Keep Swinging the Axe

First things first: it bugs me to no end that often times spellcheck will give the little red squiggle to “axe” if you spell it with an ‘e’ at the end, but “ax” is perfectly fine even though “axe” is already perfectly fine.

Whatever.

That was stupid.

What’s up everybody?

I’m not sure what reminded me the other day of the following story, but I’m glad whatever it was did. Back in 2016 was when I tried submitting my first-ever piece of fiction to an outlet. I didn’t know how to format it, hadn’t really tried writing like that ever before, never tried researching a market before, or had any practice addressing editors – I just went for it. You know who the outlet was?

Tor.

For the uninitiated – they’re big; at the very least much, much, much, MUCH bigger than a kid trying his first EVER tale had right to reach for. But they were cool, polite, and cordial when they dutifully rejected the piece I rushed to compile for their submission window.

But I thought that was how you did it. I thought you went for the big fish. Adjusting my approach (still incorrectly), I then thought it was about thoroughly researching a market, tooling a piece of fiction tailored to them specifically, and spending months finely polishing it for them before perfectly and carefully crafting the impeccable cover letter to whet their appetite for the fruits of your labor; like a sniper lining up for a half-mile bullseye: check the wind, curvature, your breathing, your trigger discipline, time it between beats of your heart.

Turns out, a better approach is a lot more like laying down on the trigger of an uzi. Spray and pray, til you’re empty, reload, rinse, repeat. Tenaciously.

There’s a publisher called DreamForge that’s pretty great, and on their site they have an essay that attempts to outline why a story submitted to them might be rejected. And the answer in a nutshell is thus: any of a million reasons.

It could be that they find it poorly written; could be too many typos; could be they didn’t understand it; could be they didn’t care for the expression of the stated genre; could be they find it doesn’t fit their project’s theme tightly enough; could be word count conflicts with their budget; or it could be that it’s well written, but the editor wasn’t quite in the mood the day they read yours; or they love your story about kickass ninja vampires fighting ogre assassins on the moon, but they just happened to read and accept another story in their stack about kickass ninja vampires fighting ogre assassins on the moon right before finding yours.

The point is that it’s sort of a lottery, if you’re an independent writer starting out. Making sure your work is well-written, cleanly done, strong in concept, and appropriate for the market you’re submitting it to are all the right ways to increase your chances, but in the end you’re still competing with an unknown amount of other writers, of unknown quality, against unknown standards and tastes – a gamble.

Captain Picard said it best:

It is possible to commit no errors and still lose ... " ~ Captain ...

This tortuously long preamble brings us to a few summers ago in 2018. I was working in an optics lab at the time, preparing to leave that job for a writing sabbatical. I was feeling burnt out, tired of my day-to-day, and wanted to embrace the daydreams I kept cooking up. The budget I wrote up figured I had about a year to do that before reality would come calling. (Reality would catch up way quicker than that, and I’d find myself caring for my ailing mother two weeks after leaving my job – but we’ve talked about that life-asteroid to death already.)

About a month before leaving my job, Mandy and I were at a friend’s birthday party. Also present was a young woman we’ll call Delilah. Before I say anything moving forward, I want it clearer than crystal that I’ve nothing but fondness, respect, and best wishes for her, for reasons we’ll lay out here and in great part for the lesson my encounters with her taught me.

Turned out, Delilah was also going into writing freelance at about the same time, or had started about a month or so before. She talked about how (I believe I’m getting this right) she was a housewife at the time, and wanted to pursue it while she had the time. She went to an event or workshop of some sort down in San Francisco, delivered a stand-up set she’d prepared, met an editor, and snagged a gig for a that outlet.

On the one hand, easy-peasy; two weeks into freelance writing and you’ve bagged a job and a contact. On the other, it takes guts and no lack of panache to do what she did.

So she shares this with us and while the group dissolves a little into its various chat circles, I overhear Mandy and Delilah talking. Mandy’s sharing that I had an intent to pursue something similar, and Delilah’s asking questions. I’d wandered away, but was told later than Delilah’s response was more or less: “Oh…that’s his plan? I wouldn’t, if I were him.”

Even though it was just birthday party hearsay, probably said off-hand, it was a little dismissive remark that stuck with me. It bit me with this sort of stinking moral superiority that would gnaw at me for months later. The first five months of my sabbatical were literally nothing but hardship and rejection; and every time, I would think of Delilah’s quick-won success and her “I wouldn’t if I were him,” remark.

And every time, I would close my eyes, tell myself to shut up, and get back to it. I didn’t have a network, hadn’t made contacts, was learning through trial and error, had a lot outside of writing work on my plate, but dammit I would make it work out.

Then, luck struck, and I had my first story picked up. Shortly thereafter, lightning struck twice and I had a second acceptance, which came with being an interview on the podcast where the story aired (as well as a follow-up appearance later to talk movies). And since, I have had three more fiction sales, some traction in fiction contests, and been fortunate enough to work for a few local papers and magazines. It’s been hard-won, organic, independent, and with large amounts of tenacity and dumb luck.

A year after that party, the birthday boy had another (as is usually the case with birthdays), and we bumped into Delilah again. We caught up around a little campfire circle and naturally were each asked about how well writing was going. Delilah recounted how it was going well, but [paraphrasing] “her editor had relocated to a different outlet and gone radio silent, so that was dead now and a bummer; and while she was going to produce a podcast with a partner, said partner was being a c*** and so hadn’t come to fruition yet.”

When the question came to me, the host of the party (birthday boy’s wife) did me one of the greatest compliments/blessings I’ve received in my life.

“And you were going to be a writer too, right?” came Delilah’s question. And the host interjected with, “He’s been published, in fact,” then motioned for me to explain.

Doing me that honor, saving me that modesty, and acknowledging that achievement all in one swoop has been, to date, one of the deftest moves in etiquette I’ve witnessed in person; and I was thrilled to be its subject.

I did my best to continue that modesty through my explanation, but I’m sure some pride leaked through. I give myself a pass, though, because the truth is I was proud of it, and especially in that moment I felt vindicated. The slow, steady, organic grind of failed attempt after failed attempt after failed attempt finally becoming a small success triumphing over – at least as was the way my mind viewed it – over the model of quick but fleeting satisfaction…felt great.

But in that was also a lesson. And the markets and guidelines I’ve seen all point to an average acceptance rate of somewhere in the neighborhood of 2-3%; but usually it can be more like 1%. That means, if you do everything right, you can hope for or expect one success for every one hundred attempts.

So, try one hundred times. And after that, try a hundred more. So on and so forth until you can begin to count your successes. And be okay with them being small, they’ll get bigger.

At least, this is what I tell myself. But I will say that the math checks out.

My plan was to join the California Writers’ Club after my third independent fiction sale, and while I still plan on it because I’m eager to see what opportunities that might afford, the struggle of the independent author has been one I’ve come to enjoy the fruits of.

Ah, I just remembered what kicked this all off, actually. The other day, I was looking on my body of work (which feels hilarious to say, given how tiny it is) and feeling unsatisfied where I used to feel proud. And so mentally running back through the journey of the past couple of years was a good chance to review, take stock, and realize the accomplishment it is; especially as any beginning writer would likely agree, five months is actually a startlingly turnaround for one’s first printing. So I recognize the element of luck in this experience.

In the end, the message doesn’t really change. Help or not, friends or not, network or not: keep swinging the axe, keep trying.

Hasta.

Watch the Time go By

Life is funny.

One minute, you’re writing a poem for your crush in the fourth grade, and the next, you’re thinking back on the decade since you last saw them, quietly browsing through their life on Facebook, wishing them well.

One minute, you’re a ten-year-old kid opening their bright blue lunchbox on the first day of fifth grade, and the next, you looking at that same, now-gray and weathered lunchbox while you’re twenty-six, emptying the pantry to move your mother out of her home.

One minute, you’re just a bunch of teenagers. Pot smoke, skateboard bruises, burgers, and savory high school politics, and the next, you’ve just come home from work, maybe you have plans with your colleagues maybe you don’t, and you’re reminiscing on those times you hadn’t thought would end.

Maybe you think of the cousin you’ve grown up with. Think of the man or woman they’ve become, then think back to the child you grew up alongside and realize that somewhere in the middle one became the other.

Somewhere in all those memories is the splendor of watching a huge web roll out (because “unfurl” would sound a bit pretentious here) like a gigantic road map of lives, seeing where the kids we knew somehow became the adults we know (or don’t, anymore).

“It is possible to make no mistakes and still lose. This is not a weakness. This is life.” – Captain Picard

Moments like this, where we zoom out for a second, realize we’re twenty-six now, and we get to see how far we’ve come and how far we still get to go (if we play our cards right).

