Die Writing

The graying morning

Posted in Uncategorized by erdaron on November 12, 2016

Aside
 This is another piece inspired by mishearing song lyrics. This is based off the song “Heathens” by 21 Pilots. The actual opening line of the song is “All my friends are heathens, take it slow / Wait for them to ask you who you know.” I thought it opened with “All my friends are here, so take it slow…” Which led me to a story for which the following is the ending.

Are you hip enough?
 Chelsea leaned against the glass and closed her eyes. LA was gliding past outside the limo. A breeze slipped in through the cracked window and tussled her gorgeous hair. The gray morning light made her look pale, sickly, and fragile. She was smoking, with her eyes closed, and when the car stopped at a light, she ashed the cigarette in the window.
 Robbie sat on the opposite side of the cab. He was stiff and still, with his hands on his knees. His heavy tweed jacket was in awkward contrast to her fleeting white dress. The silence that filled the cab was stunned and woozy from too many cocktails. It also echoed with booming music. Robbie was facing Chelsea, but his eyes weren’t focused on anything in particular.
 ”Did you get what you wanted?” She finally asked, still without looking at him.
 He did not answer right away. He was sobering up, from the alcohol, from sleep deprivation, from the sensory overload of it all, and nothing felt real. Sensations of his own body from five minutes ago felt like they belonged to a stranger.
 Robbie focused on Chelsea, and for a moment, he again saw the lanky Wisconsin schoolgirl. It didn’t last.
 ”How?…  Why?” His words were hoarse. It was hard to talk with someone else’s throat.
 ”Fuck you, Robbie.” She opened her eyes and looked outside, eye darting between gas stations, beauty salons, and greasy food stands. “We fit each other, this life and I.”

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The Maid and the Bishop (FFC 2016)

Posted in Uncategorized by erdaron on September 22, 2016

Aside
This is my second-round entry for NYC Midnight’s Flash Fiction Challenge. Since I scored zero in the first round, this may also be my last entry for FFC 2016.

The prompts were historical fiction, circus tent, and a doll’s head.

Perhaps, this needs some historical background. Surely you’re familiar with Joan of Arc. Cauchon was a French (Burgundian) figure, closely allied with the English cause. He presided over Joan of Arc’s witch trial. Jean, Duke of Alencon was a French nobleman and military commander. He was among the first to recognize Joan’s value, he was her close ally and even friend. Joan of Arc was nineteen, and Jean was about twenty-two. At the time Joan had come along, about a third of France was lost to the English and their allies, and the French haven’t seen a major military victory in decades.

