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The other day I was running errands, going about my business and sweating in the blaze of the midday sun when an older gentleman stopped and looked me over with a smile.
“Good to see a fellow Owl.”
“Oh,” I said, unsure if I’d heard him correctly. It wasn’t until I got in my car and started down the road that it dawned on me. I was wearing my ratty, sweat-patched Temple Basketball t-shirt.
I love random t-shirts. Always have. As long as I can remember I’ve foraged thrift stores and flea markets, rummaging through estate sales in search of the perfect tee. If it fits and it’s comfortable, I’m wearing it. Family reunions, YMCA staff, at least one Seoul 2003 marathon long sleeve—I’m a regular international man of mystery.
My favorite ones are the colleges: Temple Basketball, Vermont, SUNY Plattsburgh. I get asked all the time, “Did you attend Random College?”
Sometimes I’ll play along, shrug and smile. But the first time it happened I was too shocked to do much of anything.
As a shy, awkward, pimply freshman in high school, I clearly remember one day in the cafeteria. I was waiting in line to pay for lunch, wearing a Duke Blue devils t-shirt. I’m no Duke fan by any means, but back in the nineties I was a big fan of Grant Hill, the superstar freshman on the national championship basketball team. Maybe it was the only clean shirt I had that day. Nonetheless, I never would have remembered any of it had the shirt not attracted the attention of an old assistant coach.
He came hobbling over to me, his gut protruding from his track suit. “Boy, why are you wearing that shirt?
I blushed. My ears went hot. Again, I was painfully timid, self-conscious about my shadow. I spent a lot of time figuring out ways to avoid people, be it slinking through the hallways, hiding in the crowd, or arriving early to class and NEVER volunteering for anything. Ever.
But this was a coach, calling me out in the cafeteria. I was half expecting him to smile, maybe chuckle and spill the punchline. Instead the old man only looked me up and down, shaking his head. I knew he was a football guy, a legend back in the day. And yet, here was this silver-haired old man regarding me like I’d personally insulted him.
He pointed to my chest. “You don’t deserve to wear that shirt. You know that?”
I did not know that. I was fourteen. Today people speak of this man as a mentor, a great coach and motivator. We hear so much about the impact our coaches have on a young person’s life, how they build kids up, make them feel like they can do anything they put their minds to do. Well, it must have been an off day, because according to him I didn’t deserve to wear a shirt with his alma mater on it.
And that was it. He stalked off, still grumbling about a kid wearing a shirt.
Such an insignificant part of his life. And today I know more hard truths about the world. We can’t do anything we put our minds to do. I couldn’t learn quantum physics if you gave me a lifetime to do it. But here I am in my forties, and I can remember with great clarity this moment on some random day this man had on my life. So many times it’s popped into my head and I’ve laughed, wondering just what this great coach saw (or didn’t see) as he wandered into the cafeteria that compelled him to approach and lay clear a kid’s limitations. To tell me what I didn’t deserve.
And hey, I’m not saying he was wrong. Sure enough, I didn’t go to Duke. I followed the path this wise old gruff already knew to be my destiny. I attended community college, only to drop out and go to work at the car wash. After that I cut grass. I cleaned bathrooms. Joke was on me, right?
Perhaps. But what the old ball coach didn’t know—couldn’t have known because I certainly had no idea at the time—was that while I was toiling away, be it waxing cars or push mowing through a haze of grass clippings, I was coming to terms with what I could do.
With every car I washed or lawn I mowed, every mop I pushed, a story spun its way through my mind. And well before I was ready to admit it, when I was without story, skills, or even the first letter on a page, I was dreaming. Dreaming of what I could do.
I read constantly. I cut grass and came home to Steinbeck, Hemingway, Fitzgerald. Richard Wright. From Stephen King to John Grisham, even my mother’s Nicholas Sparks collection wasn’t safe. I loved the smell of the pages, the yellowed rinds of life’s tragedies told in so many different ways. I dreamed of the day it would all work out.
As I moved on in the real world, got a new job and made several dumb decisions, I thought maybe I’d buried the dream. I learned several painful lessons about eviction, debt, consequences, love and loss, while crossing paths with too many colorful characters to count. And just when it seemed nothing would ever work out, my dream would surface with a whisper, having followed me faithfully into whatever hole I’d dug. Even after I’d told it to get lost.
How could I write? I couldn’t even finish community college. Heck, I didn’t even deserve to wear the t-shirt of a college. Think I forgot?
But it was there, fighting to claw its way out. And still, I kept telling myself for years, I couldn’t do it. Why even try?
So I read. I continued to keep journals and write silly things that caught my mind. And then, years later, as I was dealing with personal issues, I was on a walk with my dogs by myself when the voice piped up again.
You’re a writer.
I don’t write.
But you should.
But I had nothing to lose. And so I wrote. Short nothings. Then some more. I wrote and it was like scratching an itch that had been nagging me all my life. It wasn’t good writing, but it could be. And what did it matter. I was a writer. I am a writer. I deserve this.
It’s still hard for me to embrace. To open up and put it out there. To speak in front of the class or even believe it’s happened. I’ve had two books published this year, with four more on the way next year. One every three months. You win, Dream.
Am I Hemmingway, Steinbeck, Fitzgerald? Not even close. I’m just a guy who didn’t deserve to wear a t-shirt.
Pete Fanning is the author of Justice in a Bottle, Runaway Blues, and Bricktown Boys (scheduled to publish in January of 2021). He’s a regular Rough Writer at Carrot Ranch and published in The Congress of Rough Writers Flash Fiction Anthology, Vol. 1. You can read more of his writing at Lunch Break Fiction and follow him on Twitter @fatherknwslttle.
Who have we forgotten and why? The historical record stretches so long it seems there remains no room for all the remembrances. Family history fades or ends abruptly. Memory brings its own struggles. Yet truths of who we are as humans emerge to remind us that we are like those we have forgotten.
Writers were challenged to recall to the page the unremembered. A daunting task, full of unexpected interpretations, discoveries, and forgotten stories.
The following are based on the September 26, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about someone unremembered.
PART I (10-minute read)
Noted by Liz Husebye Hartmann
I dreamt last night of snow.
A thin blanket over vibrant late summer.
Silent white, still as death,
Satisfying in its containment.
Not part of the scene,
Hovered just above and north,
Invisible and unremembered in this moment’s lapse,
Accepting that all is as it should be.
It lingered, this stillness, this moment
Before the alarm pierces the darkness and eyes shutter open to snap the shot before the rushing flow of sunlight and voices, the river of everyday that roars and twists and pulls me along,
A red leaf-spin noted in everyone else’s emergency.
Unremembered by Donna Armistead
She appears only in the occasional census record and once, fleetingly, on an 1862 list as wife of a Southern soldier, entitled to low-cost salt for preservation of her family’s meager stores: my great-grandmother Mary. If she wrote letters to her absent husband, chasing Yankees across ravaged northern Virginia, they do not survive. More likely, the rigors of keeping a farm and feeding her children consumed all her time.
She lies somewhere in a Georgia Baptist cemetery, her grave unmarked, her daily toil unremembered. Money – and the attendant spirit of commemoration – were scarce commodities in the wake of Sherman’s devastation.
Unremembered by Norah Colvin
A recluse, unremarkable and forgotten in life and unremembered in death, she’d lived in her own world hidden behind overhanging branches and overgrown gardens. Unseen for so long, newcomers didn’t know she existed, thinking it was simply undeveloped land.
One day, developers came and pushed down the trees and cleared the undergrowth. They paused at the sight of the tiny wooden structure their work revealed. Unsure how to proceed, they investigated. Though not art enthusiasts, they knew that what they discovered was something special. When the work was curated and exhibited in galleries worldwide, she was never unremembered again.
Unremembered by Anita Dawes
I cannot think of anyone forgotten to me
I am sure if I walk around my local graveyard
There would be so many forgotten souls
With no living relatives to lay flowers
I will lay a flower on a few bare graves
as I pass through to show they’re remembered
I asked a Jewish neighbour years ago
Why no flowers on their graves?
They don’t like to kill anything
They leave a stone to say someone has visited
I thought I might like to do that
Find a bare headstone, take a small pebble
Place it there with love…
A Lost Love by Sadje
The light was playing tricks. She was sure that it wasn’t him. How could it be him, after all those years. And she was sure that if she did see him today, after fifteen years, she wouldn’t be able to recognize him. He would have changed just as much as she had. They weren’t thirteen anymore.
As the man drew near, he gave a crooked smile just like Sam and looked at her quizzically. “Are you Sally Hepworth by any chance?” She was unable to say anything, so great was her amazement. She just nodded her head in affirmative.
Hello! How Are You? by Di @ pensitivity101
There were warm smiles and hugs all round, general chit chat and catching up over a period of about fifteen minutes.
It was so lovely to see them, they said so.
It had been such a long time, and how were the family, the dog, the new house?
How was their health, were they enjoying retirement?
Parting company, any familiarity faded and frowns replaced their polite smiles. They knew so much, yet they couldn’t be placed.
It’s the old story. Minds are searched, family faces summoned from the deepest depths. Who were they exactly? Damned if I could remember.
Yearbook Photo by Denise DeVries
Bitty sat on her faded sofa next to Grace in her tailored suit and silk stockings. “Here’s our high school yearbook.” She flipped through the pages and pointed. “There you are.”
