Dreamer Unpacked

(Thanks for your patience… due to a computer crash this post was delayed). I thought I’d write a blog post discussing my latest short story, Dreamer. I won’t unpack it in the minutia, but with a broader lens. If you haven’t read it, I’d recommend doing so now before reading this post (spoiler alert).

At almost 3,000 words it is a long short story. It could be legitimately argued 25% of that length is before the story begins. If it were a dinner you could say there’s a lot of soup and salad before you get to the meat. The intro is a long character introduction where Steve is talking to his daughter and ex-wife. For the purposes of this story, most of that dialogue is unnecessary. A good paragraph or two could evoke the same sense of the character’s attitudes toward fatherhood (which is an important theme in the story).

There was a purpose for the expanded character background: although Dreamer is written to be a stand-alone story, I wanted the possibility of adding to Steve Wilder’s “adventures” (if I may use the term loosely) in episodic short stories. There’s plenty of story-fodder: Steve’s role as a father (made more complicated by the fact he no longer lives with his child), his dreams, ongoing tension, claustrophobia and, possibly, a rekindled romance to his ex-wife. All that aside from his ‘gift’. Hopefully the slow introduction was not too taxing on most readers.

The story is a blend of the ordinary and extraordinary. It is set in the real-world and readers can understand what it is to work hard, have not-the-best relationships and stay in motels. Steve, and his situation is relate-able. He’s a regular guy who feels like the grind of life is pretty intense. He doesn’t have a perfect family situation or the perfect job but he’s thankful for what he does have. He’s an “every-man” hero, who is in the midst of discovering something extraordinary.

With the title of Dreamer it should come as no surprise when the characters begin discussing Steve’s weird dreams, which he himself doesn’t understand. With potential sequels I’ve left some hints in the text and given myself room for Steve to grow in his understanding of how the dreaming works. (I won’t say more because I don’t want to spoil future discoveries). As the dream sequence unfolded – Steve himself, and the reader, is uncertain as to what these dreams are. Do they represent anything at all? Steve isn’t sure, so neither should the reader be (who is understanding the world through him). The fact that it was really happening (or something like that ;-)) was a reveal that I wanted to leave for the end.

How did I come up with the idea? The first stage of the dreaming sequence where Steve is diving down into a warm lake is how I’ve been going to sleep lately. It was a major part of the inspiration for the story. Try it yourself, I find it quite relaxing to envision myself in warm water. (And I haven’t wet the bed yet). I’d also had the idea bubbling around inside my head about how I could use dreaming in a story. The two ideas merged together, and Dreamer was born.

Do you have any thoughts or comments about Dreamer? (I’m not sure when we might hear from Steve Wilder again, but I’d be surprised if we don’t

 

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Dreamer

The gravel crunched beneath the car’s tyres as Steve Wilder pulled into the Motel carpark. When he’d checked-in after breakfast the motel had been virtually deserted, now almost every room and park was occupied. He sighed with relief as he switched off the ignition and headlights. It had been another long day. He could hardly wait to lay on the bed and watch TV. Before he could do that though he had to get inside, which seemed not insignificant to his weary body.

He wound the window up and climbed out of the car. He took a step toward his room, stopped and with a shake of his head returned to the car. From the boot he removed his toolbox and power drill, carrying them into the room. They were worth more than he could afford to lose.

He had a long, hot shower which washed the sweat and fatigue from his tired muscles. He was drying himself off when his mobile began playing the annoying ‘Let it Go’. His nine year old daughter, Lucy, had chosen it as her ringtone. The thought of talking to her energised him. He sat on the bed and smiled as he answered.

“Hey butterfly, how are you?”

“Hi Dad, I’m good,” came her cheerful voice before it took on a serious tone, “I have to go to bed soon; Mum said I can’t talk long.”

“Well, I’m glad you called. How was your day? Drama-Thursday isn’t it?” Steve said, remembering his daughter’s favourite school day.

“Yeah it was. Today we learned all about how a narrator can add to a story, and we each got a turn practising a narrator-voice. I did my narration as a mean old granny. Do you want to hear it?”

“Sure, I’d love to,” Steve chuckled.

