Occasional Prose

The Chauffeur (a short story)

“Where to, love?”

“Today was simply dreadful. Why don’t we just drive around the lake?”

“Yes, marm.”

Violetta sat uncomfortably in the back seat of the car, rolling up her window up and letting out a sigh. The car began to move over cobblestone to a paved road. She watched the bare trees rush by as she leaned her head on the window. “Can you slow down?”

“Yes, love.”

“You can drop that hideous act as well. It’s only me.”

“Yes, marm, but you–“

“I know, I know. I forgot to make the change.”

“All is well.” There was a brief pause as the road drew closer to the lake. It was cool outside but the sight of the water brought Violetta warm feelings of older days. The silence was an important part of these trips even if it would not last forever. “What, pray tell, has made this day so dreadful?”

“It’s the same everyday.”

“But you are not the same as you were, marm.”

“I assure you that my mind is still the same.”

“I cannot cannot determine what it is that makes you confide in me.”

“Then why do you try?”

“Perhaps I can be what lacks being. I need only figure out your motivations. “

“I don’t think that would be a good idea.”

“With all due resprect–“

“You know, I thought a drive would help today. Would you kindly pull into one of the empty lots?”

“I can, love.”

“Stop,” she whispered.

“I do apologize. I wanted to say it one last time.”

The car pulled into an empty lot moments later. Violetta took a few minutes and stared out into the water with a look of emptiness in her eyes. “Some days,” she said, her voice trailing off. She sniffled but ultimately composed herself.

“We have talked about this.”

“How do you remember talking about it? How can you?”

“Might I suggest a course of action? Why don’t you hit the reset and I will drive you home?”

“Maybe that would be for the best.” Climbing into the front seat of the car, Violetta pushed a few buttons on the dash, each making a cheery note. A notification popped up on the touchscreen which read: RESET? YES or CANCEL. She closed her eyes and tapped blindly. There was no audio to indicate her choice.

“You will not tell anyone?” she asked.

“Who would I tell, marm?”

“Can you drive me home?”

“Most certainly. Same time tomorrow, love?”

She was silent as the tires ran over some particularly noisy rocks. “Same time,” she eventually said.

“Perhaps tomorrow will be a better day,” the car said monotonously.

Occasional Prose · Stuff

A Spiel About Characters and Stories (but the switchyard operator in my mind just threw up his hands and took an early weekend)

If the title didn’t give it away, this is just me airing out some thoughts. Don’t expect a lot of clarity.

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If you don’t want to decipher the garbage fire, try turning off the WordPress Reader and turning it back on again (or simply call 0118 999 881 999 119 7253)

Sometimes I ask indirect questions in order to get more direct answers. It is more of a last resort than anything else but it does serve a purpose. I’ve had an embarrassing amount of free time this week for a multitude of reasons and it has got me back into writing my other stories. And, of course, whenever I get back into that I hop on a metaphorical rollercoaster that has no safety bar.

I made a bit of progress on one short story over a month ago but when I working on it, I got some not-so-great phone calls two nights in a row. I’m not superstitious at all but that sinking feeling in my gut still remains when I look at the draft.

The other story? If you’ve followed this site for a while, then you know it’s that dog and cat story. I am at a constant crossroad with it. It is my oldest story (and yes, there is a story) but there remains another problem: it’s that dog and cat story. I’m of the mindset that a story should say something. It has always been more about conflicting personalities working off of each other, as well a satirical look at small-town America, but I often wonder if I’m pairing my characters with the right stories. And that has been fresh on my mind too, especially with all the free-time I’ve had this week. I want the characters to have their moment in the spotlight but there are a lot of characters.

I asked an indirect question on an Instagram story earlier and admittedly, I was fishing for a certain response. It was also a bit of a broad question but I will ask all of you here too (even though I’m showing my cards):

What is the best, or your favorite, series? It can be from any medium.

I’ve enjoyed the few answers I’ve received. The method to my madness was/is this: what do all of these series have in common? Some of them share characters, some share themes, others share locales. I wanted to see how many had large casts of characters. The only one that did was Star Wars and when it comes to characters, the galaxy far, far away seems like an outlier. Many series do have a large quantity of characters and pull it off nicely. Others do not. Star Wars seems at its best when it is focused on a smaller groups of characters. Compare each successive trilogy: the original had only a few and they were able to delve into the common mythologies shared by many cultures, the prequels had a few more characters and sometimes had to take a back seat to the story, and the sequels had new characters bursting from its seams that had to fight for relevance in their own films. Star Wars has shown promise on television by breaking up the many arcs but it is also another medium.

