So this isn’t perfect. It was one of my assignments in one of my classes. Went through about 4 revisions, and received much feedback, but I’d like to make it better. So please, offer me your thoughts. I do like the story, which is why I wanted to share.
Also, a note on my other books and WIPs. The second Vampire book is roughly 60% done for a rough draft (want to have it completed, revised, edited, and perfected by the end of August). I’m about the same (maybe a little further, like 65%) on the last Keepers of the Orbs Book (I want to release it by the end of the year). Also have a Sci-Fi WIP that is done, just needs revision and editing before I release (hope to also have that out by the end of the year, although my priority is the next Vampire book, the final Keepers book, then this, and I will look to stagger the releases). I also have all 3 books from the Keepers series in the hands of an editor. It sounds like a lot, but with my Master’s program and my full-time job, I don’t have much time to write. I don’t go back to school until the middle of September, so I NEED to make the most of the next 3 months (and I will, now that my vacations are over with).
Also, the eBook version of The Vampire’s Curse: Life Eternal has been released on my publisher’s website. It should be live on Amazon and Kobo within the next couple days. If you were waiting for the eBook (as I know I would be since I RARELY read a physical book, unless we are talking about required reading for my Masters). visit my Publisher’s Website
And like I said, Amazon and Kobo will have the eBook soon. Also, feel free to check out my other books. However, I would wait on the Keepers series until I say I have updated with the editor’s changes.
Enough talk, onto my short story: Payback.
Normally the road is smooth. The county I live in takes pride in its city streets. However, tonight it seems I hit every single bump I can find. This wouldn’t be an issue on any other night, but tonight, I have the body of my nemesis in the trunk. It’s not like I killed the son of a bitch, yet his unconscious body beats and bangs against my trunk every time my car rolls over the smallest crack. Mason made my life a living hell ten years ago when we were in sixth grade. My parents moved us away, but I spent every year plotting my revenge. Now we’re graduates of college—although not the same college—and it’s time for him to pay.
Mason walked into the kitchen and something smelled good. “What are you cooking, Mom?” He kissed her cheek.
“Morning, Mason. I’m making steak and eggs for your father. Do want some too? The pans are already dirty.”
“If it’s not too much trouble, I’d love some.” Mason grabbed a cup of coffee and sat at the table.
“My word you got in late last night. What did you end up doing?”
“Went to the Beach Comber with Eddie and Todd.”
She shook her head. “It’s your last summer vacation. Shouldn’t you be doing something to get ready for the rest of your life? A job? An internship? You should be doing something other than drinking with your buddies. And you need to be careful when you come home. You let the door slam shut and startled your father and I. It sounded like someone was breaking into the house.”
Mason laughed. “Sorry, Mom. But I’ll be working for the rest of my life. I want to enjoy my last summer before I become a slave of a corporation.”
“But you have to know many other people in your position are working this summer. I spoke to Donna, and her son has an internship at a radio station. They’re all getting a leg up on you. It’s going to be difficult to get a job after school when you have nothing to put on your resume.”
“I’ll be fine, Mom. The market is really good right now. I shouldn’t have any problems.”
“Why do you always have a laissez-faire attitude about life? Your father and I just want what’s best for you. You’re a good kid with a lot of potential.”
“I know you do, but I just want to relax. I’ll find a job when the time is right. And if all else fails, Dad already said he can get me a job at the insurance company. He said they’re always hiring. I probably won’t love it, but at least it’ll be a start. So let me enjoy my summer.”
She placed a plate in front of him. It smelled delicious. “You won’t love it. Your dad has hated it for the last thirty years. I just want you to be happy and I worry about you doing something you hate. But you’re a big boy, and if this is what you want to do, by all means.”
“Thanks, Mom.” Just then his dad walked in.
“You going to do something productive today?” he asked. “And I don’t hate my job. I just don’t love it.” He laughed.
“I’ll probably clean my car and tidy up my room.”
“I’m glad you’re at least doing something,” Mason said. “But maybe you should take a break from drinking tonight. You can’t party every night of the week.”
His mom nodded.
“I’ll be fine. Like I told Mom, let me enjoy my summer.”
“I just don’t understand the appeal. If you were bowling or something, I’d get it,” she said. “Have you considered mini-golf? That new place opened up off Main and I’m sure you boys would enjoy it.”
“What’s not to get? Drinks, music, dancing, and girls. It doesn’t get any better than that. Bowling is for high schoolers, and don’t get me started on mini-golf.”
“That’s it? Why don’t you go to a movie?” she asked.
“There are no new movies I haven’t already seen. Besides, there are exciting moments in a bar that you just don’t get anywhere else.”
“Like what?” they both asked.
He took a bite of eggs before responding. “Well, I was out there on the floor dancing with this gorgeous brunette. I happen to notice this GQ douchebag who must’ve taken a whole bottle of steroids to get as swole as this bastard was. Anyway, he kept giving me the eye while I’m dancing. I asked the girl if she knew who he was. Said she didn’t recognize him. So the night continues, and both Todd and Eddie see him too. He’s staring at me like he hates me. So I get a few drinks in and decided to ask him what his freaking problem was. I got my boys and we walked right up to him. He just stared at me with no response, but I saw him tightening his fist. He’s about to throw down and I knew I needed to act first. I pulled back my arm, but he turned and left. I don’t know what his problem was, but if I ever see him again, I think we’re going to have a problem.”
“That’s terrible, Mason. Why would you do that?” his mom asked.
“You need to grow up,” his dad said before he left the table and kissed his mom goodbye.
“What? You’ve never been in an altercation before?”
Mason’s dad turned and said, “No… I haven’t. And I wouldn’t be so proud if I were you.”
He disappeared into the garage and his mom leaned in closer. “This is exactly what I was talking about.”
“I’m sure I’ll never see the guy again.”
“If you do, just be careful. There are crazy people out there and don’t forget where you live. It’s not Texas, but Colorado has some loose laws, and anyone can have a gun on them at any time.”
I turn down a dark street and approach the warehouse. My parents own this lumber yard in Colorado Springs, and fortunately, I have a key. No one will suspect anything because their business focuses on construction companies and they don’t open on weekends. This being a Friday, I know I’m in the clear. I kill the engine and quickly walk to the door, propping it open with a brick, before heading to the trunk.