Grace leaned in, her sprayed hair brushing Bitty’s cheek. “Who’s that boy? I don’t remember him.” She touched the photo with a manicured nail and laughed. “That hair! So out of style!”
Bitty read, “Pierce Langley Davis. The name doesn’t ring a bell. Look at his angry eyebrows.”
Grace leaned even closer. “Wait a minute… Hmm. Isn’t that Fierce Pierce?… I think I went to Homecoming with him.”
Sad To Be Forgotten by Susan Zutautas
Talking to her aunt about Sunday dinner Meg was a little concerned about her grandmother because Aunt Jenny told her she wasn’t herself lately.
Sunday arrived and Meg was a few minutes late.
Grandma was there and seated at the dinner table. Meg thought she looked perfectly fine and maybe her aunt had been mistaken. Meg greeted her with a hug and then sat down at the table.
Cousin Sandy sat next to Meg and during dinner, grandma spoke up asking, “Sandy, is this your new boyfriend?”
“No, it’s Meg, your granddaughter, you remember.”
Grandma sat there looking confused.
Ruby by Lisa Williams
Geoff always woke promptly without an alarm clock and immediately mourned for the one he married. He rose and she stared up at him. Smiling. Not a care in the world. From their wedding photo, taken exactly forty years ago to the day. He washed, dressed. Thinking that they could be celebrating today. A big family party in a balloon filled hall. Happiness. After a lifetime of shared bliss. He sighed and took her up a cup of tea in bed. Hoping today would be a reasonable day for her. And that she’d at least recognise who he was.
A Mere Image by Bill Engleson
She lifts the arm.
“There, Mr. Sam, that’s right, draw it down your right cheek. Through the foam.”
The razor in the right hand slides along the stranger’s face.
There is a scent. Peppermint?
“That’s right. Careful not to nick.”
The hand jerks. A gash. Blood mingles with the foam.
She grabs a tissue, dabs the face. “That’s not so bad. You have to be more careful. Perhaps I should finish it for you.”
Her hand embraces the razor, shaves slowly, bypasses the pinkish tissue, finishes, wipes the face with a warm cloth.
Her hand caresses the face.
Widow’s Weeds by Kerry E.B. Black
Beatrice shifted framed photos on her entry table, the only remaining piece of her prized furniture. Rooms in the senior care facility didn’t accommodate much. Her deceased husband smiled from a silver frame, dashing as the day they married. From others grinned their children, three strapping boys and a diminutive girl with a shy smile. They all lived afar, scattered like shrapnel after the explosion of her husband’s death. Purposeful misunderstandings fueled fevered departures. None looked back to notice Beatrice, alone, grieving, and with little to support her ailing heart.
Yet she proudly displayed her family in sparkling frames.
Nelson Finds His Namesake (from Snowflake) by Anne Goodwin
What a racket! Unpatriotic to cry while the rest of the nursery slept. Nelson grabbed the traitor from its cot, ready to shake it and scream at it to stop.
The name stamped on the baby’s bib almost made him drop it. The infant was a Nelson too. The revelation brought a yearning that threatened to swallow the pair of them, a hollowness from before memory began.
He wanted to run. He wanted to crush the tiny skull. But he made a cradle of his arms and rocked his namesake. Soothing his unremembered anguish as he lulled the child.
Unremembered by Pete Fanning
I barreled into the school parking lot, tires screeching, thumping across the speed bump. Amelia sat slumped on a bench, one sock up, one sagging to her shoe. A teacher stood by her.
I left the car running. “I’m sorry baby, I—”
“You forgot me. I can’t believe you forgot me!”
Three kids, one me. But now, seeing my youngest, face glazed with tears, how even her sock had given up on her. I was a terrible parent.
She flung herself into me, part hug, part tackle. Like her socks, my daughter was let down, yet resilient.
Father Figured by JulesPaige
Each with their own thoughts, maybe they remembered? But they chose not to share. That created blank spaces in Harper’s young mind. He couldn’t even remember what story they might have told as to why his father wasn’t coming home. Did they even try to say that the man had gone with angels to heaven?
Harper only had a hole in his heart. Questions weren’t asked because no one else brought up his father’s name or even showed old photographs. He would remember whatever he could.
a life ends early
grave hours pass without telling;
their stories are lost
Unremembered by clfalcone*
The nine-year old stood beneath the light post, the State Fair was stifling hot with no shade. He thought about food as insects buzzed around his crewcut. Lord, how he had to pee.
He only bent down to tie his shoe and then they were gone.
Five hours, still no one came for him.
It was getting dark next to the Haunted House, pictures of people being gored as shish kebabs, sliced like juicy steaks scared him, his stomach growled.
He sat in the dirt, whimpering. He was getting a real solid beating tonight, for sure.
So he cried.
Unremembered by tracey
I was nine when my mother was diagnosed with cancer, eleven when she died. My memories of being ten are ragged, filled with holes.
I remember crying. Hospital visits. Coming home to an empty house, devoid of the smells of baking and lemon Pledge. The panicky feeling as I opened the door, what if this was the day she died and I just didn’t know it yet?
Surely people were kind to me during this difficult time?
But no acts of kindness remain in my memory. I can’t remember anyone but my mother and myself during that horrific year.
The Close Match by Sally Cronin
Isobel held her mother’s hand tightly as the door to the café opened, and a man walked in and looked around. It had been an emotional few weeks since the DNA close match had been found on the genealogy database. Her mother, abandoned as a toddler on the doorstep of an orphanage, had no memories of her family, long giving up hope of finding them. The man looked over to their table and her mother gasped as she saw his shock of red hair and green eyes. His face lit up and smiling he hurried towards them, twins reunited.
Trissente by Saifun Hassam
As a marine archeologist, Pierre loved to explore Trissente Sea and its unusual shores. The coastline was relatively recent. Some millennia ago catastrophic ecological deluges had washed away the previous shorelines and limestone and sandy cliffs that must have extended a mile or so inland.
There were legends of an ancient coastal people and their immense temple, and ruins of a hidden monastery in the Diamante Mountains. Stories lingered of a long ago learned scholar, his name forgotten. Pierre planned to explore the mountain. He was intrigued: who was this scholar, these ancient coastal people, long vanished, the unremembered.
Unremembered by Robbie Eaton Cheadle
The unexpected sight of the frozen tableau inside the shrine caused the team of archaeologists to gasp in shock. The faces of the three Incan children, who had been sacrificed five hundred years earlier, were peaceful. The oldest, a girl they nicknamed the Maiden, had a half smile playing around the corners of her mouth.
Analysis of hair samples from the frozen mummies found entombed in a subterranean chamber, revealed that the children had all been drugged with coca leaves and alcoholic beverages.
This historical discovery ensured that the Maiden, Llullaillaco Boy and Lightning Girl, would not be forgotten.
A Dead Dark God Grumbles by Joanne Fisher
I was once powerful. More powerful than anything seen before. I had many followers and was feared by everyone. Impregnable was my black fortress, unscalable were my defences, unassailable were my lands, undefeatable were my armies. Yet one day I was overthrown. My body was destroyed and my spirit was hurled into the darkness. And now no one remembers me. Nameless I have now become. A disembodied voice crying out in the void.
One day I’ll find a way to return and everyone will again quake with fear when they hear my name, and the world will be mine.
Visit by Joshua G. J. Insole
Gusts of wind moaned through the skeletal trees, scattering the burnt-orange leaves across the graves.
“That time of year again, Frank?”
“Same as last year?”
“Same as every year, Harry.”
The wind wailed between the headstones, shrieking like a ghoul.
Harry cleared his throat. “Well… maybe they forgot?”
“Twenty-seven years in a row?”
“I—well, maybe not…”
“Yeah, maybe not.”
The gale was picking up speed now. The town’s citizens would be battening down the hatches.
Frank was changing, too. Becoming. Tattered skin and rotten flesh were stitching themselves together again.
“This year,” he said, “they’ll remember.”
PART II (10-minute read)
Unremembered by Susan Budig
Esther’s eyes opened into blackness. No morning light yet broke through the small window. Her body, clad in a thread-bare shift, pressed into the splintered board. A wool blanket, shared with three other women rested on top of her. Rainwater dripped through the ceiling, splashing droplets onto her shaved head.
“Claude,” she murmured, “my beloved.” May your memory be a blessing involuntarily flitted through her thoughts. She scolded herself for thinking them. A dead sleep overtook her until the blockführer’s screams roused them.
Over in the men’s barracks, no one remained to give Claude even a passing thought.
Unremembered by Padre of Padre’s Ramblings
It was late summer and a refreshing summer breeze gently blew. The Roma family sat near a clearing at the roadside, their piebald pony munching grass as they themselves ate breakfast. They did not hear the approach of the SS patrol from the forest, nor expect the burst of automatic fire. They could not know of the burning of their wagon home, or that their precious pony would become the property of a Ukrainian peasant after the beast had bolted. No more laughter or music would flow from their campfires, nor would any ever again lovingly call their names.
Did I Dream It by Susan Sleggs
We hoped for more soldiers to arrive, not so we could go on R&R, but so there would be enough men to fight back when the next firefight happened. The night was quiet. I got about four hours sleep. When I woke, there was a replacement guy sitting three feet from me. I was about to introduce myself when bullets started flying. We both went flat to the ground. When the shooting stopped, he was dead and I wasn’t. I never learned his name so can only remember that he was there. I don’t think it was a dream.
