Tag Archives: short story

Mrs. Jones – Microfiction

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She considered briefly that the screen would reveal an extraterrestrial fetus napping somewhere in a bubble between her major organs, but decided that part of being an old woman was dismissing these thoughts. She chose to watch the clock instead. It seemed to be in a bit of a rush, she thought, ticking her life away. She thought of the Mad Hatter, the old cartoon, his buttering the clock and making a sandwich of it. Perhaps that was how you beat time. You ate it.

The nurse continued his slow rubbing across her stomach, the ultrasound gel warm and thick.

“Breathe normally,” the nurse said, stern. She must have been panting.

The question hiding in the holes where her wisdom teeth once lived hunkered deeper. It was both small and large, shrinking and swelling; trying, at once, to abort and be born.

“Do you see anything?”

There it was, an unshelled peanut falling from her mouth.

“What?” The nurse paused his rubbing and stared. Probably she sounded drunk, or like she was speaking an alien language. His eyebrows were impatient. He had other stomachs to rub with his eyeless, all-seeing machine; other livers to examine; other plagues to diagnose.

“Do you see anything?” She thought she sounded human but couldn’t be sure.

Silence.

She couldn’t see what the screen revealed: he had it tilted toward him, a secret. She realized watching his face might provide some clue, so she turned her attention from the clock to him. If only he was wearing glasses—she could peer into the reflection; spy on the shadowy masses he surely saw.

She imagined the dark terrain of her body, its geography of organ continents and the oceans of blood between them. Her blood. She could almost feel the rays or waves or whatever of the ultrasound piercing through her skin and fat, a dull slicing into the private world inside. Through the protective bars of her ribs. No defense. The invisible made visible; the hidden revealed.

The nurse spluttered, the gel smearing down his forearm as she rose, her shirt still tucked up in her beige bra.

“Ma’am, the procedure isn’t over—”

She was already gone, power-walking down the hall empty-handed, formalities being called down the corridor after her—ma’am and miss and Mrs. Jones. The door was in front of her, her palms against the cool metal bar, and she was pushing through into October, into a street that would lead her to safety.

The Mazda struck her body from the side. The sound was dull.

On the ground, little pieces of stone and glass made marbled indentations in her skin—she imagined it as a pattern like scales, the smooth perfection of a quick green snake. She turned her neck slowly, becoming, charting the path on which she would slither toward freedom, away from the crowd gathering. Beside her was a bird, longer dead. Its body was open, the terrain of its heart and spleen solved.

Mrs. Jones followed the map.

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The Factory–A Short Story

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“First time to the Factory?”

Mr Thomas turns. It’s a man in a black suit, whispering, eyes the same color as his clothes.

“Yes, it is,” Mr. Thomas says shortly, and begins to turn back to the front before he changes his mind.

“Do you work there?” Mr. Thomas asks.

“Lots of us do.”

 

Its lawn is green and geometric. Some hand not present has mown overlapping circles and squares into the grass and Mr. Thomas stares at them as he approaches the entrance. The man in the black suit is gone. He’d gone another way, a way Mr. Thomas could not follow.

“Name. Business. Time.”

The man at the desk says these things abruptly, a wind-up machine.

Mr. Thomas writes the required on a pad of bright yellow paper sitting on the black desk like a flame.

“Sit.”

Mr. Thomas sits.

 

Sitting, he can observe the Factory. He is in a cavernous hall, removed from the front door through which he’d entered, where he’d had his eyeballs scanned, his finger pricked, a sample of his hair taken. He hadn’t asked why. The ceiling is as high as a church, cast in shadow. The chair is straight and black, the floor an astonishing expanse of white marble. He stares at it, looking for dust, a dimple. There is none. It is flawless.

“Thomas. This way.”

It’s the man at the desk, away from the desk. He beckons Mr. Thomas stiffly with his arm. Mr. Thomas thinks he must need grease.

