(Dionysian Short) #1

(Dionysian Short) #1

A Story by Ookpik
"

remains unfinished.

"
He was staring at an empty bottle again - sitting in a lamp lit room, trying to decide if he should go buy another one. When people say life flashes before your eyes in the event of a near death experience, they haven't spent hours in solitary confinement balancing their backwards memory with hard liquor; your life washes then, it floods and ebbs, it falls and spins. To match the liquid sensation of his isolated recollection, was the flooding rain of this place. It was pouring (as it often did here) and he believed it to be a reflection on the night prior. It didn't take him long to decide to stop drinking. The stages of grief were irrelevant if you constantly put yourself through them, so he decided... no AA meeting, but he would count chips as the weeks go by and he would not touch another bottle.

He wasn't handsome by conventional standards, his face was somewhat crooked and one side articulated more than the other (the effects of childhood bell's palsy). As if to match his asymmetrical face was his leanly muscled frame and an arm severed at the elbow. Muscular atrophy had taken effect on the left side and his shoulder blade protruded in stark contrast to the thickly layered right.

It was pouring and he decided he would never acquiesce to the metaphor again, as he did he heard a knock on the door. He was tired, but he climbed from the mattress and left the empty bottle as a crucifix to compel him to his choice. He strode over, hung between the ears but with relative grace. He opened the door and saw a young Woman in a pant suit with a clipboard. She had an elaborately decorated pen in her right hand and was incessantly tapping the board's edge with it. It seemed longer than conventional pens and had dull metallic leaves set into its stem. 


"Hello sir? We had reports of some banging last night; we wanted to check on the state of the apartment?"


She noticed his arm as she finished her sentence and sucked air between her teeth.

He didn't answer.

He was trying to decide if forced eviction would follow him simply slamming the door in her face.


"Sir?"


She smiled.

The smile caught him off guard... people rarely smiled at him these days. 


"I'm sorry miss, I had been drinking."


His voice was raw gravel, literal evidence to emphasize his confession.


"Is there any damage?" She asked with a curling dimple.


He waited before deciding she was pretty. 

He noticed a soft headband keeping her auburn curls lifted above her forehead - glancing at it, it seemed to shimmer between the throbbing heartbeats pounding at his dehydrated temples. 


"I'll clean up tomorrow."

"But is there any damage?"


He frowned... there were knife holes in the refrigerator and a couple more in the drywall.

He didn't want to lie, if this were his landlord he would simply say no and let them keep the deposit when the lease ran up.


"Some... but I'll fix what I can." 

"I'm sorry."


She was young, early twenties... but she had an air of wisdom behind stark brown eyes. 


"It won't happen again miss, I'm sorry."


She scribbled a few notes on her clipboard before glancing up from a bowed head and firing another coy half smile - she than nodded, turned on a heel and walked promptly down the hallway. Not a single word... just scribbles, nods and smiles. He watched her go; he wasn't a pervert by principle and intentionally kept his eyes on her shoulders. He was trying to ascertain if those scribbles had fate deciding significance. 

They seemed important... quick, but that smile emphasized their gravity. 

He closed the door and thoughtlessly began sweeping cigarette butts and broken glass into a stained dustpan. He looked at the wall he embedded his knife into. He hated the sight, the drinking numbed the pain but at the cost of inflamed brutality. He had been thinking about old enemies... a lack of new ones and the empty sound of that rain.

He muttered to himself through chalk.


"She seemed nice." 


...


He knew, he knew from the moment he glanced at his crucifix, from the moment he laid his head into the dusk of his bed sheets and from the moment he closed his eyes, that something was incredibly wrong.

It wasn't sobriety and it wasn't the rain. 

As usual, the refraction of its fall slithered from the sliding glass door into the prison of his bachelor's apartment - the failing sunlight danced with the liquidity and the smell of wet concrete seeped beneath the jam of his door frame.

He couldn't put a thumb on the abnormality, but something deep within him sensed that it was there.

It didn't take him long to decide to sleep - the phantom hand had a tendency to writhe with the coming cold and though the temperature hadn't yet dropped to the point of freezing, his fingertips seized with the sudden change that was permeating throughout his room. He didn't shun the sensation; it was a product of his past and he carried himself under no illusion that there was anything left he could do to change it.

Though sleep was often a precursor to nightmares - soundly or otherwise he knew it was the wiser alternative.


...


He woke to a world of unfamiliarity

It took him a few seconds to ascertain what it was that seemed so alien - there was no rain, no salinity from the nearby lake and no rhythmic orchestra of water hitting any semblance of physicality.
 