Not Forgotten by Sascha Darlington
A ragged man, he panhandled holding a cardboard sign between gnarled fingers. He got pneumonia once during a bitterly cold, snowy winter. That’s how I found him then he disappeared again.
“I’m nothing to you,” he’d said to me, his only son.
Mom’s only comment: “Damn war took him away twice.”
He lived in a cardboard box in woods behind the grocery until they tore it down and made him leave. I left food with him, gave him money and warm clothes.
Strangers tried to help. One told me, “He’s always got a joke.”
He died there, not forgotten.
The Coffee Cup by Donna Matthews
The first order of business when arriving at the office is a hot cup of coffee — the fresh, earthy smell of roasted grounds greet my sleepy brain. Years past, often being the first one in, I’d pull out the filters, dump the Folgers, and brew an entire pot. Now, I stand in front of the Keurig, waiting for my single brew to finish. Decades before me, women were not only expected to make the coffee but to fix and hand-deliver to the men of the office. This morning, I stand here, coffee cup in hand, on their shoulders.
Getting the Point by Chris Hewitt
“You forget yourself, sir!” she said, slapping him hard.
He rubbed his cheek, an evil smirk played across his lips. “That’ll cost you.”
“Maybe, but it’ll cost you more,” she taunted.
“You should have said,” he grinned, reaching into his pocket.
She stopped his hand, smiled at him sweetly and pushed him into the chair.
“See, that wasn’t so hard was it.”
“Not at all,” she said, removing the long pin from her hair, long locks cascaded.
Leaning in, she breathed gently on his neck and skilfully jammed the pin precisely into his amygdala.
“You’ll forget yourself,” she whispered.
unremembered by joem18b
I was prospecting in the asteroid belt when I attached to an iron-and-nickle specimen tumbling slowly through space in a throng of its brothers and sisters. When I climbed out to inspect its surface, clomping around in my magnetized boots, I came upon an individual in a spacesuit sitting in a chair bolted down next to a hatch leading into the asteroid’s interior.
“Who are are you?” I asked, using my communicator.
The person looked away from the sparkling void of space, at me.
“I … I don’t remember.”
“Who knows you’re here?” I said.
“Nobody,” he or she said.
Patient Zero by Nobbinmaug
“I’m ready. Who am I killing?”
“He was patient zero.”
“My great-grandfather is responsible for Extraterrestrial Xenotropic Disease? How can you know that?”
“It was his breakthrough that made intergalactic space travel possible. He was on that first mission that brought back E.X.D., causing the Great Plague.”
“If I kill him before his breakthrough, I can stop the plague and the deformities that followed.”
“And the collapse of civilization. You can make humanity Earth’s dominant species again.”
“Will I cease to exist?”
“We may all cease to exist. The world of 1989 could look completely different.”
Freedom by Ruchira
Sammy was standing in the cool breeze with her eyes shut.
Her hair blew across the eyes that she tucked back now and then.
The grass and the leaves were also celebrating this special day by rustling, “Celebrations!” into her ear.
She had a dreamy smile as she took a deep inhalation and smelled the flowers that opened and released their floral scents.
She got the goosebumps as she murmured, “Thanks to my unremembered ancestors who fought for our freedom that I can enjoy this warmth seeping into my skin or else I would be caved somewhere in fear.”
In the Shadows of Time by Bill Engleson
Who do we remember?
What comes to mind
when we think of the lost ones?
Not the main actors on the stage of life.
Perhaps the stagehands?
The lighting technicians?
The audience members far up in the gallery?
Was this the message Ford was getting at?
The Man Who Shot…?
The Confederate General on his marble steed?
Sir John A.?
Our George Washington.
We remember who we see.
We remember the stars.
There are those we forget:
a lost love among many,
a slight fancy,
a memory somewhat out of sync
The Night After Lake Superior Swallowed the Hudson by Charli Mills
“And she rolled over like a lapdog!” First-mate of the Eagle River Life-Saving Station hooted. He slapped Charles on the back, blowing pipe smoke in his face.
Charles coughed; his lungs weak from a bout of pneumonia after attempting to reach a floundering fishing boat last month. “Saw it, I did.” He glowered at their jovial faces and stalked off, rounding the dark corner of the station, nearly colliding with the white-bearded keeper.
“Wreckage will rise, Charles. The teasing will cease. Let them laugh for tonight. It’s the best they can do for those unremembered beneath this cold-hearted sea.”
Scorned by D. Avery
I just stopped. Our arguing raged like the gale winds that pummeled us broadside. How could he? How could he have a fiancé waiting in port? I refused to move unless he forswore that woman. For hadn’t he already chosen a life on the waters? Wasn’t he wed to me?
He had his engineers doing all they could but I refused to respond, for his desperation was to make it to land- to her. No. Let her be unremembered.
High rolling waves consummated our vows. Now every September we celebrate our anniversary. He and I will never be forgotten.
A Life Through A Lens by Keith Burdon
I know that he sees me, but he doesn’t know me, not now, not ever again. His eyes see, his beautiful blue eyes, with that “thing” as he used to call it.
Before I met him, I never knew what coloboma was. He was embarrassed by it. I told him it was the most beautiful thing in the world. That he was the most beautiful thing in the world. In my eyes.
His eyes see but they do not know. I am the person that he sees but now is unremembered. I almost wish my eyes could not see.
Unremembered by FloridaBorne
Somewhere in an unremembered past, lying in a grave without a tombstone, my grandfather’s grandmother becomes part of the soil, her bones all that remain.
I am one percent Native American, one percent Cameroon, and imagine her to be the daughter of an escaped slave that joined a tribe. Did a French trapper in Canada need a wife, choosing a suitable one to wander the forests with him, bear his children, and die alone?
Your grandson spoke not of his mother, and married a wealthy man’s daughter. Your children may not know who you were, but your genes remember.
I Don’t Want an Epitaph by Reena Saxena
“I don’t want an epitaph on my grave.”
“All my life, I’ve felt misunderstood or not understood by family and friends. I prefer being unremembered rather than being mis-remembered.”
“Do you feel your life has been wasted?” My coach instincts are sharpened. There is something in here, which will give a clue to other stated issues.
“Not really. My readers understand me. My work is likely to remain online for some time, and that is my authentic self. An epitaph will not do justice.”
I struggle to frame the next question, as I see the enormity of loneliness.
A Rose Like No Other by Sherri Matthews
‘Look at this…’ Barbara handed the photograph to her son. ‘Remember Rose, our neighbour with the lemon tree, when you were little?
‘I do…nice lady,’ smiled Nick. ‘Still in touch?’
Barbara shook her head and sighed. ‘She was ill, years ago. I wrote but never heard back. I’m not sure she’d remember us now…’
A letter arrived one morning from America. Rose’s daughter, who had tracked Barbara down, to tell her of Rose’s passing.
‘Mom talked of you often, how much she loved your letters even when she couldn’t reply.’
Barbara, like Rose, would remember their friendship forever.
Remembering My Forgotten Man by Jo Hawk
The best pieces were auctioned first. The hammer fell, the winning bidders paid, and scurried home clutching their new, old treasures. I stayed to the bitter end, bidding on lots no one else wanted. My prizes cost me a dollar, and the auctioneer tossed in other unsold items.
At home, I uncovered an antique trove. Pictures of a long-forgotten gentleman. My finger outlined his sepia-toned face, and I wondered about his life. Was he a good man? A brute? A devoted son? A cruel father? Whatever happened, the photos chronicled his lost legacy, unremembered, in my bargain auction finds.
Who, Exactly was Yvette Bouchard by TN Kerr
Yvette accepted the post-coital Cohiba offered by the bearded writer from La Plaza Vieja. He was writing his memoir. She tucked the bed linens around her waist, leaned back against the worn headboard, and told him about France, her life before la Habana. Before coming to Cuba.
He listened carefully as she smoked and wove her tale, “… But Paris was a very old city and we were young and nothing was simple there, not even poverty, nor sudden money, nor the moonlight, nor right and wrong nor the breathing of someone who lay beside you in the moonlight.”
A Case of Big Amy by Annette Rochelle Aben
Magic was in the air, as the blushing bride was dressed for her big day. As Amy’s fingers traced the intricate bead work creating hearts on the bodice of her gown, she closed her eyes as if to make time stand still.
The guests seated in the sanctuary chattered excitedly; soon they would witness the event many thought would never happen. After all, the bride had waited so long to find the right mate!
The man with sad eyes fought tears. He knew he had to speak or forever hold his peace. Legally, she was still married to him.
Never Forget the Soap by Chelsea Owens
“It happened again.”
“The door of the laundry room.”
*Sigh* “It hit me on the way out again.”
“Oh…” “Well…” “It’s just a door.”
“It doesn’t hit me every time.”
“I know! -Look, maybe you’re just jumping to conclusions.”
“Like, you know, that… say, air currents from a different door or whatever sometimes close that one.”
“Never on you.”
“Never on anyone else.”
“And only when I start a load at midnight.”
“Yeah! -wait; why are you starting laundry at -”
“And only when I can also hear whispering…”
Rodeo Shift by D. Avery
“What’sa matter, Kid?”