“What do you want?” Lucy said in her warbling elderly voice. “I’m older than you, don’t you try telling me it’s bed time,” Lucy said. No doubt looking at her mum as she said it.

“Woah! That’s scary. Can you put Lucy back on the phone now, angry granny?” Steve said, “I’d rather talk to her.”

Lucy dissolved into laughter.

“That was very good,” Steve said.

“Thanks, Dad. Are we still going to spend time together on Saturday?”

“You bet, butterfly, I’m really looking forward to it.”

“Me too.” Lucy’s voice became muffled and Steve became the third-party in the conversation. “Mum says I have to go to bed now. She wants to talk to you,” Lucy whined.

“Okay. It is past your bed time, Luce. You sleep well and I’ll see you on Saturday morning,” Steve promised.

“On Saturday, Dad–”

“Whatever it is, butterfly, we can talk about it then. You need to go to bed now. Hand the phone to mum.” Steve insisted. Even though Lucy only stayed overnight with him on weekends Steve was well aware how kids employed every stall-tactic at bed time. Steve got off the bed and held the mobile between his shoulder and chin as he unpacked the suitcase.

“Hi Steve, how are you?” Rachel, his ex-wife asked.

“I’m good, Rachel, and you?”

“Yeah, not bad. Lucy’s always a bit hyper after drama class; her bedtime can’t come quick enough. At least she loves it. And then I’ve been busy with the school fete that’s coming up…” Steve was only half-listening. He’d listen once she’d got past all of the pro-forma conversation. There were two kinds of people in the world: some who processed information by thinking and others by talking. Where he was a thinker, Rachel was definitely a talker. Steve frowned and emptied his shaving bag onto the bed, sweeping it to separate the contents.

“Oh no…” he said, unintentionally interrupting Rachel.

“What’s wrong?”

“Ah,” He regretted opening his mouth. “I just realised I left my sleeping medication at home.”

“You still having those weird dreams?”

“Nah, not every night.” Most nights without the medication, but no need to admit it.

“Did you ever go back to that guy?” Rachel asked. While she said it conversationally, Steve heard it as a challenge. By ‘that guy’, Rachel meant the shrink.

“He had no idea, he just wouldn’t admit it.” After the first session, the shrink’s bill was scarier than the dreams, so he’d never been back.

“Well maybe it would take more than one session to understand it?”

“No. He theorised my dreams were playing out aspects of my personality, fantasies or fears. That doesn’t make any sense. Why do I dream about people I’ve never met? Older women, young children? I can assure you there’s no part of my personality that’s a woman. The dreams are complete warped nonsense, not some deep personal insight.”

“It isn’t normal–“

“Look, I don’t really like talking about it, Rachel.” That was true. He lied when people asked if he dreamed; a lie was easier than the truth. He knew Rachel was standing there with the pressure building. They were still on good terms even though their relationship hadn’t survived the early years. Mostly. Sometimes Rachel pushed as though she still had the influence of a wife. They’d had something special, and in Lucy made someone priceless. No matter how hard life got Lucy was a bright ray of sunshine in his life. Rachel was now just his ex. “I don’t want to be rude but I’ve got to get up early. Was there something you wanted in particular?”

“I was just going to ask what time you’ll be picking up Lucy on Saturday. I’m going out with the girls.”

Steve calculated the travel time back to the city in his head. “I’ll be there by ten at the latest, okay?”

“Okay, see you then. I hope you sleep well.”

“Thanks. Have a great remainder of the week,” Steve said and hung up.

He set the alarm for 6:30am and snuggled under the quilt. He switched on Jeopardy for 20 minutes before turning to something more doze-worthy. It was a tough call: do you stay up late so you crash hard or go to bed early because sleep might be sporadic? He hadn’t worked out the best solution yet, hence the sleeping medication. Pop a couple of tablets and wake up with the alarm. Well, that wasn’t going to be the case tonight. He closed his eyes and listened to the TV; shortly after he was vaguely aware he was no longer hearing it…

It started as it always did, he envisioned himself floating in a large body of water. This was the first stage of his dream state, and he came here every time he slept. His subconsciousness knew this place well. Visibility was three metres; beyond that, darkness. He knew he was alone, the only soul in the huge lake without edges. The warm water lapped gently against him in a lulling motion. He rolled onto his stomach, his head beneath the water. He didn’t have to breathe. He felt perfectly safe. He duck-dived down so that the water would envelop him like a thick blanket. Swimming without any sense of fatigue he descended with effortless breaststroke. The bottom of the lake was a gentle sandy slope with a rock-chimney at the centre. To say there was a light in the chimney would be overstating it; there was a greyness, where all else was black.