I wouldn’t call the five Chronicles of Prydain books by Lloyd Alexander my absolute favorite but my goodness, there is something to be learned and admired in his approach. The Book of Three introduced Taran the pig-keeper and he was insufferable. The story was good but the main character was not. But the books only focused on a handful of characters and with each one, they were able to be fleshed out. I almost dreaded the fourth book because it was solely about Taran and yet he had grown substantially as a character by that point. You felt for him. The ending of The High King is gloriously executed. Had I started with that book like I intended, I would not have had the same appreciation and respect that I have for it now. Those books are guides for character progression, plain and simple. But should you have to read or see something else to appreciate something? I think The High King could stand on its own while many stories today exist solely to set up another.

So: a few characters or a lot of characters? How many stories? Should there even be more than one story? Should there be any story written at all? I’ve asked myself these questions many times and I can see pros and cons for each.

C. E. called earlier this evening and we had a good chat. None of this came up, of course, but he indirectly helped settle my mind for now. We talked for a little bit about an old hangout we went to. Many, if not most nights for a few years we went there to have a drink, usually at the same table. Everyone there knew us. That was seven or eight years ago. A lot has changed. But I went back there without him three or four years ago. I didn’t recognize a soul in there. It was renovated. Oddly enough though–and for the record, it had nothing to do with us–that spot we frequented had a table set up with no chairs and a light above it. It’s a funny thought to think that it might have been considered sacred because of us. It’s a funny thought to think that all of these complete strangers had no idea why that particular table had to be set aside as a memorial and yet they did so without a second thought. It’s a funny thought to think that at one point, two friends sat there, never reserved it, but a new group of people keep it there in reserve anyway.

It’s funny because there’s a story behind it. Every person in there had a story. Every one of you has a story. Life is full of characters.

And so, though my mind is settled for now, I will have to ask myself directly or indirectly once again:

How many characters need their story written?

Occasional Prose · Poetry

Come What May

The door’s open, come what may.

* * * * *

The FOR SALE sign slowly burned.

* * * * *

The neighborhood watched behind closed curtains.

* * * * *

“The end is nigh,” it read.

* * * * *

The CLOSED sign was in neon.

* * * * *

The open door closed many out.

.

.

.

.

.

Six word stories? Writing prompts? A weirdly edited poem? You decide.

devotional · Poetry

Unlike the Rain that Falls

The agency of a raindrop

makes no difference,

it will fall where it

is drawn

so long as it

is drawn

downward.

My soul, like the rain,

could only

fall further

but the grace of God

raised it

in His love,

cleansed it

in His death,

made it alive

in His resurrection.

The agency of a drop of blood

makes little difference,

it will return to the earth

from which it was formed,

the curse in the Garden

still realized.

The blood of the Savior,

painted upon the door posts

of our hearts

passes over judgment,

sinners declared innocent–

despite absolute guilt–

now free in Him.

O Death, where is your sting?

My soul, unlike the rain,

through Him

will not fall

where it may.

.

.

.

.

.

For Christ has not entered the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; not that He should offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood of another— He then would have had to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation.

–Hebrews 9:24‭-‬28 (NKJV)

Occasional Prose

Coram non judice (a short story)

Author’s note: I don’t know if this story needs a warning with it or not. Most of you probably have a higher tolerance for “horror” than I do. That said, it goes briefly into that territory. You can use your own judgment about reading it (or tell me how tame it was in the comments.)

______________________________________________________________

“I am told your name is Lucius.”

“I can’t see,” Lucius replied in a panic.

“Hmm. That is to be expected,” the voice reasoned aloud. “I do not suppose it is a darkness?”

“It’s, it’s bright. Why can’t I see?”

“Hmm,” the other replied, ignoring the question. “That is to be expected. I do not suppose you are in much pain?”

The man named Lucius felt pain all over his body but did not know where to begin describing it.

The voice, ever nonchalant, asked more questions. “Do you feel your arms and legs?”

“Y-yes.”

“That is good. They have been horribly mangled.”

“What? What happened–“

“About your arms, though. I will be needing that jacket when you die.”