He took a moment to look around and was instantly reminded of photographs capturing the red deserts of Mars. Everything around him carried an air of rust, of oxidation and of corrosion. He glanced down - beneath his feet was a famished, nutrient starved soil that cracked with the flexing of his toes. The ground was parched; it had the same blood colored quality that clung to the air like some unshakable and concussed headache. 

He scanned ahead in an attempt to find a landmark that might indicate where it was he actually stood.

He didn't find any.

In fact he couldn't even make out the familiar rim of a horizon line.

He took a few steps forward and the soil crunched with the acoustics of an empty auditorium. This place was strange; it hung heavy over his head, encroached on his shoulders and seemed to loom over him like the buildings hanging over too tight an alley. He looked to the sky in an effort to see the stars, the familiarity of the earth's shadow against the pale comfort of the moon or constellations with the reminiscent flicker of what it was like to be young, dumb and blindly awestruck.

Again, what he sought was not there. 

He turned around and was startled to see a tangle of grape vines that had been reaching for his back with a terrifying longing - like they were thirsty, and could sense the moisture precipitating from beneath his skin. 

He took a sharp breath and tasted honey. 

He tasted the bite of sherry and the familiar cough of aged cognac. 

The fragrant recollection began a drum roll behind his eyes and that otherworldly sensation he had nearly forgotten crept its way back along his spine. 

He took another breath and pictured a conductor tapping his podium before Carl Orff's O Fortuna resounded like a gunshot against the rising goose bumps of his back. The branches quivered and reached another inch through the scant meter of orange air that separated their thorns from the bass drum pounding in his chest.


He saw red.


He saw red and with teeth bared, he leapt into the tangled tempest of grape vines, crimson leaves and onset dementia.

There was a sword in his hand and while Carmina Burana hit its lusty crescendo, he brought tempered steel between limbs. Stalks of grape vines that had no limit, that reached with a quivering plea and encompassed the entirety of his bloodshot being, fell like flies into the deep abyss that was forming beneath his feet. They were everywhere, and with each draw of that pale blade grew a dozen more in a rose bush of violin bows and hydra's heads. Where the blade passed spewed a milk white molasses that carried the thick smell of rotting fruit, of viscera and of sweat. He spun, lashed, curled and twisted until his arm seized with the strain and yet still the drums continued their rise. He felt brambles take the skin from his cheeks and yet he carved eagerly onwards, swinging and slashing in a whirlpool stench of madness. 

Finally, he brought his wrist up in an arc, heard flutes whisper, strings shudder and mallets crash against unseen cymbals before with a gasp... 

He woke in a puddle of his own sweat, to the rise and fall of his air deprived chest...

And to the hollow patter of falling rain. 


...


He sat staring into the dull brown of his coffee cup beneath the artificial lights of a near empty late night diner. It was quiet here, peaceful, and the occasional break in silence by the shuffling of the waitress from behind the bar added to the sense of hushed dignity that he found so attractive in places like this. In fact, this was one of the only restaurants that showed the uncommon courtesy of brandishing a neon ‘open sign’ this deep into the night. Most places died into abandoned shells, housing their internal organs of stacked chairs and dormant refrigerators, hours before managers even considered it profitable to cater to men like him. Maybe that’s where the sense of peace came from - the unspoken siren’s call of “refuge for the restless” hidden within yellow lights and echoing through the dirty glass of its illuminated windows. It offered as much kindness as an MRE, extended from the hand of some overseas marine after having just witnessed a flight of bombs evaporate a bouquet of bamboo houses. 

Or maybe it was just the solace of knowing there was a hidden corner of this city unafraid to shine a beacon out for the insomniatic or the drug addicted. 

Either way, this was where he found himself. 

And either way, this was where the easiest offering of quiet coffee was to be found. 

His train of thought broke as the waitress hobbled over with a half empty pot and the proposition of a top off. She was an older woman, with a threadbare floral dress peeking out from behind a discolored apron. The lines in her face were deep enough to demand a certain sense of respect and despite the little shake of her extended hand he was liable to give her one.


“You want some more hun?”


He nodded, he was in the general practice of speaking as little as possible and the pleasant presentation of a yes or no question almost put a smile on his face.

Almost.

She glanced at the scarred end of his left elbow and bowed her head a little as she poured. He always found it curious how people reacted to the missing limb. It told him a lot, and despite the residual pain he consistently found himself sipping to he considered the bait for another’s personality somewhat of an asset. 

The waitress glanced up and held the coffee pot between both hands. 

He knew that look, she was about to ask him a question that couldn’t end in yes or no.


“My husband lost his legs in Korea.”