He reached the hole and hesitated as his hands grasped the rocky sides. To go down was to enter the second stage of his dreams. This was where the dreams got weird. While sometimes they were good dreams at other times they became nightmares. He hung back for only a few seconds. His subconscious was in control and it was more of a risk-taker than his waking mind.

The water in the tunnels was normally calm. Tonight Steve felt a current begin to pull at him. He went with the current, enjoying the speed without having to swim. It became less fun as the speed kept increasing and he began to bump against the walls. His efforts to slow down were as successful as a leaf slowing in a flooded river. He grabbed at several chimneys but was swept past them. His heart began to race and he was suddenly aware of fatigue starting to creep up on him. That was new. He’d never experienced the slightest tiredness before, and now he felt as though he was partway through an endurance race. What if he suddenly needed to breathe as well?

With an almost deafening whoosh Steve was sucked up a chimney into what felt like a washing machine of turbulence. The feeling of tiredness was compounding quickly and he swam for the surface, eager to enter the next phase of the dream state. He broke to the surface and everything changed.

He wasn’t underwater any more, or even wet. It was dark and Steve felt the rising panic of claustrophobia. He closed his eyes and took a few deep breaths to lower the panic level. He could hear whimpers and rapid breathing nearby.

“Who’s there?” the scared voice of a child whispered. Steve couldn’t always interact with others in his dreams but sometimes he could. He found the interactive ones more interesting.

“It’s OK. I’m friendly,” Steve said, hoping that whoever he was speaking to was also friendly. “My name’s Steve, what’s yours?”

“Christopher.”

“How old are you, Christopher?”

“Nine.”

“I’m reaching out just to see where we are,” Steve warned him. There was solid wood to his left and right, and at his back.

“Are we in a wardrobe?” Steve asked as he reached upwards. He felt the heavy cloth of a jacket, and his touch made the clothes hanger squeak against the railing.

“Yes, but we have to stay silent,” Chris pleaded in a tone that made it imperative.

“What danger is out there?”

“The monster,” Chris whispered, his voice shaking with emotion and fear. Steve’s dark sense of humour made him smile. He thought of telling Chris that the monsters were normally in the wardrobe, not outside of it. He kept that piece of parenting advice to himself. Steve sat there for a few minutes listening for any noises. There was nothing. Certainly no nefarious sounds of a monster. And Steve wasn’t staying in the confined wardrobe.

“Well, I’m getting cramped in here,” Steve said. “I’m going to get out and have a little look.”

“No, don’t!” Two little hands grasped at Steve’s arm from the darkness. Steve thought about shrink’s words. Was this his personality trying to force him to address the claustrophobia? Or was it a manifestation of his childhood? Both were possible. Surely everyone had fears of things that went bump in the night at some stage. But that was as a child, Steve was a man now. He gently pulled Chris’ hands off.

“I’ll go and see if the coast is clear. If there’s a monster, I’ll scare it away,” Steve promised.

“Don’t, he’ll get you.”

Steve pushed open the door a crack and waited for his eyes to adjust. Steve could hear the low-drone of a TV and saw the changing colours on the wall opposite. Chris shied away from the light, trying to make himself even smaller in a corner of the wardrobe. Steve looked at Chris. His little fists were balled up and he was biting his lower lip in worry. His brown eyes were begging Steve not to go out, not to make noise. A young boy shouldn’t have to be so scared.

