300 Writing Prompts: #146

“What keeps you from getting a good night’s sleep?”

When I was a kid I slept like a rock. It didn’t matter the circumstances, what noise was or wasn’t in the house, I never had to count wayward sheep in order to nod off or to stay asleep all night. No wonder I was always bright eyed and bushy tailed every day. Of course I also got to sleep at a quality time for me (imposed by my maternal figure) so my body got used to the circadian rhythms. They got me through.

But then I got older. Teenage years were not the best. The solid sleep that I had gotten as a youngster had become an anchor because I began sleeping too soundly, not waking up when the alarm went off. Banging on my room door became the norm (since I had gotten a chain lock, for privacy’s sake), and the yelling of my mother in the morning began to assimilate itself into my dreams.

As I got to young adulthood, though, something shifted, something fundamental changed, and at first I had no idea what it could possibly be. Eventually I realized it was my bedtime. I had started watching 10 o’clock television shows on my black and white television, so I didn’t get to bed until at least 11 on most nights, and oft times later on others (I blame Mario and Luigi). These changes threw off my REM sleep, and the cycle got all jumbled up. Continue reading “300 Writing Prompts: #146”

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300 Writing Prompts: #143

“Describe a ‘first day’ in your life.”

first_place_blue_ribbonI’m really big on firsts. The first tooth I lost was a cause for utmost celebration, even though it created an imbalance in my mouth, because I knew more would follow. The first time I kissed a girl the smell of her gum (cinnamon) stayed with me for weeks afterwards, even though we shared only the one kiss. The first movie I saw in the theater was abbreviated because I arrived late, but I will never forget it for as long as I live.

There’s just something about firsts that is special, that draws me in and makes me want to indulge them for as long as I can, because once each one has passed there is no getting it back. The first time is special simply by essence of being the first time, and nothing can change it once it has occurred. That’s why people celebrate anniversaries, because each one reminds them of the original, of the first time something happened, good or bad.

The first time I realized I was black, and what that meant, was in fifth grade, when a class of white students visited our all-black school and I was introduced to the “other” for the first time. Before then all the faces I saw looked like mine, and everyone I knew had a similar history and heritage. But that day, the first day they were at the school, I saw that there was more to this world than my own insular understanding of it based on those near me. That was when being black became a differentiator and not just something I saw in the mirror every day.

My first day in Tennessee was a study in contrasts. For a boy from the ghetto in one of the largest cities in the country, moving to an up and coming college town in the heart of the Bible Belt was a shock to the system. I remember looking around when I got out of the car after driving all night, and wondering what this brave new world held for me, if I could even survive what I knew would be a radical change. I walked around in a daze that day, faced with the surreal idea that I lived there, that it wasn’t just some chaotic dream.

Life is full of firsts, from the first step we take, to the first song we hear, to the first time we hear the word “dad” and know it means us. Those firsts tend to define us more than many other things can because they stick with us. Often we memorialize them, and revisit them in our thirst for a nostalgia that may or may not have been truly amazing that first time but becomes so in the reliving.

Which is our prerogative. Which is our joy.

Sam

Flash Fiction Challenge #8 (Something New)

flashfictioncartoon-300x300Back in 1998 I was writing… a lot. And most of what I wrote back then was short fiction. It was a renaissance of sorts because I hadn’t really planned on it. In fact, for the past year before that I was writing a lot of poetry snippets. Not real poems, mind you, just bits and pieces, lines here and there that came to me. Suddenly, though, those lines transformed into snatches of conversation. Those words became characters who spoke to me, forcing me to set them in motion and see what happened.

Before this challenge I could probably count on two hands the number of short stories I’d written over the past year. That was probably because of many factors, not the least of which was the maintenance of my blogs. I guess I forgot that writing short fiction could be a part of anything else I decided to write. But I’m proud to say that if this is my second renaissance it is a fruitful one. I’ve fallen in love once more with short fiction during this challenge.

Only three more stories to go. Here are the rules of the Flash Fiction Challenge…

  1. Each entry has to follow a set prompt
  2. Each entry has to be 1,000 words or fewer
  3. Each entry has to be written specifically for this challenge

“Something old, something new, something borrowed,” Thalia said, counting on her fingers and feigning confusion.

“…and something pink,” laughed Celie, fluffing her hair in front of the gilt-edged mirror.

“It’s something blue, silly,” Thalia corrected before giggling. She couldn’t help herself.

“What. Ever,” said Celie, fingering the chiffon fringe of the ivory gown on the rack in front of her.