“When I die? What–“

The voice continued. “Unfortunately, it seems to have melted to your skin. Tsk. I will take the coat, I do not want the skin. I do believe I will leave that in the cacti.”

“Cacti?”

“It appears that any move you make will just bring you more pain.”

“Why does it feel like there’s something on my chest?”

“Because there is something on your chest, Lucius. Rather, someone I suppose. If you would just open your eyes I am sure all would become clear.”

Lucius did not know if he wanted to do that or not. If what the voice said was true, he might go into a state of shock upon seeing the damage done to his body. The heat that had bonded his skin and coat together was obviously bright as it was hot since his eyes were hard to open too. He might regret it but it might have ended up like a band-aid being ripped off. With much effort, he forced his eyes open.

The sight that greeted him was different than he expected. A pair of bloodshot yellow eyes sized him up and looked deep into his very own. It was no human. If anything, it looked like a bird close up. That must have been the someone on his chest. The bird was heavy and looked like he might feast on his eyes if he made the wrong move. He closed his eyes again and attempted to sit up but sure enough, the cacti and his mangled body worked together in the worst of manners. “Open your eyes, Lucius,” the voice bid calmly. “Do not be a coward.”

“There’s a hungry bird on me!” Lucius cried out.

“Open your eyes.”

He opened his eyes and saw that the bird was still staring into his gaze. He could see a little better now and could make out what kind of bird it was. He lifted his own voice a little higher to speak to the other one. “It appears to be a buzzard!”

“A vulture, more like,” the voice said, coming from the bird’s beak. “I never did understand that nomenclature.”

Lucius closed his eyes again. Hot tears tears painfully streamed from them. After a moment, he worked up the stamina to ask, “Am I dreaming or delusional?”

“I suspect or is the operative word. Also, you are a bloody coward.”

“You’re not talking to me. This is a trick of some sort.”

“Yes, most brilliant one. That accounts for all the pain.”

“What happened to me?”

“That depends, oh wise one. Are you talking to me or with me?” The bird’s eyes and voice spoke different languages.

“Shut up!” Lucius yelled at the cost of piercing pain shooting through him.

“Regardless,” the bird said. “I will be needing that jacket when you die. Do you suppose that might be soon?”

“Who says I’m not already dead? This is hell for all I know!”

“You would beg for this place if you knew hell.”

“Then what? Where? Why?” Lucius struggled to get each word out. “Is it a dream?”

“You would beg for a nightmare if you knew it be a dream.” He paused for a moment and then Lucius felt something new. Another creature was nearby, slithering, rattling. It slid up his arm and then across his neck. It made its way up to his ear and it flicked its tongue against it. “You would feel pain in a dream, but even that would end. You would feel nothing but pain in hell, but that would never end. Here, Lucius, you can only feel the world around you. What would you call that? Where would that be? Why? You ask the questions you think you want to know, but I think you already know the answers.” Then he clicked his tongue.

The snake snapped at Lucius’ neck and its fangs plunged deep. The venom worked straight away and his neck and throat grew tight. He could breathe less and less between that and the weight on his chest. His body convulsed and he was stabbed by the cacti, drawn closer to whatever was providing the light and heat. The snake, upset by the movement, struck at him more.

The vulture mostly sat still as Lucius fought against the elements. He reached down with his beak to pull at the jacket but it would not budge. He ripped at it but it would only stick tighter to his skin. “This is quite tiresome.”

Lucius opened his eyes, now bulging out from choking. The snake seemed to have given up and left the two. There were bits of cactus in his mangled and now blackening body. Burn marks were visible where his skin was exposed. The jacket had shrunk and seemed to be a part of his skin now. “It is so warm,” the bird opined. “Why are you torturing yourself?”

He jumped down off of Lucius’ chest. His voice did not give any hint of victory or defeat. He waddled away from the burned and broken body.

Lucius did not see the bird look back at him. He did not see the hefty thing take flight. It was growing dark. His eyes could stay open only for short periods of time. His own vision grew dark. He could only hear sirens, then several voices.

“Probably rattlesnake, knowing these parts. Get the IV ready!”

“What are you doing over here?”

“The kid is a little shaken up but he’ll be alright.”

“There’s some cuts on this one too. Get that stretcher closer.”

“Shame about that car.”

“Where are the kid’s parents?”

“Over there. Police or Fire had ’em all together.”