With a breath of relief Steve rose up out of the wardrobe. The room was a virtual duplicate of his motel room, except the bathroom was on the opposite wall. The shrink had explained why his dreams – as weird as they could be – always had elements of reality, “anchoring” it was called. While the dreaming mind was allowed a lot of creative latitude and coloured in missing details, there always had to be an anchoring to the truth or the subconscious would reject the dream. So the shrink knew some stuff, but even he had admitted that dream psychology was not a verifiable science.

Steve pushed the thoughts from his head and looked around. Two suitcases stood by the door alongside a pair of muddy boots. The coffee table had been dragged closer to the bed and was covered by an empty pizza box and beer bottles. Hanging off the bed post was a tartan shirt. The man to whom it belonged was lying on the double bed in jeans and a singlet, snoring softly. On the other side of the bed there was a vacant fold-out bed, with a child-sized pillow. Steve tip-toed to the bathroom and confirmed it was empty before returning to the wardrobe.

“It’s just me,” Steve whispered as he opened it so they could see each other. “There’s no monster here, Christopher. If it was here, it’s gone now. The coast is clear. You can go back to bed.”

Chris shook his head, unconvinced. “It might be gone, but it can just appear suddenly. It’s safer if I stay here.”

“Is that your Dad on the bed?” Steve asked.

Chris’ face tightened and he nodded. “Did he seem OK?”

“Yes, he’s asleep. The monster didn’t get him either. The monster would be scared of grown-ups. I bet if you slept near your Dad, the monster won’t bother you.”

Chris didn’t reply.

“You can’t be very comfortable in there. Wouldn’t you rather be able to lie down,” Steve reasoned.

“I don’t want to come out,” Chris said, “please don’t make me come out.”

Steve frowned. “The bed would be better–“

It happened suddenly. Steve heard a creak behind him and Chris’ eyes had suddenly gone wide, a look of terror crossing his face. Steve thought Chris had been about to cry out but he’d never know. Steve woke up in shock, the dream over.

Steve looked at clock with bleary eyes: 2am. He thought about the small notebook on the bedside table where he recorded his dreams. He’d do it in the morning, if he remembered. The alarm would go off in three short hours. He needed more sleep. He closed his eyes and pictured himself floating…

At 5am the rude alarm went off. Whoever invented the alarm was a cruel and sadistic person, Steve thought. He’d never been a morning person. The only good thing about waking up in the morning is you’re alive. Dawn was already shining through the window and making promises of good weather. He’d only had the one dream and he still remembered the key points, even if the detail was diluted. He shaved quickly, showered and then wrote in his dream journal whilst eating the complimentary breakfast cereal. He passed on the cheap coffee; he’d buy some on the road.

Steve planned to be in town another night but would leave late this afternoon, work permitting. He was on good terms with the operators of the motel and they were flexible. If he left today he could surprise Lucy by taking her out for breakfast on Saturday.

The morning freshness welcomed him as he opened the door. He carried his belongings out to the car and put them in the boot before gently shutting it. Most of the guests – all the smart people – were still snug in bed. He didn’t want to disturb them unnecessarily. Steve crossed the carpark on foot to go to the front office and pay his bill.

Another guest was getting ready to leave, his car idling out the front of his open room door. He was loading suitcases into the back seat. The guy had on a tartan shirt. Oh yes, Steve thought, I forgot to add that to my journal entry. Steve said ‘good morning’ as he passed, and got a grunt and a slight nod in reply. The man slammed the car door and then called out in a raised voice,

“Christopher, get in the car now if you don’t want to be left behind!”

Steve stopped, stunned. A shiver went down his spine as he turned.

A boy emerged from the room. As he shut the door, Steve saw a black eye and a swollen lip. It was the Christopher from his dream.

“Christopher,” Steve called to the boy. Christopher glanced at Steve. Recognition, then confusion, filled his swollen expression.

“How–” Christopher began.

“Who the hell are you?” the boy’s dad demanded from the driver side of the car. Steve turned his head, righteous anger rising up inside of him. He ran to the car, pulled the man out and used his superior size and strength to pin the man against the car.

“I’m the guy who’s going to stop you from beating your son,” Steve said. He didn’t understand how, but he knew this was the monster.

The Allure of Rings

I recently had an idea for a story. Whether the story will go-on, and when, who knows. But here is the first section. What do you think?