He let their eyes meet.


“Not gonna ask you how you lost yours, but you’re welcome here anytime Son.”


She looked back at her feet and wandered off to return the pot to its cradle. 

He was glad people like her still existed, more often than not that curious look lead to a quid pro quo of “what happened” and “I’m sorry to hear that.” Old-school manners were something that couldn’t be bought nowadays and it gave him hope to see there were still those that exercised them. 

He took a moment to glance out the window and watched rain fall trickle in rivulets from the inadequate eaves that hung in pieces off of the diner’s rooftop. 

This place really was a dive. 

It was amazing that the storm outside hadn’t yet collapsed through the roofing. 

He could hear the wind howl through a crack in the glass door and thought back on every moment he was subjected to its whistle. He took a deep breath and peered into his coffee, letting his hand rest around the handle. It was a simple mug, short, cylindrical and not unlike any other he had rested his hand around before. He gave it a little shake as he listened to scattered gusts fling rain spatter across the diner’s windowpanes and watched as the thin, black liquid bulls-eyed into a hypnotic circle.


Rings.


Rings and rain.


As he stared and listened to the persistent pitter patter; as the current of that thin, black oil reached for the edges of his s****y, marble mug, as the wind whispered sweet nothings through the crack of the diner’s door and as he blinked through the spine tingling sensation of a long repressed memory... he fell back ten years onto a rocking, overarmed ship cradling his tired shoulders somewhere in the Western Pacific. 

He had a cup of coffee then too.

Now all he wanted was a real drink.


...   


In the end he had settled for a cigarette - the image of a solemn, glass crucifix had flashed in the wake of swamp water, palm trees and blankets of kudzu vine, and the urge to drown the memory was replaced by the disciplined act of holding himself to an unspoken promise. 


“No AA meeting”, he had said “but he would count chips as the weeks go by.”


It would be a shame to let a bad dream and a few bad memories force weeks to fall back into days. 

His backbone could hold more weight than that.

Instead, he snapped himself back into the present moment, reached into the recesses of his shallow pockets and scattered enough change to pay for his coffee onto the shady laminate of the diner’s counter. As he did, he pictured himself as an old man pulling birdseed from burlap and glanced over the bar to see if anybody had seen him pay.

The old waitress had decided to fumble with a remote and as he threw back the remains of his now cold coffee, the television flashed onto a repeat of an earlier news program.


“Rain remains in the forecast for Tuesday and Wednesday, with winds expected to climb as high as 40 mp/h. Anticipate temperatures to drop as low as 55° Tuesday afternoon and 65° on Wednesday morning, and expect fog to follow into Thursday and Friday as cold air falls and meets with warming atmospheres.”


“Looks like we’re gonna have to keep our umbrellas handy huh Kevin?”

“Ha hah that’s right Barb, and extra liner for the galoshes.” 


As he turned for the dull whistle at the doorway, letting his teeth pull a smoke from the comrades in its pack, he couldn’t help but mumble to himself...


“Motherfuck your galoshes.”


Stepping out, he pulled his coat collar up to rest against his ears and tucked his chin into the sting of the falling storm. He hated television, and he especially hated the plastic, artificial laughter of newscasters. He could never understand how an entire population could sit so contented; while they let their prefrontal cortex soak in the stream of advertisements, exaggerated sitcoms and choreographed action sequences. He could almost picture the drool hanging from some adolescent mouth as they listened to a canned narrator spout ‘escaped from a maximum security stockade’, ‘survived as soldiers of fortune’ and ‘if you can find them... maybe you can hire... the A team.’

Man, motherfuck galoshes and motherfuck the A team.

If you’re going to pickle your brain you might as well do it with something well founded in reality.

He reached into his coat and produced a hand me down flip lighter. He let it rest in his palm as little droplets appeared on the shiny, brass engraving that decorated its front.


‘Give em hell son.’


He frowned as he lifted it to his chin, thumbed the flint and watched napalm engulf the tip of his cigarette. A cloud of blue smoke billowed from behind pursed lips and he watched the ember brighten as he pulled carcinogens from its now dampened stick.


“Thanks Pop.” 


His eyes glazed a little as he returned the heirloom to its pocket.

His Father had been a funny Man, stoic until the end and forever unafraid to fire opinions out like shots from the spent shells of a snubnosed 38. His Father had taught him a lot, but never once did he bow his head when exposed to the mutilation of his Son. 

He helped himself to another drag and let the taste drown out the smell of damp mildew.

Damn, it was pouring.