 

He is walking up then he is walking down. The passageways wind like snakes and Mr. Thomas begins to think they are underground. The air feels close like a burrow. Yet he thinks they’re walking uphill. The effect is dizzying.

“Are we walking up or down?” Mr. Thomas asks the man at the desk, who is leading him.

“Both,” the man says, then turns his head slightly to look back. “Dizzy? It will pass.”

It does pass. The smooth white floor levels out and the corridor widens. It should be dark, Mr. Thomas thinks: there are no overhead lights, no sconces, no windows. Yet the hallway is lit. The light doesn’t come from anyplace; it just is.

“Sit,” the man at the desk says again. There’s a chair by a door.

Mr. Thomas sits.

 

Waiting. The perfect white floor. The light that comes from nowhere. Then a command. “Come,” a door opening with a sound like snake’s scales.

 

“Sit,” and Mr. Thomas sits again, but he has to grope for the chair. Its silhouette is fuzzy, the light from nowhere is nowhere and the room is dark.

“Forgive me,” the voice says, and there is light, too much, and Mr. Thomas sits down blinking.

Before him is a man in a pale suit—Mr. Thomas can’t tell if it’s white or beige. Perhaps a faint gray. He is leaning against a massive desk, piled high with papers.

“Did you bring the paperwork?”

Mr. Thomas nods, and reaches into his briefcase. He hasn’t put it down since he’d picked it up this morning and he flexes his fingers, which ache. Inside are the papers. He draws them out and hands them to the man in the pale suit.

The papers shuffling are reptilian coils in the bright, dry room. Too bright. Too dry. Mr. Thomas feels thirsty and tired.

“You are here on behalf of Schadcorp,” the man in the pale suit says, eyeing the papers.

“Yes,” says Mr. Thomas.

“And what is the problem Mr. Schaden is encountering?”

“There is…there is some bad press.” Mr. Thomas swallows, searching for the words. “Mr. Schaden had an…indiscretion with an employee. She is pressing charges. People are…very angry. The photographs of her injuries were leaked. Mr. Schaden would like a solution.”

“Ahh.” It’s all the man in the pale suit says. He stands and walks behind the massive desk.

Mr. Thomas watches him. His eyes feel very dry. He puts the briefcase down again, for it it’s suddenly heavy.

“Mr. Thomas,” the man in the pale suit says, “would you like some water?”

“Yes…yes please.”

The man in the pale suit points. Following his finger, Mr. Thomas sees a cart with a pitcher and tall slender glasses. He hadn’t noticed it before; he’d only seen the man and the desk.

Mr. Thomas rises and goes to the water. The pitcher is cold in his hand. When he drinks, he tastes cucumber.

“Mr. Thomas, how serious would you say Mr. Schaden’s situation is?”

“Serious? Well…very serious. The news crews are outside his house and headquarters all day and night. Sales are down. Boycotts in Chicago and New York. I’d say it’s…it’s very serious.”

“Alright,” says the man in the pale suit. “Let’s get down to business. Sit, Mr. Thomas.”

 

Mr. Thomas sits.

 

The man in the pale suit looms above his desk, shuffling papers, looking. He finds a book and opens it.

“How would Mr. Schaden like to handle this little problem?”

“I think Mr. Schaden wanted to know some options,” says Mr. Thomas. The glass of cucumber water is too cold.

“Well,” the man in the pale suit says, flipping through the book. “Let me see what I have available.”

A moment of silence, just shuffling paper.

“We haven’t had an e.coli scare in awhile,” the man says. “Will that do? Oh, what about African bees? The media loves things with ‘African’ in their names. That’s always good.”

Mr. Thomas sips absently. His eyes are still dry.

The man in the pale suit looks up to see Mr. Thomas’s reaction. He looks slightly disappointed.

“No? Alright. What else…” Flip flip flip. “How about we have Arizona consider a bill banning…oh, I don’t know…interracial seating arrangements in classrooms. I could let our lobbyists come up with something better if you don’t like that. Or,” his voice peaks a bit with excitement, “we could have a meteor land in Minnesota. We have old footage that CNN wouldn’t recognize. That would be good.”