“Although pink would certainly be more interesting in a wedding,” added Thalia, grinning. “Imagine pink bow ties on the groomsmen, pink shoes on the ring bearer, pink highlights in the groom’s hair.”

“If the groom has pink highlights, I’m going to say that couple is not staying together,” Celie said, letting the gown slip through her fingers and moving on to the next one.

There were miles of gowns at the Wedding Wearhouse, rack after rack of white, off white, off off white, and other pale shades of dresses. On first glance they appeared ghost-like in the massive space of the Wearhouse, as if twenty thousand headless brides awaited their grooms in shameless expectation, pressed together like cattle at milking time.

Celie was bored, and she wasn’t even a bridesmaid. She wasn’t the maid of honor either, even though she was Thalia’s best friend, and had held the title since grade school. But it didn’t phase her because 1) Thalia wasn’t even getting married, and 2) she didn’t believe in weddings. They were only at the Wearhouse because her friend wanted to jumpstart the proposal she was certain was just around the corner.

But Celie knew that Brett was never going to propose, at least not anytime soon. He was the kind of guy who talked a good game but never got off his ass long enough to do anything he said he would. In fact, if looks could be believed, he had gone backward instead of forward when it came to commitment. More often than not he did things without even telling Thalia, and she let him. Celie knew if that was her she would have dumped him ages ago, but Thalia was a bit of a pushover.

And a bit of a romantic, the hopeless variety.

“A guy can be into pink and not be gay,” said Thalia, holding up a strapless gown against her size zero figure with her eyebrows raised.

“Uh, yeah, and my father watches Barney every night before bed,” huffed Celie, flopping onto a nearby chair as if exhausted.

“There are worse things to watch than a big purple dinosaur,” Thalia said, tossing the gown into her shopping cart full of things to try on.

“Like your weight, so you can fit into that dress,” said Celie, smiling.

“Well, probably not this dress,” Thalia replied, eyeing the others in the cart.

“You’re worse than those bridezillas on ‘Say Yes to the Dress,'” laughed Celie, rolling her eyes.

“I just want things to be perfect,” said Thalia, sighing. The sound was more pitiful than anything else to Celie’s ears.

“And you’re absolutely certain Brett is going to propose?” Celie asked tentatively.

“I’m a million percent certain Brett is going to propose, silly,” Thalia said, her tone final.

“Well then, I would go with strapless,” said Celie. “You’ve definitely got the shoulders for it. It could be your something new.”

“Your something new can’t be the dress!” gasped Thalia.

“I don’t see why not,” Celie argued. “It’s new, isn’t it?”

“No, no,” maintained Thalia. “Your dress is above all of that stuff. It can’t be used for anything other than the most special thing on the most special day.”

“I thought the most special thing was getting married,” said Celie, laughing.

“Grrrrr, you get me so agitated,” Thalia said, but she was laughing too.

While Celie knew that Brett wasn’t ever going to strap on a pair and make an honest woman out of Thalia, she also knew the fiction was the only thing keeping her friend from being depressed. It was a fragile string to pull, so Celie knew she had to avoid pulling it at all costs. She had already voiced her concerns, but short of yelling them at Thalia there was really nothing else she could do but be supportive.

“You can get a new bra for the day,” Celie said with a straight face. “It can be one of those strapless ones that makes your boobs look like they’re floating. Like Princess Jasmine’s from Aladdin.”

“Like Princess Jasmine’s magical floating boobs from the kids’ movie Aladdin?” repeated Thalia, dissolving in giggles. “I’m sure that’s exactly how the director intended it. I’m sure he spent a lot of time wondering how her cartoon boobs were going to be supported.”

“Hey, it was before Pixar,” Celie argued. “They had to do something to keep the movie interesting.”

“You’re crazy, C,” said Thalia. “I hope you know that.”

“Seriously, though,” said Celie, her smile muted a tad bit. “It doesn’t even matter what you get, what’s going to be your something new, because when you find the right guy, and he’s standing there in front of you, you’ll feel new yourself.”

“Wow, I never thought I’d hear something so romantic out of your mouth,” Thalia gushed, leaning down to hug her friend. “You sure you don’t want to be my maid of honor?”

“You’re going to make me regret my caring side,” laughed Celie, blushing. “I’ll think about it. You gotta get engaged first though, then some back and ask me again.”

“You’d better believe it,” said Thalia. “You know, you’d look great in taffeta.”