With the key in hand, I reach for the lid, but pause for a moment, taking a deep breath. Mason has always been a quick thinker. I’m not saying he’s intelligent or anything, but he is quick to make a decision—good or bad—and will likely act on it. If he does that now, he’ll come out swinging, or some other stupid shit. I need to give the trunk a wide berth.
I stand off to the side and put my key in the lock, turning it ever so slightly, before the lid pops open. As I suspected, he lunges out of the trunk, probably expecting to knock me off balance. All he manages is a face-first tumble onto the ground. I want to laugh so bad, but again, stifle it and do my best to keep a straight face.
I pick him up and guide him up the four metal stairs leading to the warehouse. I can’t keep the smile off my face. Now the fun can finally begin.
“This place is jumping tonight, Mason.” Nick said.
The music was loud and he could feel the bass thumping in his gut. Just the way he liked it. Bright lights danced around the room. The air was ripe with sweat and spilled booze. A wave of euphoria flooded his body. This was his stomping grounds. This was his life. He tapped Eddie on the arm and headed for the bar to grab a drink and surveyed the scene. Todd was busy with his girl, so they brought another buddy, Nick, in his place. The ladies were out in full force and he targeted several for a conversation and dance later. All he had to do was show them his dimples and they became putty in his hand. Of course, it’s easy when you’re the star high-school quarterback. Yes, this was the life. But he was torn out of it when Eddie tapped his shoulder and spun around.
Eddie pointed across the bar. “Do you see that son of a bitch?”
Nick looked confused. “Who’s he?”
“Remember that douchebag we were telling you about?” Eddie asked. “That’s him.”
“We going to mess him up?” Nick asked.
He remembered his mom’s words from earlier. Maybe he was being childish. “No, it’s cool. Maybe he has a beef, but I’m not going to worry about it right now.” He turned around and watched the ladies dancing and tried to figure out who to watch first.
“Well he’s headed this way,” Eddie said.
Mason spun back around and sure enough, he was walking directly toward them with anger in his eyes. This was one cold bastard. “Be ready for anything,” Mason said.
He walked over with three beers in his hand. In a deep voice, he said, “I just wanted to apologize for staring at you last night. You reminded me of someone, but I don’t think it’s you.”
“I thought you really had a problem with me.”
“That’s why I’m here tonight. I wanted to apologize and make it up to you by buying you and your friends a round of beer.” He handed over the three bottles and we accepted. “No hard feelings?” he asked.
Something in his smile told Mason he wasn’t being serious, but he wasn’t one to turn down a free beer.
“Thanks, I really appreciate it. We won’t have any hard feelings so long as you don’t,” Mason said.
“No. We’re good.” He looked around the room. “I’m going to get out of your way. I hope you gentlemen enjoy your evening.”
“Thanks. And thanks for the beer.”
“That could’ve been ugly,” Nick said.
“Yeah. The way he looked at you the whole time he was walking over here. I thought he was just going to lay you out,” Eddie said.
Mason smiled. “Crisis averted. Shall we?” he asked and slammed both beers.
They walked out onto the dance floor. The song was lit and he started moving along with it. A couple of girls huddled together. They made their way over and asked the ladies to dance. The six of them grooved their way through the first song. The second just started up when a wave of nausea made its way through Mason’s body. Sweat ran in rivers down his forehead and his vision blurred. His legs felt rubbery and he wobbled. They gave out on and he collapsed on the floor. The last thing he remembered, his vision went black.
The warehouse is dark and I know he’s conscious. The time is finally at hand. People don’t understand what bullying does to a person. It gets into your head—into your very psyche—it messes a person up for life. Countless years of therapy, and for what? I’m still in the same place mentally as I was at twelve years-old. It doesn’t matter. Mrs. Tongren gave me good advice. I didn’t listen and instead worked out. I muscled up for this moment. Mason is a douchebag and made my life a living hell. Now is the time for him to atone for his actions.
Each of my footfalls echoes in the vast expanse of the warehouse. A can’t hide my glee. I hope he’s crapping his pants right now. It’s all very mysterious, which is how I envisioned this moment. When I brought him in, I tied him to a chair and left him in the loading dock. I didn’t want him to recognize where he was. I want him in a state of confusion, unable to recognize anything, and this setting is as vague as can be. I step closer and come just into the light. I hope my face is reminiscent of a friend sitting around a campfire telling ghost stories.
“Why are you doing this to me? I thought you said we were good. I don’t understand.” He’s crying and spittle runs down his chin.
Wetness covers the front of his pants and I smile. “Oh, we were good for a moment. I needed an opportunity to drug you.”
“You drugged me?” he asks.
“And your friends.” I can’t hide the smile as it creeps across my face.
Mason looks around for his friends. “Where are they?”
“Probably still at the club trying to figure out what happened and where the hell you went.”
“I don’t get it. Why me?”
“Look at my face.” I step further into the light.
“Should I know you/”
“You should, but you don’t remember me, do you?” I ask.
He stares at me for a moment. “No. Who the fuck are you?”
“Oh, you made my life a living hell in elementary school.”
“Elementary school?” He tries to figure out who I am while tears continue their trek down his face. “You’ll have to tell me more.”
“You broke my glasses, shoved my head in a toilet, snapped my suspenders, knocked me on the ground, and kicked dirt in my face. This happened weekly. I had black eyes. One time you even broke my arm. You made my life a living hell.”
“No, it’s Shawn, you dick.”
It takes a moment, but I see clarity in his eyes.
“You were the one who left after elementary school and never came back.”
“Yeah. My parents were afraid for my life, so they pulled me out and we moved away. I spent all those years making sure no one would ever do that to me again. I changed my diet and hit the gym, vowing to one day come back and make you pay.”
“Look, Shawn, I’m sorry for everything I’ve done. We were just kids. I know I made it rough on you, but you were a skinny little twerp and had it all coming.”
I punch him. Not hard, but enough to get his attention. He barely remembers who I am. How can he be sorry?
“Look, you were a twerp. Guys like me are supposed to treat you like I did. It’s a rite of passage.
“A rite of passage?” I laugh. “Who’s the twerp now?” My voice rises in anger.