We knew kids…that became adults and then died.

We knew kids that didn’t make it that far.

We’ve probably seen friends accomplish really cool things.

And known others that have spun out.

Maybe we’ve fallen away from people who we were really close to.

But then again, met new people we’re glad to know now.

Nihil nove sub sole – “There is nothing new under the Sun.”

None of this is meant to be some epiphany or great revelation, some wisdom I’ve found that I’m sharing to waiting ears. This has all been figured out before and gets figured out all the time. It’s more like a moment in a reaaally good meal – just taking a second to savor what you’ve got. It’s a way to harness the good times, to get more out of them. We tell ourselves to do it all the time with struggles. “When times get hard, just think about how strong you’ll be on the other side.” Same thinking here. If you don’t take a moment here and there to examine the life you’ve had and the one you’ve got, how can you ever be sure of what’s important?

Pain sucks, but it’s part of the human experience, and thus can be a pleasure.

Loss sucks, but its memory can be used to make warmth.

Regret sucks hard, but its lesson is a real straight road to wisdom and experience.

A long time ago, a farmer would walk to a far away well for water. He had a yoke on his back which held a bucket at either end. He would fill the buckets and carry the water home. Well, after the years, one bucket became weathered and cracked, unable to hold water with its leak. “I’m sorry,” said the bucket. “I’m old now and cannot work like I used to.”
“Not to worry,” replied the farmer. “When next we gather water, look to your side of the path.”
When next the farmer gathered water, the bucket saw that its side of the path was covered in fresh flowers, watered from its own leak.
“I planted seeds,” the farmer explained. “You see, as we grow older and acquire new qualities, they may all be turned to good advantage.”

Love hard, take care of yourselves.

A Scene from my Phone

Hiram looked over his shoulder.

The rain was thick, falling in sheets and pelting the edges of his hood, but he saw a figure standing in the distance. It stood on the road, slumped but not seeming to mind the downpour or mud. It wore a cloak of reeds draped over massive shoulders, a dark cowl, and a mask over its face with shadows obscuring the eyes.

Hiram looked back to his companions, to tell them of the strange figure on the road, but they had walked far ahead of him, too eager to leave the rain to idle as he had. He looked back and saw the figure, while while it remained still, was now much closer than before. Here, he could see the thing’s shoulders heaving with the rhythmic breath which froze in large clouds beneath its mask. The head slowly lurched, revealing two hollow, ghostly white rings in place of eyes.

Feeling for the hilt of his sword, Hiram wanted to posture, to shout at the figure in the road and drive it away. He was thinking of what he might say when the figure began to change. The shoulders quickly ratted and grew, the skirt of the cloak lifted as black, spidery legs worked their way out into the mud. Hiram watched arms the weight, depth, and speed of shadow shot along the sides of the road, and the creature flew at him. Hiram drew his sword and shouted.

But another sheet of rain fell and erased the figure from sight like a blemish of dust wiped clean from glass.

Hiram spun around on the spot, to see where the thing had gone, fruitlessly. He was alone.

END

What the Gosh-Dingle-Damn?!

Won’t lie, y’all, forgot what day it was. That goes for yesterday, too – which is why this is late. ALSO, I’m writing this from a potato pretending to be a phone, with a keyboard that doesn’t have a Return key. So in that spirit, today, I’m going to pose a question that we’re going to answer tomorrow: What was going through the mind of the guy who discovered cheese? (Scheduled post subject to change based on the author’s whimsy.)

Time is all we Have

Happy Wednesday, e’erybody!

(For those of you that have been following this chain of posts, please take this as my sincere half-promise that this is the [likely] second-to-last blast this story will get. But the response has been pretty nice and, again, this one meant a lot. So we’ll cheers to it once more as I fan the hammer on it, then onto another of my more recent favorites.)
(If you’re new: Weeeeeee! Glad you’ve joined us!)

Without further adieu…

Fifteen Years

Rachel watched from her perch while Eddie got her son into his wet suit. The breeze salted her cheeks and she quietly hummed a tune in rhythm with the waves. He had been so good with Wesley since losing his dad the year before. There was a period of adjustment, to be sure, but she had been so much happier after he’d moved in. “Thanks again for doing this,” she said as Eddie approached and gave him a kiss.

“Hey, no problem,” he laughed, his Hawaiian accent sweetening the smile that came with it. “Besides, I have to show him those trophies ain’t fake. What better way than to get him out here with me?”

“Still, you didn’t have to. Hey, Wes,” she called over Eddie’s shoulder. “Be careful, honey. Wait for Eddie to go out there with you, okay?” The boy looked over and gave a halfhearted smile, but stayed standing with his feet in the tide. Eddie gently brushed her sandy-blonde hair with his hand.

“He’s gonna be fine, okay? I’ll keep him close.”

“I know. I just worry.”

“You worry too much.”

“Maybe,” Rachel sighed. “I don’t know. It’s just been really hard on him. He was doing so well in school, helping around the house, he even got his purple belt, and then it’s like he just let it all fall apart on purpose.”

Eddie raised a timorous eyebrow. “You think it has to do with me?”

She was quiet for a beat before saying with a smile, “It’s okay. Kids are kids, after all.” She kissed him again before breaking away suddenly. “Wes? Wesley!” she screamed.

Eddie spun around to see the ten-year-old boy walk slowly out into the waves and get pulled down by the undertow.

***

After they checked him out of the hospital, Wesley’s mom wanted to take him to see a therapist that afternoon. It was Eddie who suggested they come home first to let things settle. So they called his school and Wes had spent the last two days mostly in his room. He lied in his bed, staring up at the popcorn of his ceiling and listening to the adults in the hallway outside.

“Let me try and talk to him,” came Eddie’s muffled voice.

“Listen, honey, I love you and I know you want to help, but he doesn’t need to talk to you. Not right now. He needs a psychiatrist.”

“Probably, sure. Just let me try first. He’s been stone-quiet ever since he got back. If he shoos me away, then what’s the harm?” It was quiet for a bit after that, but there came a soft knock at the door about a minute later and Eddie stepped through. “Hey Champ, mind if I come in?”

Wesley didn’t say anything at first, but just sat up against the wall. He folded his arms around his knees and hid his chin behind them. “Sure.”

Eddie closed the door behind him and sat at the edge of Wes’s bed with his hands folded. “So,” he began slowly, “you weren’t too keen on surfing, hmm?” Wesley replied with a chuckle but didn’t say anything. Eddie gave him a minute and then continued. “You know, you really scared your mom and me.”

“I know,” said Wes, with more a tone of irritation than guilt. “You don’t have to tell me that. I know.”

“Hmm, sure, sure. Then you know what I’m gonna ask next then, yeah?”

“Probably.”

“Well, why’d you do it?”

Staring into the covers of his bed, Wesley was quiet and contemplative. Eventually, he lifted his head and looked out the window at the clouds. Heavy tears welled up in his eyes before breaking and rolling down his cheeks. “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”

“Hey bud, I’m hear to talk, but I’m mostly here to listen. I’ll believe you, whatever it is.”

“You say that,” Wesley laughed between the tears. He wiped his eyes and saw the sincere look on Eddie’s face. “Alright,” he said and sighed. “What if I told you that I wasn’t ten years old?”

“Okay.” Eddie held a waiting pause. “What would you say you are, then?”

“I’m twenty-five.” Eddie couldn’t hide his reaction, despite his efforts, and gave a suppressed, coughed chuckle into his fist. “Yeah,” Wes continued, “get it out of your system.”

“No, no. I’m sorry. Just, you’re going to have to explain this one to me.”

“I’m not really sure where to start.”

“Okay. How about with how, if you’re that old, you came to be a…a little brah…again?”

“Because,” Wesley sighed, “because I wished for it. I was going through a real tough time and made a stupid, fleeting wish. And it worked.”

Eddie took a deep breath and leaned back on his hands. “Wow,” he said. “You know, if I could go back in time, I’d probably play-”

“The lottery?” Wes interrupted. “Yeah, I talked to people at work before all this happened and that’s what most people said, too. Listen, I get that you don’t really believe me and you just think you’re playing along, alright? But trust me that it’s way more complicated than that.”

“Okay,” Eddie agreed, nodding his head. “Then walk me through it and how that leads to what happened on Saturday.”

Wesley tossed his hands up. “What does it matter? I’m mostly just telling you any of this because it feels nice to finally let out. Besides, no one will believe you and I can’t get back anymore, anyway.”

“Why’s that?”

Wes groaned into his knees. “Because I lost my lucky coin.”

“That old one your grandpa got you for your birthday?”

“Yeah, I kept it in my wallet but it’s been missing for a week. It’s what I made the wish with to get here. I was going to use it to get back, but now I’m stuck.” Eddie made a puzzled look on his face that annoyed Wes. “What?” he asked.

