Monday, May 18, 2009

Fallen

This week I'm practicing Flash Fiction, which is just a really short story. The trick is to create a plot and end it in a very small word count (usually around five hundred words). This one is a little over 500 words. Flash Fiction is supposed to tell a story in a scene. I'm not sure that the end really ties up the story here, but I tried. The shorter it is, the harder it is to write. Every word has to really count. As always, I appreciate your feedback! Revised, as per Koala's suggestions. Thank you, friend writer disguised as a fuzzy toy!


Lewis graduated high school with honors in 1968, then he was drafted. He remembers leading men through high grass in choking heat, green and black paint mixing with the sweat on his face, wondering if the next step on foreign soil would be his last in this world.

Flushed by the nightmare, he pushes off his makeshift quilt, a Sunday edition of the New York Times patched together with duct tape. The clacking sound of high heels signal the approach of a passerby. He stands with effort, lifting a discarded Starbucks cup to a woman in a black wool pea coat. She ignores him.

Lewis slips back under his shell of newsprint and scowls, shouting after her:

“A MAN may see how the, the,... this world goes with NO eyes!”

Chilled to the core by a damp cold, Lewis can no longer feel his fingertips. His ear presses down on the gritty cement and he listens to the world beyond the blanket of newspapers covering his body. Feet on pavement, laughter, conversation, the sound of taxis honking prevent rest.

Lewis reaches into his pocket, pulling out the remnants of a half-eaten peanut butter and jelly sandwich: yesterday’s breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The plastic sandwich bags serve as makeshift gloves; they block the wind a bit. Sleeping out in the street is hell, but it’s still safer than the shelter he was in last night.

His body accustomed to being out in the elements, Lewis drifts off to sleep again despite his physical discomfort. In his mind’s eye, the tear-stained face of his wife appears. He is dead to five children. In between sips in his regular seat at the local pub, Lewis lets the broken fragments of his life slip out of his mouth in front of anyone who'll listen.

A boy is shaking him.

“Hey there!” You have ta get up and move ya-self somewhere else. You can’t sleep here outside the business.”

Lewis reads the boy’s name badge aloud like a ballpark announcer.

“Josh Grexil, Associate Trainer!”

The boy glares at him.

"How ddddost, my boy? Art cold?.... I am COLD mysssself.”

“"What-eva ole' man. Tell it to the po-leese, freak.” The boy pulls a cell phone from his pocket and goes back inside the shop.

Lewis' bellowing voice does not cure invisibility.

“When we are born, we CRY that we are come to this great STAGE of FFFFOOLS!”

Lewis adjusts his papers and shuts his eyes. The shop door opens and shuts, announcing with a jingling the smell of freshly brewed coffee, sweet pastries, warm bagels. Lewis imagines the feeling of holding a hot cup of coffee in his hands.

The police approach.

“Come on sir, get up. Had a few beers? You can’t stay here anymore. Let’s go.”

“I ...will die BRAVELY, like a ssssssmug bridegroom.”

“Bet that’ll make for a cheap wedding reception.” The cops laugh, guiding Lewis into the patrol car, leaving behind his makeshift kingdom of paper, his bank of Styrofoam.

“Come, Come, I am a ...KING! ...I was a decorated sssSergeant in the... United... States... Army before you were out of.... diapers!”

As he is cuffed, Lewis catches the secret glances of people sitting in the picture glass window of the shop. Josh Grexil, Associate trainer, bows and salutes him before he begins his job of sweeping the sidewalk.

In the car Lewis is softly crying and muttering to himself.

“I am a man more, more ssssinned against than sinning.”

Some quotes come from King Lear, by William Shakespeare.

11 comments:

Koala Bear Writer said...

Very good. I like it! Good for you for venturing into flash fiction. I find short very hard to write...

I found the first paragraph a bit jolting. Perhaps something like, "Lewis graduated with honours, then enlisted for World War II" would tie it together and also give us an age for this fellow.

I love your details, which give us a great sense of place--the woman's high heels and coat telling us she's rich, etc.

The paragraph about his wife could also use some work - the first sentence in particular is awkward. Since the previous paragraph mentions sleep, perhaps this could be another dream. Maybe "his wife's crying face dances across his eyelids." Not sure what the address has to do with it, so perhaps it could be his children's names that slip out of his mouth.

I found the asterixes a bit distracting. It was interesting to know that he's quoting Shakespeare, though I might leave that to the reader to recognize or find out. It does add some interesting depth - and some questions about his family. :)

Stick with Lewis' perspective. The third last paragraph ("in the picture glass window...") drags us out of a very close third-person POV, and jolts the reader. Either remove it or rewrite it from Lewis' perspective. :)

Great work! I really like it.