August Thomas sat in the café chair, almost laying, his long legs extending to the vacant chair across from him. It was a sunny morning, which excused August’s sunglasses and hid his bloodshot eyes. He picked up the coffee cup with a faint clink as his silver ring touched the china. He sipped the bitter coffee which was equally too-strong and overpriced. He pretended to be reading the newspaper, peering over it’s top edge to those around him.

Though the trendy café was bustling with breakfast patrons, only a few of the outdoor tables were occupied. At the centre sat two ethnic men arguing about anything and everything in raised voices. It was hard to gauge if they were smoking more than arguing, both were in abundant amounts, each seemingly fuelling the other.

A few tables away a young woman’s laugh was cheerful and as bright as the floral dress she wore. She laughed as though the man with her was a comedian, tucking her auburn hair behind her ear. Her ring finger was noticeably bare, but expensive earrings hung from her ears and matched her purse. Her companion, encouraged by her body language joined in on the laughter. Her eyes locked on to August, and he smiled.

She pointedly turned her attention back to her date. A polite smile wouldn’t have cost you anything, August thought.

August went back to looking at the paper as he habitually spun his ring with his thumb. He was reaching the end of his coffee when his peripheral vision caught movement at the table. The young woman had risen and was walking into the café toward the fruit buffet. Her purse remained on the table, as her date watched her depart and then started thumbing through his cell phone.

August stood and tucked the newspaper under his arm. He was weaving his way through the empty tables, as he pulled a cell phone from his own pocket.

“Oh crap,” August cried as his cell fell from his hand, hitting the ground accompanied by the sound of smashing glass. The amateur comedian turned to look at the wrecked phone, before reaching down and passing it to August.

“Oooh, bad luck,” the man sympathised.

“It’s the second time I’ve done that.”

“I hope you’ve got insurance.”

August smiled weakly. “I don’t leave home without it,” he said as he dropped the phone back into his coat pocket.

August walked briskly and weaved through several blocks before stopping in the service alley of a Mexican eatery. He took the newspaper from under his arm and unfolded it, revealing the woman’s purse. It had been easy: at the sound of the phone hitting the ground the man’s attention had been drawn away; plenty of time for August to slide the purse into his paper. The woman wouldn’t be happy when she realised he’d let her purse be stolen, August smiled. He opened up the purse, and pocketed the hundred and thirty in cash.

Thanks, Alanna,” he muttered as he examined the woman’s driver’s license. He tossed the license and her credit cards into the dumpster, emptying out all personal belongings carefully.

An hour later, after selling the purse to his favourite ‘broker of used goods’, August arrived home two hundred dollars richer for a few hours work. In his arms he carried two six packs of beer.

“One for you, and one for me,” August said as he put one on the coffee table. His housemate, ‘Blue’, was stereotypically sitting on the couch, stoned.

“Thanks,”the word filtered out slowly from Blue as August began to walk away. “Hey, what have you been up to?”

August turned around at the accusation. He shrugged. “Around, like normal. Why the interrogation?”

Blue looked at him wary, as though he’d grown a second head. “There were some people here, August. Looking for you: what did you do?”

“What kind of people?”

“Two men, scary looking. Looked like the Feds, but didn’t show no badges. Creeped me out. They were asking a lot of questions about you.”

“What did you tell them?”

“Not much. I was already high, so I just rambled for a while and they gave up and left.”

August approached the window and peered out cautiously. “Well there’s no one around now.”

Audience-driven Short Story: Guardian (1)

The Experiment: An Audience-driven Short Story

Do you remember the Choose Your Own Adventure genre? The reader would reach frequent decision points and choose what the point-of-view character did. These decisions altered the story line and possibly the eventual conclusion.

In a similar vein I’m going to try to write an audience-driven story. Periodically (weekly? fortnightly?) I’ll add a slab of text to the story and then present a choice for the readers. Based on votes (or suggestions they propose), I’ll then write the next installment of the story.

Obviously given the timeframe involved and my other writing projects, I can’t promise a highly polished story. (I also reserve the right to ignore suggestions if they’re obviously designed to ruin the story).