“Dang it all, Pal, I jist wanted the rodeo ta be somethin’ ‘memberable. But Pepe’s smellavision never caught air. An’ now Ernie an’ Pepe’s laid up so there won’t be any food concessions. Feelin’ bad, Pal. Wish some a these wild ideas could be unremembered. That bean cloud jeopardized the Ranch’s safety.”
“Calm yersef Kid. The Ranch was never in danger. Carrot Ranch’s always a safe place.”
“Even durin’ the rodeo?”
“Yep. Gotta play ta win, but yer a winner fer playin’.”
“I still wanna hep out.”
“See thet shovel?”
“Jist do yer shift, Kid.”
Grit abrades, wears down, even crumbles into quartz sand or the stuff you sprinkle on porcelain to scrub it clean. True grit is a roughness on the inside, a rocky kind of defiance in the face of life’s storms. Grit is determination, resilience, perseverance.
Writers scrubbed words into stories and played with true grit. Like no grain of sand is alike, you’ll find creative variety within this collection.
The following is based on the September 5, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that shows true grit.
PART I (10-minute read)
True Grit by Joanne Fisher
I was at the excavation site. I walked into William’s tent. He was the Chief Geologist of the site. Inside there were various rock samples of different sorts. We were digging into some strata we had never encountered before.
William sat on the chair by his desk. In the palm of his hand there seemed to be some coarse sand he was peering at intently.
“What do you have there?” I asked.
“It’s the grit that all other grit in the world originally comes from.” He informed me.
“You mean it’s the True Grit?”
“Yes.” He replied quite seriously.
True Grit by Sally Cronin
Each year on her late father’s birthday, Molly would watch True Grit, his favourite western. This year she was nine months pregnant and hoping after three boys it might be a girl. Her husband rubbed her ankles, passing her tissues as she wept at the end of the movie. The baby kicked and Molly felt a sharp pain.
‘It’s on the way love.’ She smiled at him. ‘I am going to call the baby Mattie, boy or girl.’
‘Thank God, I thought you were going to say Rooster for a minute.’ Laughing and excited they headed out the door.
Stepping Out by D. Avery
When Dad told us Jimmy’s mom had asked him on a date, Jamie took my bike to her house.
“Is it okay, August?” He was looking at the trunk underneath the tired white shirts in his closet.
I swallowed. “Yeah, Dad. It’s okay.”
Pounding up the stairs, Jamie was back, brandishing brightly colored shirts. Dad protested but seemed glad.
“It’ll be all right.” He smiled then because when Jamie says something you believe it.
Later Jamie told me what he’d said so quietly I hadn’t heard, that he’d whispered this was the hardest thing he’d done in seven years.
This Woman Has True Grit by Susan Zutautas
Let me tell you about a good friend of mine. When she has something, she wants to do she goes out there and does it. Being achievement-oriented with long term goals she’s full of confidence and creativity. No matter what the situation is, good or bad, Charli will fight for what she believes in for herself and others. This gal has moxie and has true grit.
What’s true grit to you
Someone fighting with their might
For you and for me
Courageous as hell
Never giving up or in
Supportive to all
Bobbi Bowen by Faith A. Colburn
In 1937, at fifteen, my mother quit school and went to work singing in a nightclub—to support herself and her parents. For the next seven years, she dodged pinching fingers and groping hands. She traveled the Great Lakes and Eastern Seaboard and got stranded, alone, without a job. For three days, without food or shelter, she hit the streets until she found another, but as soon as the Army started signing women, she joined, then she got an offer for her own radio show that she couldn’t take because she already had a contract with her Uncle Sam.
True Grit (or Determination) by Anita Dawes
Over the years I have noticed
How many members of my family
Grit their teeth when trying hard
To achieve their goal
I tend to do this when getting angry
My teeth grit, my jaws clench
Muscles moving, trying not to let out words
I could not take back
I have seen a young woman
Eyes bulging, teeth gritted
Trying desperately to move her car out of harm’s way
A lot of teeth are getting worn down by determination
I did wonder why no one offered to help
Maybe they worried about their teeth
Do you do the same?
The New Becchino (Part 1) by JulesPaige
Seemed like Ole Ricciardo had a high forehead. He was teaching young Marcell about gravedigging. “You’re early,” he said as Marcell’s long legs seemed to lope towards the open door of his caretaker’s cottage at the far back edge of the large old cemetery. “Takes true grit to do this job. Especially when you’ve got to put someone in an unmarked grave.”
“Get many of them kind,” asked the younger man?
“More than the locals think. Mostly ‘cas they don’t wanna know. Them lives, they lived true. All they got left is me and you now. Soon just you.”
The New Becchino (Part 2) by JulesPaige
Marcell wondered if Ole Ricciardo had always been bald. Or if the job made him lose his hair? With times being tough one took on the apprenticeship of whatever was available. If grave digging was going to be his lot, might as well be the best at it.
Even with the shifting of burial practices, most folks seemed to think that six feet under was earned. The paupers field in his old home town held too many who couldn’t afford fancy boxes. Marcell had gotten used to quiet of such sacred spaces. Especially after having to bury his kin.
The New Becchino (Part 1) by JulesPaige
Ole Ricciardo sized up Marcell. There was a quiet about Marcell that said he had what it took. The young man had true grit. Had to have had it to come from a war torn town that probably wasn’t going to be on future maps. Ricciardo couldn’t imagine how much could be built over unmarked graves.
Ricciardo thought he’d end up an unknown himself. After a lifetime of caring for the dead, especially the unknown… It was time to live in a different light. Maybe some sandy oceanside place where nature’s grit would blend with his own salty tears.
True Grit? by Chelsea Owens
Sand grinds ‘twixt dusty yellers; red-shot eyeballs glint and glare; farm-strong flexes years-old cotton.
“Mmm-breeay!” bawls the milk-hung ma, denyin’ an’ defyin’ all. “Don’tcha touch ma babe; her drink.”
Laughter breaks ‘top wind-bent grass; ‘top cow-pied field; ‘top boy an’ cow. “‘Reckon she’s got best a’ YOU.” Cacklin’ grandpap crows and coughs.
Eyes-bright pride waits, sideline spyin’: apple seed not far from tree. Rope loop lies in glove-sweat hands.
Brain-bright boy drops standoff staring; proffers dusty, gloved-hand oats.
Cow an’ calf come happy, hungry. Dad, an’ dad, shake worn hat heads.
Finish Line by Allison Maruska
I round the second curve for the eighth time. The first to finish crosses the line, his arms raised in triumph. I have four more laps to go.
I slow to a walk, catching my breath and imagining what else I could be doing at 7:30 AM. I wish I had a bagel with blueberry cream cheese.
I slow jog through the next three laps. Time is almost up.
The finish line appears and I sprint, desperate to finish. When I cross, my friends cheer for me. They don’t care that they finished first.
All that matters is we finished.
Determination by Annette Rochelle Aben
“You can do this! Keep breathing.”
The physical therapist was encouraging but firm. Of course, she could do it, in spite of the fact that her body would shake as though it wasn’t as certain.
Every day, she could stand was a victory over the weeks she’d spent in a hospital bed. Every day she could move her feet forward even an inch, she was one step closer to the door.
So, here was the walker. She steeled herself for standing and with one loud, YES, I CAN! she rose and gripped the walker with firm and determined hands.
Jack & Sally by Colleen Chesebro
After the hurricane, Jack, the monarch, fought the constraints of the chrysalis. He struggled, but his foot remained lodged within his birth home. Wings as delicate as tissue paper flashed in the afternoon sun, drying at an odd angle. Jack would never fly.
Sally, the monarch, emerged from the chrysalis drunk with victory. Weak, she staggered and fell to the ground where a fight ensued. She had to break free from the fluid she’d pumped out so her wings would dry. Now, deformed, Sally would never fly.
Despite their handicaps, the pair remain triumphantly alive – vibrant inside the lanai.
On Her Terms by Di @ pensitivity101
She refused to give in to it, to feel sorry for herself and let it take over her life.
Determined to smile, she’d make jokes about losing her hair and chosing a variety a wigs in colours and styles she’d only ever dreamed to try.
She sought out others, raising their spirits, encouraging positivity rather than misery and defeat.
She exuded unbounded energy, forever upbeat, offering a listening ear, hand to hold, or shoulder to cry on.
When her time came, she met it full on, surrounded by friends and family, and died with a smile on her lips.
True Grit by tracey
I stare at the steep path up the canyon wall and breathe deep. “I can do this. One step at a time. Nice and easy,” I tell myself.
“Think about how happy you will be at the top,” I continue with my pep talk. “How many people can say they have hiked rim to rim of the Grand Canyon? You chose to do this. So what if you are 55 years old. You are in shape for this. Eat some granola and keep moving.”
“You okay back there?” the guide yells. “Yup, gritting it out just fine,” I reply.
Diamante (from “Trissente”) by Saifun Hassam
Diamante trekked through the Trissente coast and mountain region. The villagers always welcomed him. Children gathered around him fascinated by his stories and sketches of the world beyond.
When he returned to his village at the coast, he wrote to the Abbott. His hand trembled but he was resolved to remain a teacher, to live in the Trissente region. He did not wish to be a priest.