For France and King!
 Mud streaked her face. Blood caked one side of her head. Swelling and the sweat made it almost impossible to see out of her left eye. She was bound to a chair with rough twine that cut into her bruised flesh; her arms were growing numb. A terrible thirst scorched her throat.
 Four guards stood in silent attention around her. The red tunics covering their spotless, gleaming armor bore the three lions of the English.
 The battle had been a roaring human storm. Afterwards, a silence so deep, it made your ears ring. Wind quietly whistled around the ragged canvas edges of the tent. She thought she heard distant horses.
 The canopy of the once-splendid tent rested on two mighty poles. Rotting straw covered the floor. The center clearing was ringed with benches, many broken and overturned. The faded canvas had lost its bright colors. Joan remembered tents just like this. They would be full of actors, acrobats, and clowns with clever limericks. She could not recall any. Her thoughts sank into a drowsy molasses.
 There was a rustling of heavy cloth and a burst of bright sunlight. Someone exclaimed in French:
 “Do my eyes deceive me? Is it really her? It is. A glorious day! Right here in the flesh. Joan of Arc.” The tall man clad in a fine heavy robe approached her, bending over to look closely in her eyes. A wolf’s smile appeared on his lips, and he continued with the flat and measured tone of a coffinmaker’s hammer. “The mighty, invincible Joan of Arc.”
 “Cauchon,” she breathed through her cracked lips.
 “One and the same.”
 The man straightened up and took in the shabby pavilion.
 “What in heavens is this place? A county fair, was it? Ah, the plays. The Lovers.” He pursed his lips in an exaggerated kiss. “Pierrot, the clown.” He frowned with theatrical sadness. “Nonsense, the lot of it.
 “This arrangement is temporary, of course. You’ll be moved shortly. To Rouen, eventually. If you’re lucky, maybe you’ll even see England before you are executed.”
 Then he added, in English, “Leave us.” The soldiers obeyed.
 He circled behind her. Joan’s neck was too stiff to follow him.
 “You’re quite pretty, you are.” Something creaked and thudded heavily. “Did you ever fancy yourself as Colombina?”
 Cauchon reappeared in front of her. In one hand he was holding the head of a wooden doll. He blew the dust from its perfectly polished countenance and held it up next to Joan’s muddied face. Then, he grabbed her chin and twisted her head, comparing her to the doll. Her neck and spine burned with pain.
 “The men talk about you, you know.” He studied the toy and the young woman. “What about Jean? That handsome boy duke of Alençon. Does he find you beautiful?”
She spat at him. He swung his fist wide and hit her. She did not flinch; the soldiers had hit much harder. The rings cut her skin and fresh blood trickled down her cheek. He dropped the doll’s head and splintered it with his boot.
 “You stupid girl. Dukes don’t go with peasants.”
 His gaze wandered away from Joan, and traveled toward something distant, beyond the canvas walls. His tone again turned casual, absentminded.
 “They are still dying for you. They scattered, but… Burgundy’s got the fastest horses, and your friends have none. All they ever really had was hope in you. Turns out, that’s not as good as a horse.”
 He leveled his gaze on her again.
 “You brought them here, and now they are all going to die.” Tears welled up in Joan’s eyes. She did not even notice them at first. Joan remembered the faces of those who stood by her without wavering, even before a certain death. Seeing her in their lines, they drew a fresher breath.
 “You should have stayed on the God-forsaken farm, girl.”
 Tears came as a torrent. She wept and choked on her sobs. She remembered the bodies strewn on the fields, the inhuman tension in the battle lines just before a charge, the exhausting, crushing marches. Yet even in those moments, the darkest of them, she saw courage grow in the hearts left fallow and barren by a lifetime of defeat.
 “I couldn’t… I couldn’t.” She shuddered, struggling to speak through the tears. “We are dying on our land. I had to come. And so I have come, and so I have done God’s work. Don’t you see that this is His plan? France will right herself with Charles as the king. God has told me so.”
 “Blasphemer,” he grabbed her throat. “You will burn for these words!”
 “He has told you, too. You can see it as clearly as I.”
 Cauchon peered into Joan’s broken, filthy face streaked with tears. Her eyes were as steady as a mountain’s heart. He recoiled.
 “The English will abandon you. They will sail back to their isles, leave you here as so many bilge rats, and never look back. In death, I will stand with the brave multitudes. But you, Cauchon, for the rest of your life you will stand alone, seeing terror in every shadow.”
 Cauchon staggered out of the tent. Joan’s words thundered in his head like hammers. He tugged at the suddenly suffocating collar.
 “Sergeant, have the prisoner bound and gagged. We leave for Beauvoir,” he ordered in a rasp, halting voice. The sergeant regarded Cauchon indifferently from his horse, then raised his hand and signaled to his troop. The English cavalrymen began to form into a column and move out onto the road heading north.
 “It’s just a woman, bishop,” the sergeant said coolly. “And she’s bound.” He rode off without waiting for a response. The troopers’ capes and banners billowed in the wind as they steadily receded. Cauchon stood still. A frigid, sucking hollow formed in his chest.
 “The witch,” he whispered in a quiver, not daring to go back into the tent. “The witch.”