There was a trick to keeping your cigarette dry when smoking amidst a downpour. He had the butt pinched between his thumb and index finger letting the remaining three fan out to protect the ember from falling water. 

Fingers were a currency, he thought to himself. 

Most had the privilege of living their lives with ten but for whatever reason, with him the universe had decided it needed to collect. He wondered if he had once done some unforgivable s**t in a past life - incurred a debt that forced some foreign God to shell his stock out shorthanded.

His lips tightened as his cigarette fell to ash beneath outstretched fingers.


Unforgivable s**t was a relative term.

He had always known that. 


He flicked the spent butt into the cold expanse of the empty parking lot and reached into his coat for another. There was an elm tree that had been standing stalwart at the corner of the lot and roots had risen to break through the barrier of its concrete shoe. It had a strange way of catching the light - shadows danced with the dim, cascading glow of the diner’s neon and it resembled the dazzling spotlights of some after hours burlesque. 

The wind was playing a jazz quartet as it passed through the leaves hanging along outstretched limbs. 


“F*****g tree...”


If fingers were a currency than somebody had decided to make you a millionaire.

It occurred to him to count the branches for a rough estimate as to how many sins it might have committed in lives gone by. Obviously none of them were carnal, or he would be looking at the rotten, blunted ends of stumps, left by the hallowed chainsaw blade of some fortuitous landscaper instead of the eighty eight keys that Dave Brubeck was just now taking five upon. 

He concluded that trees didn’t have much time to commit carnal sins. 


“I guess they’re too busy standing perfectly still or being torn up into matchsticks.”


Somebody had probably wiped their a*s with this guy’s second cousin and he wondered what kind of despicable s**t you’d have to do to wind up plastered between the a*s cheeks of some unknowing schmuck with irritable bowel syndrome.


It’d have to be pretty damn heinous. 

S**t, he might’ve been looking at a distant relation of Vlad the f*****g Impaler.  


He brought the fresh cigarette to his mouth and traced the tree branches from top to bottom. One of the boughs hung lower than the others and rainwater cascaded in a luminescent curtain from its heavily laden bend. 


A curtain for the burlesque, he thought to himself.


He half expected a naked leg to protrude from the other side, brandishing its accouterments of black heels and velvet garters before waltzing with feigned aimlessness towards the antsy dollar bills that were impatiently burning a hole in his pocket. 

Another pull from the cigarette.

His face lit with the dull, orange glow and a thin coil of smoke wrapped itself around the scowl that had suddenly appeared beneath his nose. Peelers were the very definition of a cash cow - the club being the cow itself, attendees being the teat and the slow, sultry, oozing sexuality of the dancer, was the f*****g squeeze. 

They may as well have been stepping on stage with gloves and a damn bucket.

Even if they did there’d still be drunken onlookers, slapping against each other in rows of four with the occasional mutant extra tucked under the taint to jerk off.

When it came to people he knew one thing for certain...


There was nothing like tits and a little bottled ambrosia to drive everybody crazy.

And driving people crazy was an incredibly lucrative business.

Nobody ever went to the burlesque for the damned jazz.


As he stood pondering the nature of tits, madness, masturbation and cardinal sin... the air took an abrupt and sudden turn. Hairs rose on the back of his now dampened neck and a thrumming static passed with a tingle over the blades of his shoulders and into the small of his back.


He looked around.


Puddles were forming along the gutter of the sidewalk, street lights hung in rows and neon persisted its little dance with rainwater falling from the burlesque’s foyer. 

Everything seemed the same... and yet something had definitely changed.

He squinted at the low hanging branch and bit down on the sensation that somebody was suddenly watching him.

He let his good hand drift slowly for the belt strapped up under his coat.

There was something about that branch that made him nervous.


He felt it before he saw it.


A snap... a sudden, unmistakable snap, like somebody had just yanked the cord on an old and volatile radio, like a firecracker going off or an empty wineglass falling into pieces beneath the shock of an open mouth.

A black, fist-sized shape had morphed like an amoeba from the branch before him and now sat silhouetted as an inverted teardrop atop what was once a harmless burlesque banister. 


“What the f**k?”


The feeling had grown into a morbid, detached sense of dread and he saw neon shine on a pair of tiny, fluorescent emeralds glistening from the teardrop's head.

He stumbled backwards and drew the blade from his hip with a startled swipe.

He was no physicist, but there was no way that branch had held anything more than the weight of rainwater a few seconds ago. 
Hell, the branch didn’t even move when the thing appeared. 

His heartbeat pounded from within his ears as he waited for something to happen.

Without pause, the thing lifted a sudden wing and the emeralds disappeared beneath shadowed feathers to preen.