This might work out or it might fail, only time will tell. One thing is for sure: audience participation is required.


Guardian (Installment 1)

(Please note: this story is a work of fiction).

I’ve always had exceptional hearing, and ears appropriately sized for the task. I’m not sure if there is a hearing-equivalent of 20/20 vision, but if there is I’d ace it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not super-human, just well above the average. My ears got me into trouble a lot as a kid, with nicknames like Dumbo, Wingnut and Radar.

After I left childhood I thought my ears wouldn’t cause me any more trouble. When I heard the faint cry I should have let it be drowned out by the other ambient street noise, like it was for the dozens of other people around me.

The noise drew me into the alley between the shops. Just a few steps: I’m no fool. I wasn’t going to leave the safety of the road and all its witnesses. It was early afternoon and the alley was well lit, covered only by a few shadows at the back. I heard the cry again. My heart sunk. It was unmistakably a human cry so I couldn’t ignore it. I looked back to the street and the passers-by.

“Did you hear that?” I asked back toward the street. A young woman looked up from her phone. She shook her head but I doubt she even really heard me. Her electronic-possession reasserted itself and her attention returned to the phone as she walked off zombie-like.

There was another cry, a sad whimper. No one else seemed to hear it. Or maybe they just didn’t want to. But I’d heard it and had to investigate. The alley was empty except for two commercial bins on both walls part-way down. The cry must have come from behind a bin. I had no intention of putting myself in danger. Reality, however doesn’t consider intentions.

“Hello,” I called, hoping they’d show themselves, “is anyone down there? Do you need help?”

No movement. Nothing.

I hoped it was an abandoned baby or child and not some thug with an iPhone recording. No sooner had the thought occurred that I felt bad – why would I wish a child abandoned? I patted my pocket, annoyed to remember I’d left my phone at work.

I had to go down there.

I tried to loosen my shoulders and ready myself for anything even as my legs stiffened involuntarily. I tried to walk softly down the alley, one cautious step at a time. I glanced over my shoulder to reassure myself the people were still there, only a dozen or so metres away. If something bad did happen, they’d help me right? That’s what I told myself, but I knew in this day and age it was a 50/50 bet.

I looked around for a weapon, but there was none. My two flailing fists were all I had. They would flail if required…but given I’d never been in a fight, it was doubtful how effectively.

I was near the bins now, hoping that there was no one waiting inside of them ready to spring out on me. I heard the cry again and was relieved to see a child’s auburn-covered head behind the bin.

“Hi,” I said in a gentle tone as I walked around the bin, “what’s wrong?”

“Oh, crap!” I called out in surprise. Lying at the little girl’s feet was a huge African man, slumped against the wall. He was holding a wound in his chest, and there was a pool of blood growing around him. His face was covered in sweat, fixed in a grimace of pain and stubbornness.

“I’ll get help,” I promised.

“No,” the man said in a tired baritone voice, “just look after the girl.”

“Someone call 000, I need an ambulance. A man’s been stabbed,” I yelled at a passer-by. The rude woman pretended not to hear, but her pace increased.

“Look after the g–” he tried to say.

“You look after the girl,” I retorted, “we’ll get you help and you’ll be fine. She’s your daughter,” I said, before realising the only way this Caucasian child belonged to the dark African man was adoption.

“You can’t help me. Medicine won’t help–” the man grunted.

I tried to reassure him, like I’d seen them do in movies. “Don’t be silly, you’re not that far gone–”

“– me. I’m an Angel.”

It took a few seconds for what he’d said to register. And then a few more before I had any idea of how to respond.


What happens next? Post a comment below or send me an email to vote.

guardian-option1


Help over the fenceWant a beta-reader? I’ve been helped in my development process by other beta readers and now it’s my turn to ‘pay it forward’. Each month I’ll read a chapter of someone’s story and comment on it. To be eligible, just comment on one of my posts with “*Review*” in the comment and you’re in the running.

Perspective

It’s been a bit of a rough week. Our impeccably cared for car had a major fault that was going to be cost prohibitive to repair. And of course it’s out of warranty by 17 months. Call me idealistic but I expect a longer lifspan from a new car. I felt taken advantage of. 