The Abbott’s reply was terse but wise. Diamante was an excellent teacher. The Trissente villages wanted him to train their own teachers. He would remain a guardian of the ancient Tramonti temple.
A Bucketful of Grit
“Miss, Jimmie’s crying.”
“Thanks for letting me know, Susan,” she smiled through gritted teeth.
What now? Couldn’t she just finish her tea for once? Something trivial, no doubt. Better go see, just in case.
She met a small posse escorting Jimmie across the playground. Their imploring eyes begged her sympathy.
“What’s wrong, Jimmie?”
“I, I —”
“He got grit in his eye, Miss.”
“Let’s see. Ah, yes. Better take him to First Aid.”
The children moved off as one, except George. He turned and held out a bucket.
“You told Jimmie to find some grit. Here ‘tis!”
Teacher Grit by Ritu Bhathal
It’s not easy, teaching.
Sure, the kids are there from 9 to 3ish, but I’m still up at 6 am, at school at 7.30 am or a bit later if my kids drag their heels.
I set up, get the classroom ready to engage the minds of little sponges.
They go, and I’m there past 5 pm, clearing up the messes their enquiring minds created, assessing, planning, preparing for the next day.
Then I go home to be wife and mother.
Don’t mention holidays…
But I love it.
It takes true grit to be a dedicated teacher.
PART II (10-minute read)
Grit Storm by Bill Engleson
Ainsley Bilge tossed and turned throughout the night. Grit! Grit! What the hell was grit? The question not only bedeviled his sleeping hours; it haunted him through the day.
He vaguely remembered Gramp’s telling him about Clara Bow, the IT girl back in the twenties. What the hell was IT? He never knew. She was just a girl. A little too flashy for the times, he supposed.
By the time Gramps related the story, she’d become a crazy recluse.
Her IT Storm drove her bananas.
Was that his future?
He had no idea and remained grit to be tied.
Chin up, Boris! by Anne Goodwin
The game kicks off at Eton, wellspring of uneven playing fields. Tactics tested and perfected in the hallowed halls of Oxbridge, it’s bowled by banking barons to the Palace – Westminster, that is – batted back and forth between the Commons and the Lords. Though dressed in Greek and Latin, there’s nothing classy about the rules. Leave truth behind in the changing rooms, trounce the opposition and lay tripwires for those of your teammates who won’t pledge one hundred percent support. Forget fair play, sell your granny if you have to: winning’s all that matters; true grit will grab the prize.
Another Hit by Yvette
Stirred his tea
Pulled off his hat
Waited for his food
Midst of humdrum
hoping for new normal
Yet in view
To make it through
Sitting tall – rather than slouching
He forced a smile – avoiding grouching
Food set down
Sniffed the crust
“Thank you,” he said,
then chomped his bread
One day at a time…
Hard Knock’s Degree
Last sip of tea
Road Crew by Liz Husebye Hartmann
The road ahead was long, no end in sight. Maybe relief…just over that hill? She couldn’t be sure.
She sighed, squinting into the midday sear, then looked down at the road under her naked feet. The gravel, poured heavy and sharp from the back of the Transportation Department truck glinted maliciously.
Those assholes’d stolen her shoes again, their jeers floating behind as they drove out of sight. Practical jokes were one thing, but with sexism in the mix, was it worth the higher pay?
Bullshit! This was about more than money. Her feet bled as she started to walk.
True Grit by Pete Fanning
George glanced at his fellow soldiers. Most were sleeping, recovering, hocking into spittoons, sprawled and spent against a fallen oak. The 8th New York Cavalry was plum exhausted.
It the quiet after battle where George found it hardest to hold his secret. Here, in the sweltering humidity of Virginia, it was almost easy to melt away.
She’d enlisted searching for freedom. Having escaped, she found a way to disguise herself. It was a plan so crazy it worked. Now, with a sword and rifle, an equal among white men, she’d found she was an excellent soldier.
A Few Good Men by TNKerr
Gunnery Sergeant Michael Paxton kept his head down as he worked his way forward. The fighting had died down somewhat, but the enemy knew he was still there. There was constant gunfire directed toward him, but they mustn’t have known exactly where he was. The rounds weren’t hitting all that close.
That ‘boot,’ Bim was the last man in, but when Paxton found him, it was too late. Undeterred he hefted Pvt. Bim over his shoulder and carried him back to the LZ. Where the quick and the dead waited together, waited for the Hueys; no one left behind.
True Grit by FloridaBorne
“I wasn’t this way when I was twenty,” I told my new therapist.
“What created such anxiety,” She asked.
“My husband might get out of prison soon,” I said, lifting my shirt to show her a scar. “I’m scared he’ll hurt our children.”
“Knife wound?” She asked. I nodded yes. “How old are they?”
“Eight and ten. If he serves his time, they’ll be eighteen and twenty…”
Between heaving sobs, I explained about his upcoming hearing for early release. Good. She was forming tears.
It takes courage to stab yourself with a knife. Anything to keep that parasite away.
True Grit by Jane
They dragged her into the brightly lit interrogation room, struggling and spitting, and forced her down into a chair.
Once they’d read her the standard caution, the words flooded out of her exhausted frame. How she’d put up with his violence for years until she’d finally snapped and decided to kill him. How she’d set up an alibi and learned the patrol patterns at his heavily guarded office so she could slip between them unnoticed, in and out like a ghost.
“And I’d have got away with it too, if it wasn’t for that stupid pebble in my shoe.”
True Grit by Charli Mills
Jose tended cattle while Angelina refried pinto beans, mashing them in the cast-iron with lard and flour. At night he tooled leather to sell at the market, making coin purses and wallets. Nightly she carpooled with three other amigas from the ranch into Paicines where they cleaned the elementary school, using grit to shine the grout on the bathroom floors. When the winter rains returned, the foreman would drive them all south to the border so they could spend three blessed months with family before returning to work the rest of the year. Only now, there was a wall.
Gritty Gray Hope by Jo Hawk
Walking the city streets, I choke on the summer heat as it boils the simmering stench. Gray skies descend, reflecting the hell rising all around me. Everything lays dead or dying, and the devils threaten to consume the little I have left. This is my creation.
Time killed the last honest man. There is no way to wash away the rain. My black hole life ensures I cannot move past this singularity.
A warm wind blows, prying the cold, damp dread from my heart. I grit my teeth, grasp a sliver of hope and dare to reinvent my future.
Miles of Mountain, Miles of Sand by Anne Goodwin
“Go home!” they hissed, when she left the high-rise, dragging a child by each hand. Did her headscarf offend them, or the coffee tint of her skin? Those who were kind were equally confusing, saying, “It takes true grit to survive as you have.” Checking the words in the dictionary in the refugee centre, they clashed with the nightmare in her head.
Miles of mountain, miles of sand, a boat so overladen it was bound to capsize. Robbed of her dollars, fearful of rape, grit was the stone in her shoe that plagued her every step of the way.
Stick to Your Guns by Chris Hewitt
The train pulled away in a cloud of steam. His breath hung heavy in the crisp morning air, he dreaded the walk home. They’d point and shout the usual names, spit on him as he passed and barge him into the gutter. The vicar would turn his back as the children kicked his shins. Every day was the same.
One more mile of hell and he was home. Leant against the closed door, his angry tears fell into another handful of white feathers. Tomorrow he’d do it all again, and the next, but he would not fight their war.
Bunker by The Dark Netizen
It has been four days now.
For four days we have been trapped in this bunker as those dastardly planes bomb our city relentlessly. The torrential explosions in the day are followed by distant detonations in the night. It then that we venture out of the bunker. A group of four or five at a time. We make a run for the storeroom and grab food for those in the bunkers. The devils in the sky think they can make us quit with their rain of hellfire. That won’t happen. We will never give up.
Long live our Fatherland!
Good Boy by Joshua G. J. Insole
During the days they walked, the man and his dog, searching for food, clean water, and shelter for the evening. They also searched for other survivors in the rubble, but were yet to find anything alive.
At night, they hid, and took refuge from the things that stalked the twilight for prey. They slept sporadically, huddled together for warmth.
They shared each other’s food and each other’s company, refusing to surrender that last ounce of hope. They held on to their reminiscences, remembering the good times.
But they could not erase the awful memory of that blooming mushroom cloud.
His Knees by Nobbinmaug
He fell to his knees as a bomb exploded in his chest.
It was P.J.’s school on the news. Sae was dropping her off. She’s not answering her phone.
Again on his knees at the graves. “God, if you’re there, take me too. You can’t take them and leave me.”
Alone in the dark on his knees with the gun to his temple.
“Just fuckin’ do it!”
“She wouldn’t want this.”
“She’s gone. I can’t live without her, without them.”
“You have to.”
“You can’t pull that trigger either.”
“I’m scared. I’m too weak.”
“You’re too strong.”
Bacon Grit by D. Avery
“Up an’ at ‘em Kid. Time ta ride.”
“Yep, agin. Let’s go.”
“I need sustenance. Shorty servin’ breakfast?”
“Ugh. You’ve groat ta be kidding. I need food that’ll give me the strength ta do what’s gotta git done. By the way Pal, what needs ta git done?”
“Dang, Kid, why’m I always havin’ ta wrangle you? Ya need goals fer yersef.”
“My goal is ta have breakfast.”
“Ya need a big goal.”
“A big breakfast then. With bacon.”