“Just a bird.”


He breathed a sigh of relief.


“It’s just a f*****g bird.”


The green gems had nipped back to give him a slow, confident appraisal and he had the sudden urge to flap his arms about in an attempt to scare the thing off. He tucked his blade back into his belt and bent to pull the cigarette that had fallen from his overly surprised mouth. He was getting jumpy... it wasn’t like him to startle over boogie-men, let alone drop his cigarette. 

He was home now, there was nothing to scare him here.

The bird maintained its eerie glare from behind that pair of pale, green pearls.

Damn if that wasn’t unnerving.

It had claimed the VIP section atop the liquid burlesque and was making a sincere effort to remain presentable despite the wet T-shirt contest it had the unfortunate grace of appearing within. Hell, maybe this was all part of the production - she was the overseas talent, fresh off the boat from some East European mortar hole and arriving just in time to pull the last remaining bills lodged in the recesses of every stubborn pocket still worth squeezing. 

As if in affirmation, the bird gave a subtle hoot and shifted its weight between both legs.

An owl, he thought to himself.

It was rare to see owls.

He heard the blinds rattle from the diner’s window behind him and the neon ceased its glow with an abrupt click. Silence fell over the parking lot and the once electrified stage of the jazz burlesque fell promptly back into a state of cool mundanity.

The owl’s eyes had dampened in color but maintained their eerie deadlock regardless. He let himself soak for a moment before watching the bird take a sudden start and disappear beneath silent wings.

There was a distant pop as the air carried another gust through the tree’s branches.


“Well, isn’t that something.”


He jumped.

The voice had come from behind him and a shoe scraped as his heart lodged itself firmly behind his uvula.


"Fancy that."


...


The scrape belonged to a pair of bright red Chuck Taylors that had sauntered over from behind a turned and oblivious back. They were immaculate, it was as if the street water would simply catch and bead along the canvas before falling back into the grime of nearby gutters. The shoes belonged to a young boy (probably no older than eighteen) and were gliding over beneath gray running shorts, an unbuttoned denim jacket and an old tie-die headband that looked like it would’ve been perfectly comfortable dissolving LSD into the forehead of Jimi Hendrix himself.


“Not every day you see an owl in a rainstorm.”  


He had a brown paper bag tucked under one elbow and was twirling a tree branch topped with pinecones in his free hand. 


“You must be some kind of lucky.”

“How long have you been standing there?”


The kid was probably homeless, though his shoes were definitely cause for consideration. When he noticed his feet being placed under scrutiny, he did a little jig to exaggerate the inspection and the color made it look like he was juggling dentist’s apples between mismatched heels.


“Oh, you know… minute or two.”


He seemed pretty nonchalant about approaching strangers with recently sheathed knives.

Maybe he was retarded.


“It’s pretty late to be out by yourself, shouldn’t you be home?”


He took a second to lean on his makeshift cane and answered over a bent knee.


“Not the home type.”


He was definitely a street rat.


“Always preferred pitching flags in the newer plots.”

“You’re not from Chicago then?”


You had to be careful with street people, small talk could be disarming but every now and then you’d say something that could tip them in the wrong direction. He seemed alright, a little naïve maybe but probably harmless.


“No, but I happen to love this town.”

“Oh?”

“You should have seen it in the thirties.” 

“It was such a hoot back then, what with prohibition n’ all.”

“Nothing more exciting than peeling back the gauze on a freshly laid taboo.”


He pulled the bottle from beneath his arm and twisted the cap. This kid was definitely crazy; he couldn’t have been any more than a swimmer in his Daddy’s nut-sack during the sixties, let alone prohibition.


“Man, the things we got up to.”


He took a pull from the bottle and the wind tugged at his gym shorts.


“What a riot.”


There was a false bottom to the tone of his voice and the air of unpredictability grew as he sidled a lopsided half circle into the pale yellow of the empty lot.


“How ‘bout you?”

“You lose that in Chicago?”


He tipped the bottle at the missing limb and a splash of burgundy fell onto the pavement.

Honey… it smelled like honey.


“In Vietnam.”


His eyebrow caught a little arc and he brought a shallow grin back to the lips of his bottle.

F*****g little prick. 


“Only ever known two things to come from war.”


“Sorrow…”


He paused to drink.


“Or celebration.”


There was something wrong with the way he let that smirk form beneath his nose.

This kid, barely enough hair on his balls for kindling and he wants to talk to me about war.

He leaned forward and brought his cane around with a snap for caught balance.

His breath smelled like cheap wine.


“To which I presume, you practiced the former?”