“No, sorry. It’s nothing.” Eddie smiled at the boy and shook the thought away. “Come on, you were saying?”

It took several minutes of tug-of-war with Wesley before he opened up, but eventually he started explaining.

“It’s not that simple. ‘Play the lottery’, ‘stop crime’, ‘graduate early’. Everyone has a plan they think will work out. Firstly, I never played the lottery, and if I did, I don’t remember people’s phone numbers, let alone the Super Jackpot from fifteen years ago. Secondly, stop crime? If I have to remind you, I have the authority of a ten-year-old. Even if I did start telling the cops about a robbery, vandalism, or arson I knew would happen, that doesn’t turn me into kid-friggin’-detective. They’ll rightly assume I heard it somewhere and either dismiss it or it’ll implicate the adults around me. And fly through school? Okay, assume I do that. I ace every single spelling test and math quiz until I graduate high school at fourteen. I don’t want that.”

“Really?” said Eddie, wide-eyed. “Why not?”

“Because,” said Wesley, standing up forcibly from the bed and pacing around his room, “I won’t be some genius, exceptionally dedicated, or anything, just a guy who’s unexpectedly smarter than middle-schoolers. Plus, then that shoots me passed everyone I knew or would come to know and brings me into a world I don’t want. Never knowing my friends, probably prompting moves to new school districts, or whatever. And not doing that? Well, now I’ve been spending my days trying to pay attention, feeling patronized, surrounded by kids I’m supposed to but do not relate to. Every day is an act, every word is a sham.”

“Poetic.”

Wesley gave him a frustrated look from below his eyebrows.

“What? Listen, I’m not saying that it sounds a little over dramatic – which it does, but – this all means you should know how many people would kill to be kids again. Heck, man, you’ve heard me joke about it.”

“Oh, no. It felt like a vacation at first – having meals made for me, going to a super easy job, having a ton of energy. Not to mention getting to see my mom again, being as nice as I should have been when I grew up the first time, and making her super proud just with my grades. Not so much fun after a few months, though.”

“Oh? Why’s that?”

“Hard to find anyone to have a good conversation with, first off. Can’t really do it with my classmates. I can’t do it with any adults because I’m trying to keep this cover going or because they won’t take me seriously.”

“Hey, whoa. I take you seriously when you want to be serious, Wes.”

“Really? Would you say that like that to your buddy Tom? Or be interested in discussing Machiavelli or the government’s response to 9/11 with me? The point is, we talk differently to adults than we do with kids and in this circumstance, Eddie, it’s annoying. Besides, the internet sucks now.”

“Okay, then if you want to be serious,” Eddie said with a sudden grim tone, “that thing you mentioned about getting to see your mom again. Does something happen to her?”

“What?” replied Wes, embarrassed. “Ah, no. Not really, anyway. It’s just…hard to raise a teenage boy by herself. It took a lot out of her.”

“So, you guys never met me?”

“No. Because, in my life, I’d quit judo by now, so we never went to regionals. Which means I’ve already messed up and gotten something wrong.”

“Hmm, is that so bad, though? Say this life goes differently than your last one. I’m not such a bad guy, am I? We have fun.”

“Yeah, sorry. I don’t mean it in that I dislike you for you. You’re…you’re pretty cool. I just…”

“What?”

“I need things to say the same. There’s someone I can’t risk not meeting, and it scares me to think that I might not.” The tears began to well up in Wesley’s eyes as a soft knock came from his door. Eddie placed a compassionate hand on the boy’s shoulder and answered it. Wesley saw his mother briefly while the door was open and when Eddie came back in he was smiling.

“Hey, do you want to go for a hike?”

Wesley looked at the clouds through his window and replied with a shrug and a thumb’s up.

***

“So,” Eddie panted as he pulled himself up onto the overlook with Wesley, “you sounded like you were in the middle of a big point.” His words may not have, but there had been a change to the way Eddie spoke to Wes over the course of the afternoon – his tone, his voice, his eyes – it felt like the two were speaking on the same level. Wesley wasn’t being spoken down to and he appreciated it.

“Yeah. Just that things are scary.”

“I’m sure. But come on, there was more than that. You were saying you wanted to get everything right, keep things the same?”

“Yeah, but even all of that is a craps shoot, and I’m terrified. I’m terrified because I don’t know the rules. I’m not the person I was when I was nine, nobody is. People change. People change because they have experiences and they grow. But what if this is some Back to the Future shit? What if I don’t have an experience that shaped me, either because of butterfly effect happenstance or because now I know how to handle it? Do I lose the part of me that grew from that in the first place like an old photo? Because if so, to keep who I am, I have to live every day frantically trying to relive every day, as it happened, for years. I’ll spend fifteen years never changing, never growing, constantly paranoid, ‘learning’ the same lessons, or else I lose getting to be me in the first place.”

Eddie stayed quiet but just looked at the boy. He shuffled off his pack, set it beside the both of them, and took a seat on the rock with his legs dangling off the side. He took out a couple of sandwiches and handed one to Wesley. “Hmm, and that was enough to make you wanna end it?”

“Not…really,” Wesley said, timidly taking a bite of bologna.

Eddie watched Wes closely. “Why, then? A few years with us seem so bad you need that way out?”

“No. It’s not that.” Wes was staring at the rock, away from Eddie.

“Mmhm. Who was she, this person you need to meet again?” Wes looked back up with redness in his eyes and a quivering chin. Eddie wrapped a strong arm around the boy’s shoulders and held him while he cried. “I know, brah,” he said. “It’s always a girl.”

***

“Her name’s Carmen,” Wesley said between sobs.

Wesley told his stepfather everything. He spoke about how the two had met in high school and made fast friends. He told him the tumults of their relationship then and later, and how he’d known the moment a friend introduced them that he wanted her in his life in a meaningful way. He told him of how even though their life together wasn’t perfect, he loved those imperfections. He loved the way she would talk about the things she wanted to do in life, and how he imagined doing them with her. He loved the way she would joke about things she would change if given the chance, and how he would quietly think of how grateful he felt to have her as she was. He loved deeply how, despite the infinite number of ways they couldn’t have wound up together, the universe had seen fit to provide the one where they did.

“And I know,” continued Wes, “that they’re all the cliches, but I really do miss just being able to look into her eyes. I miss waking up to her voice, to the dimples on her cheeks when she’d smile. I miss comforting her when she was ever scared. I even miss the crushing pain of crying with her if she was ever hurt. And most, I miss listening to her heartbeat like it’s the only sound that exists, praying that between us I get to be selfish enough to die first because I don’t want a world without that sound.

“We’d been together for seven years before all this happened. It’s been hard sleeping in a bed by myself for the first time in that long. I miss her, a lot, but what’s worst is that now she doesn’t even know me yet. And she won’t for another five years, and if everything goes as it should, we won’t be together for another five after that. And even if that does happen, now I’ll have a secret I can never tell the woman I tell everything: that I knew her before we met and I waited a decade to be with her again. Try telling anyone that without it ending in some kind of paperwork.

“Our life had gotten hard, real hard, and all I wanted was a way out. But now that I’ve had it, all I want is a way back. Meaning yes, badly enough to walk straight into the ocean hoping to wake up like this was all a dream. So,” he said, wiping his nose and standing as the wind picked up, “what happens now? Do you tell mom and you guys sign me up for therapy or check me into some loony bin?” He sniffled with resolve.

Eddie was very quiet. He sat with his jaw jutting and was very clearly just watching the clouds roll by in thought. “Maybe,” he finally said with a big exhale. “But I don’t think so. Those places get pretty expensive, so I figure it’ll be easier to just give you this.” He reached into his pack and tossed Wesley a small, brown, folded leather wallet.

Wesley was stunned. “How?” he stammered.

“Taylor’s dad called yesterday and dropped it off while we were in your room. Apparently your buddy took it the last time you had him over. I told you it wasn’t a good idea to brag about your allowance like that. What were you saving up that much for anyway?”

“It was, uh,” the boy choked, “it was for the bus. I was going to take the bus to San Francisco. That’s where the fountain I toss my coin into for the wish gets built next month.”

“Oof, San Fran?” Eddie let out a puff of thoughtful breath. “Might be kind of a tough to swing it with your mom given things right now. But…”

Wes looked to the man with a dumbfounded, hopeful stare which Eddie returned with a wink and a smile.

***

The sun shone bright and clear through the window. Wesley reached over to turn his clock to face him. The time was 11:11am. He rubbed his eyes and looked at the almost unfamiliar sheets. Where there had been Spider-Man, there was now a checkered cream-colored pattern.

“Good morning,” came a sweet voice. Wesley felt a kiss on his cheek. “Aw, hey, are you alright?”