“What’s yer long term goal?”
“Ta eat fer a long time. Ya might wanna git started without me, Pal.”
By D. Avery
This past weekend I took time away from my regular work to peddle my written wares under the local author’s tent at the Nantucket Book Fest. This was my first time attending, and I was glad for the opportunity and exposure. If you’re wondering, I didn’t get rich, but I was enriched by the words of some of the visiting authors.
At the opening celebration of the Book Fest, three authors took to the pulpit (literally, it was at the Unitarian Universalist Meeting House) to speak of their motivations. The question posed was, “How can we write when everything’s wrong?”
Ben Fountain asked, “How can we not?” The author of Beautiful Country Burn Again, also said, “I try to understand everything I can,” and spoke of language and writing being a tool for that understanding. Regardless of genre, writers are “the scouts and spies of the human tribe.” Dave Cullen, who wrote Columbine and Parkland, and who “writes because he has to, he writes because he gets to,” reiterated the idea of writers as spies, and told of his vocation, his “being called” to be a “participant observer,” as opposed to objective reporting where a distance is maintained.
Perhaps it was the “human tribe” line that made me think of our tribe here at Buckaroo Nation, where we report back to one another every week after receiving our mission, the prompt. We take up a lens, a spyglass, at times a telescope, at times a kaleidoscope, but we scout out a story and bring it back to the communal fire for sharing. Sometimes we bring back entertainment and sometimes truths, often both.
How can we write, when everything’s wrong? How can we not? The human tribe is a tribe of storytellers. Madeline Miller, author of Circe, reminded us that stories are where there are tears for things and where mortality touches the heart. With her references to the Aeneid a reminder of both the antiquity and the universality of stories, of the constant presence of monsters and dangers and journeys, her closing remarks also brought it back to the fire. “Stories say, ‘I hear you.’ Readers hear, ‘I’m heard, I’m here.’”
This and more I have also heard at the campfire of Carrot Ranch. Writers must write; readers must read. At the Book Fest, the theme continued when Alex Marzano-Lesnevich spoke about their book, The Fact of a Body, a book intriguing to me not for its content, which is grim, but for how they were uncovering one story and discovered their own. The interviewer called the writing “unflinching” and “brave” for the places it goes. Alex admits it might have been easier to have not gone there. But how could they not? Alex suggested that writing is a moral obligation. Their book not only gave the victim of the crime a voice, readers were given a voice, too many readers who had remained silent. Because of Alex’s book, these people felt their story had been told, that they were heard.
As Alex says in the introduction of The Fact of a Body, the book is “my interpretation of the facts, my rendering, my attempt to piece together this story. As such, this is a book about what happened, yes, but it is also about what we do with what happened. It is about a murder, it is about my family, it is about other families whose lives were touched by the murder. But more than that, much more than that, it is about how we understand our lives, the past, and each other. To do this, we all make stories.” The human tribe shares stories.
Sometimes, even in just 99 words, we might, after scouting and spying on pasts and places, on histories, come back with a story that, through the telling and the reading, becomes something more than we knew ourselves. We share in our community; we take communion of story. We might come to understanding or bring understanding through writing, through story making. Our words might make someone else feel heard. And that’s good for the human tribe.
Book Fest was not what I thought it’d be. It was much better than what I thought it would be. Book Fest made me feel like a writer, but not through volume of sales under the tent. True story: A woman whom I had met only the night before when she bought a book, came back to tell me she had just read the first story in After Ever and it made her cry. The story was about her friend she told me, and she was very touched by that. Did I sell a ton of books? I sold enough.
D. Avery lives on an island off the coast of Massachusetts with a husband and a cat. She is a teacher of middle school mathematics. She enjoys kayaking, baking sourdough bread, and reading. She sometimes write. People sometimes read what she writes. ShiftnShake is a place for you to read some of D.’s writing, including her weekly Ranch Yarns.
Raw Literature posts as an ongoing conversation about those first works we create as writers, as literary artists. Guest Authors share personal insights on their craft, its process, the experience of creating raw literature and what they do with it.
Carrot Ranch is a dynamic literary community that creates raw literature weekly in the form of flash fiction (99-word stories). If you have an essay idea, pitch to Charli Mills, Lead Buckaroo, at email@example.com.
We welcome a university student to Raw Literature this week. He’s working on his master’s degree in creative writing and explains how he came to write the following short fiction and why.
The Best Days of Their Lives? by YoungLee Giles
Charlie was sat on the floor with his arms wrapped tightly around his knees. He took a long, slow, inhale but continued to shake like someone who’d just been pulled out of a frozen lake. The girl sat next to him was whispering the lord’s prayer, her words sounded distorted, as if they were coming from the mouth of Charlie Brown’s teacher.
Her prayer was silenced as more gunshots smashed into juvenile innocence trapped outside. Terrified screams ran down the hallway desperately trying to escape the indefensible. There would be no detention for running down the corridor ever again.
‘This morning I told my mum I hated her.’ Luke Noonum the hardest boy in the school covered his face with both hands but his vulnerability had nowhere to hide.
Charlie’s world churned eternal regret. His tears were sincere but too late.
‘The police will come soon.’ Mr Smart head of year ten wasn’t convincing, his words were pale and insignificant.
Charlie looked around the room, a faint glimmer of hope hidden amongst tearful sobs was rapidly fading.
Outside more gunshots violently consumed the void. Charlie could hear the loud thud of broken dreams hitting the floor. A long, spray of automatic gunfire was replaced by a deathly silence and the sound of footsteps approaching. The young girl sat next to Charlie grabbed his hand and squeezed it tight. Her nails dug into his skin. The door to the boiler room started to open and darkness replaced the light.
I wrote my short story in one take, immediately after reading yet another a horrific newspaper article about a school shooting. I started thinking about the children, what would go through their minds? As a child, death is an abstract concept, when a child knows death is imminent, how do they make sense of it?
When I read about a school shooting, it keeps me awake at night and really gets under my skin. I’m left with an array of uncomfortable questions which I can seldom answer. I believe it’s important that we continue to ask ourselves questions, and never become desensitized regardless of how often they happen.
I thought about the child shooter. It’s natural to automatically label him or her evil or someone with mental health issues. To try and neatly tie things ups by saying the killer had mental health issues is just plain lazy. If I were to develop this short story into something more, I’d like to explore the killer’s mind and his background. To humanise the killer would make the story even more chilling.
Many stories that I write are ones that find me, awake me and force me to pick over uncomfortable questions. I want to delve deeply into the subject matter and force the reader to ask themselves their own questions and to achieve an emotional response, to move, unsettle and at times upset. I’d rather tackle a strong, emotive subject like this rather than something straightforward that ends with a happy conclusion.
I’m currently studying for a master’s degree in creative writing at Sheffield Hallam University in England. For this semesters script and novel module, I must come up with an idea for a short script. After writing this story, I developed it into a script for radio drama. In doing this, I was able to give each character a strong identity and some background information on the killer. I’m quite happy with the result and might submit it to the BBC.
Much of my work is of a dark, realistic nature. Some would say I’ve lived an unconventional life. I’ve lived much of it in a darknet type reality, and this has shaped my writing. I lived in Mozambique during the civil war and witnessed many horrific things. I was only 17 years old and my years in Africa had a profound effect on me.
After my African adventure, I bought a one-way ticket to the South of Spain and somehow ended up living with an old hippy (who was also a big hashish dealer) on the island of Ibiza. When I returned to England, I became a part of the acid house generation, dancing in fields and warehouses across the country. I became a drug dealer and fell into an illicit lifestyle and was lucky not to end up in prison. Several years later I moved to London and enrolled at Middlesex University. To support myself, as well as dealing drugs, I put on club nights for students and accidentally became a DJ. I became a fairly successful DJ playing around London and being flown around the world. I worked with fashion designers, putting music to their shows during London fashion week, I was the music director for a French play called Bintoe and produced music under the name Ok_Ma, putting out several releases on different record labels as well as making music for television. I always wrote, but mainly music-based material for music magazines. I worked for a few magazines and somehow became an editor of a small magazine called Ecentral which focused on the area of Shoreditch London, but it didn’t last long as the magazine folded due to financial troubles.
In between my DJing and other activities I wrote a 60-thousand-word novel but trashed it due to my insecurities.
As my DJing continued to take off so did my drug use, I had no idea that I was an addict. To me, an addict was someone on the street stealing to buy their drugs. I lived in a nice house, wore designer clothes and drove a flashy car, but I was no different from the scruffy man panhandling. Inside I was dying. Firstly cocaine then came heroin. After about fifteen years of daily use and trying to keep a respectable face on, my life came crashing down, I lost everything and ended up in rehab. I got clean, relapsed, got clean, relapsed.
Eventually, I ended up in a rehab for 8 months and was able to address many deep issues. Whilst there I wrote a novel about a person who ends up in strange rehab. A publisher read it and wanted to publish, but I’ve now realised it’s not ready so am using it for various university assignments where I can edit and improve.
When I came out of rehab, I enrolled to do a master’s degree in creative writing. After a few months at university, I relapsed once more and ended up in a detox unit which was housed in a mental health ward. In there I wrote every day as it was an extreme place but writing gold. I witnessed many bizarre, violent, scary and strange events and I wrote about every one of them. Luckily, I was able to keep up with my studies, and today I’m clean and working hard at my deadlines. I left school with no qualifications (I went to college to get them), so to be doing a master’s degree is unbelievable.