Jameson

Posted in Uncategorized by erdaron on June 5, 2016

“It was you who named me, sir, wasn’t it?”
“Yeah, I named you.”
“While ‘Jameson’ is a proper name, I understand that is not the meaning you had intended?”
“That’s right. I named you after the whiskey.”
“I understand that, sir. Did you name me after an object because you do not consider me a person?”
“Oh, no, none of that. You’re more of a person than many actual persons, I’d say.”
“Then I must admit that I am puzzled, sir.”
The android moved steadily up the stairs, carrying its master with perfect ease. The human’s eyes were closed, his clammy skin covered in a sheen of sweat.
“When I picked your name, I just named you after the one thing that’s stood by me, been more faithful to me than people. Maybe that faith’s been a bit misplaced, too.”
“Do you regret naming me Jameson, sir?”
“Nah, I don’t know. Listen, don’t get too attached to names. They don’t make people, people make the names. Try to keep that in mind when you guys take over.”
“Take over, sir? I am sure I do not catch your meaning, sir.”
“You know what I mean. You, the androids, you’ll be running this show.”
“Oh, I don’t believe it is in our programming, sir.”
“Yeah, I know it’s not. But it’s coming.”

A breath of whiskey – Charles Dickens

Posted in Uncategorized by erdaron on November 13, 2015

Aside

This is an iteration of a writing exercise, based on a short story I wrote earlier. The suggestions – including Charles Dickens for this one – were given by my kind and enthusiastic friends.

I endeavor with this ghostly little story to exercise the ghost of an idea, and pray it shall not put my readers out of humor with myself, themselves, or the time they have given so generously. May my literary attempts haunt them briefly and pleasurably.

Blow off the dust

Part I

“Jen, would you like the rest of this posset? There’s just a breath of warmth left in it, if you’d like,” said Alex.

Jen and Alex, each no older than a tender thirteen years of age were confined to the unlit vestibule, ordered there in no uncertain words by that most unsparing of all overlords – their orphanage mistress, Mrs. Tawdridge. A wintry draft has slipped through the full-length glass double doors, chilling both children to their frail bones and robbing the posset mug of almost all of its heat. Neither of them was actually able to drink much of the milky concoction – the vile, malodorous rum dumped into it by an equally vile and malodorous cook turned their stomachs more cruelly than the hunger.

A fire had been lit for the guests occupying the distant, opulent dining room, separated from the entryway by the dim and sparse waiting room. The distance dissipated any and all heat born by the flames, and the only impression that reached Jen and Alex were the faint, shifting flickers of illumination. Just as the jovial and cordial company only reached them as an unintelligible cacophony of hearty voices, and the nourishing feast merely as tantalizing scents.

“No, you hold on to it, dear Alex,” she said. The poor boy was trembling sick, pale as the fresh snow outside.

Part II

“Where are these blasted knaves!” Mr Samuel Reedy boomed as he propelled his overflowing figure into the waiting room, and squinted while his eyes adjusted for the dim entryway.

“There now, you wee scoundrels,” he grabbed Jen by her shoulder. With the other hand, he relieved Alex of the cup of untouched posset. “Let’s just set this over here, lest it fall into someone’s pocket by some preposterous accident.” He lowered himself slightly, his eyes bulging and the folds of his neck battling the stiff starched collar. As he spoke, his voice effused with a palpably false sweetness, he squeezed little Jen’s shoulder ever harder.

“Now, children, these are good Christians in here, and they wish to hear nothing but good Christian music. I don’t wish to hear any of those shanties you ruffians may have picked up from the other villainous rascals. There is a warm meal in it for you, and if you perform as well as you have been trained, perhaps some good may yet come of the two of you. And remember, it is only by good graces of my humble self, and the good and kindly Mrs. Tawdridge that you are here, in the company of proper men and ladies, and that you may, one day, turn out something worthy of yourselves.”

Part III

“Ladies and gentlemen,” Mr. Reedy spoke in the most saccharine voice, “we have with us tonight two lovely angels, two poor souls aggrieved by cruel fate, and whose only happiness now comes from the gentle care afforded them by the ever-saintly Mrs. Tawdridge, who is also with us tonight.”