While his face drifted closer the light caught the curve of his forehead - wrinkles had formed above his brow and crow’s feet scratched at the corners, a tuft of hair had sprouted beneath the shadow of his left cheekbone and pores began to widen along the tip of his nose. His head dipped somewhat and he took another awkward step before a newly manufactured belly sagged over the strap of his gym shorts. He brought the strange fennel baton for another spin and it came down in time to catch the added weight. 

A toothy grin flashed from behind a bushel of fresh whiskers.

Pushing away, he watched as the boy swaggered a few lopsided steps into the shape of a portly, middle aged man - standing with the same denim jacket, the same pothead headband and the same pair of cherry red sneakers. 


“You sided with sorrow didn’t you?”


He doused his newly minted beard with crimson and released a sigh in an alien, adult timbre.


“Who the f**k are you?”

“Me?” He placed his fingertips over his chest in feigned amusement.

“You can call me Deo.”

"Theo, if its more appropriate."


He grinned. There was a mustache sprouting over the right side of his lip and acne peppering the crevice along his left.


“What the f**k is going on?”

“Oh pardon me.”


He took a half step back and the hair along his jaw line thinned.


“You’re one of those silly sons of b*****s who prefer to remain perpetually ugly.”


He snorted, it was like he was s**t faced and couldn’t decide how old he was supposed to be.


“Drink?”


He splashed more liquor in a gesture that resembled a pitchfork thrust. The beard had disappeared and the forest that had sprouted along his legs retreated back into adolescent pores. 

His voice returned with a pubescent crack.


“What’s the story morning glory?”


The bottle shook a little and there was a sinister edge to the crooked way his wrist held the weight. He couldn’t help but picture a snake rattle or the dangling tongue of a snapping turtle before pincers closed in on unsuspecting fingers.


“You got any war stories?”

“Or you forget em all?” 


He was back to being the babbling drunk and the chitter-chatter poured from behind recently crooked teeth.


“What if you never forget?”

“What?” 


A spark was forming at the corner of his pupil.


“How would you even begin to forget a thing like that?” 

“What are you talking about?”

“You saw. You saw the way her skin fell off, the way she stepped out of that smoke all brimstone and bad marshmallow.”

“You remember her wide little eyes as pieces of her fell away.” 

“Stop.” He clenched his eyes.

“You remember who pulled the trigger on her little outstretched arms.”

“Stop it!” His face got tighter.

“You remember.”


His eyes snapped open onto a mismatched man - beard tufts here and a blushed cheek there, eyebrows twisting into feather dusters and charcoal fading into gray. The belly had popped back and one of his shoulders was taking a definitive hunch.


“Stop. Please.” 


He was sinking into his memory, as he had many times before.

He saw shoddy wooden houses beneath thick undergrowth, he saw a blossoming wall of fire and remembered the haunting echo of wailing children.


“Than drink you cripple f**k!” 


He snapped back, the paper wrapped bottle was squat under his nose and he breathed in the aroma of vinegar and fermented sugar. He practically sobbed as he brought the sour smell to his lips, anything to put out the fire that was swelling from behind watering eyes. He felt the liquid burn as it fell past his teeth, over his tongue and into the furnace that was building within his chest. He coughed… the burning was spreading; it coated the inside of his throat and delved into the pit of his stomach, it twisted down the length of each leg and bound his ankles with the heat.

He felt a grief wash over him that was unlike anything he had ever felt before. It coupled with the alcohol burn and he fell back as the sensations tied a clove hitch around his lungs. He couldn’t breathe, he couldn’t see, all he could do was writhe beneath the poison that had situated itself above him.

He was so sorry. 

He couldn’t swallow for the guilt and shame quickly gave way to self pity, than loathing and finally a hopeless submission. He felt it wrack him like a toy boat upon a thunderstorm and he brought his chest to his knees in an attempt to relieve the pressure. 

He felt the man-kid nudge him with his toe.


“I haven’t cut loose in this town since Capone first popped the cork.”

“We’re gonna burn this b***h down you and me.”


He gasped for air, he couldn’t hear him. He couldn’t feel anything but for the crushing sorrow that had wound its way through his chest, nothing except the thickening burn left by the burgundy liquor and the terrified screaming of that poor little girl. He thrashed against the pavement and dug his heels into the earth; he twisted at his hair and pulled at the skin beneath his eyes. 


This was it… Patroclus was dead and the whole world would know his torment.


He could feel his head lighten as he spasmed in place, he saw stars twinkle in his periphery and knew by experience that he was about to pass out.


“And when you see my sister…” The lights flashed brighter.

“Tell her hello from me.”