It takes a moment, but he finally responds. “I’m sorry for everything I did to you. I’m sorry for my word selection a minute ago. I’m sorry for everything. Is there something I can do to make it up to you?”
“No! You made me suffer and I’ll do the same to you.”
I walk over to a table and grab mini sledgehammer. I bounce it off my hands for a moment while he pleads for his life. It feels heavy, like it knows what it’s about to do.
“Look we can work this out. I’ll do anything,” he says, squirming in his seat. He yanks his hands, trying to break the plastic ties, but all he manages is cuts to his wrists.
“I’ve waited for this for ten years. All my plotting—I’ve watched you for over a year, even followed you at college. But you never noticed. You’re too into yourself for that. You haven’t changed one bit. But it’s fine. I’ve waited for the right time to get my revenge.” I hate this guy, and while violence is never the answer, this guy will never understand. People like him need to be rid from this Earth.
“I’ll do anything. Please!” he says while sobbing.
“You won’t do anything.” I bring the sledgehammer over my head. “Payback’s a bitch.”
I bring the hammer down and it crashes into his head.
This week in school we had to write poetry. I’ve never been a big poet. It feels too short and I’m long-winded (haha, at least I own it). This week was tough. Not only because I was in the hospital, but also because there was a school shooting right down the street. I moved to Highlands Ranch with my family in 1991. I met my wife at Highlands Ranch High School. I graduated from Highlands Ranch High School. And while the shooting wasn’t at my High School, it was right down the street. My wife and I moved to Parker in 2004, but it’s still in the same county (Douglas County). My kids go to school in this county. My wife is a teacher in this county. It all hit too close to home and I’m not happy about it. I had to write three poems this week. Given my ER trip and the school shooting, they all were in the theme of death. I had an idea for my third poem and approached my son. I asked him what he was feeling about the shooting and we chatted for a few minutes. He is very lyrical (creates his own rap music) and I asked him if he’d collaborate with me. We sat down for a couple hours and created the below poem. I haven’t really edited it, but I wanted to share it. Please feel free to give us feedback.
The Sound of Death
We all don’t want to cry for help,
But sometimes we fear for our health,
Try to run and protect ourselves,
Try to avoid the pain we felt.
It used to be we went to school
We learned, we had fun, we lived life,
Empty minds, we followed the rules,
Not knowing the impending strife,
The thought had never crossed our minds,
This moment, a cut in our time,
It has to change, now is the time,
What will you do, government minds?
We all don’t want to cry for help,
But sometimes we fear for our health,
Try to run and protect ourselves,
Try to avoid the pain we felt.
A normal day, sitting in class,
Listen to our teacher ramble,
Biggest thought was letting time pass,
Alarm sounds, nothing flammable,
So many sounds, screaming abound,
Bullets whiz by, fear for my life,
Loud crashes, bodies hit the ground,
Now I won’t live to ninety-five.
We all don’t want to cry for help,
But sometimes we fear for our health,
Try to run and protect ourselves,
Try to avoid the pain we felt.
I feared for myself, my friends gone,
A battle ensued, yet I stand,
I’m still stuck here, but they moved on,
Too many fell due to one man,
As I remain, I recollect,
They’re on the ground, their souls have left,
Another mind that’s left unchecked,
So many lives we all bereft.
We missed our chance to cry for help,
Without a thought for our own health,
We didn’t run, thought we had stealth,
As bullets fly, their sound is death.
Sharing another short story from school. The prompt was that particular Sunday and we could do it in any style.
Sundays were a ritual for me: my day of solace. I’d wake at the crack of dawn and walk the trails through my neighborhood with no destination in mind. It’s the silence and being alone that kept me going. In my hectic life, these are the few hours I have to myself. Until last Sunday that is.
Long before dawn, I threw on my clothes, kissed my wife on her forehead, and walked outside. The air smelled fresh, like the previous night’s rain washed the Earth clean of its sins. The wind tickled the back of my neck and I wished I’d brought along a jacket. I could always return and grab one but knew I’d get hot before too long.
Luck was on my side this Sunday morning. There were usually a few other walkers out and about, but today I had the trail to myself. The sun wouldn’t make its appearance for another hour or so, but already it painted the edge of the horizon a light orange. I welcomed the sight.
In the dark calm of the early hour, I spotted a soft flashing light in the distance. It was peculiar. The flash hid behind the tall trees crowding the smooth pavement of the path. If I were a wise man, I would’ve turned back right then and there. But I’m not and I pressed on.
The flashing grew brighter and I noticed the light’s rhythmic pulse, mesmerizing, and I fell into a trance. Shaking my head to get my wits about me, I crept closer, making sure I stayed behind the trees. There was a large pasture normally filled with cows, but this morning, the thick grass hugged the edges of a ship. Several thin, humanoid shapes stood out against the flashing light. The ship wasn’t large but filled the emptiness of the pasture. The humanoids busily went about their tasks. A shiver traced the curve of my spine and my mouth dropped open. I was transfixed, unable to move.
For several minutes I stared, watching the creatures pack up, readying themselves to leave. One stopped and looked at me. I wanted to duck behind the trunk of the tree, but couldn’t. Its gaze penetrated my soul and I froze. It stared at me for over a minute before nodding its head and flourishing its hand. It climbed the ramp and disappeared inside.
In a manner of moments, the ship lifted off and disappeared in a blur across the sky. In a haze, I returned home. I haven’t been right since. I’m hearing voices and always feel like someone is following me. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think I was crazy. But that can’t be. I know what I saw. It’s burned into my memory. Or is it? Each day that passes, the details grow murky. I can’t bring myself to walk the trails on Sunday mornings, and my sanity is slipping further away because of it.
And don’t forget to visit my webpage to find out more about my books and other writing projects.
I have mentioned it before, but I am currently working on my MA in Professional Fiction Writing. It’s been a long couple months (with a year and a half to go) but I wanted to share the short story I wrote for one of my classes that recently ended. I would appreciate any feedback.
Tom climbed the stairs from his basement—as he had many times before—without a care. It was well past midnight and he had an early conference call. The stairs creaked beneath his feet, alerting his dogs who came running from the second floor. He hoped they hadn’t awakened his wife, Jessica.
