So here is the last part of the 24in24 puzzle – the slush pile. This is the batch of stories that I wrote and didn’t think were any good, in fact, some of them are downright terrible. The story about the fire just made me go “ick” and the micro-romance I wrote just about made me be sick. I am honestly mortified that some of these are seeing the light of day but I promised I’d post all 24, so I will.
I think you can probably tell where I was stuck, desperate, or just completely out of ideas. I think you can also see “the theme” wherein I kept writing the same story over and over in slight variations. I have to say I don’t necessarily think of all of these are awful – a lot of them are, but a couple are just a bit boring, or too similar to really stand out. I think there might be hope for a couple of them yet. I like the last line of “20″, and I can even see how I could turn my crappy micro-romance into something possibly worth reading, with a hell of a lot of work. Hmmmm.
I do think that every word written serves a purpose, even if it’s just learning to identify what’s truly terrible. The 24in24 slush pile has already given me an idea for another challenge, which is to take all 24 stories and work on one a day for 24 days and see what I can make of them. Who knows, maybe there’s a hidden gem somewhere in the slush pile that just needs a little bit more encouragement to come out (and if any of you think you can do anything with any of these, go right ahead).
Apologies that this post is long, I was trying not to spread it over two. Also if you find the new white background harder to read than the old black one, let me know, because I can switch it back.
So, without further procrastination, pull up a pew, grab yourself some popcorn and prepare to get your giggle on as you read the slush pile in all its unedited, cringe-worthy glory.
The storm clouds were gathering in her head as well as overhead. The waterfront was deserted because everyone else was sensible enough to run for cover before the rain actually started falling but that was exactly why Angie was out here, because she wanted to be alone. She pulled her coat tighter around her as the wind picked up and started to bite, and continued to stare out over the water to god only knew what because she didn’t. She was just grateful for a moment of peace and quiet in her otherwise cacophonous life.
Her peace was disturbed very briefly by a runner skipping over the board walk behind her, but it didn’t take long for him to pass and for things to fall quiet again, apart from the thunder that was now starting to rumble in the distance, and the screech of the wind gusts as they whipped past her face. She held her collar shut with one hand, and wished that she’d bought a button, but that was just one thing on the long list of things that she “didn’t have time to do these days”. Out here though, it felt like time had stopped.
Distant voices carried to her on the wind, and Angie started walking before they could catch up with her and shatter her stillness. She wondered how she could take a little piece of that peace with her. She stopped, smiled, took a picture of the clouds and then went off to buy a button.
The ball flew through the air, heading for the boundary rope. Time stopped. Eighty thousand people held their breath. If it landed inside the rope, the fielding team won. If it went over, the opposition. It kept going, arcing through the air, going higher and higher until finally it reached its apex and started to drop – closer and closer to the ground, closer and closer to the rope. Pulses raced, hearts pounded, prayers and curses were said. Then the gods decided which half of the stadium they would listen to, and the ball touched down. The crowd erupted. They had won.
A blinking cursor is the writer’s worst nightmare, Jade thought, as she sat in the library and tried to work out what the hell she was supposed to be writing. She had two hours to write fifteen hundred words, and it had to have something to do with the sea. What the hell was she supposed to do with that? She was an indoors girl from an inland state and had never even seen the sea with her own eyes. Now she found herself stressing herself sick over this assignment, which might have been fine if it was for one of her science papers but no, this was creative writing and she couldn’t just google a bunch of stuff, she actually to craft a story out of it, somehow.
How do you write a story about something you’ve never seen? Jade didn’t know, so she sat and watched her cursor blink and the hands of the clock move, and the ticking seemed like the loudest thing she had ever heard, except perhaps thunder. She’d heard somewhere that was the same way some people described the sea. She wondered if the “roar of the ocean” was an actual thing, or if it was just another bullshit cliché. That was something she could google, and that might be start.
Jade hunted through her bag until she found her headphones, then plugged them into her netbook and typed the roar of the ocean into google. She scrolled through a couple of pages of crap before a link popped up with a video. She clicked into it, put her headphones on, turned them up loud enough to tune anything else out, and pressed play.
The sound was like nothing she had ever heard, and she had to rewind it before she believed it. Yes, it was real. It was a roar, alright, and it was deafening but, at the same time, it was so peaceful. Jade found herself leaning back in her chair and playing the sound over and over and over again, letting it wash over her just as she could now imagine that the waves would. It was a roar, but it was also quiet. The sentence didn’t make sense, but it was the truth. It was the first thing in a long time that had allowed her soul to be still, and for that, she was immeasurably grateful. She set the video to repeat and stopped watching the clock. For a long time, she sat there, just listening and breathing, and not thinking and being still. It was only when an alarm on her phone went off warning her that she had only thirty minutes to go that she finally sat forward and acknowledged the outside world again.