Mr. Thomas finishes his water. He wishes he had brought the whole pitcher over to the chair.

“No, you’re right,” the man in the pale suit says, looking crestfallen. “Too much, too much. We shouldn’t use it all at once. We might need to save the meteor for down the road if our Mr. Schaden runs into trouble again. Mr. Thomas, are you alright?”

Mr. Thomas feels like a frog drying out in the sun.

“I…I think I’m alright,” he says.

“It’s your first time,” says the man. And he looks tender. “Forgive me. You must. So insensitive of me. Let me get you more water.”

Mr. Thomas drinks another glass.

“The Factory,” he says, feeling a little drunk. “What do you make here?”

The man in the pale suit leans against the front of the desk, his expression gentle. He doesn’t respond.

“The Factory,” Mr. Thomas says again. “Surely you must make something. A factory creates, manufactures. What do you manufacture?”

The man folds one hand into the other, his eyes pale.

“Do you need me to tell you, Mr. Thomas?”

Mr. Thomas feels the sweat from the glass slide down onto his fingers. The water sinks into him.

The man in the pale suit pushes off from his desk. He pauses for a moment, studying Mr. Thomas, before he goes behind it again. He shuffles more snakeskin papers.

“I think a rapper should do it,” he says to the air.

“A rapper?” asks Mr. Thomas, only barely curious. The empty glass in his hand feels unbearably heavy. An anvil.

The man looks up from where he’s bent over the desk.

“A rapper, yes. Some controversial lyric. We’ll pull all the appropriate strings. It will be quite captivating.”

“A rapper…” says Mr. Thomas.

“Yes, that always seems to do the trick.”

Mr. Thomas feels quite faint. The glass seems ready to slip out of his hand but he manages to slowly, slowly lower it to the floor. It comes to rest by the leg of the black chair with a gentle click.

“Mr. Thomas,” says the man in the pale suit, removing his glasses. Had he been wearing glasses all along? His face seems to have changed. “Are you certain you’re alright?”

“I am…not.”

The man sets the eyeglasses down on the desk where they blend in with the nests of papers.

“Let me see you out, Mr. Thomas. I can take it from here. A rapper will do just fine. Here, take the paperwork. Inform Mr. Schaden that he’ll have his solution. No later than Thursday.”

“What day is it today?” the world seems very far away.

“Today is today,” the man says.

“Today is every day,” says Mr. Thomas without knowing why.

They’re at the door. It seems too small to walk through, a Willy Wonkian door. Outside Mr. Thomas knows there is fresh, cool air. Water. Light that has a source. But the fear is heavy. He hadn’t realized it until the moment he laid eyes on the door—the fear has been sliding its hands all over him since he sat down in the chair. It’s had its fingers in his mouth, its hands around his throat.

“But…but…” the door will bring freedom, but he shrinks from it.

“It’s alright, Mr. Thomas,” the man says, guiding him. “This is your first time. The truth is a little hard for everyone at first.”

“The truth.”

“Yes.”

“That’s not what the Factory makes.”

“No.”

They stare at one another. The man’s face has changed again.

“Out you go, Mr. Thomas,” says the man, gesturing.

“But I’m afraid.”

“Yes.”

.

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Short Story 1: Matthew

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I have a limit of 300 words on all my blog posts, but will make exceptions as I begin to post pieces of short fiction. Here is the first of many to come. Enjoy.

 

He boards the Red Line at Thorndale, carrying a plastic bag. It’s his second bag: the first had a hole he hadn’t noticed when he filled it, and blood had escaped onto the floor before he’d even gotten it out of the bathroom. The second bag wasn’t quite as big as the first, and the tips of her fingers peeped out as he tied it. He’d pushed them gently back inside as he tightened the yellow strings.

“No, no,” he’d murmured, “not yet. Stay in there where it’s safe.”