“It’s just good to see you.” Wesley wiped the tears away and hugged her. “I love you.”

“Oh honey,” Carmen said, laughing. “I love you too. Bad dream?”

He laughed with her. “You have no idea.”

THE END

The Take: This was a good one that came out of my short-lived Soapbox Writers’ Workshop. The parameters were: Romantic Comedy, featuring a surfer and a lost wallet. It came together pretty quickly, but took a lot longer to edit and sharpen. I’d shopped it around for a while, but I to-date haven’t quite found the right market for it, and also realized I’d passed it by a while ago as one of my best/favored manuscripts – I still love it, there’s a lot of me in there, but I’ve grown past it a bit.
It started off with me asking around work, “If you could go back to any age and keep your current consciousness – world view, knowledge, history, memories, opinions, everything – but you had to live your life forward from there, would you?”
The responses were awesome.
Many had the expected knee-jerk responses of “zoom through school” and “play the lottery.” But if pressed, reminding them that, y’know, their history is no longer their history – family, friends, jobs, events – none of that is guaranteed, it became less of an easy question.
Others I respected immensely. I explained the question, they had me clarify, thought on it, and then went, “Oh, hell no. I love my (girlfriend/family/dog/job/friends/you-name-it). Wouldn’t want to risk that.”
Others still, left me pretty flabbergasted…
“Oh, hell yeah.”
“Even though you won’t have your family any more?”
“Yeah, they’ll be fine.”
“No, like, you wouldn’t have your kids anymore.”
“Yeah, I get it.”
“Jesus, man. Didn’t you adopt?”
To this day, I’m unsure whether or not they were having my leg, still didn’t understand the thought experiment, or were being serious and just genuinely did not enjoy their life.

Anyway, to cap it all off, writing ‘Fifteen Years’ was an adventure, one that helped me chart out just how goddamn grateful I am for the life I’m swimming through.

Have a good one, y’all.

Ciao.

Would you…if YOU could…?

Happy Tuesday, e’erybody!

This is a pseudo-re-post (which looks kind of French when written out that way). So, if you caught the O.G. post, then, thanks for stopping by! If not, you’re in for a treat. I’m going to post this once or twice more, because I’d like the story to get the coverage – I fucking cried when I wrote it, originally, so it gets a couple seconds’ more time than stories with fart jokes or whatever.
(Sorry. I’m feeling sassy. Not really sorry. Like, mostly sorry. Mostly-sorta sorry. I’m not sorry.)

Without further adieu…

Fifteen Years

Rachel watched from her perch while Eddie got her son into his wet suit. The breeze salted her cheeks and she quietly hummed a tune in rhythm with the waves. He had been so good with Wesley since losing his dad the year before. There was a period of adjustment, to be sure, but she had been so much happier after he’d moved in. “Thanks again for doing this,” she said as Eddie approached and gave him a kiss.

“Hey, no problem,” he laughed, his Hawaiian accent sweetening the smile that came with it. “Besides, I have to show him those trophies ain’t fake. What better way than to get him out here with me?”

“Still, you didn’t have to. Hey, Wes,” she called over Eddie’s shoulder. “Be careful, honey. Wait for Eddie to go out there with you, okay?” The boy looked over and gave a halfhearted smile, but stayed standing with his feet in the tide. Eddie gently brushed her sandy-blonde hair with his hand.

“He’s gonna be fine, okay? I’ll keep him close.”

“I know. I just worry.”

“You worry too much.”

“Maybe,” Rachel sighed. “I don’t know. It’s just been really hard on him. He was doing so well in school, helping around the house, he even got his purple belt, and then it’s like he just let it all fall apart on purpose.”

Eddie raised a timorous eyebrow. “You think it has to do with me?”

She was quiet for a beat before saying with a smile, “It’s okay. Kids are kids, after all.” She kissed him again before breaking away suddenly. “Wes? Wesley!” she screamed.

Eddie spun around to see the ten-year-old boy walk slowly out into the waves and get pulled down by the undertow.

***

After they checked him out of the hospital, Wesley’s mom wanted to take him to see a therapist that afternoon. It was Eddie who suggested they come home first to let things settle. So they called his school and Wes had spent the last two days mostly in his room. He lied in his bed, staring up at the popcorn of his ceiling and listening to the adults in the hallway outside.

“Let me try and talk to him,” came Eddie’s muffled voice.

“Listen, honey, I love you and I know you want to help, but he doesn’t need to talk to you. Not right now. He needs a psychiatrist.”

“Probably, sure. Just let me try first. He’s been stone-quiet ever since he got back. If he shoos me away, then what’s the harm?” It was quiet for a bit after that, but there came a soft knock at the door about a minute later and Eddie stepped through. “Hey Champ, mind if I come in?”

Wesley didn’t say anything at first, but just sat up against the wall. He folded his arms around his knees and hid his chin behind them. “Sure.”

Eddie closed the door behind him and sat at the edge of Wes’s bed with his hands folded. “So,” he began slowly, “you weren’t too keen on surfing, hmm?” Wesley replied with a chuckle but didn’t say anything. Eddie gave him a minute and then continued. “You know, you really scared your mom and me.”

“I know,” said Wes, with more a tone of irritation than guilt. “You don’t have to tell me that. I know.”

“Hmm, sure, sure. Then you know what I’m gonna ask next then, yeah?”

“Probably.”

“Well, why’d you do it?”

Staring into the covers of his bed, Wesley was quiet and contemplative. Eventually, he lifted his head and looked out the window at the clouds. Heavy tears welled up in his eyes before breaking and rolling down his cheeks. “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”

“Hey bud, I’m hear to talk, but I’m mostly here to listen. I’ll believe you, whatever it is.”

“You say that,” Wesley laughed between the tears. He wiped his eyes and saw the sincere look on Eddie’s face. “Alright,” he said and sighed. “What if I told you that I wasn’t ten years old?”

“Okay.” Eddie held a waiting pause. “What would you say you are, then?”

“I’m twenty-five.” Eddie couldn’t hide his reaction, despite his efforts, and gave a suppressed, coughed chuckle into his fist. “Yeah,” Wes continued, “get it out of your system.”

“No, no. I’m sorry. Just, you’re going to have to explain this one to me.”

“I’m not really sure where to start.”

“Okay. How about with how, if you’re that old, you came to be a…a little brah…again?”

“Because,” Wesley sighed, “because I wished for it. I was going through a real tough time and made a stupid, fleeting wish. And it worked.”

Eddie took a deep breath and leaned back on his hands. “Wow,” he said. “You know, if I could go back in time, I’d probably play-”

“The lottery?” Wes interrupted. “Yeah, I talked to people at work before all this happened and that’s what most people said, too. Listen, I get that you don’t really believe me and you just think you’re playing along, alright? But trust me that it’s way more complicated than that.”

“Okay,” Eddie agreed, nodding his head. “Then walk me through it and how that leads to what happened on Saturday.”

Wesley tossed his hands up. “What does it matter? I’m mostly just telling you any of this because it feels nice to finally let out. Besides, no one will believe you and I can’t get back anymore, anyway.”

“Why’s that?”

Wes groaned into his knees. “Because I lost my lucky coin.”

“That old one your grandpa got you for your birthday?”

“Yeah, I kept it in my wallet but it’s been missing for a week. It’s what I made the wish with to get here. I was going to use it to get back, but now I’m stuck.” Eddie made a puzzled look on his face that annoyed Wes. “What?” he asked.

“No, sorry. It’s nothing.” Eddie smiled at the boy and shook the thought away. “Come on, you were saying?”

It took several minutes of tug-of-war with Wesley before he opened up, but eventually he started explaining.

“It’s not that simple. ‘Play the lottery’, ‘stop crime’, ‘graduate early’. Everyone has a plan they think will work out. Firstly, I never played the lottery, and if I did, I don’t remember people’s phone numbers, let alone the Super Jackpot from fifteen years ago. Secondly, stop crime? If I have to remind you, I have the authority of a ten-year-old. Even if I did start telling the cops about a robbery, vandalism, or arson I knew would happen, that doesn’t turn me into kid-friggin’-detective. They’ll rightly assume I heard it somewhere and either dismiss it or it’ll implicate the adults around me. And fly through school? Okay, assume I do that. I ace every single spelling test and math quiz until I graduate high school at fourteen. I don’t want that.”

“Really?” said Eddie, wide-eyed. “Why not?”

“Because,” said Wesley, standing up forcibly from the bed and pacing around his room, “I won’t be some genius, exceptionally dedicated, or anything, just a guy who’s unexpectedly smarter than middle-schoolers. Plus, then that shoots me passed everyone I knew or would come to know and brings me into a world I don’t want. Never knowing my friends, probably prompting moves to new school districts, or whatever. And not doing that? Well, now I’ve been spending my days trying to pay attention, feeling patronized, surrounded by kids I’m supposed to but do not relate to. Every day is an act, every word is a sham.”