“Yeah, I’m out of here,” Celie said, rising from the chair.

“And we’re back to the way things are supposed to be,” Thalia laughed, pushing her cart in the direction of the fitting rooms, Celie trailing a few steps behind.

And for the first time ever, she hoped she was wrong. Because if Brett broke Thalia’s heart she knew it would break hers too.

Sam

300 Writing Prompts: #140

“Complete this thought: ‘Today I hope…'”

i-hope-you-danceToday I hope we can be mature adults, that we can talk about deeply important issues without resorting to name calling, throwing dirt, and wrecking friendships. I hope that love stops being a dirty word that makes others worry about our state of mind. I hope that our choices are the ones we want to make, not ones made for us by others. I hope we can come together as human beings and laugh together.

Today I hope people aren’t judging each other based on stereotypes, that this world doesn’t keep devolving into a cesspool of gossip and mudslinging. I hope that technology doesn’t destroy the human connection, the person to person connection. I hope that being faithful becomes more of a “thing.” I hope that conversations can be about more than just the weather, that it becomes popular to dig deep with others.

Today I hope that we can learn to trust others, that being realistic doesn’t have to mean being pessimistic. I hope that freedom is not just something we talk about, but that we live that ideology every day. I hope that the angels of the silences don’t fly back to heaven weeping every day because we are so loud. I hope that we can accept others for who they can’t help being.

Today I hope this song in my head never quiets down. I hope the blue of the sky continues to greet me every morning. I hope the flood of emotion I feel when someone does something nice for me never goes away. I hope the flood of emotion I feel when I do something nice for someone else never goes away. I hope my friends continue to rely on me to be there for them. I hope my friends are always there for me.

Today I hope I’ve made a difference in someone else’s life, even if I don’t know for sure that I have. I hope my coffee never grows cold unless I ordered it that way. I hope the world becomes an even smaller place than it is now, that we can love them like Jesus instead of like strangers on a boulevard. I hope “forever” means just what it says again, at some point.

Today I hope they don’t condemn the bridge I used to play upon. I hope people stop writing “your” when they mean “you’re.” I hope my thoughts come out more clearly than they’ve organized themselves in my mind. I hope tomorrow means more than today. I hope fear stops being my constant companion. I hope this overwhelming apathy in the world is merely a product of disillusionment, that illumination returns. I hope it rains.

Today I hope for a peace that passes understanding. I hope a mighty wind will blow me off my moorings so I’m forced to breathe again. I hope these words aren’t as hollow as my soul used to be, because I couldn’t take it if they were.

Sam

Flash Fiction Challenge #5 (Chocolate)

Chocolate-CityI’m starting to get used to writing short fiction again, and I’m reminded of why I’ve always loved it so much in the first place. Short fiction is a chance to get down and dirty with characters, with plots, and with the development of both, without getting too attached because I know they’re going to be gone soon. If I want to kill them off I can without too much thought of consequence, unlike what goes on when I write novels.

However, there are limitations to short fiction that are obvious as well. Because I don’t get to know my characters quite as much I’m not as invested in them. These days my short stories only last as long as the situation that I’ve set up lasts, not until the characters die or a resolution is achieved.

Once I wrote a short fictive piece about a man at a New Year’s Eve party who suddenly realizes that public holidays and functions are merely constructs, and he’s struck by how meaningless most of life becomes when you look at it that way. The entire story takes place inside of his head, and exists only in the battle between what he’s known and what he’s finally figured out.

I like that short story because it proves a story can live through its use of metaphor and inner conflict. I decided I want to do something like that again with this one. I’ll remind you of the rules regarding the Flash Fiction Challenge…

  1. Each entry has to follow a set prompt
  2. Each entry has to be 1,000 words or fewer
  3. Each entry has to be written specifically for this challenge

Topic: Chocolate.


It’s been ten years since I took a bite of chocolate, since I let it magnificently melt in my mouth and slide sinfully down my throat for the final time, so I can look back at it with an objective eye. I can be around a Snickers bar now and not salivate obsessively over it, and not beg its owner for just a little bite, and not offer my body in exchange for a hit of the good stuff.

If there was a 12-step group for chocolate lovers I would probably have been its first member, dutifully standing up in front of my cacao loving peers and proclaiming that I have a problem. That’s what we call it these days when an obsession interferes with our normal lives, driving us from the ranks of those who love something to those who are in love with something. It’s no different from any other addiction, not from nicotine, or alcohol, or sex. Chocolate, to me, was all those things rolled into one.