He’d left her head in the sink. She’d be waiting for him when he got home, and the idea fills him with a happiness that spreads through his chest and his cheeks like a blush.

On the train, a pretty girl sits next to him, texting on her cell phone. He makes sure his thigh doesn’t brush hers. It’s a nice thigh, he sees, tapering down into a slim ankle, but he doesn’t want to be rude.

“Excuse me,” he says when the train reaches his stop and he hefts the bag. She smiles and stands to let him pass, not minding when the bag brushes against her knees. “So sorry,” he says, lying.

“It’s okay!” Her smile is warm and unforced. “Oh,” she says, “don’t forget your gloves!”

They’re sitting on the seat he vacated, and she grabs them, putting them right into his hand.

“Oh, thank you so much,” he says, remembering to open his eyes wide to show he’s grateful; to show that forgetting the gloves would have been the worst possible event. This is actually true; it would have been. He smiles politely at the pretty girl once more before leaving the train. She is back to texting again before the door closes, at which he feels a little prick of anger in his belly. But he doesn’t have time, he thinks, he has things to do.

Outside, it’s spring and he smiles to feel the new air snaking up his shirtsleeves. It’s chilly still but this is good. No one will look twice at his gloves, although they might wonder briefly at their thickness. He breathes in deeply. He’s strong—for his size, he’s strong: something he likes to tell himself—but the bag is heavy.

“Might have considered a diet, Martha,” he whispers, smiling a little.

She is not the first Martha, Martha 3 in fact, but he knows she wouldn’t mind, not now. She might have minded before, before he’d shown her. But not now. He wonders if she’ll remember, at home in the sink. She will. He thinks of his favorite movie, Wild Wild West. He could have done without Will Smith, but Salma Hayek was so lovely. A woman in a corset earned a special place in his heart—earned it.

His favorite part of the movie was when the scientist—he doesn’t remember the character having a name—took the disembodied head and hooked it to the contraption that showed, like an old movie reel flickering on a screen, the last few moments of the head’s life, before a spinning metal blade had separated head from body.

He relishes this. Sometimes he’ll watch just this scene, not bothering with the preface. Sometimes he masturbates to it. Not to it, exactly, but about it. He puts Martha 1 and 2 in the place of the head on the screen. He closes his eyes, straightening his legs in the blue tweed armchair—a chair he replaces every six months—and thinks of the tape the heads of the Marthas would play. What movies would those be? What glimmering images would he see there, dancing on the wall like shadows in a cave? He knows what he would see. He would see himself. Him, leaning down over them, unmasked and unafraid. He would be the spinning steel blade, the perfect circle. The thought leaves him writhing in the rough blue chair, his eyes open and taking in the vast whiteness of the ceiling.

Now he puts on the gloves. He wishes these could also be white—like him, like his ceiling, like the Marthas—but they must be black. He hasn’t been able to find a red pair that would mask the blood perfectly in shade. It always shows. The black hides all.

He checks the outside of the bag for any of that red before hoisting it over his shoulder; Fulton Market is long and carrying the bag by his side will tax him too quickly. Carrying it over his shoulder lets him feel strong. He had done the same thing with a bag of toys when he was eight and had resolved to run away. His mother had punished him for some childish crime and his father had refused to reverse her decision, so Matthew had packed his favorite things and set off. That had been when they lived in the suburbs, in the house with the yellow door. He’d loved that house and had returned by dark, hungry and lonely, like generations of runaways before him. He’ll return to his own home tonight, but glows again with the knowledge that, for him, it will not be lonely. Martha 3 will be waiting for him, eyes open. Even her mouth is open. He can imagine in it a smile.

He arrives and must put the bag down to pat out his keys. The street is dark. The factory is dark. Chicago is dark. But he is not. He is full of light.