She took her earphones out briefly and the rest of the world rushed back in like a wall of water and she quickly put them back in. She set the video to repeat again, minimised the window, and started to type. She didn’t stop until her second alarm warned her that she had five minutes to go and she finished her sentence, hit save, and then uploaded it to the course web page in the nick of time. Now that she was done, she didn’t know what to do now. She put her earphones back on and played the audio again. She needed to see the sea.
The house was colder than it had been but there was a warmth within it that came from its inhabitants and cancelled out the cold of the habitat itself. Jake stood on the steps and watched them through the windows, all rugged up in blankets and cuddling hot water bottles. There was a small floor heater going, but there’d never been anything bigger because they’d never been able to afford it.
As a kid he had sometimes found the lack of space due to seven people being crushed into a two bedroom unit claustrophobic. Now, as he stood outside, he couldn’t wait to get back in his old bunk and bathe in the warmth of people who loved you. He wasn’t rich either – he’d made his parents proud by going to college but the loans had nearly killed him. Even so, they had stood up for him when he had declined a highly paid job at an investment banking firm to go and open a comic book store instead.
These days he had a mortgage as well as his student loans, and slept in a tiny studio apartment he had fashioned out of the loft space above his store. He had a dog that he took for walks when he wasn’t working, and which he lent to the kids who frequented his store, or the nice old guy in the retirement village when he was at work so that they, and Buster, both got some companionship and could pass the day feeling a little less alone.
He was grateful now that he had grown up living in such close quarters – they had taught him how to make the most of a small amount of space and how much he really needed to be happy, and that wasn’t a lot. It was people, not things, who made life worth living and now here he was, after a long drive through the snow, and the people who made his life worth living were all huddled inside waiting for him to arrive.
Buster pawed at the glass and almost in unison, seven heads turned and multiple hands poked out of blankets to wave him inside. Jake gave them a grin and a wave back, turned the door handle and felt their warmth wash over him as Buster pushed past him into the nearest open pair of arms, of which there were many. Dorothy was right, he thought. There’s no place like home.
Fire, everywhere. No remorse, anywhere. The relentless wall of flame advanced, bearing death and destruction on all in its path. The water was the only way out, even if the air above might burn. All living things scrambled for its refuge, and there wasn’t enough room for all. There was nothing to do but try, however, when the other options was condemning yourself to a terrible death.
He looked at me at last, on a dark and stormy night and clichés be damned, it was the single best moment of my life.
When I heard that I got tenure, I celebrated by skipping down the University steps. It was a little bit crazy but they let me off because I was obviously happy and it made the faculty happy to see that someone was genuinely glad to stay there, given how high staff turnover had been in recent times.
What none of them knew, when the voted unanimously in my favour, was that eight years earlier I had escaped from a locked psychiatric unit, and everything I had achieved since then was driven not by academic curiosity, but a desperate need and desire to never go back there. I was a good teacher, mind, and a good researcher too.
I didn’t draw attention to myself because I didn’t want to draw attention to my face, just in case anybody recognized it from the posters of nearly a decade ago. I’d altered my appearance as much as I could, but there was only so much you could do without plastic surgery, and I never had the funds for that. So I adopted a new accent and mannerisms to go with my new name, and turned my back on who I had been – at least on the surface – and forged a new life for myself within the walls of an academic institution, instead of a psychiatric one.
I still can’t stand closed doors, and locked ones are even worse. But I have tenure now, so I worry a little less.
The shoes in the window were green, and that was unusual in itself. Green wasn’t an “it” colour, which was good because Cassie wasn’t an “it” girl. She was just an office clerk, who hated wearing heels, and longed for comfy feet. She stood on the side-walk and stared through the glass, trying to see a price sticker without having to go inside and ask. She hated pushy shop assistants, and always got embarrassed when things turned out to be more than she could afford. She had a little bit of spare cash since her flatmate had paid her back, but not a lot. There were a few other things she had thought she should buy with the unexpected boon, but that was before she saw the shoes.
They were a bit like ballet slippers, but more solid, and they reminded her of when she used to dance. Green was her favourite colour, and it was so because it reminded her of the outdoors, where she had spent the half of her childhood that she hadn’t spent at her dance classes. She liked the way the crystals caught the light, and added a brightness without being garish. She appreciated her job, because it kept a roof over her head and food on her table and she knew there were people who had a lot less, but even so, it was tough to go in every day to a place where you did not belong and didn’t want to. She craned her neck sideways and finally caught sight of the sticker. They were expensive, just as she had feared. They would cost all the money she had been repaid and a few more dollars she didn’t have but might just be able to squeeze, if she walked to work for the next few weeks instead of taking the bus.
She tossed it over and over in her mind, then finally went inside and requested the green shoes from the window. There was only one pair, and they were miraculously her size. She was still umming and ahhing when she caught her reflection in the mirror, and the smile on her face that she hadn’t seen in a long time. A lump caught in her throat, and she lied and told the shop assistant that she had a cold when she asked if she was alright. She let out a deep breath and asked if they could cut off the tag so that she didn’t have to take them off. The shop assistant said that was okay, so she paid and then she left.
