Just look for different kinds of posts and you’ll know I’m doing better.  My problem with this is as it has always been for me as a writer:  I need to get better at creating time to write and working it into my daily/nightly routine and being disciplined and motivated about doing it.  I want to write, but I don’t want my wife to feel like I am neglecting her to go sit in front of the laptop.  That’s a hard balance to figure out.  Does anyone out there have any advice?  How do you do it?

I want to write more often this year, and I am hoping these goals will motivate me to do it.  I’m not going to do these check-ins very often; that’s what the progress bars are for.  Keep coming back and see how I do.  Wish me luck, and as always, please support your local blogger.