When he walked into the family room, he startled. The lamp was on. She never left any lights on. He let the thought go and walked toward the kitchen. Although he was ready for bed, he always made sure he put his cups and dishes in the dishwasher. It wasn’t Jessica’s job to clean up after him. In the little light offered by the small lamp in the other room, he clearly made out the three Skoal cans on the kitchen counter.
Shit! Did I leave those out earlier? That thought wasn’t plausible. Jessica would’ve noticed them. But that meant she put them there and surely there’d be an argument. I’ll just ignore the cans—and this whole situation—until tomorrow. It’ll be best that way.
He put the glass in the dishwasher quietly—still concerned he’d wake his sleeping wife—and turned. Jessica was sitting in the family room chair, glaring in his direction. His heart beat intensely, and sweat beaded on his forehead. How am I going to get out of this?
“What are you doing awake, honey?” He knew full well why she was awake.
“Do you want to tell me what those are?” She pointed at the counter.
“What? What are you pointing at?”
She rolled her eyes. “You’ve got to be kidding me. Are you a child? Am I talking to our eight-year-old right now?”
He walked around the counter and acted like he was searching. “Oh, these. I don’t understand. Where did you find them?”
“Do you ever tell the truth? I don’t understand why you keep doing this to me.” Her voice caught in her throat. Tears welled in the corners of her eyes and she turned away.
“They have to be old… before I quit.”
She spun around and anger flashed across her face as she stormed across the room, unconcerned with how much noise she was making. She grabbed the three cans and showed Tom the first one. “Really? Old? Look at this. The seal isn’t even broken. It’s not old; it’s BRAND NEW!” She threw it at him.
“Whoa, calm down. I know you’re upset, but you’re going to wake the kids. I still don’t understand where you found these.”
“You… are… unbelievable. You think you can turn this around on me?” She jammed her finger into his chest. “I don’t even care about the chew. I’ve told you that before. Whatever you want to do you can do. For some reason, you had to make a big deal about quitting, and then you lied to me about it. Why?”
“I’m not lying to you. With the exception of tonight, I never said I don’t chew.”
“Are you kidding me? You think you’re going to get out of this on a technicality? I… I can’t even begin to tell you how upset…” She turned her back and her voice trailed off.
“I can tell you’re angry, but it’s after midnight. The kids need to sleep.”
“THEY AREN’T HERE!” She pulled at her hair.
He jumped back, shocked by her scream. After a moment, he said, “They’re not here? Where are they?”
She slowly turned and faced him, wiping the tears away from her eyes. “I was trying to hang the picture I painted the other day. I needed a hammer.” Realization filled his eyes, and she noticed. “That’s right. When I went to get the hammer I found your secret stash. I knew if you were lying to me about this, there had to be more. This fight was inevitable and I didn’t want them around. I took them to my parents’ house a couple of hours ago.”
‘You don’t get to make those decisions.”
“Oh… I believe I do. You lost that right the second you started lying to me again.”
“I haven’t been lying. Maybe I was hiding something…”
She interrupted him. “It’s deceitful—which given our track record—is the same as lying.”
“Do you think I’m your parents or something? Like you’re some six-year-old with his hand caught in the cookie jar? You can’t talk your way out of this, so stop trying.”
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
“It means your children are more honest than you’ve ever been with me. I don’t feel like I know you anymore. You were once my knight in shining armor. Now, you’re like a roommate. I have a better rapport with our dogs than I do with you.”
“That’s ridiculous. So I lied about my little habit. I’m sorry. I won’t do it again.”
“I wish I could believe you, but I can’t. I’m not staying here tonight. I’m going to my parents’ house.”
Tom ran forward and put his hand on her shoulder. She shrugged away. “Please don’t go. We’ve hit rough patches before. We’ve always gotten through them by talking it out. Surely we can do the same thing now.”
She turned around—her eyes red and puffy—and stared at him. “You want to talk. Fine! Let’s hash this out. What else are you lying about?”
Tom’s eyes drifted toward the ground. “Nothing.”
“I don’t believe you. Did you open any more credit card accounts? Do we have new personal loans I need to know about? You’re gambling again. That has to be it, right? Any more fake checking account registers you want to show me? Is bankruptcy right around the corner? Come on. You wanted to talk so let’s talk.” Between each question she paused, waiting for him to respond.
“I told you I’d never do any of those things again.”
“You told me you’d never do this again either, which I DON’T EVEN CARE ABOUT. Yet, you had the nerve to lie to me about it. Oh, I’m sorry.” She waved her hands in the air. “You weren’t lying; you were just hiding it from me. So let me rephrase. Tom, what else are you hiding from me?”
“That’s it? That’s all you have to say to me. I rail on you, and your only response is ‘nothing’? I’m glad we’re talking; glad we’re working this out.”
“Oh, I know just how sorry you are. You’re sorry you got caught; that’s what it boils down to. I know there’s more going on in that head of yours, but you continue to feel the need to leave me out. I never know what you’re feeling. You keep everything hidden and I can’t take it anymore.” She walked around the corner and came back pulling her suitcase. “I’m leaving until you can grow up. I’ve seen you with our kids. You’re a great father. There’s nothing you wouldn’t do for them. You love them so much and I see it every day. I can never take that away from you. I don’t think I’ve ever seen you lie to them. I hate that I have to worry about it. But I do, every day. Do you know what that does to a person?”
He wanted to respond, but she didn’t give him a chance.
“You don’t. Because you don’t ever worry about that. I love you so much—you were there for me when I thought no one could be. You were my rock, and I thank you every day for it. But as a husband, you’re an asshole.” Tears ran from her eyes down her cheek. “My only wish is that you loved me as much as you love them.”
“But I do love you, with all my heart. You’re all that’s important in my life.”
“No.” She shook her head. “You don’t. If you did, you’d stop doing this to me. Deep down, I still love you—which is something I hate myself for—but right now, I despise you.”
She turned and walked away. Tom wanted to go after her, but something told him to stop. He heard the car start up and he walked to the garage where he watched her pull out of the driveway. When the lights disappeared up the street, he turned and punched his toolbox. He knew he’d feel it in the morning, but right now he didn’t care.
He walked back into the house, shaking his fist. It was dark… dark and silent. There was none of his wife’s normal laughter. There was none of his childrens’ laughter. He didn’t care for it.
