Book Review: ‘Voice of a Story Teller’

Cover of book, with an image of the night sky. Many stars are shown, along with a shooting star.

Voice of a Story Teller by Sara Kjeldsen 

Two story tellers are in this book, as the overall story is told by Barak, who has survived a war. He is haunted by watching his friends die in that war.

In his PTSD, Barak isolates himself in the small village and doesn’t spend much time with the other villagers. He prefers fishing on the river alone and creating wooden carvings alone in his hut. Barak weaves a bitter story in his opinion of the villagers, as he judges them for moving on from the war and putting the memory behind them.

The object of Barak’s harshest judgement is Almaz, the story teller who has come to the village. Stories can have the ability to draw us into their worlds, and Barak dislikes Almaz for doing that to the villagers. Yet Almaz offers to help Barak try to find peace from his war memories.

Sara Kjeldsen has crafted a powerful voice in Barak, and that makes for an interesting story. Because Barak is not a one-speed character. Along with his haunted memories, he enjoys looking at beauty in the natural world around him. And he’s conflicted about what decisions to make.

“All of us are little more than stories ourselves,” Almaz says. And the kind of stories we tell ourselves is important, shaping how we see ourselves and the world. This book is a great example of that.

This novella is available on Amazon.

Also, you can check out more of Sara Kjeldsen’s writing on her blog.

Free Ebook: ‘Red Tree’

Cover of The Red Tree. The background is white. An image of a leaf-less tree is in black, with red tips of the branches.

The next ebook that can be scooped up for free is much shorter than the previous novellas. The Red Tree is free today through Friday (July 23). If you’d like to scoop up the book, click here.

A description of this story…

While rain falls for weeks, the Engler family invites friends over for an evening of dealing with cabin fever together. And when the spring sun arrives, the Englers celebrate by walking in a wooded park, where they encounter a red tree away from the trail. Guesses abound as to why the tree is red when none of the other trees are.

Life returns to normal for most of the Englers. The father, Calvin, decides the red tree was a sign for him to make changes in his life and property. Changes the family and neighbors don’t quite understand. But some family members can be eccentric, and others learn to roll with it. 

A short story about family, experiencing the mysterious, and letting your imagination loose.

Even shorter than the story is its excerpt, which can be found here.

Free Ebook: ‘Don’t Lose Your Head’

Cover of Don't Lose Your Head. The background is dark gray, with black drips. In the foreground is a photo showing a business suit and tie -- but there is no head above the suit.

A ghost story is my next ebook to be free — starting today and lasting through Tuesday (July 20). This novella, Don’t Lose Your Head, can be found on Amazon.

A little more about this spooky book…

When you leave for a trip, who knows you’re gone from your house? Family and friends, sure. Neighbors, perhaps.

So does the chauffeur who drove you to the airport. Alan Burris takes advantage of working for a car service to know when clients will be away from their houses for several nights. Some houses are easier, since they don’t have a security system — and these houses are on his list for a night visit to steal valuables.

The Resnick house has been on Alan’s list for a while, and now it will be empty for a few nights, since Mr. and Mrs. Resnick are spending a long weekend in Chicago.

But is the house really empty? Alan’s about to find out what it’s like to not be alone in the house, his  car, his apartment, and his head. And with another person hanging around, to what length will Alan go to get rid of them?

You can discover how this story starts by reading an excerpt of the first chapter here.

Free Ebook: ‘Other Lives of the Boothbys’

Cover of Other Lives of the Boothbys. The background is light blue. The title is embedded in other lines of text that are softened by being gray, while the title is in black

Another of my ebooks is available for free: Other Lives of the Boothbys. The promotion starts today and will last through Wednesday (July 14). Download the ebook from here on Amazon.

What is this book about?

Bradley Boothby has no idea why he feels déjà vu when walking by the office building for Rayburn-Turley Publishing. 

Is he included in one of the publishing company’s books? If so, why? Did an author spy on Bradley to steal his life story, which isn’t all that dramatic? The thoughts are far-fetched, so he dismisses them.

But the strange sensation persists, and Bradley finally acts, needing to find if the déjà vu has a foundation. His search touches off consequences for an editor and writer, as they have an impact on each other’s lives. 