So I had to quit. Cold turkey.

I knew that slowly weaning myself off the good stuff was never going to work for me. It’s a slippery slope when it comes to addiction because it’s easy to say all the right things, and even to believe them, but when it comes to putting them into practice the addiction simply calls out. And we answer. I had tried for years to quit, had told myself I was going to cut back. But cutting back was difficult when it was in the house. Living by myself was the real killer because there was no one there to keep me to my promise. If the chocolate was in my apartment I was going to devour it. I was going to keep going back to the beast and sucking the marrow off of its bones.

So I did quit, and I did it on a Sunday in August, when the temperature was eighty-five, just hot enough for M&Ms to melt in my hand, tattooing me with sweet circles of chocolatey goodness that I always licked clean after. But on that day I didn’t have M&Ms. All I had was my willpower, which had never been enough before, but I knew something had to change. I had read all of the documentation. I had seen all the articles. Chocolate was a cruel task master that had turned me into its slave. It was time I broke free of the shackles that had claimed me so long ago.

But my friends weren’t supportive. They looked at me like I was a little slow on the uptake. They were of the opinion that chocolate can’t be evil because chocolate is so heavenly. It’s obvious they were never tempted to over-indulge. Some people don’t have addictive personalities, so they could never understand mine, and my friends were this way. Eventually they learned to refrain from eating chocolate around me, from indulging in their chocolate drinks, and from discussing the glory of the chocolate infused lifestyles they chose to live.

I began to get the chocolate sweats, the nervous shaking of my hands and arms that indicated that I was going cold turkey. I had counted on the nerves, but not the extent to which they disturbed my life. I had to call out sick from the office, and I imagined my cubicle cold and sterile, waiting for me to return and claim it from oblivion. But I also thought of the chocolate I had stored in my bottom drawer for emergencies. I had missed it on my sweep through, when I first decided to just eliminate chocolate from my diet, to crush its hold over me.

The drawer was my final temptation, the final hurdle I would have to leap before I could legitimately lay claim to being sober. My sister helped me bag up all the chocolate at my apartment, and I have to say she was appalled at the sheer volume that dominated such a small space. I had two giant bags of Snickers, a case of M&Ms, a chocolate cake I had just baked the night before, two huge tubs of mint chocolate chip ice cream in the freezer, and an 8-pack of Oreos in my kitchen. The rest of the apartment was no slouch in that department either. In the end she helped me lug seven trash bags worth of chocolate to the local food kitchen. Even they were surprised that it all came from one solitary individual.

That was ten years ago, though, and even though it was quite the process that counts as ancient history now. Sometimes I eat out with friends, and they order something with chocolate in it, but I’m not moved to tears anymore. I’m not hanging on the edge of my seat drooling all over them. I no longer get the chocolate sweats, and I taped off my bottom drawer at work ages ago so even it doesn’t draw me in like it did. I still go to the 12-step meetings in my mind, introducing myself about once a month to the addicts still living in my brain.

I’m happy to admit that chocolate is no longer the anchor weighing me down. I no longer feel so much pain from the forced separation. Just like other addicts, though, I’ll never truly be over the addiction. I just need to stay vigilant, to keep my life goals in mind, and none of them include eating a pound of chocolate a day and hating myself for it afterwards. But damn, it sure would be nice to have a 3 Musketeers bar. Or twenty.

Sam

Flash Fiction Challenge #4 (Renovate)

RenovationIt’s funny how I hadn’t really written a proper short story in a while before this challenge. I guess I got caught up in writing and editing a novel, and now a second one in progress, so the longer pieces consumed all of my time. I remember a time when it was opposite, and sometimes I miss that time, but this blog helps me stay connected to the world of smaller pieces of writing.

But this challenge is a whole other ball of wax, if I do say so myself. I’ve never been one to stick to challenges set forth by others, and yet I find I’m fascinated by the way these pieces of flash fiction come to me fully formed and I am just their conduit to share on here. With that being said, watch this most recent one isn’t quite as easy or as organic as the first three.

Regardless, I am staying the course, and I’m still excited to see what comes out of my brain this time. As a reminder, here are the rules of the Flash Fiction Challenge:

  1. Each entry has to follow a set prompt
  2. Each entry has to be 1,000 words or fewer
  3. Each entry has to be written specifically for this challenge

Topic: Renovate.