Inside, he doesn’t need a flashlight. He knows the way, he knows the combinations and the mazes and the levers. He knows where she’ll go, where he’ll put her. He puts her there, a safe place with other pieces, other divided forms, other reds and bones. He eases her in gently, gentler than he’d been before. When he returns to her in the sink, he’ll tell her how gentle he’d been. She’ll be grateful.

When he’s through, he stands there in the dark, his back against her place. He wants his blue chair. He wants his white ceiling. But he’ll wait. For now, he clutches the crinkling bag in his black-cotton hands, gripping it hard. He could leave it here for the first shift to discover. They’d throw it away without looking: probably Mark or Javier, people who cared nothing for order. They wouldn’t notice—everything is bloody here. This would be just one more bloody thing. But he’s gripping it tightly, thinking of his white ceiling, and so he carries it out with him when he leaves, folding it gently into a square like a shroud.

Outside, the sky is black and thick like the bag in his pocket, stars plucking out holes in the darkness, some bright thing seeping through. Walking, he passes no one, but he doesn’t need to remind himself to smile in case he happens upon someone, anyone. He’s already smiling. He will be for weeks; at least until Martha 3 begins withering, until her eyes are no longer eyes. He’ll need company after that. But tonight his loneliness is a book on a shelf, its spine uncracked, its pages crisp and unworn. His feet take him back toward the train, his soles solid against concrete the same color as stars.

He removes the gloves. He wants to see his hands, white and blue, in the streetlights. Later, when he imagines Martha 3’s final tape, her flickering thirty seconds, these hands will be in the frame. He looks at them, loving each finger.

He boards the train again, pushing the bag deeper into his pocket with the gloves. A woman with distracted eyes brushes past him for a seat.

“Excuse me,” he says lightly, reminding his mouth to smile in a way that covers his teeth. “Excuse me, so sorry,” he says. She ignores him and he’s hating her, already naming her.

“Excuse me,” he says quietly, and at home Martha 3 waits like a queen, and he owns her eyes; he’ll show her where to look. If she’s a lady he’ll save her skull, keep it like an urn containing all the precious thing she hadn’t been; the things he’d made her.

The train rocks north and he watches the city smear alongside him. He holds the headrest of the seat in front of him, his hands whiter and whiter the more tightly he grips.

Home. Home. Home. He is the perfect circle, made of steel.

“Excuse me,” he says, holding the train’s door open for a woman with headphones, unseeing. His stomach growls with rage. “So sorry.”

All original content copyright Olivia Cole, 2012-2013

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This is my story. There are many like it but this one is mine.

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I’ve always been a panderer.  In second grade when we first started writing stories with beginnings, middles, and ends, I would write what I hoped my classmates would like. Also—because I was an attention whore, a trait (I think) I have since cast off—I wrote what I thought my teacher would most likely ask me to read aloud to the class. I liked telling stories. I wanted to tell them. So I wrote for the “popular market” of my second grade classmates. And it worked. My teachers let me read out loud. My classmates laughed at “the funny parts.” And I felt like a phony.

This continued throughout my burgeoning “career” as a writer. For contests, I wrote things that I thought the judges would like, as opposed to submitting work that I’d already written that I thought fit with the theme. And it worked. I won. I got money. My name was in anthologies. I was a successful panderer.

But I wasn’t happy with my writing. When I wrote my first novel—which I am currently shopping—I made certain decisions that I thought would be popular. Themes, word choices, scenarios. It was the book I wanted to write, but elements of it were pander-y. (Yes, pander-y.) And not only was I unhappy with its quality, readers weren’t connecting with those parts. When your voice is missing, it doesn’t go unnoticed. The novel has since changed in a myriad of ways, and I have slowly begun to feel as if it is truly the story I intended to write.

So my lesson, dear readers <Mother Goose voice>, is what I think tons of literary agents would echo: write the book YOU want to write. And, by extension, don’t write for trends. Kinda like the Rifleman’s Creed, but the Writerwoman’s Creed: “This is my story. There are many like it but this one is mine.” This one is yours. Make it count.

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