Still undecided whether to get a free ebook? Read an excerpt here.

Bill’s Fence

A board in an antique shop with block letters reading BILL'S FENCE

This is Bill’s fence. You don’t want to go messin’ with it. Bill’s awful proud of his fence, and if there’s even a scratch in it, Bill will — well, I don’t ever want to think about what Bill will do. You see, Bill’s fence protects Bill’s stuff, and Bill’s awful protective of his stuff. Bill’s been collecting stuff for — well, I don’t know exactly how long, but let’s just say it’s been many, many years. And we just don’t wan to go messin’ with Bill’s stuff. If you thought he’d be mad with someone messin’ with his fence, well, that’s nothing compared to what Bill will do if someone goes stomping around his stuff without him knowing about it or giving permission for it. There ain’t no ill will like Bill’s ill will, and that’ll leave you with a hefty hospital bill.

Secret Box

Before becoming pregnant, Laura spoke all her secrets and dark desires into the box, locked it, and stored it on the top shelf of the bedroom closet. She had also confessed some secrets and desires to friends. But nobody had heard all of them. Until the box. She hid the key in her sock drawer.

Months later, tapping made Laura think a mouse was in the closet. She peeked. The box was twitching to the side, tapping against the wall.

Laura shrieked and stumbled in retreat, until the backs of her legs touched the bed. Her first thought: a monster was stuck in the box. Another part of her brain called that notion crazy and said a mouse must’ve gotten inside the box. But how? The box was metal, not cardboard that a mouse could chew through.

She ran to the kitchen pantry, retrieved the broom, poked the box with the rounded end of the broom’s handle. If a mouse was inside, wouldn’t the little thumps of the broom against the box scare it? Yet the box didn’t stop moving. It kept twitching, so it tapped the wall.

Another run to the kitchen, this time to underneath the sink to retrieve a garbage bag. She held the bag open below the closet shelf with one hand, and she swiped the box off the shelf with her other hand. Swiping the box quickly to touch it as little as possible. As if the box was hot and would’ve burned her. In the motion, Laura didn’t see or feel a hole in the box. It looked intact.

Once the box dropped into the garbage bag, Laura cinched the top of the bag and wrapped a twist-tie around the neck.

The garbage can in the side yard wouldn’t do. Laura was worried the box would’ve kept twitching, and Henry would’ve investigated. She was convinced no mouse was in there. And she was scared of what strangeness the box held. Had her confessions given birth to a ghost? That was far-fetched. But so was a box capable of moving on its own.

Laura placed the garbage bag on the passenger seat of her car, and drove out of her suburban neighborhood, to the stretch of businesses. At a fast food restaurant, she drove to the back of the parking lot. She stopped the car, tossed the bag in the dumpster.

Back home, Laura felt lighter. Relieved. She wished she could drink a glass of wine to help calm her nerves, but her swollen belly was a constant reminder of the doctor’s instruction to not drink any alcohol.

So she turned on soft music and sat on the couch and breathed deeply and told herself to try to forget about the box and stop guessing what was inside.

Snakecharmer Blues

I’ve started to revist short stories I wrote in the late ’90s, when I submitted them to magazines in the hope for publication. None of the stories were accepted, and they slept for many years in a filing box. This is the first story I revisited, then edited. It felt surreal, of traveling back in time to my younger self. In my mind, I saw the room where I typed the story. I can’t remember all that I thought and felt back then to come up with this story, blending a little mystery into the walk down memory lane.

I hope you enjoy the story…


Snakecharmer Blues
by Dave Williams

Henry Despres knew something was wrong as he sat on the barstool and watched his friend play guitar.

When Louis played in bars before, talking among the bar’s patrons typically stayed to a minimum. Murmurs at some of the tables. Drink orders said to bartenders. Over all of it, the music from Sweeter Than Night was clear.

Not this time. Zeke’s customers chatted, their din competing with the music. The music stayed on top, but not by much, like a wrestler barely outmuscling his opponent.

Up on stage, Louis looked like he was trying too hard. His face was twisted with effort, sweat sliding down his wrinkled forehead and cheeks in thin streams. Blue and purple stage lights danced across his face, giving it an ugly shine. His fingers jerked on the guitar, seemingly attacking the strings to force out each note.