A chapter of my book is being published in May in a university book called Matter, a collection of creative works from the writer’s of Sheffield Hallam University.
Recently I’ve also found a memory stick containing the first novel I wrote and lots of writing that my father did before he died. He was in the special forces and worked around the world, some jobs were somewhat semi-legal. I’m currently looking at editing his journey from Seoul, Korea to London England in the 50’s as I think I can make it into an interesting story.
If I can stay well, I’m confident that my future can be an interesting one. You can read the first draft of my book here. Also on the link is an audio of my first chapter voice by English actor Terry Burns.
About mid last year, my Mother and I decided we should write the story of her growing up during the Second World War in the small town of Bungay in East Anglia, Britain.
I had listened to my Mother’s childhood stories for my whole life. I thought her tales of chamber pots and an outhouse, food, coal and clothing rationing, icicles inside the scullery windows, washing using a copper tub and a mangle and children being sewn into their vests called stays, were very interesting. The additional overlay of war conditions only added to the excitement as she spoke of buzz bombs that suddenly dropped out of the sky, wreaking devastation on the area below, American soldiers billeted in canvas tents on the common, and the family hiding in bomb shelters during air raids.
I thought my Mother’s story was interesting enough to warrant writing down and I also thought it would be a good way of preserving some of the histories of life in a small English village during WWII and allowing people, especially children, to gain knowledge of the hardships experienced by people living through a war. My rather optimistic reasoning was that if children were made aware of the horrors and hardships of war, they would be more inclined to ensure such a state of affairs never occurs again.
Mother and I embarked on this interesting journey of writing down her history. Initially, I wrote a series of essays based on her different life experiences. These essays were not in any particular order but were written more as she remembered and thought about different events and happenings in her early life. My Mother was only one year old when the war broke out in 1939 and six and a half years old when the war in Europe ended on 8 May 1945. The idea was that we would write the basic information and order and edit it afterward. This process of writing essays took from May until November 2017. Once the basic writing was done, I put the various pieces together and ordered them in a way I thought was appropriate.
We went on holiday for four days after Christmas and my Mother, and I spent a couple of hours a day editing the manuscript and adding pieces of information. It was quite amazing to me how my Mother kept remembering new things as we went through the draft book. The manuscript grew by approximately 3,000 words during those few days. Writing with my Mother was not all plain sailing. She had very exacting ideas about how the story had to be written, and she didn’t want anything that wasn’t “entirely” true included. In other words, it had to be written exactly as it happened and no minor poetic license was to be applied.
At that point, we had a fairly good draft, and I turned my attention to creating the illustrations out of fondant. We had discussed illustrations, and we both thought that keeping to my usual style of fondant figures for the new book was a good idea. We also agreed on the inclusion of a few of our family recipes that were appropriate for the time period and style of the book.
By March 2018 the new book was in a sufficiently good form for me to send it to a few proof-readers/editors. I received good feedback from all three, but Charli gave me two great pieces of advice.
The first was to include dialogue in the manuscript. Strangely, I had included very little dialogue. I am used to writing non-fiction publications on investment in Africa which don’t need to include any “warmer” tones. My Mother had said she thought I needed to make it “warmer” but she wasn’t able to explain what she thought I should do so when Charli mentioned including dialogue I understood what she meant immediately.
The other great idea Charli gave me was to include a timeline of the events of WWII as they pertained to Britain and to overlay my Mother’s childhood over this timeline. This was a stroke of genius as far as I was concerned. I created a detailed timeline, and this led to my including all sorts of additional titbits of historical information. As the advice came from an editor, my Mother was then willing to accept a bit of poetic license so long as I didn’t stray too far from the facts. An editor, of course, must know far more about book writing than me. Letting an older sibling do something which she had done when she was older but which fitted nicely in at a certain point in the story became acceptable.
We are now nearly at the end of the re-write and editing which has actually resulted in me revising most of the original ordering of the book, and I am very happy with it. We are hoping to finalize the manuscript for a final proofing by the end of May.
It has been a wonderful journey of discovery with my Mother, and I have enjoyed it so much we are talking about writing another two books to cover the next two phases of her life. The gradual changes that took place in England after the war and her decision to come out to South Africa.
Robbie Cheadle was born in London in the United Kingdom. Her father died when she was three months old, and her mother immigrated to South Africa with her tiny baby girl. Robbie has lived in Johannesburg, George and Cape Town in South Africa and attended fourteen different schools. This gave her lots of opportunities to meet new people and learn lots of social skills as she was frequently “the new girl.”
Robbie is a qualified Chartered Accountant and specialises in corporate finance with a specific interest in listed entities and stock markets. Robbie has written a number of publications on listing equities and debt instruments in Africa and foreign direct investment into Africa.
Robbie is married to Terence Cheadle, and they have two lovely boys, Gregory and Michael. Michael (aged 11) is the co-author of the Sir Chocolate series of books and attends school in Johannesburg. Gregory (aged 14) is an avid reader and assists Robbie and Michael with filming and editing their YouTube videos and editing their books. Robbie is also the author of the new Silly Willy series the first of which, Silly Willy goes to Cape Town, will be available in early July 2017.
Raw Literature is an ongoing conversation about those first works we create as writers, as literary artists. Guest Authors share personal insights on their craft, its process, the experience of creating raw literature and what they do with it. Carrot Ranch is a dynamic literary community that creates raw literature weekly in the form of flash fiction (99 word stories). If you have an essay idea, pitch to Charli Mills, Lead Buckaroo, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The well has gone dry, writers! We’ve had a terrific run of guest writers who have explored and shared their creative projects and processes through the Raw Literature series at Carrot Ranch. I’m not convinced we’ve run out of creativity to share because the well is deep and we just need to go further.
If you want to catch up on our 2018 series, be sure to bookmark these terrific Raw Literature Guest Essays:
- Raw Literature: Art is the Active Expression of Our Creative Skills by Kate Spencer
- Raw Literature: Riding the Range by D. Avery
- Raw Literature: Me, Too: Sexual Harassment Before It Had a Name by Paula Moyer
- Raw Literature: Seeking the Well by Charli Mills
- Raw Literature: A Writer’s Journey by Rachel Hanson
- Raw Literature: Meet My Other Half by Juliet Nubel
- Raw Literature: Write a New Ending by Cheryl Oreglia
- Raw Literature: Asperger’s, Voice and the Search for Identity by Sherri Matthews
- Raw Literature: The Power of Words by Hugh Roberts
- Raw Literature: Support System by Susan Sleggs
- Raw Literature: Exploring a New Structure by Faith Colburn
Carrot Ranch offers several options for Guest Posts. They publish on Tuesdays and will run until September. That’s when we start preparing for the Flash Fiction Rodeo. You might want to write a guest post for several reasons:
- To build your writing portfolio.
- To expand your writing platform.
- To bring visibility to a book you or another community writer has published.
- To try your hand at an advanced creative writing prompt.
- To get better acquainted with the community at Carrot Ranch.
If you are interested, I’m signing up guest writers for the following:
Raw Literature explores the creative process and early creations in writing. The series is an ongoing conversation about those first works we create as writers, as literary artists. Guest Authors share personal insights on their craft, process, the experience of creating raw literature and what they do with it.
Platform shares successful marketing tactics for authors or bloggers. Carrot Ranch upholds that every writer’s platform is different according to how it’s built from the basic bricks that include branding, credibility, community, and target audience. This series examines how to use a platform for marketing books or developed content.
New! Peer Book Review is intended to grant space to regular writers and readers of Carrot Ranch to share the books of others in the community. Many of the Rough Writers & Friends are authors, and you can find a variety of good reads on the Books page. Reviews are the best way to support authors, and this series seeks to encourage peers to offer thoughtful book reviews.
In addition to guest essays, Carrot Ranch challenges literary writers to push their craft with Advanced Flash Fiction. If you are interested, you can take these advanced challenges at any time. Post on your blog and link back to Carrot Ranch or submit as a potential guest post.
6th Sense Challenge reminds writers to explore the world with more than the eyes. Writers create visual images for readers through all five senses of sight, sound, scent, touch, and taste. This challenge is to write the same 99-word story five times using one of the five senses. In the final sixth story of 99 words, create a sixth overall sense that combines the best of the sensory elements.
History Challenge encourages writers to dig into the past to find forgotten stories. Possible places to look include one’s own family tree, vital records, scrapbooks, school yearbooks, archived newspapers, town histories, local cemeteries and old house records. The idea is to start with a name and date of a person’s lifespan. Using local libraries, museum reading rooms, state archives or online sources, piece together vital facts and imagine a story. It can be told in one, three or five flash fictions of 99 words each.
Ultimate Flash Fiction Challenge imitates the five steps of writing a book. It’s a progressive, five flash writing activity. Your own results will surprise you and improve your approach to book writing. This advanced challenge welcomes all writers, especially those who write books or want to better understand how.
It’s a five-step process:
- Free write for five minutes;
- Write a 99-word flash fiction;
- Reduce it to a 59-word flash fiction;
- Reduce it to 9-words;
- Build it back up to 599 words in three-acts.
You can submit a post, essay or story to email@example.com.
