The Desert Moon

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Well, hello again.

This week’s bit of drivel is taken from a novella that I’m working on.  I was surprised that this section of the piece  stands on its own (at least in my opinion) and that it was under a thousand words.  I think I’m on the home stretch as far as finishing the first draft.  With any luck and an intricate web of blackmail and bribes, I may get the whole thing published one day.

This week’s #FridayFlash, “The Desert Moon”

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THE DESERT MOON

Sergeant Burton made some hand signals in the darkness that were unintelligible to the untrained eye.  His soldiers saw and nodded.  He gave the signal to go and two soldiers went past him around the corner.  He came next, followed by the rest of his squad.  They shuffled silently down the street, keeping close to the building on their right.  They reached a wooden door and the two in front of Burton posted up on either side of it.  A soldier behind Burton squared himself up with the door and kicked it in where the knob met the jamb.  Burton shuffled into the darkness.

Burton went through and felt his feet give way to sand.  His rifle came in contact with some kind of sheet and he pushed through it.  On the other side, he met a massive expanse of desert.  It didn’t immediately register in his mind that there was no massive expanse of desert in a Baghdad slum, but he pushed forward anyway.  He looked frantically to his left and right for his target.  Seeing nothing but desert, he turned back to where he came from and saw nothing but sand and the night sky.  He was alone in the middle of a desert with nothing but dunes for company.

“What the—”

Burton pointed his weapon around him, kicking up small clouds of fine powdery sand as he went.  He slowly lowered his weapon but continued twirling.

“What the fuck, over?”

He pulled the chinstrap of his Kevlar off and let the helmet hit the desert floor.  He spun a few more times, slowing eventually before looking up at the moon, which gave everything a light blue glow.  Meaningless time passed in which all that seemed to matter was the moon.  He stood transfixed, basking in its light, distantly aware of the M-16 that he still held by its pistol grip.

“Hell of a moon,” a voice said from behind him.

Williams turned, bringing his weapon up to the place where muscle memory told him it should be.  He fired four shots at the voice in rapid succession.  Four small spouts of sand kicked up behind the man sitting on the dune.  The man seemed unmoved by the shots as he sat placidly gazing up at the moon.  He was wearing flip-flops, khaki cargo shorts and a white button-up shirt that was three buttons short of being buttoned.  He sat with his forearms holding his knees and what little hair he had was spiked.  He looked like a college kid on his way to a beach party.

“Identify yourself,” Burton said and slowly approached.

The man on the dune broke his gaze and looked at Burton, laughing a little.  “You know, I always imagined you saying something like that to me, Sergeant, but I never thought I’d hear it.”

“Identify yourself!”

“No need, sarge.  You know who I am.”

After a moment, Burton lowered his weapon slowly and stared.  “Brown?”

“Well, that’s half right, but I’ll give you points for trying.”

“It’s…Sam, isn’t it?  Sam Brown?”

“DING DING DING!” Sam said, ringing an imaginary bell.  “You have answered this question correctly, Staff Sergeant Burton.  Now, do you want to keep the money or risk it all for our grand prize?”  Sam began laughing a careless laugh that only the young and obscenely rich can pull off.

“What do you…what are you doing here?  What do you want?” Burton said getting closer and having serious problems comprehending things.

“Wait!” Sam said, holding up his hand.  “Wait right there.  Don’t move.”  Sam reached behind him and brought forth a professional looking camera.  Sam held it up to his face for a moment and Burton heard the shutter of a lens.  “Ahh, that’ll be a good one.  Got you and the moon in the same shot.  Thanks for that, big saw!”

Sam put the camera down on the sand and stood up.  He walked to Burton and said, “What I want, Sergeant Burton, is very simple.”  Sam put both hands on Burton’s shoulders.

“I just want you to make it count.”

Sam pushed Burton backwards, catching him off guard.  He fell and did not hit the sand.  The blue aura of the moon was extinguished and he tumbled into pitch blackness.

“Sam!  Your name’s Sam!” Burton said, sitting up on his cot.

His tent was lightless, save a few LED’s indicating that an electronic gizmo of some kind was charging in the night.