Henry Despres sipped his beer. Shelly was right; the music was off. Henry was glad she had called him several days ago to share the news about her husband, even though the news had arrived in a voice heavy with concern: “He’s been moody. Sometimes he’s really, really happy, like he’s about to burst. Talks up a storm, says we’re gonna do this and that, and things are gonna be great. He’ll go on and on about he’s gonna take me on the road and play in other cities and we’ll have the time of our lives. Then other times he’ll be angry and complain about his boss and how he doesn’t give a shit about Louis and treats him like dirt. And about he doesn’t get the chances he deserves when he can play so good. But Henry, you know how he blew that chance he had.”

Since Shelly had paused, Henry had filled the gap: “Yeah, that was sad. Do you think his moodiness is because of that?”

“Don’t know,” Shelly had said. “Could be. But that was months ago, and he looked like he was rolling with it back then.”

“Maybe he was just acting like he was rolling with it,” Henry had said.

“Yeah,” Shelly had said. “Maybe you’re right. Could you talk with him? See if something’s bothering him that he won’t talk to me about? I know he doesn’t tell me everything. But I’d hope he’d talk to me about important things.”

Henry had said he’d have a chat with Louis, see if he could dig up what was bothering his good friend.

The old Louis bared his soul to the music. Played with every ounce of passion and heart inside him. The crowd in the bar stared at the man at center stage. The music was so mesmerizing, you couldn’t look away. Like a spell was cast over the bar patrons.

And when people danced to the old Louis, they did it with their eyes half-closed. They lost themselves in the music. They forgot about the mundane things of every day. As if in a trance, listeners swayed like wheat in a field blown by wind. Gerard’s drums and Nina’s bass guitar provided the backbone of the blues music played by Sweeter Than Night. Louis’s lead guitar rose and fell in driving riffs, searing to the ceiling, pulling you in, telling you to let go, release your worries and join the dance or sit there and nod your head and tap your feet. The important thing was to let go.

The dancers came to the bar with worries squeezing them into tight balls. Work, bills, rents, mortgages, troubles, regrets, anxieties, frustrations. Within the music, the people uncurled and stretched, writhed and shook their hips.

During each extended song, Gerard and Nina simmered their drums and bass guitar to a low groove, giving space for Louis to explore a freestyling jam, the notes swirling around the dancers. Then the drums and bass picked up volume and speed, catching up to Louis. The three musicians lifted to a peak, sustaining that for an ecstatic moment, ending the song in a long peal from Louis’s guitar. In the sudden silence, the music echoed in everyone’s ears, even seeming to hang in the air, holding on to any auditory crevice, reluctant to leave. Louis spoke banter into the microphone, gave a joke or two, and the band started the next song.

Louis knew he was a snakecharmer.

One night a few years ago, and this was before Louis and Shelly got married, two friends went out on the town. Henry and Louis did that on some weekday nights, since Louis played for crowds on Friday and Saturday nights. The friends listened to other bands. After last call in a bar, they stumbled—clumsy, noisy, bourbon-breathed—to Louis’s apartment. Henry collapsed on the couch.

Louis picked up an acoustic guitar before plunking on an easy chair. His mood fit the style of chair. He strummed a soft mellow rhythm, and said: “Nothing like it. When I’m playing and people’re dancing. Man, it’s a great feeling. And it goes on and on the whole night. Yeah, some of ’em get all drunk and sloppy like us right now, but not all of ’em.”

Henry grinned. Many times, he had heard Louis describe his feelings on playing music. Henry didn’t mind hearing it again. He drifted with the acoustic guitar’s melody and Louis’s words, like the musician was trying his hand and mouth at spoken poetry over music.

“I want to give ’em a break for a night,” Louis said. “Let me take all that sad shit away. And when I’m done, y’all go home and get some sleep and maybe you’re in better shape to deal with your problems in the morning. Not if you’re hung over, though.” Louis chuckled. “Then you got another problem. But everybody needs a break now and then.”

Even drunk, Louis played a good lullaby. Henry passed out on the couch. Like many other nights before Louis got hitched.