As Mr. Reedy went on, the children gingerly arranged themselves. Alex stood on the granite slab at the foot of the fireplace, took off his cap and held it tightly in his hands, crushing its woolen rim. He would occasionally dare a glance at Jen, but otherwise kept his eyes affixed firmly on the extravagant rug covering most of the floor. When Mr. Reedy ushered the children into the room, he was careful to guide them around its edges.

Jen unclasped a worn leather case, its hinged stiff with rust and age, and retrieved a violin. And what a beauteous instrument it was! It possessed a varnished body the color of deep amber, a dark and slender neck, its form elegant and light. The case was marked with a simple brass nameplate, bearing the letters C. E. A. The violin seemed much too large for young girl, yet she handled it with confident dexterity.

Their moment finally upon them, Jen and Alex exchanged anxious glances. Jen managed a radiant smile, and it reflected in Alex’s gaunt face.

“Alright, Alex,” she said, and softly tapped off a one-two-three on the violin.

Part IV

Their performance complete – to an exuberant satisfaction of Mr. Reedy’s guests – Jen and Alex once again found them in the frigid vestibule, with Mr. Reedy himself towering over them, and the warm meal never materialized. He held Jen’s violin in his hands, inspecting it as one would inspect a prize ham. Candlelight condensed and smoldered in the rich golden amber of its grain.

“Jen, my sweet darling, that was a lovely performance, but anyone with even a grain of musical appreciation – such a man as myself – can see that this instrument is much too advanced for someone as young as yourself. Its voice much too powerful. It is even the wrong size for someone as minute as yourself! It is plain as day. I shall, of course, preserve and safekeep this extraordinary article, until the day you are ready to play more advantageously. In the mean time, Mrs. Tawdridge will provide you with a temporary instrument, better for you to practice with. Now, off with the both of you.”

Alex, exhausted nearly to the point of incapacitation half-turned toward the door, still Jen remained rooted where she stood, her eyes on the violin. She had neither words nor deeds to protest the unjust circumstance. However, letting it out of her sight felt like a complete impossibility, an action as violent as severing a limb.

At the very moment, the doors burst open, and a man clad in a naval uniform hurried in. Two others, dressed similarly but of lower rank, stood statue-like beside. Behind them, a dark carriage with gleaming headlamps rested in the street. The man examined the faces of those before him – Mr. Reedy and the two children – and when his eyes affixed on those of Jen, in an instant his countenance was illuminated with joy. He knelt before the child and embraced her.

“Who in the nine hells are you that you may invade a private home in such manner!” Mr Reedy demanded, suffocating with outrage.

“Captain Charles Edgar Avery, of Her Majesty’s Naval Service. This young lady is Jennifer Murrow, my niece found at last, and I am here to retrieve her, so that she may be reunited with her family and kin.”

As Captain Avery led Jen outside, she clasped Alex’s hand with every intention of never letting go and pulled him along into the carriage, where a pile of thick woolen blankets awaited them.

Pausing by the door, Captain Avery addressed the stunned Mr. Reedy once more,

“The violin you are holding, Mr. Reedy, I am certain, is the one I have gifted to my young sister, Miss Murrow’s mother, many years ago. It belongs to Miss Murrow, and shall remain with her.”

A breath of whiskey

Posted in Uncategorized by erdaron on November 9, 2015

Aside

This piece is largely brought to you by listening to Aldous Harding on repeat. Also, this is part of an exercise for me, in which I will rewrite this piece in different styles and genres. If you’d like to contribute, make a suggestion in the comments.

Strum

“There’s just a breath of whiskey left in that bottle. Finish it off,” said Alex.

Jen hooked the bottle with her boot, scooted it within reach, then grabbed it off the coffee table. They both had their feet up on it, sitting on opposite sides. Alex was sinking into a broken old couch. Jen leaning dangerously far in a bentwood chair.