As soon as I heard the car company wasn’t going to cover the fault (which relates to a recall issue on other batches) I was furious. And when I use the word furious I am employing no exaggeration whatsoever.

I couldn’t go to sleep, I was angry. I woke up before dawn, angry. Angry, angry, angry. I was seething with anger. 
I wrote this in my journal,

I’m really angry right now about the car. 

I’d forgotten I had this level of anger in me. 

But now I need to lay it aside for my time with God. 

I’m not exaggerating, about 30 seconds from making that decision I added

In the grand scheme of things the car doesn’t matter. Money doesn’t matter. It won’t last path death. But what will is the church and the souls in Hell. They are what matters. 

I had instant and complete peace. It’s so true. When we measure our problems on the scale of eternity they suddenly become less. 

The upside is, I’ve been inspired to write a short story I’m calling Out of Warranty.

Have a great day and keep things in the proper perspective. 

On “When Nightmares Wake”

When Nightmares Wake is a short story I’ve been working on inspired by a bout of poor
sleeping. It was supposed to be a quick little project, a little oil for the editing-weary pistons of productivity…

Well it hasn’t been a nightmare, but neither has it been a beautiful dream. It’s taken longer to write than anticipated and the draft is (so far) not as great as I expected. My quick little side-adventure is now impeding work on my main project, Vengeance Will Come.

I have considered abandoning it as a troublesome off-shoot of creativity… However having already invested time, and promising it to you, dear reader, I feel somewhat obliged to deliver; even if it isn’t a polished gem.

So can I learn anything from this experience? Why has the project gone awry?

Firstly, I over-predicted my productivity. I have been less productive than hoped- partly due to a lack of self-discipline (distractions) and partly due to forces beyond my control. Discipline, as a writer, again proves to be of inestimable importance.

Mainly I blame my lack of preparatory plotting.I started with a great ending, but nothing else. I didn’t know where the story began or what events happened in the middle or the sequence of them. I also vacillated over points of the story, changing things back and forth with as much conviction as a swinging pendulum. Does my main character arrive before or after the big battle? Is it the dark of night or the light of day? Small changes like this meant I kept having to rehash the earlier parts of the story.

Larger questions like how the magic system functioned also dammed my creativity. Whether it was internal angst at the delay the story was costing me or something else, the words just didn’t flow. I was hoping for an experience like when I wrote Escape From Hell which almost wrote itself. (The one challenge was balancing important but unpleasant scenes without putting the reader off).

Another contributing factor may be the genre was outside of my wheelhouse. When Nightmares Wake is very much strong fantasy with full-blown magic; not something I have written before.

Two more lessons that I’ve learned are:

  1. I don’t need a good solid block of quality time sitting at the computer. I can successfully contribute to a story, even if it’s a paragraph at a time written on a mobile on the bus.
  2. I didn’t write it chronologically, I jumped around like corn on hot oil. If that’s what it takes to get it done…

When Nightmares Wake is about 75% complete; hopefully coming soon…

Clap

This is the first (rough) draft of a new short story (~1100 words). The idea for this story came to me as I was listening to some guitar music. The ending is a bit weaker than I was hoping for, but I hope you’ll enjoy it.


After gaining the top marks in my Mechanical Engineering degree it was hardly what I’d planned: six months later to be unofficially working in a small café two hours-a-day as a guitarist. I had tried employment at a few of the local engineering companies, but the state was dying, gradually crawling into its own shallow grave. Employment wasn’t in the toilet, it was already past the s-bend and halfway down the drain. Jealously I read the Facebook updates of the other graduates I knew; most had already secured jobs interstate. Depressingly, that included mediocre students who spent considerably more time studying empty pint glasses than lecture notes.

‘Just move’ they encouraged me as though it were my decision to stay; as though dropping everything and starting anew elsewhere was as easy as changing a shirt. Maybe it was for some, but not for everyone.

It had been two years since my father had died, taken twenty years before his number should have been called. One day he had taken the short drive to the local shops for his daily newspaper and had never returned. Mum had stayed home that day, but it was as though she had left shortly after: more than Dad’s car had been wrecked that day. I haven’t decided about whether there is an afterlife, but it was as though Mum’s soul went searching for Dad’s for a long time, leaving the hollow shell of her body behind.