“Poetic.”

Wesley gave him a frustrated look from below his eyebrows.

“What? Listen, I’m not saying that it sounds a little over dramatic – which it does, but – this all means you should know how many people would kill to be kids again. Heck, man, you’ve heard me joke about it.”

“Oh, no. It felt like a vacation at first – having meals made for me, going to a super easy job, having a ton of energy. Not to mention getting to see my mom again, being as nice as I should have been when I grew up the first time, and making her super proud just with my grades. Not so much fun after a few months, though.”

“Oh? Why’s that?”

“Hard to find anyone to have a good conversation with, first off. Can’t really do it with my classmates. I can’t do it with any adults because I’m trying to keep this cover going or because they won’t take me seriously.”

“Hey, whoa. I take you seriously when you want to be serious, Wes.”

“Really? Would you say that like that to your buddy Tom? Or be interested in discussing Machiavelli or the government’s response to 9/11 with me? The point is, we talk differently to adults than we do with kids and in this circumstance, Eddie, it’s annoying. Besides, the internet sucks now.”

“Okay, then if you want to be serious,” Eddie said with a sudden grim tone, “that thing you mentioned about getting to see your mom again. Does something happen to her?”

“What?” replied Wes, embarrassed. “Ah, no. Not really, anyway. It’s just…hard to raise a teenage boy by herself. It took a lot out of her.”

“So, you guys never met me?”

“No. Because, in my life, I’d quit judo by now, so we never went to regionals. Which means I’ve already messed up and gotten something wrong.”

“Hmm, is that so bad, though? Say this life goes differently than your last one. I’m not such a bad guy, am I? We have fun.”

“Yeah, sorry. I don’t mean it in that I dislike you for you. You’re…you’re pretty cool. I just…”

“What?”

“I need things to say the same. There’s someone I can’t risk not meeting, and it scares me to think that I might not.” The tears began to well up in Wesley’s eyes as a soft knock came from his door. Eddie placed a compassionate hand on the boy’s shoulder and answered it. Wesley saw his mother briefly while the door was open and when Eddie came back in he was smiling.

“Hey, do you want to go for a hike?”

Wesley looked at the clouds through his window and replied with a shrug and a thumb’s up.

***

“So,” Eddie panted as he pulled himself up onto the overlook with Wesley, “you sounded like you were in the middle of a big point.” His words may not have, but there had been a change to the way Eddie spoke to Wes over the course of the afternoon – his tone, his voice, his eyes – it felt like the two were speaking on the same level. Wesley wasn’t being spoken down to and he appreciated it.

“Yeah. Just that things are scary.”

“I’m sure. But come on, there was more than that. You were saying you wanted to get everything right, keep things the same?”

“Yeah, but even all of that is a craps shoot, and I’m terrified. I’m terrified because I don’t know the rules. I’m not the person I was when I was nine, nobody is. People change. People change because they have experiences and they grow. But what if this is some Back to the Future shit? What if I don’t have an experience that shaped me, either because of butterfly effect happenstance or because now I know how to handle it? Do I lose the part of me that grew from that in the first place like an old photo? Because if so, to keep who I am, I have to live every day frantically trying to relive every day, as it happened, for years. I’ll spend fifteen years never changing, never growing, constantly paranoid, ‘learning’ the same lessons, or else I lose getting to be me in the first place.”

Eddie stayed quiet but just looked at the boy. He shuffled off his pack, set it beside the both of them, and took a seat on the rock with his legs dangling off the side. He took out a couple of sandwiches and handed one to Wesley. “Hmm, and that was enough to make you wanna end it?”

“Not…really,” Wesley said, timidly taking a bite of bologna.

Eddie watched Wes closely. “Why, then? A few years with us seem so bad you need that way out?”

“No. It’s not that.” Wes was staring at the rock, away from Eddie.

“Mmhm. Who was she, this person you need to meet again?” Wes looked back up with redness in his eyes and a quivering chin. Eddie wrapped a strong arm around the boy’s shoulders and held him while he cried. “I know, brah,” he said. “It’s always a girl.”

***

“Her name’s Carmen,” Wesley said between sobs.

Wesley told his stepfather everything. He spoke about how the two had met in high school and made fast friends. He told him the tumults of their relationship then and later, and how he’d known the moment a friend introduced them that he wanted her in his life in a meaningful way. He told him of how even though their life together wasn’t perfect, he loved those imperfections. He loved the way she would talk about the things she wanted to do in life, and how he imagined doing them with her. He loved the way she would joke about things she would change if given the chance, and how he would quietly think of how grateful he felt to have her as she was. He loved deeply how, despite the infinite number of ways they couldn’t have wound up together, the universe had seen fit to provide the one where they did.

“And I know,” continued Wes, “that they’re all the cliches, but I really do miss just being able to look into her eyes. I miss waking up to her voice, to the dimples on her cheeks when she’d smile. I miss comforting her when she was ever scared. I even miss the crushing pain of crying with her if she was ever hurt. And most, I miss listening to her heartbeat like it’s the only sound that exists, praying that between us I get to be selfish enough to die first because I don’t want a world without that sound.

“We’d been together for seven years before all this happened. It’s been hard sleeping in a bed by myself for the first time in that long. I miss her, a lot, but what’s worst is that now she doesn’t even know me yet. And she won’t for another five years, and if everything goes as it should, we won’t be together for another five after that. And even if that does happen, now I’ll have a secret I can never tell the woman I tell everything: that I knew her before we met and I waited a decade to be with her again. Try telling anyone that without it ending in some kind of paperwork.

“Our life had gotten hard, real hard, and all I wanted was a way out. But now that I’ve had it, all I want is a way back. Meaning yes, badly enough to walk straight into the ocean hoping to wake up like this was all a dream. So,” he said, wiping his nose and standing as the wind picked up, “what happens now? Do you tell mom and you guys sign me up for therapy or check me into some loony bin?” He sniffled with resolve.

Eddie was very quiet. He sat with his jaw jutting and was very clearly just watching the clouds roll by in thought. “Maybe,” he finally said with a big exhale. “But I don’t think so. Those places get pretty expensive, so I figure it’ll be easier to just give you this.” He reached into his pack and tossed Wesley a small, brown, folded leather wallet.

Wesley was stunned. “How?” he stammered.

“Taylor’s dad called yesterday and dropped it off while we were in your room. Apparently your buddy took it the last time you had him over. I told you it wasn’t a good idea to brag about your allowance like that. What were you saving up that much for anyway?”

“It was, uh,” the boy choked, “it was for the bus. I was going to take the bus to San Francisco. That’s where the fountain I toss my coin into for the wish gets built next month.”

“Oof, San Fran?” Eddie let out a puff of thoughtful breath. “Might be kind of a tough to swing it with your mom given things right now. But…”

Wes looked to the man with a dumbfounded, hopeful stare which Eddie returned with a wink and a smile.

***

The sun shone bright and clear through the window. Wesley reached over to turn his clock to face him. The time was 11:11am. He rubbed his eyes and looked at the almost unfamiliar sheets. Where there had been Spider-Man, there was now a checkered cream-colored pattern.

“Good morning,” came a sweet voice. Wesley felt a kiss on his cheek. “Aw, hey, are you alright?”

“It’s just good to see you.” Wesley wiped the tears away and hugged her. “I love you.”

“Oh honey,” Carmen said, laughing. “I love you too. Bad dream?”

He laughed with her. “You have no idea.”

THE END

The Take: This was a good one that came out of my short-lived Soapbox Writers’ Workshop. The parameters were: Romantic Comedy, featuring a surfer and a lost wallet. It came together pretty quickly, but took a lot longer to edit and sharpen. I’d shopped it around for a while, but I to-date haven’t quite found the right market for it, and also realized I’d passed it by a while ago as one of my best/favored manuscripts – I still love it, there’s a lot of me in there, but I’ve grown past it a bit.
It started off with me asking around work, “If you could go back to any age and keep your current consciousness – world view, knowledge, history, memories, opinions, everything – but you had to live your life forward from there, would you?”
The responses were awesome.
Many had the expected knee-jerk responses of “zoom through school” and “play the lottery.” But if pressed, reminding them that, y’know, their history is no longer their history – family, friends, jobs, events – none of that is guaranteed, it became less of an easy question.
Others I respected immensely. I explained the question, they had me clarify, thought on it, and then went, “Oh, hell no. I love my (girlfriend/family/dog/job/friends/you-name-it). Wouldn’t want to risk that.”
Others still, left me pretty flabbergasted…
“Oh, hell yeah.”
“Even though you won’t have your family any more?”
“Yeah, they’ll be fine.”
“No, like, you wouldn’t have your kids anymore.”
“Yeah, I get it.”
“Jesus, man. Didn’t you adopt?”
To this day, I’m unsure whether or not they were having my leg, still didn’t understand the thought experiment, or were being serious and just genuinely did not enjoy their life.