“Sergeant,” said the voice of Specialist Garcia.  “It’s alright.  We’ve all been having dreams about Sam.”

“You have?” Burton said in the general direction of Garcia’s voice.

“Yeah.  I was in the humvee with him when it happened,” the voice of Garcia said again.  “It’s best not to think about, I guess.”

This advice helped Burton sleep no better.

Hackney’s Pub

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Hi guys.

Every now and then, I’ll imagine a place I’d really like to be.  Sometimes it’s my own privately owned tropical island.  Sometimes it’s a beautiful villa in the French countryside.  But no matter where I imagine myself, there are always naked coeds eager for my attention.

What was I saying?

Oh yeah, every now and then, I come up with a place that I’d really like to visit some time.  This is one of ’em.

So, here’s a my stab at #FridayFlash again (even though I’m posting this on Monday).  It feels good to be back in it again.  Plus, the more I make it like Friday, the better, right?  Who likes Mondays?  Voldemort, that’s who.

[Note: There is a certain demographic that might find this offensive, so I therefore feel obligated to preemptively apologize to horses everywhere.  My apologies.]

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HACKNEY’S PUB

Charlie slammed his beer down on the bar.  The sniggering that had been constant ceased at once.  Charlie stood.  For too long had he endured their constant jokes.  Their mocking glances.  Their smiles.  Always their smiles.

He turned and faced them and his body blocked the light coming from the bar mirrors.  He surveyed them.  There were no smiles now.

“I have HAD IT!” Charlie said, and his voice actually rattled the martini glasses hanging from the low ceiling.

“NO MORE,” he said, reverberating through the bar.  “I’ve been coming here for years and I have heard all of your jokes.  That’s right.  You may not have thought that I heard them…but I did.  “Why the big—paws?”  “That was a barbiturate?  BAR-BITCH-YOU-ATE?”  Get it?!  And you know what?  No more.  That’s it.  I’m outta here.”

Charlie walked briskly to the door, grabbed the handle and paused.  With a tear brimming at his eyelid, he said, “And you only do it…you only do it…because I’m a bear.”  He sniffled, spat and left Hackney’s Pub for the last time.

Before the crowded bar could react, Father McAlister stood and spoke in a light Irish accent, “I am a man of the faith and we are told to forgive and forget.  But what Charlie said was right, and I’m sick of your jokes too.  May God have mercy on your souls, you miserable bastards!  Come on, Hershel.”  This last he said to his friend, Rabbi Goldberg, who stood and followed the father out.

“Hershel!” Carl the barman said, who had just started to fully grasp the situation.  “Come on man!”

“Geh cocken offen yam, ya putz,” Hershel said.

The heavy veneer of fear that Charlie had laid over the crowd evaporated.  Laughter exploded throughout the bar and with each patron that left, the laughter grew in pitch and in stridency.  Tommy the horse, who never did anything to deserve this kind of treatment, stood and left, enduring comments about the length of his face all the while.  Linda, who wasn’t actually a prostitute but an actor who likes to stay constantly in character, left suffering through a barrage of wolf-whistles.  Then the rest: James the farmer, Terry the mime, Julius the stereotypical black guy, several costumed villains, a small army of furry creatures who had been drinking in the back, a trio of Martians, five ventriloquists, and Phyllis and Lula the Siamese twins.  They all left and Hackney’s was a racquet until most laughed themselves horse.

When it all finally died down, the bar looked at the one person left.

“You know,” the man said in a quavering voice, “I am a structural engineer.  I have a master’s degree.  I’ve even published books, for God’s sake!  And yeah, so I’m not good with changing light bulbs or making popcorn or changing a tire.  And…I mean…so what if I’m Polish? I just—” but whatever else he had to say was drowned in laughter.  When the crowd had wiped away enough of its tears to see the man again, he was gone and they laughed on.

Carl rushed to the door and yelled for the man to come back.  The barman didn’t actually know the man’s name, he had always thought of him as “The Pollack.”  He had enough control left to stop himself, but not enough to stop on the right moment.