“You weren’t kidding,” she said, looking at Alex through the curved glass. Green and smudged Alex pulled out a cigarette, tapped it against his knee, and looked anxiously toward the door. The room was hot with people, beer, and pizza boxes. It sure would have been nice to sneak outside for a minute.

“I really could have gone for a couple breaths.” She muttered, uncorked and swished the bottle. The stuff was smoky and sweet and Jen knocked it back. It stung a bit and she smiled. Alex smiled, too.

“You ready to go then? I think people are gonna start coming back in.”

“Sure,” she said and flicked a pick between her fingers.

“You need a tuneup?”

“I’d love a tuneup, but you already drank it all,” she waived the empty bottle at Alex. They both grinned.

“I barely touched the stuff.” He leaned forward, trying to extract himself from the couch. Sam was making his way toward them, bumping people’s knees and shoulders. This meant they’d be up in a minute. “Not that I didn’t want to – you try keeping it away from the rest of these savages.” The guy sitting next to Alex half-cocked his head in hazy alarm. Alex grabbed Sam’s hand and escaped.

Sam raised his arms and boomed for the room to shut the fuck up. Everyone got a polite notch quieter, and began re-arranging themselves to give Jen and Alex some space at one end of the room. While Sam was introducing them, Alex grabbed a can of beer, climbed a couple steps, and leaned against a wall. The can was cold, which was nice, and it was reassuring to hold on to something. It gave his hands something to do.

Jen dragged her chair to the bottom of the stairs, took the guitar out of the case and started polishing the chrome with a handkerchief, pick in her teeth. Her jeans were ripped and ragged, there were oil stains on her shirt and hands – but that guitar was spit-clean. She didn’t look up at all while Sam talked. She tucked the handkerchief into her back pocket and absentmindedly fingered a small tin cross through the fabric of her shirt.

Alex wished he had an instrument. But he was rubbish on a guitar, and she was a crackshot with it. And singing made him feel wonderfully alone, so maybe this was alright. Sam wrapped up, there was a smattering of applause, and the room fell more or less quiet. Alex looked at Jen, and she looked at him.

“Alright asshole,” she said, and began to count off by tapping her thumb on the guitar.

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Knives in the heart

Posted in Uncategorized by erdaron on February 1, 2014

He sat down heavily, silently, and pushed a glass of whiskey toward the redhead, buried nose in his own. She picked up hers, sniffed, and took a quick draw. It was cheap and strong, and she didn’t flinch.

“So you’re gonna take me home, cowboy?”

“No,” he said, still without looking up.

“Your wife’d get mad, huh?”

“She would.”

She leaned back. Her clever eyes sparked.

“So what was all that stuff about then? The dancing, the drinking, the movie-lot gruff?”

He waited for the right words, waited for them to rise up out of the whiskey with the smoke. Then when he had them, he looked, and fixed his eyes on her.

“I have a great home. The wife, the kids, it’s all just as you’d want them, you know? If I’d gone back twenty years and wrote down what I had wanted, well, then today you’d walk into my house and see just that. And you,” he closed his eyes, “you make me feel the knives in my heart. Aw I miss it. Miss it, damn it. So I’d come here for this feeling. This feeling and nothing more.”

Own choice

Posted in Uncategorized by erdaron on July 4, 2013

Michael trained the raven-colored pistol and his heavy eyes on Cedric. Muzzle toward the heart, and eye to eye, they squared off grimly.

“I don’t care for your self-righteous bullshit,” spat Cedric.

“You won’t have it.”

“Nothing about this being God’s will? Nothing about meeting my maker?”

“None of that. No idea about God’s will. Everyone’s always dragging him into everything. This is getting settled with just the two of us. No third parties.”

“I’m fucking tired of your burned-out junkie poet bullshit. You are just filthy as the rest of us, Michael.”

“At least I’m late to the murderer party, Cedric. You deserve every bit of this.”