Tonight at Zeke’s, however, Louis was charming nobody. Gerard and Nina’s faces were hard to read; you couldn’t tell if they were disappointed in their lead guitarist’s stabbing out notes. Maybe they were used to it.

Henry hadn’t seen Louis play for a good bit. After the wedding, Louis didn’t go out drinking and seeing other bands. Just played with his band at bars. Part of that came with the life change. A newly married man’s friends figured the fresh groom was busy at home once he and the Missus returned home from the honeymoon. Also, Louis had started saying he and Shelly were saving money for a house. Everyone saw it as getting a larger nest to fit a family that planned to expand.

Henry’s focus had shifted to other buddies, work, his own wondering if he should get serious about settling down. Louis and Shelly had hosted Henry at their apartment for dinners, and those were enjoyable, but in a different way than the two bachelors used to spend time.

Taking a swig of beer, Henry remembered Louis’s excitement over the invitation to try out for a record label. A big executive in a pretty suit had asked Louis to “test drive” some songs. That’s the phrase the exec had used. If the test drive went well, they’d make a record and go on tour. Money would be made. Then more records and tours and more money. Louis showed up drunk to the studio and played decently. Far from his best. The exec threw a fit and threw Louis out.

And maybe Louis was merely acting that he was rolling with the smashed chance. Maybe his turmoil grew until it needed a release.

Last night, Shelly had called Henry again and got to the point, her voice cracking: “It’s drugs.”

“What? How … how can you know that? Did you see him take some?”

Shelly had sniffled. “I found a little bag of white powder in his guitar case. In the little box where he keeps picks and extra strings. You know how he always breaks strings.” A pause for another sniffle. “I know, I know. I was snooping. But I felt like I had to, with the way he’s been acting.”

Air seemed to rush out of Henry’s body, leaving him hollow. He had never guessed that as the reason for his best friend’s unusual behavior. Henry had said, “Don’t feel bad about snooping. Probably be a good thing in the long run.”

“If I confront him about this, he might lose his top,” Shelly had said. “That’s how he’s been. You’re gonna talk to him, right?”

“I said I would.”

“Tell me how it goes. I’m really worried.”

The music stopped and the guitarists set down their instruments to scattered applause. Louis approached the bar and smiled when he saw Henry. The friends clasped hands and embraced. Henry felt a familiar comfort he hadn’t realized he sorely missed.

Louis sat on a stool and said, “Been a helluva long time. How’ve you been?”

“Hanging in there,” Henry said. “How about yourself?”

The bartender pushed a drink across the counter to Louis. He hadn’t ordered the drink; it simply arrived.

Louis nodded to the bartender and knocked back some of what looked to be straight bourbon. Louis said, “Surviving. You know how it is.”

“Sometimes I don’t,” Henry said. “You looked mad up there.”

“Think so? Not so much. I’ve just been in a funk.”

“Really? That’s it?”

“Happens to everybody once in a while,” Louis said, his eyes looking annoyed. “Why? Did I sound bad?”

Henry considered a reply other than a rude, but honest, yes. He said, “You didn’t sound like you usually do.”

Louis gave a dismissive wave. “Can’t be on fire all the time, you know. I’ll get back to it soon.”

“Glad to hear it.”

“Listen, let’s catch up more after the show. Have a couple and chill.” Louis took his drink backstage.

Henry supposed he had started too strong in the interrogation. Smarter would’ve been to grease the conversational wheels, then wait till later to bring out the observation about Louis seeming mad and forcing out the music.

In the second set, Louis’s playing was toned down. He came across as tired. As much as Henry hated to admit, Louis was phoning in the performance. Henry and Louis had quickly described other musicians that way, back in their bar-touring days. Now, Henry was reluctant to stick the same label on Louis.

Talking and laughter were easier to hear amid the customers, their attention away from Sweeter Than Night and joshing with each other.

When the music stopped, mediocre applause rewarded the band, then the musicians started packing up the drum kit and other equipment. No encore would happen tonight.

After the stage was cleared, Louis carried his guitar case over to Henry, who finished off his beer. The men waved bye to the bartender and headed out.

“Coffee at the diner?” Louis said.