“Hey, Pollack, don’t be—” Carl said and lost another patron forever.

When Carl returned, he found his bar in the same uproarious good cheer he had left it in.  He reached behind the bar and pulled out an air horn.  Carl pointed it at the ceiling and it took nearly ten seconds of pressing the button for the crowd to calm down again.  In silence, Carl walked slowly around the room.

“Guys, this is no good for me.  Don’t get me wrong, I get it, okay?  I mean, there are some…”interesting characters” that come in here and I can see why you’d make fun of some of them.  But guys, Tommy the horse was my best customer and I don’t think he’s coming back.  Do you understand what I’m saying?”

He paused and looked around the room.

“This is my livelihood here, fellas.  Do you understand?  And you’re driving them out.  So please, in the future—”

“Yeah, but come on Carl,” someone said. “A priest and a rabbi walk into a bar and—”

“No, I get it!  I get it, okay?  Just please stop driving off customers.  This isn’t that much to ask, is it?”

The crowd murmured its agreement.  They hung their heads for a moment and then looked to the jiggling bells of the front door.  A nun was standing in front of a mirror adjusting her headband.  Carl glared at the crowd for a moment and approached her.

“Hello, sister,” Carl said, knowing the whole bar would be listening.

“Oh, hello,” the nun said.

“You know…you’re free to come in if you want.”

“That’s very kind of you,” the nun said, giving him a chased smile, “but…you see, Mother Superior has a very strict dress code and, well, the wind has blown my coif askew.”  She looked again at the mirror and adjusted “whatever it is you call those hat-things nuns wear” as Carl thought of it.

“Oh,” Carl said, trying to remember the proper name for nun-hats.

“This isn’t the first time this has happened,” she said.  “Something about this street and the way the buildings are positioned, maybe.  The wind always blows me in here.  I really should stop coming into this bar, but I have a bad habit.”

Silence.

Shortly following this silence was an uproarious volcanic eruption of laughter.  The nun’s smile slowly faded until she too left the bar, never to return.

Carl turned and faced his bar.  He shrugged.

“What the hell,” he thought, “She wasn’t a paying customer anyway.”

Best Of Friday Flash: a shameless plug

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Hi, everybody!

(Hi, Dr. Nick!)

No fiction of the flash variety this Friday (how’s that for alliteration?).  I think I can be forgiven since this was my first full week of college classes.  Between classes and work I’ve been a busy, busy boy.  Once I get in the swing of things here, I’m sure I’ll be pumping out more drivel no time.

Anyway, if you’ve been keeping up with anything that’s been going on around here at Mostly Pointless (and I don’t blame you if you haven’t), you’ll know that I write Flash Fiction–stories less than a thousand words or 2-3 pages of a Word document–on a more or less weekly basis and post them here.  I started doing this because of a weekly online event called #FridayFlash, in which writers post fresh flash fiction on their blogs and post the link on Twitter.

#FridayFlash is the brainchild of a writer named J.M. Strother (check out his blog here) who, for my money, is the Patron Saint of flash fiction.  For the past year, Jon has compiled the weekly list of stories offered by different writers and otherwise organized everything related to #FridayFlash.  He has done so not to bring attention to himself, but to expose other fiction writers out there in the blogosphere to more readership. The man deserves a parade in my opinion.  A grand feast at the very least.

A while back, Jon got it in his head to compile an anthology of the best #FridayFlash pieces out there and I’m pleased to say that one of my own pieces, Balatrophobia, made the cut.

Best of Friday Flash – Volume 1” is sixty-seven, bite-sized portions of fiction and is offered as an e-book through SmashWords.com for $2.99.  The stories range, “from humor to horror, slice-of-life to science fiction.”  Whatever your flava, I’m sure you’ll find it here.

You might be thinking that I’m plugging this because I want money.  This isn’t so, I won’t see one red cent of the cut and neither will Jon.  Instead, the money will be going into future #FridayFlash endeavors.  Maybe around Volume Three this might be a paying gig for us struggling scribblers but that all depends on sales.  And who does that depend on?  I’ll give you a hint: extend both your thumbs, point them at your chest and say, “This guy.”  Or gal.  Whichever suits you.