His home was built on a tumultuous relationship. She was emotional. He was not. They were the yin and yang needed to live a balanced relationship. It was okay if she had a history. He didn’t and was always there to pick up the pieces. But a relationship doesn’t work when both sides don’t communicate. Did Tom not have issues of his own|? Of course, he did. The problem was, he never let her pick up the pieces. He was so closed off and emotionally detached, he never let her in. He never let her be there for him. She resented him for it.
Something she’d said struck a chord with him and he had to think about it for a moment. He never did lie to his kids. Why was that? Because they’re innocent in all this and I have to raise them better. To be better than me. But is that more important than being honest with his wife? The one person he loves more than anything else on this planet? She deserved better, and he knew this. So why does he keep lying? Where did all of this start? He shook his head to clear it. There was one thing he needed right now.
He walked to the kitchen and reached into the cabinet where they stored the liquor. Their drink of choice had always been whiskey. He had a bottle—a bottle he should’ve never purchased since they had no money, and this particular bottle cost eighty dollars—hidden deep in the cabinet. Behind all their cheap vodka and gin was the Holy Grail. A bottle of eighteen-year-old Glen Garioch scotch. Hard to find—and in recent years very expensive—he’d bought it on a whim. She’d never know. At least, that’s what he thought at the time. He worked hard and deserved to spoil himself from time to time. She never felt this way, and he felt a little resentful just thinking about it. But of course, he’d never tell her.
Standing in the kitchen—only two lights lit in the entire house—he pulled off the lid and took a long sniff of the cork. The oak and spices apparent with even the smallest of breaths, it called to him. He tossed the cork aside and took a long drink from the bottle. He was all alone; what did he care?
No! He had let her down. For over 15 years he’d let her down. He should’ve let her in sooner, but it never seemed pertinent in the moment. As long as she was happy, he was happy. That was his mantra. It was what he lived by. Everyone jokes about happy wife, happy life. But isn’t there some truth in that statement? He walked a fine line every day, trying to make sure he kept that balance. And what did it get him?
He took another drink from the bottle, almost forgetting how expensive it was, and forgetting all about the rich flavors. What have I done? She was gone. She’d taken his children. She was upset—at her breaking point—and unwilling to work through the situation. Could he blame her? No… he couldn’t. Another drink. He put the bottle down and gazed about the room. If he couldn’t have his family, maybe life wasn’t worth living. He decided, maybe it wasn’t. He left the kitchen and made his way upstairs. Each step on the twenty-year-old stairs creaked beneath his feet. A constant reminder of “what are you doing?” And, “are you sure you want to do this?” He shrugged them off.
Buried deep in their closet was a safe. It was dusty and hadn’t been opened in awhile. He typed in the code and looked upon their most valuable possessions. He pulled out their passports and couldn’t help but open them up. The smiles haunted him. They were so happy once, before all of this happened. He couldn’t look at them and tossed them aside. Then he came upon his marriage license. What a special day. A pang filled his heart. It was literally the happiest day of his life. Watching her walk down the aisle. Why did you fuck it all up, then? He didn’t know and pushed the license gently to the side.
Under a stack of important papers, he found what he’d been searching for. The Heckler and Koch VP9. It was small and compact. It would do the job and he’d feel little remorse. Except he already did. He picked up the weapon—the metal smooth against his skin, like it belonged—and walked to their bed. They’d called this home for so long. He remembered when they brought Adam home. Such a small precious child. But he’d really grown into himself. Tom only wished he was as smart as Adam when he’d been in middle school himself. In a flashing moment, he saw Heather. She was daddy’s little girl. A smile crossed his face and his eyes fell to the gun he held folded in his lap. Could he orphan them? Could he leave them without a father?
He stared at the gun, and for the first time all night realized, he wasn’t thinking about her. What am I doing? Gun still in hand, he walked downstairs. He grabbed the bottle of whiskey and plopped himself on the couch. He took a long drink.
He grabbed his cellphone and dialed her number. Two rings and straight to voicemail. “Jessica, we have to finish this conversation. I know you sent me to voicemail; it only rang twice, unless you’re talking to someone else at one in the morning. Please call me back.”
He tossed the cellphone on the coffee table and picked up the glass. From the corner of his eye, the gun taunted him. How can I fix this? I can’t unless she calls me back. We have to finish this conversation. But he wondered if it would really help. He had to fix himself before they could fix their relationship.
Still holding the glass, he took another drink. When did he start lying? He’d never had a great memory but tried to recollect where it all began. His earliest memories were all good. Eating in a restaurant with his family. They were always engaged, always asking questions about his day. They were young, but that didn’t matter. They always made things work. Every year they went someplace new on vacation; even if it was a hotel room a six-hour drive away, it still felt special. There was always a closeness. Something wasn’t adding up. Frustrated, he found the unopened can of Skoal and put a pinch behind his lower lip. His thoughts cleared as the nicotine tingled through his bloodstream. He sat back down on the couch and dug deeper through his memory.
The most foreboding moment was when his mother showed up while he was working at a fast food restaurant in high school. She walked through the door casually and ordered a coffee. As he gave it to her, she asked him to join her.
He clocked out for his break and walked toward the seating area. The lighting was dark—not as bright as before—as though he were entering a damp cave and a creature waited, ready to pounce. His heart pounded in his chest, about to burst through his ribs. Each step grew more difficult as if he were walking in quicksand. He reached the booth and sat across from her. It was rough and cold beneath his skin. Her eyes locked on his and he could see her disappointment. Her anger bored deep into his soul.
His throat constricted; he couldn’t breathe. Sweat trickled down his forehead. The walls closed in around him, and the booth grew smaller. He scratched his head and started bouncing his leg. Instead of saying anything, she only stared. He looked around for an escape. He wanted to get out of here. He had to get out of here. But he couldn’t. There was no doubt; she’d wait all night if she had to.
After an eternity, she spoke.
“I got a call from Mr. Dryden at school today. Is there anything you’d like to tell me?”
Tommy crossed his arms in defiance. “No.”
“When are you going to grow up? In just two months you’re going to graduate from high school, God willing. You can’t be doing crap like this.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
She rolled her eyes and looked out the window into the parking lot. After a moment, her gaze returned. “Cut the crap. I know you missed third period today.”