As his world faded to black scarlet Chucks tiptoed their way around his ears. 

Spotless, his 
Goddamn shoes were spotless.


...




© 2019 Ookpik



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Reviews

Oh hell yes can you write? I loved every inch of this Story. The only thing really hated was the small font that bugged me, needing to get up close to read but other than that I loved the flavor. I was at home with a bag of chips and diet coke not wanting the story to end. Nicely done. Love diner scene loves the part where the alien from Mars kicked in not sure where that came from but might have to figure that one out if was a flashback or a dream since wasn't in Italics, but I'll figure it out.

Posted 3 Months Ago


Ookpik

3 Months Ago

Hey, thank you kindly captain - unfortunately it remains unfinished but I expect I might put in a fe.. read more
Hey Ookpik

I'm left with a mixed feeling after reading your story. There are plenty of great sounding phrases or lines but there are many which are just needless. You are building a story little by little, but you also drift into the stream of consciousness realm a lot. You might write it as it comes to your head and want to show the protagonist's personality, thoughts, feelings, and emotions to help the reader know him better, but you could have done that with much fewer words that don't add to the story but deviate the reader. I also agree with Jay when he talks about building context and helping the reader see things as you see them. It's something I've realized from his comments earlier on my own works and that particular bit he points out feels right.

But there are quite a few great lines and thoughts in the story. For example, "He took a few steps forward and the soil crunched with the acoustics of an empty auditorium. This place was strange; it hung heavy over his head, encroached on his shoulders and seemed to loom over him like the buildings hanging over too tight an alley."
This entire bit was truly spectacular and painted a vivid image artistically.
You have skill with words, and I understand the desire to present ideas through characters. But it's important to do so through a story and not just a character's thoughts without them meaning anything in the story. I happen to do that myself frequently, and that's something that those rounds of editing help crease out!
I hope you continue writing and would like to see how this continues if you decide to build on this tale. :)

Posted 7 Months Ago


Ookpik

7 Months Ago

Thank you, the time both you and Jay have taken to review this is definitely appreciated, and I whol.. read more
Agyani

7 Months Ago

Even if you don't further this particular project, I'd love to read whatever story you write next. T.. read more
Well, you did ask, and you were asking for the right reasons. Most people simply plow ahead, and end up spending a year of more before they ask for comment. So for that, you have my respect.

But…obviously, you have concerns or you wouldn’t have asked. The bad news is that you’re right. There are issues. When you go back and read the opening I’m betting that it doesn’t seem to have the zing it had when you were writing it, and read it back, initially, and you’re not certain why.

Again, a commendation for noticing and then actively doing something about it. Plus, a bit of good news is that pretty much every hopeful writer faces the same problem. So it’s not a big deal. And, some more good news: nothing I’m going to say is a reflection on you, your writing, or your potential as a writer. It stems from a major misunderstanding that we all leave our public education years with, we think we learned how to write.

If only.

We actually did learn some writing skills, but not those the publishing industry views as necessary. Why? Think back to your school years, and how many reports and essays you had to write, compared to stories. Added to that, how many of your teachers convinced a publisher to say yes to even one story? I mention that last point because these are the people grading the stories you did write, and telling you that it is, or is not, well written fiction. Having zero experience in writing for publication, how would they know what an acquiring editor would see as a well-written scene?

The problem? In our school years we were preparing is to be self-sufficient, and self-supporting adults, with skills that employers value. And what do most of us write on the job? Notes, letters, reports, and papers—whose goal is to inform. And because it is, the skills we learned are fact-based and-author-centric.

But why do we read fiction? To be entertained, which is an emotional goal. And to achieve that goal our work must be emotion-based and character-centric. But…can we write in that style with nonfiction writing skills? No. But since we come to writing not knowing that critical fact, and believe both that writing-is-writing, and that we have that part of the profession taken care of…

See the problem? You’re working very hard, and that’s great, but using a skill-set that’s inappropriate to the goal.

There’s a secondary problem, one we also don’t catch, which is that because we visualize the scene BEFORE we write it, when we read our own work we hear our own voice, not only filled with emotion, it carries the emotion you would place into your voice were you reading the words to an audience. So of course the story works…when you read it.

But go away from a given story for a time and that image you held fades, as do the words used. Now, you’ll read more as a reader, and the emotion in the narrator’s voice fades, as does memory of the context, so you view the page more as a reader, and face the same problem they do, which is that if you try to tell the story as a narrator, on the page, the emotion in the words is stripped out. And while you can tell the reader how a character speaks a line, you can’t tell them how the narrator reads their words.