Walking down the street, Cassie felt like swinging around a lamp post like Fred Astaire. When she reached a place where there weren’t too many people, she did. When some of them looked at her like she was nuts, she smiled at them instead of being embarrassed and then walked on, her head held high instead of shyly down, no longer afraid to look a stranger or the world in the eye, as comfortable in her own skin as she was in her new green shoes.
They’d come camping to get some peace and quiet but the night was not quiet at all. The trees were rustling, crickets were chirping, and, most annoying of all, a chorus of frogs was croaking out a symphony of sound that didn’t sound like it was going to reach its crescendo any time soon. The campers were starting to rethink their decision to seek refuge in the great outdoors, realising that it was not the silent oasis that they had imagined after all.
It was a different type of noise, though, Kent thought as he lay there with his girlfriend moaning in his arms – not in the fun, kinky way, but the whining, never stopping claiming kind of way – than the endless traffic and construction sounds that bombarded him twenty-four seven or, just for a change, some music blaring through the apartment walls. He was tired and uncomfortable, things were biting him and crawling on him, and he was pretty sure he would still be tired in the morning, with itchy and sore added in for a good measure, but even so, he felt that it wasn’t the frogs that were annoying, it was Heather. If she would only shut up, just for a minute, and listen…well, then, a lot of things would be better, not just this night. If only the frogs would sing louder, then he wouldn’t be able to hear her, and that would be even better. Wishing that did not make Kent feel any better, and he tried to wish the guilt of the thought away, but failed.
The frog chorus rose louder and it seemed he would almost get his wish, when Heather abruptly announced that she wanted to go home. Right now, not in the morning. Kent sighed to himself and felt a stab of anger rise in his chest. It had been her fucking idea to come out here, to spend all this money and buy all this gear and get away from the city and “close to nature” and now, as usual, she’d gotten her way and then changed her mind. Kent was a city slicker, he’d never been camping in his life.
But he’d gone out and organized it and taken the time off work and everything for her, because he loved her….or did he? He started to wonder as he packed up their camp and she continued to complain, as he did everything and she stood by “supervising” or demanding, as usual. Kent thought for a second that it would be nice to leave her out here, then realized that he’d rather give her the keys to the car and the house and stay here himself. When she stalked back to the car in huff over god only knew what, he stood there, and listened to the frogs, and thought seriously about that second option again. It wasn’t the first time that he’d wondered what his life might be like without her, but, as the frogs croaked and the stars twinkled overhead, he thought that it might just be the last.
Only when he could procrastinate no longer did her follow her back to the car, and listen to her complain all the way home as well. He glanced at her in the mirror, and saw her in a different light. She was not a bad person, and he still liked her, but he did not love her, and he did not want to be with her any longer. It would be a huge upheaval to unpick the life that they had built together but he was reminded of the old adage about a house built on sand and could not escape the conclusion that there was no longer a solid foundation for their relationship.
It was not going to be easy, but he would take the hit for her, in terms of finance and friends, and everything else that they needed to divide between them. It would mean starting again in a lot of ways but as he drove down the highway Kent caught the reflection of the moon in his side mirror and thought that maybe that wasn’t as scary or bad as it at first seemed. He was pretty sure she would kick him out of the house when he told her he didn’t want to be with her any more, and he was sure now, where he would go.
She could keep the apartment, and Kent would keep the tent.
Whoever said you couldn’t teach and old dog new tricks didn’t know Danny Daly or his dog, Hector. Hector was a golden labrador who had been named after an ancient greek hero, and Danny was a small boy who loved his dog more than anyone had ever loved anything on this earth. Danny had taught him to fetch and heel and sit; Hector had taught Danny to heal and play and to be still. They were each others blood brother, despite their difference is species, and inseparable until life tried to tear them apart.
Life, however, underestimated the sheer strength of the bond between Danny Daly and his dog, and was unprepared for what came next. When the disease first started to crawl through Danny’s cells and to ravage his body from the inside out, it was Hector who sniffed it out and worried his parents so much that they took him to a Doctor and discovered that he was ill. When Danny lay in hospital, sheltered from everyone and everything whilst he received his treatment, it was Hector who learned to open doors with his teeth and his paws and saved his sanity by sneaking in and keeping him company in the long nights when he would have lain alone and scared.
When Danny died, it was Hector who found a way to be by his side, and to will his own heart to stop so that he could go with him into the light. His parents had not known what he was doing, but when they realised that both their boy and their dog had stopped breathing, they immediately understood, and were eternally grateful and relieved. That was how Hector learned to give comfort to the living even through dying, and it was perhaps the most valuable trick anyone ever learned.
Maybe they’re right, and you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. But maybe what they can know, what they can do, and what they can teach you, is limitless.
That’s all of ‘em, folks.