“No, I didn’t. I went to the bathroom and was just late getting to class.”
“Tommy, cut it out. Mr. Dryden said he walked to your classroom near the end of the period and you weren’t there.”
Tommy, who’d been doing his best to ignore his mother’s penetrating eyes, turned and looked deep into them.
“How do you know? Were you there? That old man keeps a bottle of vodka in his bottom desk drawer and I know I’ve smelled it on his breath before.”
She sighed. “Kind of like how I can smell the stench of cigarette smoke wafting off of you right now?”
Tommy reverted to old habits and looked away.
“Your father and I only want what’s best for you. We’re not even pressuring you to go to college. Why can’t you see that?”
He didn’t respond.
“In two months you’ll be done. Until then, you have to abide by our rules. You need to graduate high school.”
“I spoke with your father, and until you do finish school, we’re taking your car away except for driving to work. And that’s only because we don’t have the time to drive you back and forth five days a week.”
Anger filled his eyes as he turned his head and faced his mother. Spittle flew from his lips.
“You can’t do that. I paid for that car. What gives you the right to take it away?”
Again, her gaze shifted to the window. “All you do is lie. You never tell us the truth. You may have paid for that car, but you’re still living under our roof. And you’re not eighteen yet. So until that time comes, you will listen to what we have to say.” She brought her eyes back to his. “Do I make myself clear?’
He glanced at his watch. His ten-minute break was over two minutes ago. He couldn’t do this any longer.
“I mean it. And if we get another call from the school we’ll get more drastic. We’re both fed up.”
“Whatever,” he said and stood.
“Now get back to work before you lose the only good thing you have going for you in your life.”
He spun around and stalked back to the counter so he could finish his shift. He never saw her leave, but as soon as he was sure she was gone, he said, “Bitch.”
He shook his head to clear it. This wasn’t where everything went downhill. Far from it. He remembered the pain in his mother’s eyes. He remembered how she looked. How she couldn’t believe they’d gotten to the point they were at. Looking back at it now, he knew she was right, especially now that he was a parent himself. There was nothing they wouldn’t do for him. They only wanted the best, and for him to be happy. But he always resisted. Just like when he smoked in high school. They always knew. He thought he was so slick. He carried a bottle of mouthwash in his car and always had a fresh stockpile of gum. He hadn’t smoked in years, but when anyone stepped outside to smoke around him now, they stunk for an hour. Who did he think he was fooling?
He sipped a little more from the bottle of scotch, now that his glass was empty. Damn, this really is good. He had to go deeper if he wanted to get to the root of the problem. He conjured an image from when he was twelve. His friends had wanted to ride bikes to the nearest convenience store to buy candy. He wanted to go too. But he didn’t get an allowance. His parents didn’t believe in paying their children. They had chores and responsibilities around the house, but he had to ask for money. He’d gone to the pool the night before and his parents had given him money. They also drove him and his friends both ways. They were always doing that; they were very accommodating. So when they said no, he couldn’t understand why. He asked his dad, who of course said no since he’d gone to the pool the night before. He took matters into his own hands. He had two siblings: a younger sister and brother. He was the oldest, his sister next. They were all born three years apart. His sister was a bit of a hoarder. Anytime she got money, she stashed it in her room. After his dad said no, he snuck into his sister’s room. He raided her usual spots but only came away with a little more than a dollar. He didn’t have time to search her room any further and resorted to his backup plan.
His dad kept a sock filled with change in his drawer. He’d never taken money from his dad before, and something inside told him to stop this before it got out of hand. But he really wanted to get some candy. He stepped into the hall. To the left was the family room and a clear conscience. To the right was his parents’ room. After a moment of thought, the need for candy won out and he raided his dad’s change sock. He didn’t take much—just a couple dollars—before sneaking out of the room and lying to his dad that he was going to play with a different friend.
That night, his sister accused him of stealing from her and told his parents. It was such a low amount and she didn’t have any proof, so his parents let him off with a warning about theft. He didn’t listen and continued taking from his sister and dad until his dad finally noticed. When confronted, he lied about it. It didn’t matter, they still grounded him, but only for a week.
Tom looked at the clock. It was after one. He did have the conference call in the morning and should be getting in bed. But something in him stirred. He needed a resolution or he didn’t think he’d sleep at all. He tried calling Jessica again, twice. When she didn’t answer, he resorted to texts. He sent several. For five minutes, he stared at the phone, but she never responded. The bottle of whiskey he longed for sat on the table, but he decided to take a break. He drifted back into his memories. Everything so far had been long after he started lying. Then it hit him. He remembered fourth grade. Before that year, he’d always been a good student. But in fourth grade, he ran into Hitler. She was an aged teacher who he thought wanted nothing more than her retirement. She didn’t engage with him like he thought she should and so he gave up. He felt she labeled him a troublemaker. She gave out happy and sad grams every Friday. The time he got his first sad gram, was the day that changed his life.
She walked down the aisle and handed out a yellow letter to each kid. They all knew the drill because they got them every Friday. They were happy grams, her version of a weekly progress report, letting parents know how their kids were doing in class. At Tommy’s desk, she handed him a blue paper. What does blue mean? I’ve never seen one before.
Mrs. Larkin leaned close and whispered, “This is a sad gram. You didn’t turn in two assignments this week and I need you to have your parents sign this over the weekend, just like they would a happy gram.”
Tommy glared at the paper. He knew he hadn’t turned in a couple of assignments, but he fully intended to make them up. Now he had to tell his parents? It was his worst nightmare come true.
The bell rang and while the students packed up their bags and prepared for the weekend, Tommy couldn’t get the sad gram out of his mind. He didn’t even bother putting it in his backpack. Instead, he stared at it. He kept staring his entire walk to the bus, and selecting a seat in the back, he couldn’t tear his eyes away from it. Kids screamed, papers were crumpled and thrown. He tuned it all out. How am I going to explain this to my parents? I’m supposed to be playing the new Zelda all weekend.
The bus pulled into their neighborhood and dread filled his veins. He folded the sad gram in half and stuffed it into his backpack. There was a time and a place for unpleasantness and he decided he’d save this for later. Except, once he got into his room, ready to enjoy the weekend, he couldn’t stop thinking about it.