“How about we walk some?” Henry said. “Be nice to stretch my legs, and I could use the fresh air.”

“You’re not the one who’s been standing for two sets.”

“I’ll carry the guitar,” Henry said. “Let’s go for a little ways, then hit up a diner.”

Louis grunted as he handed over the guitar case. Henry liked the feel of the handle and the appearance of the case, giving him a cooler look—to him, it did. While loving to listen to music, he seemed to have all thumbs when Louis had taught him several chords, and they eventually gave up the lessons.

Small talk started by Henry relaying news about the friends he had hung out with lately. Who had moved to another city. Who had gotten different jobs. A band that broke up. Changes. The city’s buildings stood still, but not much else did.

Louis offered comments, like: “Sam always kept going on about leaving for Chicago. Seemed like he would always think the grass was greener somewhere else.”

They walked without a specific destination, and Henry knew he was putting off the direct questioning to Louis, but Henry enjoyed this quiet time with an old friend. The streets were mostly empty of people, except for small groups of loud folks partying on the young weekend.

Louis said he needed a rest. Since no diner was in sight, the men sat on the front step of a darkened restaurant. Closed up, having fed Friday night customers and waiting until the Saturday lunch crowd. The sign above the door read Fais de Beaux Rêves in ornate lettering. The place looked fancy, the food surely costing more than the men could afford to spend on dinner.

Henry and Louis leaned their backs against the restaurant’s glass door. The guitar case was placed on the sidewalk before them.

Hefting a sigh, Henry said, “I’ve got to get serious. What’s really going on with this funk you’ve got?”

“This again?” Annoyance was spiked in the question. “Like I told you, it happens.”

“Just that I haven’t seen you like that before,” Henry said.

Louis’s eyes settled on him for a stretched moment, as Louis possibly weighed whether to continue pushing back or offer an explanation.

Then came Louis’s decision: “A lotta things’re going on. All those bills and shit. The stack of bills keeps getting higher. You pay one off, and two more take its place. And people’re calling up, asking for shit. Everybody wants a chunk out of you. I’m getting tired of it.”

Progress. A small flame of hope shone in Henry’s heart. He said, “Yeah, I get it. How’re you dealing with it?”

Louis tipped his head in the direction where they had come from. “Back there. Playing’s always been an outlet for me. You know that.”

“Sure, sure. But is it working like it used to?”

“Don’t mess around,” Louis said. “You already know the answer to that.”

“So if it’s not doing the trick, what else you doing?”

“What’s gotten into you? Why all these questions?”

“’Cause I’m worried,” Henry said. “Shelly’s worried. We want to know about what you’re going through.”

The disgust in Louis’s grunt-laugh could’ve offended the restaurant. “She called you. Figures. I should’ve fucking known. You show up out of nowhere. When’s the last time we talked? I should’ve known, hearing you talk like that at the bar after we haven’t seen each other in so long.”

“Sorry for not coming to see you before,” Henry said. “I’m gonna see you more often. Promise.”

“Okay, fine.”

“And, yeah, Shelly called me,” Henry said. “What do you expect? You’ve got her worried. You’re not talking straight to her. She’s your wife, for Christ’s sakes. Think about what that means.”

“You kidding me?” Louis said. “I know what that means. She’s been complaining about me being moody. She nags and nags, won’t give it a rest. I tell her what’s up, same as I just told you, but she keeps nagging at me. So goes and calls you.” He shook his head, apparently in disbelief at Shelly’s action.

Silence took over. They watched the lit sign of Ron’s Bakery across the street. The men sat side by side, but Henry felt they were on different parts of the country. He wondered what Louis was thinking. He missed his friend’s old ways: easy with a laugh and a smile, easy to sit for a bit and talk about anything that came up.

Louis said, “It gets tough. Yeah, I get angry sometimes. Everybody does. You get frustrated and mad at the stupid shit and sometimes I ain’t the best guy to be around. But I get through it. What’s the choice? That or go crazy. Crazy don’t appeal to me.”

“Me neither. I know how you get through it. Shelly told me.”

Louis’s head whipped around, to stare at Henry, and Louis said, “What? What’d she tell you?”