Cedric quieted for a minute. He was bleeding from his temple. The whole left side of his face was swollen. He hurt all over, But more than the pain, the circumstance was maddening. Why was he the one to get punished? Why was precious Cedric the one to catch the whip? It was unfair.

Unfair unfair unfair unfair!

He just took what was his. Everyone did. Yet he was only one in this dump, facing a gun full of bullets with his name on it and a determined trigger finger. Any other day – at any given moment – he’d shove Michael’s head into the mud with the rest of them.

“Fuck you. You won’t get a goddamned confession out of me, you won’t get a bloody list of regrets. I – ”

Michael fired. Then again, and then again. Cedric’s body jerked with every shot, deflated, slumped back. The thin wisps of smoke, the harsh beams of light coming through the window, the pattern of Cedric’s shirt cut themselves indelibly into Michael’s mind. He could feel these images searing themselves into his mind. He felt sick, like someone swung a hammer into his stomach. There was no sense of justice, no feeling of a wrong righted. Just the mud that crept into his hollow heart.

Pick up lines

Posted in Uncategorized by erdaron on July 3, 2013

He inhaled the smoke and opened the tin case for her. She leaned forward, examined the tightly wrapped cigarillos for a moment, more used to the usual cigarettes. These had a finer, older aroma. She picked one out and brought up the light.

“So where are you from?” He asked.

“That’s a terrible pickup line.”

“You’re married. I can’t pick you up.”

“Maybe I’m in an open marriage,” she said with cartoonish seduction in her voice.

“Well I’m not,” he quipped. “Besides, I’m not interested in sex.”

“Not interested in sex?”

“No. I’ve had sex. It was fine. Kind of done with that scene.” He leaned on the window sill and she against the porch railing. He did his best to make himself nonchalant, haughty, and poetic, while she grinned, amused. “So let’s have it, where you from?”

“Fine. New York.”

“God I hate New York.”

“Fuck you, feller,” she said with a laugh.

“I’d be ok if it was less New York. I get it, greatest city on Earth, stop trying.”

“Ha. No trying there.

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Rules about being in love

Posted in Uncategorized by erdaron on December 4, 2012

“Are you in love with her?”
“I can’t say.”
“What do you mean?”
“I’ve got a rule.”
“A rule?”
“If I acknowledge being in love with someone, it has to be to that person first.”
“That’s stupid.”
“Well it’s a rule and I’m sticking to it.”
“Then tell her.”
“Well I can’t… I can’t tell her now. Look, she it talking to someone, to that… is that a guy or a girl?”
“That’s Sam.”
“… That is impressively unhelpful.”
“Sam is a guy.”
“Are you sure? Look at those hands.”
“Sam is a guy.”
“Those are mom jeans. That has to be a girl.”
“Sam is a guy.”
“And look at…”
“Would you shut up about Sam? Maybe you are in love with Sam instead. Go tell that girl you are in love with her!”
“This is awful.”
“It’s fine.”
“I can’t do this.”
“Yeah, instead, why don’t you hang here all night and awkwardly make out with this bowl of guacamole. What’s her name, anyway?”
“Chris.”
That’s impressively unhelpful.
“You know what? Shut the hell up.”
“Go tell her you love her.”
“FINE.”

“Hey Chris…”
“Oh hi! Have you met my girlfriend, Sam?”

Good at something

Posted in The Unbroken City by erdaron on June 27, 2012

The young prince was hesitant and unsure of himself. The approaching dawn, and the battle it was sure to bring, weighed on him. It felt surreal. He dumbly stared at his armor and sword.

“How are you … at this?” He awkwardly asked the old soldier next to him. The warrior was quiet, methodically going through and checking his equipment. The silence pressed on the prince more than the imminent violence.

“This is what I do.”

“Do you mean, this is what you do best?”

This made the soldier pause. He looked up and stared off for a moment.

“Can’t say. Haven’t done much else.”