So, don’t be a cheapskate!  Buy the book and support the arts!

(yeah, you heard me, I said “arts”)

The Grocery Run

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Hi guys.

I work at a grocery store doing fairly menial work.  This gives me plenty of time to do what writers do and ask “What if” questions.  What follows is one of those questions.

On a side note, I’ll be attending my first college class this coming Wednesday.  For some reason, I’ve decided to take Latin.  Pretty masochistic, huh?  Wish me luck!

Here it is, this week’s #FridayFlash, “The Grocery Run.”

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THE GROCERY RUN

Jerry’s palms were sweating.  That was to be expected.  He was pushing a shopping cart that had maybe three hundred dollars worth of groceries inside and he had maybe thirty-two cents in his pockets.  The only other thing of any value on his person was his driver’s license but that was technically property of the state.  Jerry was nervous.

This was the Val-U-Mart’s peak hour of the day and he went more or less unnoticed by everyone there.  Of course, they were watching him.  Those black half-globes on the ceiling, surely they were watching him.  He tried not to look up because if he looked up then they’d know that he was looking at them and they’d look at him even harder.  He knew they were watching him.

They weren’t actually.

He passed by the stockboys and people with Val-U-Mart name tags.  He smiled at them—not too much, because then they’d know, just smile Jerry, just smile—but most of the employees passed him by with not much more than head nod and a perfunctory greeting.  He might actually get away with it.  Then again, this could be a sham.  This could be trick to lure him into a false sense of security.

“That’s crazy,” he thought.  And then thought, “That’s…basically crazy.  Sorta crazy.  Kinda…crazy?”

He got an urge to shake his head as if that would clear it and resisted.  Doing something like that would attract attention.  Instead, he walked slowly down the frozen food aisle, looking at chicken potpies, microwaveable dinners and, eventually, ice cream.

“It’s not too late to back out,” he told himself as he opened a cooler door and plucked out a box.  “It’s not too late to just…just…park this cart somewhere and walk away.”

But then, what happens when they find it?  Full of all of this stuff.  They’d be angry, wouldn’t they?  They’d want to make sure whoever did this wouldn’t do it again, right?  And how would they do that?  They play back the video tape.  And then they’d have him for sure.

“It’s too late, I’ve committed,” he told the anthropomorphic chicken that was printed on the box of chicken nuggets he held in his hand.  “I can do this.  I can do this.  Right?”  The chicken didn’t respond.  He just smiled back at him, one wing presenting the picture of chicken nuggets to him like a model on a game show.  Jerry nodded as if this were an answer.  He tossed the box into the cart, took a deep breath, let it out and started pushing his cart with confidence.  He was headed for the front door.

His eyes were hardened. His jaw was set.  His palms, though damp, gripped the shopping cart firmly.  He passed the occasional Val-U-Mart employee but paid them no mind.  He also ignored the ceiling cameras.

“You just have to be confident,” he told himself.  “If you look like you’re up to something then they’ll get you.  But if you look like this is all perfectly normal, you’ll get away with it.  If you look like you’re stealing, that’s what they’ll think.  Just be cool Jerry. Be cool.”

Of the many things that Jerry didn’t think of that day was the fact that, when people buy groceries, there is usually someone who bags them.  Groceries, in other words, leave the store in bags.  This, however, wouldn’t have been a problem, being that the store was so busy and no one noticed.

Twenty feet now.  “Be cool Jerry.”

Fifteen feet.  “You can do this.  Don’t lock up.  Be cool.”

At ten feet, the song “Eye of the Tiger” started playing in his head.  He hummed it lightly under his breath at what was probably twice its normal speed.

As he was at the door, everything went wrong .  There was a Val-U-Mart employee standing there, greeting people as they went in and out.  The man’s name was Stan.  Stan was in his seventies and had silver hair, rosy cheeks and all the brooding, intensely threatening qualities of a marshmallow.  Stan gave his standard, “Have a good day, sir,” and that was all it took for Jerry to start running, screaming and jabbering nonsense as he went.