While the earlier part of the conversation had challenged Henry, the next part seemed a wide gap he needed to jump over. Or retreat from. The path would’ve been much smoother—for Henry—if Louis had fessed up.

“I wished it would’ve been booze,” Henry said. “That would’ve made more sense.”

“What’re you talking about? You’re not making sense.”

“Drugs.” Henry closed his eyes as he spoke. “Shelly said she found some in your guitar case.”

As Louis kept quiet, Henry looked over to see his friend staring ahead, with an expression in a mask that offered no evidence of the thoughts behind it. The guitar case also kept silent, with no excuse given for what it could be hiding now.

Louis looked beaten and sad. “I wasn’t looking for it. It wasn’t like that. Shit was getting to me, but I was dealing with it. Trying to, at least. Then one night we had a gig uptown. Classier place than Zeke’s. It was a good chance to get our sound out there more. You never know who’s in the audience. And we played a hot night. I was excited, ’cause we played so good, and a couple guys came up to us afterward. I forget their names. Anyway, they asked if we wanted to go to a party. Gerry and Nina said they were tired and wanted to get home. I was supposed to go back with them in the van, but one of the other guys said he’d drive me home. Said it was on his way, no problem. So I went with them to this sweet apartment. Well, we’re drinking and having a good time. Then somebody breaks this shit out. I’m feeling fine from the playing and the booze, I say, why not, you only live once.”

He didn’t need coaxing. As if he was lifting the secret off his chest. Henry absorbed each word.

“Those guys hooked me up with more of the stuff,” Louis said. “It gives me that same feeling I get when my music’s true and people’re dancing. That same high. Maybe I wouldn’t need the stuff if I had a gig every night. But I don’t. Gotta get through all those work days to get to the gigs. Then the shit piles up and pushes you down. Feels like happiness is so far away, you might never feel it again. But the stuff’s right at hand. When you got it, it is. So you go for that sweetness. It’s not complicated, man. I wanted to forget the pain and feel good.”

Henry waited in case Louis had more to say, but he seemed to have finished his piece. Somebody howled from another block. Sounded like a drunk answering an ancient urge to yell as a wolf at the moon.

“That stuff’s turning you into someone else,” Henry said. “You get that, right?”

Louis gazed at him from the corner of an eye. “Now I do, yeah.”

“I can help,” Henry said. “Shelly, too. Of course she would. You’ve got lots of friends. All of us can help. But you’ve got to be open to that. Are you?”

After a moment, Louis said softly, “Yeah.”

“Good. ’Cause I’ve got to wonder, if you keep playing like you did tonight, that Zeke’s and other places might not ask you to come back.”

“Was it that bad?”

Henry said, “It wasn’t great, I’ll tell you that. I wasn’t kidding when I said I’ll come to your shows more. It was stupid how I got out of the habit. I’ll change that.”

“You better.”

“And you’re welcome to drop by my place anytime,” Henry said. “If you want to sit and have some beers and talk about shit that’s bothering you. If you want to talk to someone besides Shelly.”

Louis nodded. “Yeah, I’d like that.”

As Henry stood, he felt lighter. He’d gotten through what he’d set out to do tonight. And they’d gotten through a difficult conversation. Louis was clearly embarrassed, and there was no need to beat the issue to death.

“Let’s get you home,” Henry said, extending a hand, and Louis clasped it for assistance in standing.

Henry picked up the guitar case. The men began walking back where they came, heading toward the nearest bus stop. Most of the city was asleep on this crisp, cool very early morning. The streetlamps created cones of illumination that broke up the darkness. Their lighted circles on the sidewalk and street could’ve been spotlights on a stage, or islands of hope.

End


copyright © 2021 Dave Williams

A Big Change

A piece of flash fiction with breaking news about the letter a….


A Big Change
by Dave Williams

The a has decided to change its form. The a realizes this is a big change, so it hopes you are seated while reading this.

The a has been the same ‘a’ and ‘A’ for many years, and it would like to “mix things up.”

After this change, the a would like to retain its position in the forefront of the alphabet. No need to mess up the countless alphabetical lists in the world. If the lists were rendered out of order overnight and required reordering the next day, chaos would ensue. We don’t need additional chaos in this sensitive time.