The attic had been off limits for as long as Caitlin Raye could recall, the trapdoor leading to it hemmed in by a pair of sturdy 2x4s nailed through with spikes that could have held Jesus aloft on the cross. She had asked her father if she could use it as a bedroom several times over the years, but his response had always been a noncommittal “we’ll see.” If there was anything Caitlin knew with certainty, it was that his “we’ll see” meant “not a chance.”

But the attic was so appealing to her, probably precisely because it had always been off limits. When she was little she imagined ghosts lived up there, that they had their own ghosts music, and hosted other ghosts at ghost parties. As she had gotten older, though, she realized that floor of their house was probably off limits because it was unsafe, and her father was too much of a cheapskate to have the floor redone so it was sturdier. So he kept it boarded up and said “we’ll see” instead of ponying up the dough to renovate it.

Caitlin religiously watched HGTV, though, the channel for house related endeavors, so she knew there was still hope for her dreams of eventually inhabiting the attic. Her favorite program was Reno from Reno, a show where Jake and Ellie Golden turned uninhabitable spaces in Reno into polished gems when they were finished. They specialized in rooms that were badly out of date, gutting them, and making them ultra-modern in their pursuit of what they termed “the perfect room.” At the end of the season viewers would vote on what room won the honor of all the ones they had completed on the show that season, and the winner would win a million bucks.

First things first, though. Caitlin knew she would have to get some unflattering shots of the inside of the attic, which meant somehow getting past the barred entrance. She was a modern girl, but not so modern that she had a chance in hell of overpowering the nailed 2x4s, so she called Joel, her on again/off again boyfriend, and told him to come over for some fun. She knew he wouldn’t come if she said anything else. Boys were all the same. By the time he arrived that afternoon her parents were both at work, so no one would interrupt them.

She had her dad’s tools spread out on her bed when Joel bounced up the stairs with his shades on and a big smile on his face. So predictable. By the time she filled him in on what he was really going to be doing the smile had faded, replaced by a hopeful look that said maybe she would owe him one. Later. The large claw hammer proved to be perfect for the job, even though it took the better part of 10 minutes just to get one of the boards off. A few minutes later the second board joined its partner on the hallway floor, and for the first time in Caitlin’s life the trapdoor to the attic was unencumbered.

The sweaty boy pulled on the rope, the door creaked open with a bit of resistance, and a rickety ladder slid from the top of the opening to the hallway floor. Joel swept her into his arms and kissed her hard just then. He tasted of pepperoni and peppermint, not entirely unpleasant, and Caitlin had been taken by surprise so it took her a moment to break the kiss. By then she was breathless, but she figured it had been worth the kiss to finally have access to the attic. She could already envision Ellie and Jake in this very hallway, with a cadre of cameramen, ready to ascend the very steps she was about to go up for the first time ever.

When she got to the top, however, the room itself proved to be a disappointment. Maybe it was always going to be, with the crushing hype that had weighed her down for years, that had turned it almost mythic in Caitlin’s mind. It ran the length of the entire upstairs, which was sizable, but there was nothing that screamed “reno” about it. There were no old touches that might have come from the ’60s, no ancient wallpaper, not even any rotting floorboards that needed to be redone. In fact, what the room most resembled was an operating room in a hospital, everything sterilized and ready for the next procedure.

Her disappointment was palpable, and immediate. She leaned against one of the three posts that continued up from downstairs and ended at the sloped ceiling, and let out a sigh that seemed to reverberate around the length of the large space. Joel, who had paused at the top of the ladder, looked about as lost as a teenage boy can look. He didn’t know what to do as he watched Caitlin fade into the beam upon which she leaned. So he took out his phone and checked his Twitter feed, hoping for another opportunity to get Caitlin alone again after whatever it was that was happening in that attic.

As she began to come out of her fog of disillusionment, though, she began to see things a bit more clearly. She started to see a way that she could use the blank slate the room presented to her advantage. Caitlin took the camera from around her neck and began snapping photos of the far corner, seeing it in her mind’s eye better than she had ever seen any place in her life. She worked her way to the center, taking shots of the beams that rose from below, the near corner, and the sloped ceiling that also held such promise.

A glance in Joel’s direction confirmed that he was doing nothing to help her, that he hadn’t even noticed her issues, and Caitlin realized he really wasn’t the guy for her. If he couldn’t sympathize with her when she was clearly in distress, what kind of future did they really have? As she continued to snap away she edited him out of the room, and out of her life. Life was too short, and she had to use her time wisely, to get ready for Jake and Ellie. The flash on her camera went off once more, and she smiled.

Sam

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