With that in mind, look at the opening as a reader must.

• He was staring at an empty bottle again - sitting in a lamp lit room, trying to decide if he should go buy another one.

Seems straightforward. But…

First problem: you know who he is. But from a reader’s viewpoint, the man isn’t important enough to have a name? He doesn’t introduce himself to anyone? No one asks him? How can a reader care about someone if they’re not on a first name—or even a last name basis.

Next: How can he stare at a bottle, “again,” if he hasn’t done it the first time, as far as a reader knows?

And: The bottle could be wine, beer, whisky, or pretty much anything. You know. He knows. But since what he’s drinking gives insight to the kind of person he is, shouldn’t the reader know? And of he’s to be our avatar, don’t what he feels is important matter a lot more than what you do?

And: What does “a lamp-lit” room tell us? Lots of rooms, including the one I’m in at the moment, need a lamp day and night, so we don’t know the time of day. And is a lamp-lit room different, here, from a fixture-lit room, or one that needs no artificial light?

Moreover, he’s not noticing that the lamp is on because he’s looking at the bottle, so this line can only come from you, which means that the viewpoint is the narrator’s, not the protagonist’s. In other words, instead of him living the story as we watch, we’re being told a story by a voice with no emotion in it. And how entertaining is that?

And finally…let’s remove the unnecessary words, like that lamp-lit business and the word “go,” which is implied.
- - - -
Frank Sutton sat staring at the empty whisky bottle, trying to decide between getting another one or listening to his conscience.
- - - - -
Not great writing, and not your character. It’s just an example of another approach.

Notice that the narrator isn’t talking about what there is to see, or explaining anything. Instead, in service to the story, we learn what’s important to Frank. And what matters to him isn’t what he’s doing. It’s what he needs/wants to do next.

Notice, too, that we learn that Frank is a hard drinker, who wants to hit it hard and fast. We learn that he recognizes that he has a problem—but as stated we guess that he’ll probably go for the bottle, and be surprised when he realizes that he’s hit bottom and must act.

I used “getting” in place of “to go” because it’ acting, which is active, while “to go” is a decision, and more passive. Always write actively.

This is story. It’s character-centric in that Frank is the one making a decision, as we watch, in the moment he calls now. As originally stated it was a report. It’s also emotion-based, because he’s making a decision based on how he feels.

Stated this way, we’ve established an emotional connection with our new friend Frank. We know that he’s making a decision that’s important to his future. We know that he’s unsure, but also that he feels it better to do the sensible thing—character development. So in the reader’s mind we raise the question: will he or won’t he? As originally stated there is no emotional content and no reason to care if he buys more or not.

So, the solution to your problem is pretty simple: they didn’t teach us what we need to write fiction in school, so take steps to fix that. After all, to write like a pro, don’t we need to know what the pro knows?

In this case I’m going to bypass the generalized suggestions and give you an assignment: pick up a copy of Dwight Swain’s, Techniques of the Selling Writer. It’s an older book, but still, the best one I’ve found for the nuts-and-bolts issues of writing a scene that will sing to the reader.

And when you read it, do it sloooooly. It’s a university-level commercial fiction 101 course between two covers. So read it quickly and you’ll forget 90% of it in a week. Instead, when a new point is introduced, stop and think about how it relates to your story before going on. Do some editing for that issue to place it into your toolbox, as against nodding and muttering, “I see.” Pretend, in other words, that it’s going to be on the test, so learn it before going on.

And then, when you finish the book, come back to it in six months. Then, knowing where he’s going, and with a feel for how the issues relate to you, you’ll get just much added to your skill-set the second time as you did the first.

For a kind of overview of the issues, to show you what needs to be addressed, you might poke around in the writing articles in my blog. They’re written for the hopeful writer.

But in the end, whatever you do, hang in there, and keep on writing.

Jay Greenstein
https://jaygreenstein.wordpress.com/category/the-craft-of-writing/

Posted 10 Months Ago


Ookpik

10 Months Ago

I greatly appreciate the time you've taken to provide feedback and definitely see what you mean by w.. read more
Your descriptive phrasing is very vivid and your story makes me want to read more for your work

Posted 10 Months Ago


Ookpik

10 Months Ago

Hey, thank you kindly
This is written really well. You should continue this story, it's very intriguing.

Posted 1 Year Ago


Ookpik

1 Year Ago

Planning on doing a 9-10 pg work incorporating this as an intro - Kind of a Neil Gaiman "American Go.. read more

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Added on February 10, 2018
Last Updated on May 3, 2019

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Ookpik
Ookpik

Vancouver Island, British Columbia , Canada



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