Anyway, to cap it all off, writing ‘Fifteen Years’ was an adventure, one that helped me chart out just how goddamn grateful I am for the life I’m swimming through.

Have a good one, y’all.

Ciao.

Go Enjoy Yourself, Buddy!

Happy Thanksgiving, all.

Won’t lie, I started typing out the title meaning it genuinely, but by the time I got to “yourself,” I realized like it sound like “go f*ck yourself, buddy!”

I’m sticking with it.

Hey everybody! Keeping with recent trends, I missed Tuesday. BUT, it’s only because I got swept away by a sparkling curtain of wind on my way to the marke- eh, you get it.

In keeping also with the celebratory air of gratitude meant for today, I have an older story to share. I also think I’m going to blast it out a little bit the next week just to give it a broader net, but that’s beside the point. The main point is that I realized, finally, that this story is about appreciating what you’ve got – something I didn’t really intend when I originally wrote it. Anyway, I’ve got more, but we’ll save that for The Take.

Without further adieu…

Seventeen Years

Rachel watched from her perch while Eddie got her son into his wet suit. The breeze salted her cheeks and she quietly hummed a tune in rhythm with the waves. He had been so good with Wesley since losing his dad the year before. There was a period of adjustment, to be sure, but she had been so much happier after he’d moved in. “Thanks again for doing this,” she said as Eddie approached and gave him a kiss.

“Hey, no problem,” he laughed, his Hawaiian accent sweetening the smile that came with it. “Besides, I have to show him those trophies ain’t fake. What better way than to get him out here with me?”

“Still, you didn’t have to. Hey, Wes,” she called over Eddie’s shoulder. “Be careful, honey. Wait for Eddie to go out there with you, okay?” The boy looked over and gave a halfhearted smile, but stayed standing with his feet in the tide. Eddie gently brushed her sandy-blonde hair with his hand.

“He’s gonna be fine, okay? I’ll keep him close.”

“I know. I just worry.”

“You worry too much.”

“Maybe,” Rachel sighed. “I don’t know. It’s just been really hard on him. He was doing so well in school, helping around the house, he even got his purple belt, and then it’s like he just let it all fall apart on purpose.”

Eddie raised a timorous eyebrow. “You think it has to do with me?”

She was quiet for a beat before saying with a smile, “It’s okay. Kids are kids, after all.” She kissed him again before breaking away suddenly. “Wes? Wesley!” she screamed.

Eddie spun around to see the ten-year-old boy walk slowly out into the waves and get pulled down by the undertow.

*

After they checked him out of the hospital, Wesley’s mom wanted to take him to see a therapist that afternoon. It was Eddie who suggested they come home first to let things settle. So they called his school and Wes had spent the last two days mostly in his room. He lied in his bed, staring up at the popcorn of his ceiling and listening to the adults in the hallway outside.

“Let me try and talk to him,” came Eddie’s muffled voice.

“Listen, honey, I love you and I know you want to help, but he doesn’t need to talk to you. Not right now. He needs a psychiatrist.”

“Probably, sure. Just let me try first. He’s been stone-quiet ever since he got back. If he shoos me away, then what’s the harm?” It was quiet for a bit after that, but there came a soft knock at the door about a minute later and Eddie stepped through. “Hey Champ, mind if I come in?”

Wesley didn’t say anything at first, but just sat up against the wall. He folded his arms around his knees and hid his chin behind them. “Sure.”

Eddie closed the door behind him and sat at the edge of Wes’s bed with his hands folded. “So,” he began slowly, “you weren’t too keen on surfing, hmm?” Wesley replied with a chuckle but didn’t say anything. Eddie gave him a minute and then continued. “You know, you really scared your mom and me.”

“I know,” said Wes, with more a tone of irritation than guilt. “You don’t have to tell me that. I know.”

“Hmm, sure, sure. Then you know what I’m gonna ask next then, yeah?”

“Probably.”

“Well, why’d you do it?”

Staring into the covers of his bed, Wesley was quiet and contemplative. Eventually, he lifted his head and looked out the window at the clouds. Heavy tears welled up in his eyes before breaking and rolling down his cheeks. “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”

“Hey bud, I’m hear to talk, but I’m mostly here to listen. I’ll believe you, whatever it is.”

“You say that,” Wesley laughed between the tears. He wiped his eyes and saw the sincere look on Eddie’s face. “Alright,” he said and sighed. “What if I told you that I wasn’t ten years old?”

“Okay.” Eddie held a waiting pause. “What would you say you are, then?”

“I’m twenty-five.” Eddie couldn’t hide his reaction, despite his efforts, and gave a suppressed, coughed chuckle into his fist. “Yeah,” Wes continued, “get it out of your system.”

“No, no. I’m sorry. Just, you’re going to have to explain this one to me.”

“I’m not really sure where to start.”

“Okay. How about with how, if you’re that old, you came to be a…a little brah…again?”

“Because,” Wesley sighed, “because I wished for it. I was going through a real tough time and made a stupid, fleeting wish. And it worked.”

Eddie took a deep breath and leaned back on his hands. “Wow,” he said. “You know, if I could go back in time, I’d probably play-”

“The lottery?” Wes interrupted. “Yeah, I talked to people at work before all this happened and that’s what most people said, too. Listen, I get that you don’t really believe me and you just think you’re playing along, alright? But trust me that it’s way more complicated than that.”

“Okay,” Eddie agreed, nodding his head. “Then walk me through it and how that leads to what happened on Saturday.”

Wesley tossed his hands up. “What does it matter? I’m mostly just telling you any of this because it feels nice to finally let out. Besides, no one will believe you and I can’t get back anymore, anyway.”

“Why’s that?”

Wes groaned into his knees. “Because I lost my lucky coin.”

“That old one your grandpa got you for your birthday?”

“Yeah, I kept it in my wallet but it’s been missing for a week. It’s what I made the wish with to get here. I was going to use it to get back, but now I’m stuck.” Eddie made a puzzled look on his face that annoyed Wes. “What?” he asked.

“No, sorry. It’s nothing.” Eddie smiled at the boy and shook the thought away. “Come on, you were saying?”

It took several minutes of tug-of-war with Wesley before he opened up, but eventually he started explaining.

“It’s not that simple. ‘Play the lottery’, ‘stop crime’, ‘graduate early’. Everyone has a plan they think will work out. Firstly, I never played the lottery, and if I did, I don’t remember people’s phone numbers, let alone the Super Jackpot from fifteen years ago. Secondly, stop crime? If I have to remind you, I have the authority of a ten-year-old. Even if I did start telling the cops about a robbery, vandalism, or arson I knew would happen, that doesn’t turn me into kid-friggin’-detective. They’ll rightly assume I heard it somewhere and either dismiss it or it’ll implicate the adults around me. And fly through school? Okay, assume I do that. I ace every single spelling test and math quiz until I graduate high school at fourteen. I don’t want that.”

“Really?” said Eddie, wide-eyed. “Why not?”

“Because,” said Wesley, standing up forcibly from the bed and pacing around his room, “I won’t be some genius, exceptionally dedicated, or anything, just a guy who’s unexpectedly smarter than middle-schoolers. Plus, then that shoots me passed everyone I knew or would come to know and brings me into a world I don’t want. Never knowing my friends, probably prompting moves to new school districts, or whatever. And not doing that? Well, now I’ve been spending my days trying to pay attention, feeling patronized, surrounded by kids I’m supposed to but do not relate to. Every day is an act, every word is a sham.”

“Poetic.”

Wesley gave him a frustrated look from below his eyebrows.

“What? Listen, I’m not saying that it sounds a little over dramatic – which it does, but – this all means you should know how many people would kill to be kids again. Heck, man, you’ve heard me joke about it.”

“Oh, no. It felt like a vacation at first – having meals made for me, going to a super easy job, having a ton of energy. Not to mention getting to see my mom again, being as nice as I should have been when I grew up the first time, and making her super proud just with my grades. Not so much fun after a few months, though.”

“Oh? Why’s that?”

“Hard to find anyone to have a good conversation with, first off. Can’t really do it with my classmates. I can’t do it with any adults because I’m trying to keep this cover going or because they won’t take me seriously.”

“Hey, whoa. I take you seriously when you want to be serious, Wes.”