The plan (what precious little Jerry had worked out) was to simply throw everything in the backseat of his car and leave.  He had to abandon this part and simply run like hell, pushing the cart in front of him.  Where would he go?  It didn’t matter, he’d figure that out later.  What mattered now the getaway.

He weaved in and out of people, between cars and looked up to see the yellow line that marked the parking lot’s exit.  Hard, sick determined will overcame him and he ran the cart toward it, body leaning forward, head down, his salvation somewhere just on the other side of the line.

As the front wheels cleared the yellow line, he had just enough time to feel a pang of triumph.  Then, the shopping cart’s wheels locked, his sweaty hands betrayed him and he ran head first into the now immobile cart.

Lying sprawled on the ground, everything spinning and going black, he said, “Fuckin chicken lied to me.”  He passed out.

***

The Val-U-Mart’s manager would later explain to the police that the shopping carts have a device akin to an electronic dog collar.  Once the cart passes a certain point (that point being the yellow line surrounding the parking lot), the wheels lock up.

The responding officers took quite a long time before they stopped laughing.  Once they did, they got back to business.

“So how much booze was he trying to make off with?” the older cop said.

“We don’t carry liquor,” the manager said.

“Beer then.”

“No beer.”

“Cough syrup?  Antihistamines?”

The manager shrugged.  “Five or six loaves of bread.  Rice, instant potatoes, toilet paper.  Pretty standard stuff.”

The cops exchanged a glance.

The manager shrugged again.  “Guess he’s got a family to feed.”

No one laughed at this.

Fictional Character

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plagiarismWhen I say that this blog is “Mostly Pointless”, it’s posts like these that go to show it’s not entirely frivolous.  Brad and Joe will be back next week, I promise.

Recently, a writer named Angel Zapata found that some (insert insulting adjective) (insert insulting noun) named Richard Ridyard had been plagiarizing his work.  Come to find out, it wasn’t just Angel this (adjective) (noun) was ripping off but also several other writers with an online presence to include some obscure writer living in the wilderness of Maine named Stephen King (don’t worry, you’ve probably never heard of him any way).  For those of you that don’t know, plagiarism is the equivalent of performing a sexual act with your own mother–and yes, the label is apt here.  In other words, this Ridyard guy is a thief, plain and simple.

You can read about it here: I’ve Been Plagiarized…and I’m Not Alone and Grand Theft Boogeyman

This begs the question, why would you want to do something like this?  The story that follows is the only logical motivation for plagiarizing I can think of.  Big thanks to Angel for not only exposing this bumbag but also for agreeing to let me include him by name in my yarn.  At the last second, I decided against it.

My story here may not be very good, it may not win any awards and I probably won’t earn a dime from it.  But hey, at least it’s original.

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FICTIONAL CHARACTER


“Your novel…it rings of something,” Mr. Scarborough said.

“Cash registers, you mean?” Frank asked, chuckling to himself.  Frank felt pretty happy with himself, but why shouldn’t he?  He had just spent the past decade perfecting his novel.  He had rewritten it numerous times, forcing his mind’s eye to be as subjective as possible.  With each subsequent rewrite, he eliminated the boring, the tedious and the unnecessary.  His characters were rich, his prose was lush and most importantly, his novel was wholly original.

Scarborough laughed superficially.  “Not exactly, Mr. Reynolds.” Frank’s smile faded.  “This novel is very good.  The characters are startlingly real, the dialog is fantastic, the action is suspenseful without over doing it, but more than anything…it’s very original.”  Scarborough folded his hands on top of Frank’s manuscript.

“Well, I agree Mr. Scarborough.  May I call you Tom?”

“No,” Scarborough said flatly.  “Mr. Reynolds, I take every manuscript that comes across my desk very seriously.  But a publishing history can be just as important as a manuscript.”

Frank felt a wave of anxiety wash over him but his smile hid it well.  “Then you’ve seen mine?  Very impressive, isn’t it?”