After the first year Mum began to show signs of recovery. With painstaking slowness her life began to return to normal. ‘A new normal’ she called it, ‘for things would never be normal again’. Where the grief had crushed her, she had slowly begun to fill again a brief smile as welcome as a rainbow. Like an empty balloon she had slowly begun to inflate. In time she said there would be joy, but for now it was enough that there were days without constant sadness.

And so as an only child, it rested on me to look after Mum. I couldn’t think of leaving her alone, and she wouldn’t leave the state where Dad was buried. And so we were at an impasse where my responsibility trumped opportunity. I was too highly educated for most jobs and all the interviews I had were full of positive feedback but noticeably absent job offers. And so I found myself scraping together whatever income I could find while I looked for something better, hope gradually diminishing.

It could be worse at least I enjoy playing I thought to myself as I pulled my acoustic guitar out of its case and began arranging my musical cheat sheets at my feet. Dad had taught me to play when I was a teenager, and so playing the guitar helped me to feel close to him. I wondered if he listened to me play from beyond, critiquing or simply tapping his foot. Playing the guitar had been a hobby or a way to woo the girls, but now it provided the extra cash I needed badly. I was a pretty good guitarist but a long way from professional, and I never sung in public: people have been stoned for less. I started my first set plucking out the older favourites of Eric Clapton.

It seemed like a pretty poor choice, starting out with a sad tuned song, but I wasn’t quite in the mood for upbeat yet. I played from muscle memory, my fingers flowing through the motion of the melody as I allowed the music to wash over me. ‘You have to feel the music’ Dad would always say. ‘It isn’t a set of instructions to be mindlessly followed, but a thing of beauty to be experienced and embraced.’

As I approached the last chords of the song I inwardly squirmed at the expected applause. Most people in the café were too busy talking, eating or feverishly interacting on their smart phones to notice the music was anything more than a sound track. The smaller the applause the more chance that the café owner would decide that I was an extraneous overhead. From the audiences perspective my presence was incidental, from my perspective this job was vital, balancing both my finances and my sanity.

The first song finished and there was a smattering of clapping, most was almost incidental, except for a loud clap from across the room. I looked up to see who had shown appreciation for my efforts. He was an elderly gentleman dressed in a brown suit that looked a little baggy on his thin frame. He may have had a strong chin in his youth but the blowtorch of time had melted and multiplied it, each chin a little lower than the last. He clapped loudly after my next song and I rewarded him with a thumbs up in gratitude. He clapped after each and every song.

“What’s his story?” I asked Rosa the waitress while on my break between sets, motioning to the gentleman in brown.

“Oh that’s Tom… or Ted or could have been Tim.” Rosa replied and then continued. “I don’t remember their names very well: he’s double-shot cappuccino. He’s been coming in every day for years, always in at 8am, always that table. You could set your watch by him. He gets the one cappuccino and sits there sipping it until 10am and then leaves. Nice guy, very friendly but quiet.”

My second set passed much the same as the first, largely ignored except for my new friend who clapped me enthusiastically after each song. If I hadn’t had a job interview after the set I would have gone over and said a thank you to him. It’s amazing the difference that a clap can do for a performer’s frame of mind: it made me enjoy playing knowing that someone was appreciating it.

Over the next few months my new friend was there every day as Rosa had said. He was my main supporter and his predictable presence always brought a smile to my face. I kept meaning to go over and thank him or maybe buy him another coffee, but I never got around to it and always thought I’d do it the following day.

And then one day he wasn’t there. I thought he might have been sick or something, but each day his absence grew. I asked Rosa about him, and she didn’t know either. Every day I went in I hoped to see him, but never did. I couldn’t help feeling regret that I never made the effort to go over and thank him. He always made the small gesture of thanks in his clap. A small thing, incidental to an observer, but to me it had meant a lot. If I had my time again I would have thanked him. He gave me applause but his example also taught me that gratitude could go a long way in another person’s life: he had taught me the importance of clapping for others.