Maybe I don’t have to tell them. I can just forge my mom’s signature and everything will be OK.
He rifled through the trash and found several of his mom’s discarded receipts while his dad typed away at his computer, immune to what the children were doing in the house. They were all busy playing with Legos or dolls, but he wouldn’t know that. Satisfied Tommy had what he needed, he took a quick glance over his shoulder to make sure his dad wasn’t watching and scurried down to his room in the basement.
At first, he practiced tracing his mom’s signature. He did it time and time again until he covered several sheets of paper. Looking at his progress, he was quite pleased but decided to fill up just one more sheet. His dad had other ideas and called him upstairs. After a quick dinner, he started again. He made it about three-quarters of the way down the blank piece of paper before sleep won out and his head fell on his arms on his desk.
In the morning, he startled himself awake. Bleary-eyed, he looked around the room and realized he’d spent the whole night at his desk. His younger brother snored in the bed opposite him. He had no idea what time it was, but his stomach screamed at him for food. While stuffing his face, he noticed the snowflakes falling outside his patio door. He remembered his plans for his video game. With just a bit more practice, he was confident he could sign the sad gram and get down to the fun he had planned.
His mom walked in and asked him about school. He’d never lied like this to her before. He told her everything was great, but he had an assignment to finish before he could play his video games. She didn’t respond; she just smiled. He could see how proud she was and he couldn’t take it, quickly averting his eyes.
Sunday evening, his arm hurt. He never could quite replicate the ungraceful scrawl of his mother. So he had stayed at it… all weekend. As bedtime approached, he knew his time was coming to an end. His brother was busy snoring in his own bed across the room. He tried one last time on a blank piece of paper. It was close enough. At any moment, one of his parents would crack open his door and tell him it was lights out. He put the pen to the sad gram and hesitated for a second. Footsteps echoed in the hallway, forcing him to action. He scrawled his mother’s name. Staring at it for a moment, he was quite pleased with himself. But he couldn’t waste any time. He folded the paper in half and stuffed it into his backpack before throwing on his pajamas and rushing to the door. His dad peeked inside.
“Light’s out Sport. You have school tomorrow.”
“I know, Dad. I was just about to brush my teeth.”
He smiled. “That a boy. Be quiet so you don’t wake your brother.”
His dad ruffled his hair, and Tommy disappeared down the hall.
A couple of weeks later, his mother was going through his backpack. The thing about the happy and sad grams was it wasn’t a new one each week. There were enough signature lines to cover an entire semester. So when she found the blue sad gram in his backpack, she pulled it out and started looking at it closer. He’d gotten a sad gram four weeks in a row. She stared long and hard at the signature line. Tears filled her eyes and she disappeared into her bedroom. Later that evening, his parents called him up for a conversation. They were angry. His mother admitted, she couldn’t remember signing it, but it looked like her signature. He couldn’t think of a way out, so he had to confess his sins. They made him talk to his teacher—which didn’t help his relationship with her—and he had to serve a suspension. One would think he’d straighten up and walk the straight and narrow after that, but Tommy couldn’t help but think he almost got away with it. He did for well over a month. With a little effort, he could perfect his style and maybe not be in trouble at all. It was so easy.
Tom jumped to his feet. This was it. He’d been searching for the problem for the past twenty-five years. The bottle of scotch called to him and he took a drink. It burned down his throat and he coughed, before spitting the Skoal out of his mouth. He’d finally found the moment, the instance where lying became his norm. He had to call his wife. No answer, so he tried texting. He sat down while awaiting her response. Seconds turned into minutes, minutes turned into half hours. The wait was excruciating. He kept texting because he had to talk to her, tell her his breakthrough.
The minutes continued ticking by. Five turned into ten, then twenty. He couldn’t stand it any longer and jumped to his feet and paced the family room. The room wasn’t large, so after a few steps, he turned and headed back in the other direction. With each pass of the coffee table, the gun cried out to him like a baby crying for its mother. He ignored it: looked away, tried his best to distance himself from the table. Maybe if I don’t see it, don’t make eye contact, it’ll leave me alone. But it didn’t. Like a lighthouse guiding a ship, it was a lantern signaling, piercing his eyes to let it in.
His phone rang. This was the moment he’d been waiting for. “Hello.”
“Stop calling me. I’ve said my piece and I have to get up early in the morning.”
He froze. He had so much he wanted to say. There was so much to be said, but he couldn’t find the words. Her agitation was evident over the phone and he had to say something. “I’m sorry.”
There was a long pause. The courage built inside him. When he opened his mouth to speak, her voice filled the emptiness.
“You don’t get it. Maybe you’re not listening to me. Maybe that’s been the problem all along. You only hear what you want to hear. My pleading has always fallen on deaf ears and I don’t think there’s any changing you. You are who you are. I love you for most of your qualities, but I don’t know if I can ever get over this. How can I trust you?”
“I suppose you can’t, but I’ll do everything in my power to prove that you can,” he said.
“I don’t believe you.”
“You have to. I’ve made a breakthrough…”
She cut him off. “I don’t have to do a damn thing. We can’t do this anymore. It’s late and I need to try and get some sleep. I didn’t even want to talk to you anymore, but I saw your texts and missed calls. I hoped you’d had some profound revelation, but it’s apparent you haven’t.”
“Please, you have to listen to me. Baby, I love you.”
“No… no, you don’t. If you did we wouldn’t be where we are.”
“You don’t understand. I know what I’ve been doing. I figured out when all of the lying started and I think I can finally get help to fix it.”
“You had your chance. I’ve given you so many opportunities. You ignored my pleas and here we are.” He heard her sigh through the phone. “Maybe your next wife can help you with that. Maybe you can connect with her.”
Tears flooded his eyes. “Let me explain. I want to work this out and I don’t want another wife.” The phone clicked as she hung up. “Baby!” She was gone. Damn! She didn’t give me a chance to explain? He couldn’t blame her. He’d been lying ever since he was a child. It’s all he knew how to do. It had to stop, tonight. She was more important than this and didn’t deserve what he was doing. He put his phone in his pocket, before grabbing the bottle of whiskey—or what remained of it—in one hand, and the gun in the other. His life was in his own hands and he knew what he needed to do. He stared at the two items, got up, turned off the light, and made his way to their bedroom. He put the gun back in the safe—where it belonged—before collapsing in the leather chair nested in the corner of their room.