“Quite,” Scarborough said, narrowing his eyes slightly.  “You seem to be a very prolific writer.  In the past two years you’ve published six short stories, two dozen flash fiction pieces and all to paying markets.”  Frank began to speak but was cut off.  “What is most impressive, Mr. Reynolds, is your range:  Horror, Science Fiction, Romance, Historical Fiction, Creative Non-fiction.  You seem to run the whole gambit.”

“What can I say?  I suppose I’m a pretty creative guy,” Frank said, maintaining his Cheshire grin.  Silence fell between them and Frank felt the worry within him refresh.  He doesn’t know, Frank thought, he can’t know.  There’s no reason to think he knows so just keep smiling and be cool. Mr. Scarborough opened a drawer and pulled out a stack of papers.

“Mr. Reynolds, are you familiar with a man named Jonathan Saint?” Scarborough said, reading from his papers.

“No, I can’t say that I am,” Frank said.  The name rang a bell with him but he couldn’t immediately place it.

“Mr. Saint is a writer living in Alabama.  He has been published on several online literary websites and—”

“Let me stop you right there, Tom, I—”

“Mr. Scarborough,” Scarborough said.

“Oh, my apologies, Mr. Scarborough,” Frank said.  The worry that had started as a pebble falling off of a cliff was quickly becoming an avalanche of foreboding.  “I haven’t exactly made many friends in the online writing community.  What can I say?  When you have as many published stories as me, people start to get jealous.  If this Mr. Saint has contacted you or one of your colleagues about me, I’m sure it stems from some sort of—”

“This writer, Mr. Saint, has been published with several online venues as well.  Of course, not with the same fecundity as you.”

“Well, I’m sure he—”

“One of his stories that piqued my interest is entitled, “The Marsh”.  It’s a very good flash fiction piece about a monster that lives in a swamp and kills the nearby villagers with every new moon.  Does this sound familiar to you, Mr. Reynolds?”

Frank stopped smiling.

“I found it interesting not only because it is well written, but mostly because of its striking similarity to your published story entitled “The Swamp”.  Your story is very good too; your story being about a monster that kills the nearby villagers with every new moon.  It’s also interesting because of the fact that you published “The Swamp” a year after “The Marsh” was published.  More interesting still is fact that your story follows Mr. Saint’s almost word for word.”

Frank stared at Scarborough with absolute disbelief.

“This led me to review the rest of your published work to find that not a single one of the stories that you published was in any way original.  In most cases it appears that you didn’t bother with changing a single word when you passed it off as your own.  Everything published under your name was written by someone else.  In fact, here’s one that—”

“OK!  OK!  Hold on!  Look,” Frank said losing all and the arrogant composure he had thirty seconds ago.  “Alright…alright…fine.  Yeah, so I plagiarized, so I tried to pass someone else’s work off as my own.  But those were just short stories written by nobodies.  I needed to establish some sort of publishing history, didn’t I?  I mean, if it weren’t for that, you wouldn’t be here talking to me about publishing my book—which is totally original.”

“Yes,” Scarborough said complacently.  “We searched using every available resource at our disposal and we couldn’t find a single unoriginal line. It would appear that you did, in fact write this on your own.”  Scarborough handed Frank’s manuscript back to him.  “We cannot and will not do business with a man like you.”

“Wait!  Wait!  Hold on!  You read it.  It’s good.  It’s really fucking good, isn’t it?!  Look, here’s what we can do, publish it under a pen name.  Ok, yeah, I fucked up and ripped off a bunch of nobodies but I did it to publish this.  Who cares how it got to your desk?!  It’s here now!  What does it matter if I plagiarized a bunch of small time writers?!”

Scarborough leaned over his desk.  “It matters, Mr. Reynolds because I, and my company, have integrity; something that you are sorely lacking.”  Frank stood with his mouth open, clenching his fists tightly, crumpling his life’s work.  After a time, Frank slowly started walking out of his office.

“Oh and Mr. Reynolds, I wouldn’t bother submitting that to anyone.  I have notified several publishing companies and a few major online publications.  No one will be interested in your work.”

Frank Reynolds was escorted out of the building by security and handed over to the police for assault charges.