While the a recognizes this design change to be significant, it does not view the change as chaotic. Does a caterpillar cause chaos by transforming into a butterfly? A tadpole into a frog? A blossom into an apple? The a states a firm “no” to these three questions and hopes you do the same.

The same: that can be comforting in a predictable sense, but also yawn-inducing. The a has had quite enough of the same. The a is weary of stifling its yawns due to the worry of offending people. The a has decided that anyone offended by this change can take their offended emotion and stuff it up the back end of the z.

Do humans not embark on vacations? Do birds and whales and caribou not migrate long distances over land and/or sea? Through four generations, Monarch butterflies complete a 3,000-mile migration through North America. Think about that as you sit on your fanny and sip coffee and complain about rush-hour traffic.

The a does not wish to migrate in the physical sense of the word. It is fine with staying at each place it is typed or written on a page or screen. Each of those places in a word and sentence and paragraph is distinctive and carries the potential to be thrilling. Indeed, each word carries emotional weight. The word “sad” is, of course, sad. Not just for readers, however. The word is also sad for each letter within it. Contrast that with the word “hullaballoo.” Not only is that word fun for humans to say, it is also fun for the letters within it. If you look closely at the word, you may even see the letters quivering from the mirth they feel.

Some humans may complain about the a’s choice to change its form. But the a counters that humans change names with marriage, adoption, and the desire to do it. Humans change their hairstyles (including facial hair) to try something “different.” They change their wardrobes for the practical purpose of seasonal weather changes, as well as the whims of fashion. They change their appearance through acquiring tattoos. Some may wear a new hat for a week “just to see how it looks on me.”

The a asks: Do you believe its desire to change is unfair? If so, why do you believe in different rules for humans than letters?

The a states the change might not be permanent. It might be, as with the example of human vacations, a temporary change. The a acknowledges this would cause additional confusion, changing then changing back to the previous form, yet the a finds this to be an acceptable consequence of its actions.

The a considers the most significant consequence of changing is the use of the term “A-frame house.” After all, the A reflects the actual form of the structure. Yet the a believes in humans to be creative in inventing a new term for these structures. The a humbly suggests “Upside-down V-frame house.”

The a is mulling over a few options of its new form. Below is the forerunner. Please keep on the lookout for news of the a’s decision.

Drawing of possible new a design. The character resembles the pi symbol, but instead of a flat top, this character swoops upward. Also, it has two dots above it, as if a lowercase i had two dots.

copyright © 2021 Dave Williams

Hello Dreamer

Hello dreamer,

I’m writing this letter in the hope it’ll get to someone who enjoys reading of adventure. Jolep said this letter will be delivered to such a household.

My name is Diego Suarez. My adventure started when my family vacationed in Nagua, Dominican Republic. We did the normal stuff people do on a beach vacation, and had lots of fun. One day, we went to a history museum. That was when I learned about Captain Vincente Ochoa. And that’s when my life changed.

In the late 1600s, pirates attacked Captain Ochoa’s galleon, the Nuestra Señora de la Valencia, to capture the load of gold on board. Captain Ochoa blasted the pirates with his cannon. But his ship was severely damaged, and he limped it to the island that became the Dominican Republic. He beached the ship and ordered his men to march into the jungle and bury the chests of gold. Then the men worked to make the Valencia sea-worthy again. But their numbers were decimated by fever, jaguars, and heat exhaustion. None of the sailors was rescued.

The buried gold became legendary. Treasure hunters have searched ever since, yet the gold has never been found.

The legend captured my imagination like nothing had in many years. My life back in Atlanta had become routine. I went out with friends, but getting drunk every weekend grows old after a while. While I dated around and had some great times, I wasn’t in the mood for a serious relationship. The gold gave me a mission above those things, to do something big with my life before I turned 30.

I bought books about Captain Ochoa and read them after work to learn all I could about the man. His life in Spain, becoming a sailor, his exploits on the high seas. Theories of locations where he could’ve beached the Valencia on that fateful day.

I went alone on my next trip to the Dominican Republic, and checked out the locations of the theories. I talked to the locals for clues that might help me. I followed their clues and found nothing. Wild goose chases resulting only in frustration.