I have to stop lying. It was the first time he’d ever admitted it to himself, but it was the truth. He realized now, he always lied because it was the easier path, but in the end, he always got caught… and it was always worse. He’d go to her tomorrow. One of his coworkers could handle the conference call. He had to talk to her first thing in the morning. It wouldn’t be easy, but he had to take the first step. He had to convince her to stay. He loved her too much to let it end like this.
Writing a Short Story for my Fiction Writing Class. Here is the first part.
Sitting on the couch, Tom’s fingers were laced through his hair. His limbs shook and he couldn’t find any control. He leaned forward, putting his head between his legs, drawing deep breaths between sobs. On the coffee table before him was a bottle of whiskey, a tumbler filled with much more than two fingers, several empty cans of Skoal, a crumpled paper, and the gun. Oh yes, the gun, staring at him as if mocking, calling out to him to use it. He’d bought it a year earlier and only used it once at a range. He lifted his head and stared at the Heckler and Koch VP9. He wanted to cast it aside, maybe even toss it out a window or something, but then what purpose would it serve?
Sweat and tears dripped down his face, over his red and puffy eyes. How could she do this to me? He picked up the paper and read through the note, scrawled with the angry words of a scorned wife. This was the tenth time he’d read the letter, hoping each time, somehow the message had changed. But it wasn’t to be.
He took the glass, tilted back his head, and drained it in a quick gulp. The whiskey burned all the way down his throat, but he didn’t care. The pain was punishment for his actions and he deserved it. Maybe it’d burn a hole in his stomach. At least he wouldn’t use the gun. Who am I kidding? I’m a coward. His wife had given him every opportunity to be brave; far more than he deserved, but he couldn’t ever do it.
At least the whiskey allowed him to forget, if only for a few moments, maybe even an evening. Then he could deal with all of this tomorrow. He grabbed the bottle in his trembling hand and started filling the glass. Why bother? He brought the bottle to his lips. The burning dissipated in an instant—more than likely it was numb—allowing him to drink a good fifth of the handle.
His hand still shaking, he jumped to his feet and paced the family room. This was the home he shared with his wife and two kids for the past nine years. Their images flashed in his mind. Beautiful Brenda, the woman he’d loved for well over sixteen years. Their two kids, Jordan and Becky. They were too young, too innocent, and wouldn’t understand what was happening. His heart cried out to Brenda, but of course, she wouldn’t answer. It didn’t matter. This was all his fault. He had to fix it. That’s what he did best, wasn’t it? He fixed bad situations. Could he do it again?
The room wasn’t large, so after a few steps, he turned and headed back in the other direction. With each pass of the coffee table, the gun cried out to him like a baby crying for its mother. He ignored it; looked away, tried his best to distance himself from the table. Maybe if I don’t see it, don’t make eye contact, it’ll leave me alone. But it didn’t. Like a lighthouse guiding a ship, it was a beacon calling to him, clawing at his mind to let it in.
I have two sons. They are 13 and 8. I am so proud of both of them, as any father should be. They both have their strengths and I try to support them in their endeavors. Evan, the 8 year old, is very interested in books, and has written several for school with his friends. He is also one of the better artists I have ever seen (we have several pictures of his up on our walls… in frames… in our house). My other son, Branden, is very athletic. Probably one of the better football players I have ever seen at his age (he plays corner, corner, corner, and some wideout). I only wish I was as good as he is at his age, and he understands the game almost better than I do, and I’m freaking 40. Anyway. Branden has always been very intelligent (he is in all advanced classes) but it is only recently that he has been proud of his own writing (I know, I’m probably a bad father for not noticing sooner). I just wanted to share his most recent paper for his Language Arts class.
Animal Farm: How does Speech Affect Propaganda?
When words are correctly executed in a specific way, they can shift one’s thoughts on a topic. The manipulation of words can be beneficial for propaganda. Being very specific and precise while you speak can be very persuasive and driving. Some will also manipulate their language to trick people, when they miss specific details to fool the listener. A powerful style of this is to use friendly, welcoming words such as comrade, friend, and more. Using this type of language can lure the audience into believing this is a friend. People can be very crafty with words to boost their propaganda, and there are many different styles and tactics.
Being very creative with your language can be very powerful. Using this can result in trust, for many reasons. Using larger and more sophisticated words can lead an audience into conceiving the one speaking as highly educated and trustworthy. If you hear two people speaking on different ideas, for example, a debate. If you had little to no knowledge on the topic, would you side with the one who is using larger and more “intelligent” words? Of course you would, because it seems like they know what they are talking about. However, this can be misused, as someone who is very good at speaking with good tone and vocabulary, could create trust easily, even without being knowledgeable on the topic.
People who use language within propaganda to improve their chances are very creative. A very deceiving strategy by them is leaving out certain details to fool the audience. Although you are technically not lying, you are being dishonest and deceiving by tricking the listeners. This can also go in the reverse way, by adding certain details on things they cannot do to leave certain loopholes. For example, Squealer constantly adding a few words to the commandments to benefit him and Napoleon. He had changed “No Animal shall sleep in a bed” to “No Animal shall sleep in a bed without sheets”. This allowed the pigs to defend themselves when the other animals became suspicious. This tactic can, clearly, improve your propaganda.
Another clever and cunning approach is to use friendly words. Things such as friends, comrades, pals, mates as well as pronouns “us” and “we” often tend to mislead an audience, and create trust. Squealer and Napoleon used this a lot, because when something went wrong, or they were accused of something, they used this type of language to keep the animals sane and in belief. “Are you certain that this is not something you have dreamed, comrades?” (pg. 77) is just one example of the many times the pigs used this. Whether or not this is a valid point, it was definitely helped by the word “comrades”.
The Pigs were very deceptive with their speech, and this is just one of thousands of instances of it. Propaganda can clearly be greatly impacted, just by the modification and manipulation of words. It can benefit one in many ways. Next time you hear a big speech or PSA, try to see if you can recognize some of these tactics that the politician, or whoever may be speaking, uses!