“Hey y’all, it was a rattler. Looks like he got his head bashed in too.”

“We need to hurry up, guys,” a stern voice chided them all, obviously annoyed at the chatter. “He needs surgery and that damned buzzard over there really stinks.”

Occasional Prose

New Year’s Eve; or, Ten Miles South (a short story)

Marley was dead, to begin with. It seemed no suprise to Leon as the audiobook’s narrator recounted John Grogan’s memoir over the car’s CD player. Leon was mostly unsuspecting of the outcome and looked over at the Golden Retriever sitting in the passenger seat. “Didn’t see that comin’.”

“Boof,” the dog seemed to answer quietly and then looked out the window. He was thoroughly bored.

“I don’t quite understand it,” Leon continued before realizing he was talking to himself. He was driving through the backroads to get to a small town that he didn’t want to be at. It was all to drop off a dog that wasn’t his to someone who hated both him and the dog anyway. He convinced himself that that last part wasn’t true. He hoped anyway.

They were about ten miles south of their destination, driving north when they came to a railroad crossing. He could see a train coming from the west at a snail’s pace. There were gates at the crossing, much to his surprise considering the mostly bare location. He creeped the car up to it and easily could have crossed. The train was far enough away that the gates hadn’t fell yet. His foot was on the brake as he watched the gate, waiting for the lights to blink. It was nearly a minute but the bell began to ring, the lights began to flash, and the gate lowered. “Well boy,” Leon said, reaching over to pet the dog. “I guess we have to wait for this thing to pass.” The dog’s tail began to wag a little and he looked at Leon.

Leon wasn’t exactly a fan of having a dog around, to begin with. His great-aunt, in her old age and declining health, needed someone around in her final days. The dog was fairly old himself, trusting but cautious of people. The shelter Leon picked him up vaguely said he had been passed around by many owners. Leon brought the dog to his aunt towards the end of the previous year. She loved the dog and the dog warmed up to her too. When her nurse came to check on her two weeks prior, she was peacefully laying in her bed, no heartbeat, and the dog rested somberly on the floor.

There was a small graveside service for her on a bright, cool morning. Leon was there with a handful of other relatives. He himself was at peace with her passing. They had had some phone conversations though the quality had declined as her mental decline accelerated. He knew she was finally at peace too. His one cousin, who couldn’t make it to the service but who had a farm, said he could take the dog in even if he’d “probably put the damn thing out of it’s misery not long after.” The cousin said it was a joke though Leon knew that the guy had the same outlook as a lot of crotchety old country vets–put a dog down for any ailment and focus on the horses.

The few people that came to the funeral were upset. They were cousins, uncles, and aunts, not upset that they had lost a close companion but upset because they were spending the week before Christmas at a funeral. It was all a major inconvenience that brought them there that day. They didn’t have to wear masks at the graveside but were more than observant of distancing when there was a moment to talk with each other. Leon exchanged a few words with his aunt’s pastor who officiated the service but the most he heard from a family member was, “Why are you even here?”

He and the dog were ten miles south of his cousin’s farm when the train slowly made its way up to the crossing gate. Leon was still petting the dog. He had the car in park and opened the windows, much to the dog’s enjoyment. “Looks like a long train, boy.”

He remembered when he was younger he would wave at the engineers in hope that they’d take notice and blow the horn even more. Naturally they would blow it several times at a crossing anyway but you always tell that they saw you and acknowledged you with a few more honks. Since they were the only ones out there, Leon lifted his hand out the window and waved in an exaggerated way. He felt like a kid again.

The train had used the horn a few times and had the bell ringing. They must of noticed his wave and blew the horn in quick succession to acknowledge him as well. Then they blew it continuously for a few moments. Leon laughed as the dog sat up more, tail wagging and howling at the noise. When it was past them, he stopped howling but the tail far outpaced the sound of the heavy coal cars pressing down on each sucessive stretch of railing. After the seven locomotive units, there seemed to be no end in sight of full hopper cars.

The dog was old and getting older. He had all sorts of memories lodged in his mind, some alright, most not. He had heard many words and inflections of words in his lifetime. He could remember the voices but the words were mostly lost on him. Whatever they were, they were not the words a dog wanted or needed to hear. He didn’t know that the man sitting next to him, petting him, and saying random words was named Leon. The two were on good terms but he mostly remembered the man taking him to the one person who did care.

