I’m in my grandparents’ house, but I’m not a kid — I’m the middle-aged adult I am now. Friends are with me, and I’m showing them around the house. The kitchen with lots of cabinets, the jutting-out peninsula of a dining room with windows on three sides, the two-story living room with fireplace. Tourists are lounging about the yard. Why? It’s a lovely house, but it’s not as if celebrities lived here. Graceland Mansion, it’s definitely not. Yet tourists open the door, and a group of them streams inside, gazing around and clicking photos with their phones. Baffled, I tell them to leave, tell them that this is a private house. Their stares at me seem confused, and the man in front holds up a piece of paper, and he waves it as he says, “But we already bought tickets.”
Beaming down at the superhero chained to a column, the villain said, “By destroying your pub, I have disbarred you. By throwing away all your weapons, I have disarmed you. I didn’t chop off your arms because I’m not that evil. By burning your precious costume, I have disrobed you. I have disrespected you in every way I can think possible.”
“No!” the hero yelled, tilting his chin upward. “I still have my respect. You haven’t destroyed that!”
The villain cackled. “Oh, really? Because I should’ve mentioned the beat-down I gave you outside the bank I robbed. All those people with their phones taking videos of you getting beat. Social media’s gonna love that.”
“I got in some good punches!”
“A couple, I’ll grant you that,” the villain said. “But my potion to enhance my strength worked even better than I hoped. What a shock that must’ve been for you.”
“Let me loose! I’ll beat you in a new round!”
The villain cackled louder. “Never! I’ll never let you loose! And there’s no partner or sidekick who’s gonna come to your rescue. No automatic supercar’s gonna burst through the wall to save you. You’re not that super. Your protection of the city ends here!”
Again the hero flexed his mighty muscles, trying to break the chains. But his effort made no difference. For all he’d given the city, here was the end for him, in this abandoned warehouse full of junk. The location felt as an added insult to his defeat.
copyright © 2021 Dave Williams
President Polk entered the tavern and made his way around the full tables and knifed through the bustling crowd at the bar to order an ale from the harried bartender. Nobody showed a sign of recognizing the president of their country being among them. They were busy drinking, eating, and making boisterously merry with their fellow countrymen.
Once served, Polk took a large gulp of the brew, appreciated the taste, and then raised the tankard high and bellowed, “Polk it up!”
Silence clapped the room.
Chair legs scrapped the floor as a customer slid so as to easier see the speaker. Silence swallowed the sound and digested for another long second.
“Eh?” asked an extravagantly bearded man standing next to the president. “Polk it up? What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It’s a catchphrase, my good man!” the president belted. “It means be bold, be daring, be adventurous!”
“Do you mean Polk as in President Polk?” another man asked.
“The very one!” the president said. “Recently inaugurated and ready to get things done!”
“Don’t know anything about him,” another man said. “Is he really bold and daring?”
“Remains to be seen,” someone said. “I’m just glad Tyler’s out of there.”
“We all are!” the president said. “I’m simply spreading this soon-to-be-very-popular catchphrase!”
“I miss Van Buren’s sideburns,” the extravagantly bearded man said.
“I voted for Clay,” another man said.
“Clay’s done,” the president growled and raised his tankard again and again bellowed, “It’s time to Polk it up!”
Frowns deepened and curious expressions grew curiouser–until someone at a table started laughing, and then the laughter spread like frantic wildfire, racing ’round the tavern, with the place quickly rolling in mirth.
President Polk scowled at the lot, took a deep swig of ale, theatrically wiped his lips from the back of his hand to the end of his forearm, and stormed out of the place.
A dark cloud followed the president as he made his way back the the President’s Mansion, inside to his desk, where he scratched the tavern’s name off a list and peered at the remaining three taverns at the end of the list.
He nodded at the names and said, “It’ll catch on eventually,” then went to bed.
“Here comes a group,” Bob whispered. “Summer’s almost as good as Halloween. Warm nights, no school.”
Todd nodded. “Love it. They’ve brought a goat, too. Some sort of sacrifice, I suppose.”
“Let’s wait a little. Remember, it’s my turn to ask.”
Bob and Todd stayed hidden behind gravestones. The four teenagers set up a circle of candles nearby, the goat watching curiously.
Bob gave a thumbs up, and the two of them stood.
“Hey,” Bob called out. “You got a light?” Two of his bony fingers touched his teeth as if he held a cigarette.
The teenagers stared wide-eyed at the skeletons, then ran off screaming as the skeletons watched them and laughed. The goat bleated curiously.