“Really? Would you say that like that to your buddy Tom? Or be interested in discussing Machiavelli or the government’s response to 9/11 with me? The point is, we talk differently to adults than we do with kids and in this circumstance, Eddie, it’s annoying. Besides, the internet sucks now.”

“Okay, then if you want to be serious,” Eddie said with a sudden grim tone, “that thing you mentioned about getting to see your mom again. Does something happen to her?”

“What?” replied Wes, embarrassed. “Ah, no. Not really, anyway. It’s just…hard to raise a teenage boy by herself. It took a lot out of her.”

“So, you guys never met me?”

“No. Because, in my life, I’d quit judo by now, so we never went to regionals. Which means I’ve already messed up and gotten something wrong.”

“Hmm, is that so bad, though? Say this life goes differently than your last one. I’m not such a bad guy, am I? We have fun.”

“Yeah, sorry. I don’t mean it in that I dislike you for you. You’re…you’re pretty cool. I just…”

“What?”

“I need things to say the same. There’s someone I can’t risk not meeting, and it scares me to think that I might not.” The tears began to well up in Wesley’s eyes as a soft knock came from his door. Eddie placed a compassionate hand on the boy’s shoulder and answered it. Wesley saw his mother briefly while the door was open and when Eddie came back in he was smiling.

“Hey, do you want to go for a hike?”

Wesley looked at the clouds through his window and replied with a shrug and a thumb’s up.

*

“So,” Eddie panted as he pulled himself up onto the overlook with Wesley, “you sounded like you were in the middle of a big point.” His words may not have, but there had been a change to the way Eddie spoke to Wes over the course of the afternoon – his tone, his voice, his eyes – it felt like the two were speaking on the same level. Wesley wasn’t being spoken down to and he appreciated it.

“Yeah. Just that things are scary.”

“I’m sure. But come on, there was more than that. You were saying you wanted to get everything right, keep things the same?”

“Yeah, but even all of that is a craps shoot, and I’m terrified. I’m terrified because I don’t know the rules. I’m not the person I was when I was nine, nobody is. People change. People change because they have experiences and they grow. But what if this is some Back to the Future shit? What if I don’t have an experience that shaped me, either because of butterfly effect happenstance or because now I know how to handle it? Do I lose the part of me that grew from that in the first place like an old photo? Because if so, to keep who I am, I have to live every day frantically trying to relive every day, as it happened, for years. I’ll spend seventeen years never changing, never growing, constantly paranoid, ‘learning’ the same lessons, or else I lose getting to be me in the first place.”

Eddie stayed quiet but just looked at the boy. He shuffled off his pack, set it beside the both of them, and took a seat on the rock with his legs dangling off the side. He took out a couple of sandwiches and handed one to Wesley. “Hmm, and that was enough to make you wanna end it?”

“Not…really,” Wesley said, timidly taking a bite of bologna.

Eddie watched Wes closely. “Why, then? A few years with us seem so bad you need that way out?”

“No. It’s not that.” Wes was staring at the rock, away from Eddie.

“Mmhm. Who was she, this person you need to meet again?” Wes looked back up with redness in his eyes and a quivering chin. Eddie wrapped a strong arm around the boy’s shoulders and held him while he cried. “I know, brah,” he said. “It’s always a girl.”

*

“Her name’s Carmen,” Wesley said between sobs.

Wesley told his stepfather everything. He spoke about how the two had met in high school and made fast friends. He told him the tumults of their relationship then and later, and how he’d known the moment a friend introduced them that he wanted her in his life in a meaningful way. He told him of how even though their life together wasn’t perfect, he loved those imperfections. He loved the way she would talk about the things she wanted to do in life, and how he imagined doing them with her. He loved the way she would joke about things she would change if given the chance, and how he would quietly think of how grateful he felt to have her as she was. He loved deeply how, despite the infinite number of ways they couldn’t have wound up together, the universe had seen fit to provide the one where they did.

“And I know,” continued Wes, “that they’re all the cliches, but I really do miss just being able to look into her eyes. I miss waking up to her voice, to the dimples on her cheeks when she’d smile. I miss comforting her when she was ever scared. I even miss the crushing pain of crying with her if she was ever hurt. And most, I miss listening to her heartbeat like it’s the only sound that exists, praying that between us I get to be selfish enough to die first because I don’t want a world without that sound.

“We’d been together for seven years before all this happened. It’s been hard sleeping in a bed by myself for the first time in that long. I miss her, a lot, but what’s worst is that now she doesn’t even know me yet. And she won’t for another five years, and if everything goes as it should, we won’t be together for another five after that. And even if that does happen, now I’ll have a secret I can never tell the woman I tell everything: that I knew her before we met and I waited a decade to be with her again. Try telling anyone that without it ending in some kind of paperwork.

“Our life had gotten hard, real hard, and all I wanted was a way out. But now that I’ve had it, all I want is a way back. Meaning yes, badly enough to walk straight into the ocean hoping to wake up like this was all a dream. So,” he said, wiping his nose and standing as the wind picked up, “what happens now? Do you tell mom and you guys sign me up for therapy or check me into some loony bin?” He sniffled with resolve.

Eddie was very quiet. He sat with his jaw jutting and was very clearly just watching the clouds roll by in thought. “Maybe,” he finally said with a big exhale. “But I don’t think so. Those places get pretty expensive, so I figure it’ll be easier to just give you this.” He reached into his pack and tossed Wesley a small, brown, folded leather wallet.

Wesley was stunned. “How?” he stammered.

“Taylor’s dad called yesterday and dropped it off while we were in your room. Apparently your buddy took it the last time you had him over. I told you it wasn’t a good idea to brag about your allowance like that. What were you saving up that much for anyway?”

“It was, uh,” the boy choked, “it was for the bus. I was going to take the bus to San Francisco. That’s where the fountain I toss my coin into for the wish gets built next month.”

“Oof, San Fran?” Eddie let out a puff of thoughtful breath. “Might be kind of a tough to swing it with your mom given things right now. But…”

Wes looked to the man with a dumbfounded, hopeful stare which Eddie returned with a wink and a smile.

*

The sun shone bright and clear through the window. Wesley reached over to turn his clock to face him. The time was 11:11am. He rubbed his eyes and looked at the almost unfamiliar sheets. Where there had been Spider-Man, there was now a checkered cream-colored pattern.

“Good morning,” came a sweet voice. Wesley felt a kiss on his cheek. “Aw, hey, are you alright?”

“It’s just good to see you.” Wesley wiped the tears away and hugged her. “I love you.”

“Oh honey,” Carmen said, laughing. “I love you too. Bad dream?”

He laughed with her. “You have no idea.”

THE END

The Take: This was a good one that came out of my short-lived Soapbox Writers’ Workshop. The parameters were: Romantic Comedy, featuring a surfer and a lost wallet. It came together pretty quickly, but took a lot longer to edit and sharpen. I’d shopped it around for a while, but I to-date haven’t quite found the right market for it, and also realized I’d passed it by a while ago as one of my best/favored manuscripts – I still love it, there’s a lot of me in there, but I’ve grown past it a bit.
It started off with me asking around work, “If you could go back to any age and keep your current consciousness – world view, knowledge, history, memories, opinions, everything – but you had to live your life forward from there, would you?”
The responses were awesome.
Many had the expected knee-jerk responses of “zoom through school” and “play the lottery.” But if pressed, reminding them that, y’know, their history is no longer their history – family, friends, jobs, events – none of that is guaranteed, it became less of an easy question.
Others I respected immensely. I explained the question, they had me clarify, thought on it, and then went, “Oh, hell no. I love my (girlfriend/family/dog/job/friends/you-name-it). Wouldn’t want to risk that.”
Others still, left me pretty flabbergasted…
“Oh, hell yeah.”
“Even though you won’t have your family any more?”
“Yeah, they’ll be fine.”
“No, like, you wouldn’t have your kids anymore.”
“Yeah, I get it.”
“Jesus, man. Didn’t you adopt?”
To this day, I’m unsure whether or not they were having my leg, still didn’t understand the thought experiment, or were being serious and just genuinely did not enjoy their life.

Anyway, to cap it all off, writing ‘Fifteen Years’ was an adventure, one that helped me chart out just how goddamn grateful I am for the life I’m swimming through.

Have a good one, y’all.

Ciao.

Another True Story

On Thursday, I went to the beach for the first time in probably three years (except for Mothers’ Day this year, but that was an exception because it was a different beach than normal, and I got to help her fly kites like we used to do when I was a kid – but ANYWAY), and it was nice.

Didn’t take anyone with me, just packed up a bag with a thermos of cocoa, my notebook, a couple of pencils (they’re Pokemon pencils), and a towel. In Northern California, for the Uninitiated, our beaches aren’t those sexy, Santa Barbara kind of soft sand, warm water, even warmer sun; our beaches are like Russian grandmas from the early 1900’s: hard, cold, gritty, and smell sort of like salt and turnips.