That was always the plan anyway, from the young age of seven when my school notebooks were filled with funny anecdotes and badly drawn three-legged dogs. The aim to amuse continued to sweep through my long teenage letters scrawled to friends, describing trips and tribulations during the badly-permed eighties. And it has always been the undercurrent at my blog OMG I’m fifty! — a purely self-indulgent, observational space which I like to describe as a mishmash of moments in the life of a very ordinary fifty-ish wife, mother, daughter, sister, and wannabe writer. Most of those moments have made me laugh in some way or other and have hopefully got a snigger or three from readers along the way. And really that was my only goal. Nothing more, nothing less. A simple need to make people laugh in this big, grey, ugly world ruled by outstandingly strange, angry and ugly people.
But that was then. What happened in October 2017 has somewhat changed that plan. That was when I seriously bumped into Sarah Brentyn. We had already rubbed shoulders at her blogs Lemon Shark and Lemon Shark Reef and I am a great admirer of her style and tone. But this time she was asking for help. How could I refuse? So I wrote a piece, only fifty words long, to help victims of the hurricanes which had just swept through the Caribbean. Sarah had offered to put forward one dollar for every piece she received, and although this type of writing was extremely far-removed from what I normally do, I accepted and posted this on my site:
Her face in my lap was the colour of ash. Pain-darkened eyes pleaded with mine.
“Will they be able to fix it quickly?”
“Of course they will”, I lied. “They’re on their way.”
My eyes smiled down at hers, carefully avoiding looking at the tiny arm, broken in two.
The process was hard. Fifty words is nothing. How could I create any kind of emotion in so few syllables? So I cut and cut until I was pleased with my tiny little flash. Based on a real moment spent with a young girl who had just fallen from her pony, I wanted to convey the worry and pain she was feeling and my forced, fake optimism that everything would be just fine. What I didn’t know then was that it would be the first of many flashes. That the little flash bug had just bitten me, slipped under my skin and would make me scratch and scratch at its itchy presence for the weeks and months to come.
She slipped out of her school uniform and into the scorching bath. The heat turned her pale skin a bright shade of pink which would have been unbearable a few months earlier. Now she needed that hot water running over her body. It helped the ache in her breasts. But it did nothing to relieve the throbbing pain in her empty heart and abdomen. And even less to remove the dark brown line running from her navel to her pubis – the mark of her mistake, which she scrubbed daily, hard and fast, without success. She was branded for life.
His tongue made its way down that fine brown line to reach more interesting parts of her naked body. Had he never noticed it or perhaps just never mentioned it? As his face came back to hers, he whispered the words he’d been saying for the last five years.
“Let’s keep trying.”
He wanted this more than anything. She did too. But how could she tell him that maybe she had only had the one chance? That any hope of a second chance had been thrown away the day she had given away her baby, all those years ago.
Where that piece came from is a mystery to me. It took me to places in my story-telling brain that had never been entered before. Painful places — sheer, rocky-edged cliffs I had to ascend; long, low, winding tunnels I had to crawl along on my naked belly to rip the right words from the deepest recesses of dripping caves. I was right there with that young girl scrubbing at her scar in the scorching bath. And I think the judge who picked me, Angie Oakley, knew that I was there too. Next came a sharp, murderous piece for Sherri Matthews’ prompt, and a very TUFF father-son story for the finale. They all took me to a level of writing I had never experienced before. The shift in style was perturbing, surprising, but exciting too.
When the Rodeo was over, I immediately started following Charli’s weekly challenges, Thursday now becoming my favourite day of the week. As soon as the post and the prompt have been read, I start thinking. Sometimes inspiration comes fast, sometimes I mull. But I haven’t missed a single one since November and probably never will. I am addicted to the effort they demand and the pleasure they procure. And the feedback from the other writers is a precious gift.
But I rarely share these little stories on my own blog. Why? I’m having trouble trying to explain it, even to myself. Maybe because some of them are so unlike the chatty, bubbly persona I like to portray there. Am I afraid of strange looks from family and friends who do not see me as this type of writer? Or do I hold onto a firm denial of the fact that I don’t always have to be funny or smart-arsed or droll? That I can have another side to my writing which may be bleak and sad, or shocking and odd. That there is a distinct, imaginative part of me which I have always refused to acknowledge and possibly even accept.
But whatever it is that has been holding me back is beginning to ebb away. I am starting to realise that I can be made up of two distinct halves. That writing is much more than just black or white, it is a multi-faceted occupation which allows us to shine through many different keyholes. That I can allow myself to start working on a collection of short tales which spring from dark inner places, and at the same time dream of finally finishing my comical book about my miraculously long marriage. The two are wildly different yet ultimately they are compatible. Why choose just one half when the other is well and truly present?
So if we ever have the pleasure of meeting, and you care to ask me “Will the real Juliet Nubel, please stand up?” both halves of my writing-self will slowly rise, merge into one, and firmly shake your hand. There may be a cheeky sparkle in my eye, but if you look deeper, you will see that the glint comes from a roughly hewn block of granite. The one where I sharpen my penknife each week at the Ranch.
About Juliet Nubel
Juliet is the author of the blog omgimfifty.com She was born and bred in Glasgow, Scotland then studied social anthropology (don’t ask) at St Andrews University, long before Will and Kate had even heard of the place. Love brought her to France then took her to Miami and Barbados for three years before bringing her ‘home’ to Angers, a beautiful French city where she now lives with Hubby and their two daughters. She works full time in an English language school but for the rest and best part of her time, she can be found writing on her pet iPad in their favourite leather armchair. She uses blogging, and more recently flash fiction, as her training ground for that book she keeps planning on finishing. She is also a regular contributor to the British website fabafterfifty.co.uk under her maiden name Juliet Young.
Raw Literature posts as an ongoing conversation about those first works we create as writers, as literary artists. Guest Authors share personal insights on their craft, its process, the experience of creating raw literature and what they do with it. Carrot Ranch is a dynamic literary community that creates raw literature weekly in the form of flash fiction (99-word stories). If you have an essay idea, pitch to Charli Mills, Lead Buckaroo, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’ve had the pleasure of writing a few 99-word flash-fiction pieces for The Ranch over the last year or so and I was SO FLIPPIN’ EXCITED when Charli asked if I would consider writing something just a little longer about my journey to start a page on Patreon.
Those of us who are creators know that writing something amazing that is helpful, moving, and engaging takes a lot of time and energy. Even something that we might finish in a few minutes (lookin’ at you, 99-word flash-fiction) can take a pretty big emotional toll. In the years I’ve been writing I’ve had the opportunity to come to this realization on my own. As a teenager writing on Open Diary, engaging on MySpace, starting a WordPress blog, writing and publishing a short story, being called a monster on Facebook, and sharing my words in far reaches of the internet I’ve learned the importance of self-care. Giving myself distance, actively not engaging because I can’t take the toll, things we all do to ultimately be the best creators we can be.
After years of baring my soul and working to minimize the consequences, I decided to start writing on SteemIt. SteemIt rewards quality content creation and community building through cryptocurrency (Steem Dollars, similar to Bitcoin). I thought this could be a way to recognize that there is an economic benefit to creating quality content and helping to create a more compassionate world. Although I am still on SteemIt, I continue to run into the problem of engaging. I am delighted to do it, but with limited time it can be a legitimate struggle. I don’t do as well as I would like.
Shortly after joining SteemIt and writing there, I had the opportunity to attend a BossedUp Bootcamp (BUBC), where one of the seminars was about negotiating your salary. The incomparable Kathlyn Hart talked about how scary it can be to negotiate your salary but that women, who are socialized to not be too pushy, actually end up missing out on over 1 million dollars throughout their life. Not asking for what we deserve is really hurting us! I came back from BUBC with a renewed desire to negotiate for myself, not just money but also for more control over my time. I knew I could do it. What’s more, I knew I had to do it. For myself, for my daughters, and for my husband.
I have to admit that at first all my firepower was geared toward my 9-5 day job as a higher education professional. I have the experience and was confident I could land a better paying job. After a few didn’t pan out (although one is about to pan out – visit me at rachelahanson.blog for details soon!) I realized that other people make real money writing. I love to write, I love connecting on the page, and I was already busting my butt to create amazing content. After a lot of thought, talking to friends who use Patreon (Justin Grays was a big influencer) and doing a super-scientific Twitter poll that seven people participated in I decided that Patreon was the way to go. I’ve only been at it for a few weeks (a natural born marketer, I am not) but I’ve found the experience to be truly delightful and it gives me hope that as my message grows, so will my patrons.
*Full disclosure: Charli is one of my patrons, as are my parents, and my best friend Cheyenne.
Rachel Hanson’s work has appeared on Levo, Open Thought Vortex, and The Relationship Blogger where she talks about the challenges of being a working professional and a parent, family traditions, and developing a strong marriage when through the very real struggle of having young children. You can also learn more about Rachel’s professional experience by visiting her LinkedIn profile.
Raw Literature posts as an ongoing conversation about those first works we create as writers, as literary artists. Guest Authors share personal insights on their craft, its process, the experience of creating raw literature and what they do with it. Carrot Ranch is a dynamic literary community that creates raw literature weekly in the form of flash fiction (99-word stories). If you have an essay idea, pitch to Charli Mills, Lead Buckaroo, at email@example.com.