When you live inside a pumpkin, the sudden arrival of a knife’s point comes as a complete shock–which quickly turns into fear as the point and blade come at you in a stabbing assault, so you huddle as close as possible to the interior wall until the knife goes away, the lid’s removed, and the sudden arrival of sunlight blinds my large eyes, penetrating my thin eyelids. Then the spoon plummets into the cavity, scoops out the pumpkin’s guts and seeds, only to be replaced by the knife continuing its attack, from the side this time, creating windows that allow more light to rush in and expose me even more–but thankfully not enough for the owner of the hand that’s bringing shock and awe down upon my formerly dark home to notice me. Once the knife leaves and does not come back for quite a while, my heart finally calms, and I get to see the world outside: the sky and trees and cars and people walking dogs. Then, in the evening, there’s even candlelight I can read by. It’s been stressful, but all in all a nice change.
One saying is “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.” That’s kind of the gist of how this story and video were created.
My mom and I were on a trip when my minivan broke down on the highway. We were towed to a mechanic’s garage in a nearby town. We spent the night in a hotel and waited the next day for the minivan to be fixed. It was an opportunity to spend more time with my mom and chat about the old days, and I enjoyed listening to stories of when she was growing up.
During our wait, I filmed a four minute video of the hotel’s pool. I wasn’t sure what I’d do with the video, just that I thought the water’s ripples made for interesting visuals.
Later, I had the idea to write a story. Not about hotel guests splashing about the pool, but of the water in the pool, about what could be going on with it.
So I narrated the story and paired that with the video of the water, and here it is. If you’d rather watch the video on YouTube, click here.
“I don’t know if I should laugh or cry into my beer,” Leon said.
“Do both at the same time,” Samantha said.
“Feels like we’re stuck in limbo in this bar,” Leon said. “Like we need to do something to get to heaven.”
“That’s easy,” Sam replied. “Just walk out of here.”
Leon said, “But I’m riveted to this guy’s spoken-word poetry about his doomed relationship with Carol while he plays piano and sings ‘Send in the Clowns ‘and ‘Piano Man’ and tosses back cocktails.”
“It’s a weird mix, that’s for sure,” Samantha said. “Is this what people mean by ‘avant-garde’?”
Leon shrugged. “I think it means whatever you want it to mean.”
“That’s not helpful. Why is he dressed as a clown? Is it some kind of symbol for how he feels inside?”
“Maybe,” Leon said. “Or what if it’s a social commentary on being a performer? You know, like a trained monkey?”
Sam shook her head. “We’ll never know. Look at that. He passed out.”
“Him?” Sam said with a laugh. “We’re the poor bastards who had to listen to him. C’mon, let’s go. We’ve been granted freedom.”
As the couple walked toward the bar’s exit, they saw the other patrons were still watching the clown draped over the piano. Perhaps they wondered if the clown would sputter back to consciousness and continue to entertain them with his act. Or perhaps, after a rest, the clown would start the second act of his performance that was different than the first. Samantha and Leon would never know, as they left the bar and walked towards another bar across the street, their feet moving with the hope of a more “normal” situation in the other bar.
copyright © 2021 Dave Williams
“Are you sure it’s your band?” she asked.
“C’mon, Mom, it’s really us.”
“But you can’t see any of your faces on the album cover!”
“That was an… um… artistic choice,” Brandon said. “Our music is atmospheric, so we thought the cover art should be like that, too. Kinda blurry.”
“OK, honey,” she said. “That’s nice. I’m glad you moved on from that ruckus you boys used to play in the garage. That stuff gave me headaches.”
“We played punk rock, Mom. Headaches go with the territory.”
copyright © 2021 Dave Williams
This story walks a delicate line. Perhaps we will find an easier approach of starting with what the story does not want.
It does not want to be seen as pretentious. This story would never go to a chic restaurant and, upon hearing the sommelier say the restaurant has no more bottles of 1984 Fancypants Chablis, throw a fit and storm out of the restaurant. This is not one of those kinds of stories. Also, when wearing a polo shirt, this story does not “pop the collar.”
It desires to be seen as a “story among the people.” On weekends, after mowing the lawn, it sits on a patio chair and sips a common brand of beer — not a “this dude only drinks microbrews nobody’s heard of and listens to bands nobody’s heard of” type of beer.
This story wishes to entertain, in the hope that people will have a good time while experiencing it. Of course, “good time” is subjective to every reader. Some readers prefer action:
Viv dispatches the four members of Baron Lybo’s assault squad with throwing knives as she creeps around her house that they’ve entered in the night. Viv acts as a ninja using the familiar territory to her advantage. The last two assaulters fire their AK-47s before Viv’s knives plunge into their necks. The shots will cause neighbors to call the cops. Viv slings the four AKs on her shoulder and marches outside to her muscle car. Plenty of ammo is in the guns for her to attack one of Baron Lybo’s drug warehouses. But how did the baron discover Viv’s safe house? Is one of Viv’s few friends a snitch? Does her car have a tracking device?