Sad to say, the desire to find the treasure overwhelmed my life. I could hardly think of anything else. I quit my job, sold my car and belongings, broke the lease of my apartment.

Once again I went to the Dominican Republic, this time to search every possibility. Only after everything was tried would I have given up. I stayed past my tourist visa, and kept my head down to avoid the authorities.

One afternoon, I became lost in the jungle while following yet another clue. I was thirsty and exhausted. A sudden rainstorm made me seek shelter. A cave entrance on a mountainside beckoned. I slumped off my backpack and collapsed on the cave floor and fell asleep.

Hours later, I was shaken awake. A stranger’s face glared down at me. A face that could’ve belonged to a pirate. Wispy goatee, small gold loop earrings. The stranger demanded I tell what was I doing there. I broke down and told of my obsession with Captain Ochoa’s gold. The stranger took pity on me, said I needed to forget the gold and find a new direction in life. He would help me move toward that. He introduced himself as Jolep Teeko, an elf who lived in the World Beyond the Cave.

When you heard tales of Oz and Narnia, you probably thought places like those could never exist. But they do, dear reader. They do.

Jolep led me deeper into the cave, until it opened to a land that’s on no map. The jungle seemed similar to the one I had left. Teeming with tropical plants, colorful flowers, birds. Except this place had a village built by elves on a sunny spot along a river. When I was seen approaching the village with Jolep, word spread and soon a crowd stood around me. They were slender, long-haired, wore an odd assortment of clothes. I learned they took discarded shirts and dresses from the outside world and patched them together into new clothes.

After Jolep told the crowd my story, I was welcomed. I slept in a hammock until a bed was made. Their eagerness to hear about my life removed my initial shyness. I’ve made many friends. They’re huge soccer fans, and I’ve joined the daily games. I’m not nearly as good as them, and they playfully tease me about my clumsiness. And I’ve helped with fishing and retrieving fruit from high in the trees. The fish, fruit, and grains are so flavorful, they make you swoon. Nightly, they tell stories and play music.

I’m regaining my strength and sanity. Jolep was right: I need to forget the gold. I plan to stay for several more months, then I’ll head to the outside world and start over. The elves tell me once I leave, I can never return to this wondrous place. I wish I could come back, but I miss my family and friends.

Jolep encouraged me to write letters to my parents to tell them I’m okay. Jolep has stationery he stole from a cigar company. My letters will be delivered through an underground system of carrier-elves. And Jolep suggested I write a letter to a stranger, one who appreciates stories of magical places.

Keep your beliefs strong.

Sincerely,
Diego Suarez

copyright © 2021 Dave Williams

Furious Fiction

Wanted to let you know about a neat contest for writers of flash fiction. On the first Friday of every month, the Australian Writers’ Centre hosts a contest for writing a very short story.

The contest is called Furious Fiction, and it’s kind of the writing equivalent to a cooking contest, a la The Great British Baking Show. You have 55 hours to craft a story that includes a maximum of 500 words. It can be in any genre. But the stories have to include certain ingredients that change each month. That could be the setting (wedding or funeral, for example). Could be that a character has to do a specific action (make a decision, for example). And a few key words need to be included.

I have entered the contest a few times, and it’s an interesting challenge. I’ve found that prompts poke my creativity in different ways than thinking up a story that could be about anything and be any amount of words. A photo prompt can rattle my brain, causing ideas to pop that wouldn’t have otherwise. Same with the prompts in this contest.

While the contest’s turnaround time added stress to my writing, it also prodded me into finishing the stories. A stronger motivation than thinking, “Maybe I’ll finish this story next month.”

If you’ve never tried to write flash fiction, you may want to start with a weekly prompt that offers more time to put a story together. It’s not a simple thing to try to tell a story in a small amount of space. After you’re comfortable with the format, maybe try this contest.

The winner gets $500 Australian dollars. When the winner is announced, the story is published on the website of the Australian Writers’ Centre — along with the stories that made the short list. The hosts include descriptions of what they liked about those stories. That’s helpful to learn what was successful about the stories, and you could use the lessons when you’re writing new stories.