Loren Christie said...

Thank you Koala. This idea is based on a real man I knew very well once. He was a homeless Vietnam Veteran. In conversation I learned that we graduated from the same high school, in different years. He liked to quote Shakespeare. He was very smart.I'll work on this and repost. Your advise is very helpful. Thanks for taking the time to read. -Loren

Putz said...

FIRST I WAS GOING TO TO say, what do you know about the year 1968, but then i thought what do i know about the year 1968 and tehn i really read it and it seemed to me that you know and then the emotion of it all hit me....

Loren Christie said...

Aw, thanks Mr.Putz. The man I based the story on had a big impact on me. I'll never forget him.

Elizabeth Kathryn Gerold-Miller said...

This is really good! I recognized King Lear and liked that you brought an old classic and made it relevant to modern times.

Loren Christie said...

Hi Elizabeth, Did you recognize that? Good, that's what I hoped. I'm not sure this story really ends correctly. Did enough happen?

Jim Harrington said...

A good start with flash, Loren. I like your writing style for the most part. I didn't like the capitalized words. They slowed me down.

Two places stopped me as I read this. The first was the mention of Lewis in the local pub right after reading about his five kids. I didn't get the connection, especially since the story takes place in the street. The second was where the people were standing in the window and then the focus switched to Josh. At first, I thought he was in the window, too.

The descriptions are clear. I can picture the soldiers, Lewis' makeshift gloves, and his "bedroom."

I have a couple of suggestions.

The first paragraph is backstory and doesn't bring the reader immediately into the story. Consider starting with paragraph two and working the other information in. Something like:

"Lewis stirs from the nightmare and pushes off his makeshift quilt, a Sunday edition of the New York Times patched together with duct tape. He rubs the cold from his eyes and the scene he's replayed in his sleep every night for forty years reappears. He's leading his platoon through a rice patty when the gooks open fire. He slaps the sides of his heads to chase the sounds away. He never understood why the army thought a Shakespearean scholar (now you can get rid of the disclaimer at the end) fresh out of grad school could lead a group of men into battle."

The descriptions aren't as graphic, but the reader knows enough to fill in the blanks. I'm sure you can do better.

Many editors look for stories with a character arc. A character faces a problem, overcomes obstacles to him solving the problem, and, in some way, changes by the end of the story. That doesn't happen here, at least not to Lewis. There is a character who changes -- Josh. He chases the old man away and has a change of heart as the police take Lewis away. However, the reader doesn't know why this happens. He's getting what he wants, Lewis removed from the front of the business. Consider telling the story from Josh's point of view. He starts out seeing Lewis as just another derelict sleeping in the street. Perhaps after a conversation with Lewis, he realizes he's wrong about the man and feels sorry for him. Now the salute makes sense, at least to me.

These are just my thoughts after reading your story. Feel free to use what helps and ignore the rest.

Keep working on this. You have a good start on a publishable story.

Loren Christie said...

Jim, I can't tell you how much I appreciate your feedback. Thank you!

Loren Christie said...

I'm going to revise this story again on Thursday paying close attention to your suggestions, Jim.

Loren Christie said...

As for Josh's salute, I was trying to portray him as being cynical toward Lewis, mocking him. I will try to make that clearer.

Jim Harrington said...

You're welcome, Loren. As I wrote on my blog (http://quotesonwriting.blogspot.com/), I found my stories had more depth once I tried writing as the character, instead of about him.

Also, don't worry too much about the limiting the word count to 500. As you'll see on my website (http://www.jimharringtononline.net/links.html) --I know. Two shameless plugs in one post. :) -- there are many more flash fiction zines that accept stories up to 1000 words, than ones that limit the total to 500.

Dear Internet Traveler,

Welcome to my writer's blog, started about six years ago for fun. Over time, the writing I have posted has ranged from personal reflection, to Long Island history research, to tall tales for my own amusement, to feature articles for local newspapers. As you can see from topics listed here, I travel in many mental directions in regard to interests. Click on the tabs and labels to explore my strange mind which senses that you may be having a criss-cross day. If so, perhaps this blog will distract you. However, please note that if you tell me my blog is beautiful just to get me to advertise rhinoplasty surgery and cheap drugs from Canada in your comment, I will ask the gods to give you a tail that cannot be concealed.

Fondly,

Loren Christie

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