Other readers prefer romantic comedy:
In the office’s break room, Jacqueline stands at the counter and has no way of knowing that Antonio is walking behind her when she turns around. Jacqueline bumps into Antonio. She was heading to the microwave to heat her leftover chicken curry. Both people watch in surprise as the green curry sloshes, then dollops of curry sauce leap from the container and land on Antonio’s shirt. He recovers from the surprise and says, “I better soak it before the stain becomes permanent.” As Antonio unbuttons his shirt and holds it under the sink’s faucet, Jacqueline is hit by lust/love’s gentle cheek slaps: Delicious six-pack of abs! Knowledge of good laundry practice! He chose to solve the problem instead of lashing out in anger!
But this story doesn’t want to be only entertaining. Going for thrills and laughs is a fine goal. Reaching beyond that, into the realm of admirable
(in the story’s estimation),
is to also aim for resonance. To weave a story with such emotional depth, readers will remember the story as more than “five or ten minutes I spent while avoiding my work at the office, or while I waited for the bus.” To resonate with readers, the story could show a character with weaknesses:
Parcy slumps on a kitchen chair as the dishwasher starts. Another difficult day of work. Tempting is the thought of pouring wine into one of the tall, retro-swirly decorated glasses (thrift store finds; to hell with “proper” wine glasses) and binging on a TV show. Yet, Parcy doesn’t want that tonight. There’s an urge for a meditative time. Parcy taps her phone’s screen to find the Quiet Nights album by Miles Davis. Interesting how the jazz mixes with the sound of water spraying inside the dishwasher. Parcy wonders when she’ll feel consistently confident at work. To get past the thoughts of being behind. Doubt weighs heavily. She closes her eyes and focuses on the trumpet’s music. She wishes she could ride the music, let it carry her around the apartment while rain falls outside the windows.
The story’s aim is for this kind of character, contrasted with a character representing a societal ideal that’s impossible to achieve. Such a character would breeze through life, everything coming easily to her/him/them.
This story would rather include a character facing struggles, while developing strength and lessons from struggles and failures:
The octopus swims away from the crowded sea floor, into a maze of rocks, gliding over and under, around them. Until the octopus finds the cave and enters its darkness. The sun’s rays diving into the water do not reach inside the cave. That’s preferable to the octopus. She needs a break from her parents nagging her to find a mate (“Please! We’d like grandchildren before we get too old and slow to play with them.”) and her friends, whose kidding around can sometimes get on her nerves. In the cave, the octopus dances. Her tentacles swirl and ripple in complicated patterns. Nobody can see her. She dances simply, for the joy of movement. A good way to let off steam and help ease her mind. However, she is wrong about nobody seeing her. Today, a lanternfish happens upon the cave. Seeing the octopus, the lanternfish turns off her green glow. The octopus is so involved in her dance that she doesn’t realize the presence of another creature. Until the octopus spins toward the cave’s opening. Immediately, she stops dancing. She says, “Why are you spying on me?” The lanternfish says, “I couldn’t help it. I came in here and saw you and I didn’t want to stop you. Please keep dancing.” The octopus says, “No. You’ll judge me.” The lanternfish says, “Too late. I already judged you. Your dancing is wonderful.” The octopus says, “You really mean that?” The lanternfish nods and says, “I’d like to see more.” The octopus says, “Promise you won’t make fun of me?” After the lanternfish promises that, the octopus says, “Will you tell the others?” The lanternfish says, “I won’t. Your secret is safe with me.” The octopus hesitates, weighs her options, then begins to dance again. The lanternfish turns on her green light, brightening the cave. The lanternfish joins in the dance, swimming over and under, around the swirling tentacles.
Hopefully, the reader would connect on some level with the character, to feel less alone in the world.
Which springs a kind of magic. The little drawings that we’ve come to the collective understanding that they represent letters. When grouped together, they form words. Strings of these words can inspire pictures in readers’ minds and inspire emotions in their hearts.
Such is the wish of this story. With every reader who happens upon it, the story knows it walks the delicate line between failure and success.
copyright © 2021 Dave Williams
The horse was grateful the man turned on the hose, with the forest’s stream flowing lower. The man was kind with gifts of carrots and brushing, saying, “You shouldn’t run so much on these hot days. Where ya runnin’ to, anyway?” The horse coughed out some water. In asking, the man would never know. Especially with his mere two legs never showing hurry. He’d never know the wind on your skin, the sound in your ears. Muscles working their glorious purpose. Outrunning the shadows of the clouds. Even though they are slow, the clouds know as they laugh at the fence. Freedom.
copyright © 2021 Dave Williams