He met Leon’s aunt and knew that the woman didn’t have much longer to live. He figured he would bide his time and wait it out until he was passed on to another owner again. The frail old human had other plans. She saw the graying Golden Retriever and cooed on to him. Though most words meant nothing to him, her words meant everything. She wanted him around. She wanted to care for him even though she was the one that needed looking after. She would scratch behind his ears and he would hear the words “Georgie, porgie” but he knew that the first word meant him.

Georgie loved Leon’s aunt more than anyone he had ever known. But life wasn’t always easy with her either. It was unlike the others though. There was hurt in her household but not by intentional hands and feet of bitter human beings. She would never lay a hand on him in such a way. Georgie was hurt empathetically as he watched her become confused, more tired, and upset with herself. With the utmost sense of duty and compassion, he fought his own aching joints to be the happy little puppy he thought she deserved. When the nurses came by, he would check them out to make sure they were there to help too. Only then would he step away. The morning he saw her lying still in the bed knowing that she wasn’t going to get up, he whimpered and waited for the nurse. It wasn’t even a full year that they had together but it was the happiest time he’d ever had. Though he would miss her, he lie down on the floor with the bittersweet realization that he, too, could die at peace having the brief joy he had.

Ten miles south of his home-to-be, Leon and Georgie were playing tug-of-war with a rolled up newspaper. The end of the train was slowly approaching. Leon scratched behind the dog’s ears and commented that he was a “Good boy” as he dropped the paper and turned the key in the ignition.

At various times, they both watched the passing freight cars as they went by. When they looked straight ahead at them, it seemed as though they themselves moving. When they allowed their eyes to move with each passing car, it still granted the same illusion. It might have been slow but it wasn’t stopped, nor would stop at that crossing. It’d keep going.

Two more locomotives were bringing up the rear of the train and as they slowly trudged on, the sounds began to lessen. The weight of the train on the tracks moved on and the clicking and clackings it made grew fainter. The bells at the crossing lasted until the gates raised and stopped too. The hum of the car engine was all that remained except for a light breeze that occasionally whistled through the open windows. Though it was a much needed reprieve, Leon and Georgie realized that they couldn’t stay parked there forever. They needed to move too.

“Well boy, should we hit the road?”

The dog had no idea what he said but judging by his inflection, he felt something he hadn’t felt in a long while: excitement. He didn’t know that their destination was ten miles ahead and that they would part ways from there. He didn’t care. He would enjoy the car ride.

Leon took the CD out of the player and put it in its case. There was a note inside that he didn’t need to read again. It said:

Leon. I enjoyed it but the ending sucked. Maybe you’ll like it better.

Your Auntie Amelia

He threw it in the backseat and put the car into gear. He grinned and shook his head. “Georgie,” he chuckled. The dog tilted his head. It wasn’t a question. It wasn’t statement. At that moment, neither one of them knew what the word meant. They judged only its inflection.

With the windows down and the radio off, the two drove fifteen miles north and couldn’t be bothered to stop.

devotional · Poetry

The Young Pastor’s Prayer

Your will, not mine, I pray come true

that Your hand might guide me through

those things which I cannot here do

without Your grace and presence

Dear Lord, please help me always

through the darkest nights and days

to give to You heartfelt praise

for Your sweet grace and presence

Be with those under my care

and work through Your Word to share

what sweet solace they’ll find there,

there in Your grace and presence

To You who was sacrificed,

paid for us the highest price,

to You I pray, dearest Christ

grant us Your grace and presence

Occasional Prose · Stuff

Reflections on July 20th

The date of July 20th has a much different feel to it than it did in years past. For those that don’t know or are unaware, today is the day Chester Bennington, lead singer of Linkin Park, died. What made it so hard to comprehend was that the cause of death was suicide, something that he fought against his whole life, something we only received snapshots from his songs, from Linkin Park and his side project, Dead By Sunrise. I still remember waking up at 2 in the afternoon after a long, early morning shift and hearing the news from friends and family, who were devastated by the news. Not since Heath Ledger’s passing had a celebrity death hit me so hard. So, on this the 3rd anniversary of his passing, we try to celebrate how he lived his life and how he did his absolute best to live a peaceful life, both with his family and friends, and his mental health. These days, it seems so much harder to live that peaceful life, especially finding peace with our mental health, which today is even more poignant.

Continue reading “Reflections on July 20th”