But it’s a great place for being an introspective (pseudo-pretentious) douche.

So I walked down the shaky steps, took in the salty, crisp air, and found a big ol’ rock to sit on, contemplate things, and take notes.

If you haven’t yet, do me a favor and check out the “You Are a Human Being” post from Sunday. It’s worth a smile, and there were a few things I meant to dig into there, but never got around to.

One of those things is something called the Overview Effect. In brief, it’s described as a change in awareness and a shift in consciousness by astronauts during spaceflight when they see Earth in space – surrounded by nothing, baseless, floating, and moreover…tiny.

There are books on the idea, movies on the idea, and now blog posts on the idea; which is all a good thing, because it is a truly marvelous concept. Everything you know, love, hate, cherish, have made, eaten, seen, or what-have-you, is all on that tiny dot.

And that’s the reality, which is weird, isn’t it? But also provides a sort of privilege.

After I heard about it a couple of years ago, I started thinking of myself, at times, as a micro-explorer. Mountains aren’t giant, bacteria isn’t tiny, they just are the sizes they are. We just use ourselves to measure them relative to, well, us.

So it was thoughts like that which floated around my brain while I sat on that rock, beside a craggy cliff face which shored up along the tides. I started to think about the shoreline less like a huge wall of broken rock (which broke down into big rocks, which broke down to smaller and smaller rocks, until it was sand, until it was water, etc), and more like a flaky pie crust.

From up top and way up high, that’s all it probably looks like. You see the slab of land that stretches off into hills one way, like paper that gets a bit warped, wavy, and crinkled; and the other ends at the shore.

Do the visuals I’m trying to paint make any sense? Or is it just me?

Me?

Sweet.

Well, while out there on that rock, thinking of all these hilariously-too-big ideas (Jesus, that sounds like I’m stroking myself a bit: “Heh, look at me with all my big, genius, philosophy thoughts. I’m so wise and smart and- anyway), I hear something kind of funny.

I fit my pen into my notebook, lean over the edge of the rock, and look down.

Down by the rocks is a sea otter! But it looks different and like it’s holding something, a couple something’s, actually; and it isn’t scattering when I make noise. So I pack up my things, climb down my rock, and try to get a closer look; all the while, still hearing this weird “ching, ching, chang” sound.

I get down to the sand, round the rock, and find the otter. Up close, I realize why he looked strange from up top: he was wearing a helmet. A bright yellow construction helmet. And he was holding a chisel and a hammer, whacking away at a rock.

“Well, this is new,” I said.

“Yeah?” said the otter, turning around. He pocketed the chisel, leaned on his hammer, and adjusted the cigar between his teeth. He also spoke with a thick Brooklyn accent. “What’re ya lookin’ at, kid? You ain’t got anywhere to be?”

“Uh, no. Well, yeah, kinda, but, I mean…”

“Spit it out, kid. You thick in the head or somethin’?”

“You’re an otter.”

“Yeah, and who’re you? Beethoven?”

“If I’m talking with an otter wearing construction gear on beach, I might be.”

“Yeah? Well nice to meet you’s. Name’s Ralph.”

“Shit, Ralph. It’s nice to meet you too.” I hold my hand out to shake, and he takes it. He’s got a strong grip – a good sign. I tell him that.

“Yeah, kid. You too,” he says. “None o’ that limp-wristed bitch shit, m’I right?” He laughs. “Hey, know what kid? I like you. How ’bout me and the wife have you over tonight fa dinnah?”

Whatever plans I had, I cancelled. I was going to have dinner with this otter’s family. So he finished up his work on the rock, and when the tide came in, he ushered me off to a space along the shoreline. It was, for lack of a better term, a cave that wound down and around a ways that finally came to a light at the bottom. I expected it to be cold, but it warmed up rather nicely and kept dry, not humid at all.

“Honey!” Ralph called. “Honey, I’m home. And I brought a friend.”

When she walked around the corner of the comfortably furnished cave, my mouth fell open. “Catherine Zeta-Jones?” I said in astonishment.

She welcomed me in, we all had dinner (cioppino with red wine), I caught up on where CZJ’s been, chatted philosophy with Ralph, and got wine-drunk with both of them…

I woke up a couple hours ago, which is why I didn’t manage to post on Thursday.

Mea culpa.

Anyway, catch you guys Tuesday (barring any more run-in’s with praeto-natural mammals).

Ciao.

A Little Heist…

Happy Thursday, y’aver’body (that’s “y’all” + “everybody”)!

No grand introduction here, just stopping by to say that if you’re one of my California Brothers or Sisters and been working with the power outages, I hope you’re getting through it well and having fun camping.

Anyway, I’m just gonna drop this here:

Coldin “Fade” Cradleson

Coldin began his life in Bosford, a largely unremarkable homestead but holding a name for its farmland and orchards. In his early years, he did as all young halflings would and found mischief with a small gang of other younglings wherever he might find opportunity to shirk his chores. Some years would pass in this fashion before a devastating dry season hit and his family’s farm failed. Now a young adult with an independent fire in his belly, he set off to the capital city of Stettin to find his own way.

The sprawling streets and maze-like alleyways of the metropolis overwhelmed young Coldin at first and, with a lack of work available to him, he chose his cunning deft hands as his means to earn. Rather than live like a guttersnipe in the streets with beggars, he began making his way through the art of petty theft and crime. Coldin managed to carry on in this way for several months before he caught the shadowy gaze of the city’s Thieves’ Guild proper.

One late night in one of the lower districts’ common houses, the Gilded Mare, sitting at a corner table and enjoying a day’s work, he was approached by a small band of four. One, a human with long black hair tied back and a scar under his left eye; another, tall for an elf, but strikingly green emerald eyes; a third, a stocky dwarf with a nasty grimace and a beard trimmed short; and lastly, a halfling like himself, though her skin was, for Fenris especially, exotically dark. The man spoke first.

“Enjoyin’ this evenin’, little master?”

“I was,” Coldin replied. “What’s all this?” He found his gaze repeatedly wandering over to the dark halfling whose eyes never left his and whose coy smile never dropped.

“An introduction,” said the elf, taking a seat next to him. “Seems you’ve been stepping on some toes since you’ve arrived. There are those who don’t take too kindly to it.”

Coldin tensed, ready for a skirmish. “So then,” he said, looking at the gang, “how does this sort of thing get handled?”

“With an invitation, actually,” said the man. “My name is Runil. This charmer is Vaenin, smiles over there is Grum, and this little beauty is Jasmyn.”

“Call me Fade.”

Runil gave a soft chuckle. “Fade it is then. So then tell me, Fade, how about a job?”

“How could I say no?” replied the halfling with a grin.

Several nights later, Coldin was on a sloped rooftop overlooking the Stettin Estates. The moonless sky gifted him total darkness and from his vantage point, he had an unobstructed view of the target’s room. The job was to be simple. Sam Robinsong was in town to personally oversee the sale of a valuable art piece. Runil posed as the prospective buyer, several of Vaenin’s friends filled in the staff of house’s staff to make sure necessary doors and security measures remained accessible, leaving it up to Jasmyn and Coldin to seize the prize once the way was clear. This done, and he was in with the Thieves’ Guild of Stettin. After about an hour of waiting, he watched as Sam Robinsong left the room, called away by the disguised Runil.

“Time to work,” thought Coldin to himself. He slid down the roof top and deftly leapt the small gap. Attaching a grappling hook to the chimney, he lowered himself down to the window sill. He produced his toolkit of picks and levies and set to work on the window. Despite his efforts, it refused to budge. He looked into the room and ducked as he saw someone enter. Daring a glance, he saw that the individual was a halfling and, surmising it was Jasmyn, signaled to her. Meeting his gaze, she smiled sickly as she bagged up the valued painting. She pulled away her face mask, and to Coldin’s shock, the woman standing in the room he knew as Jasmyn looked exactly as he did.

Just then, the door to the room flew open and Robinsong, accompanied by two guards, burst in with swords drawn. Jasmyn produced a black stone from a fold in her clothing and threw it at the ground, and as she did so, it exploded to fill the room with smoke. However, the smoke quickly dispersed, and with Coldin looking on in confusion and awe, he saw Robinsong on the ground, bleeding from the throat. One of the guards took to his care while the other scanned the room and saw Coldin at the window. He shouted for reinforcements and Coldin quickly repelled from the window down to street level. Once his soft boots touched the brick-laid streets, they didn’t stop running until he was hidden quietly behind a pig trough in a butcher’s yard. As the pursuing voices receded, his heartbeat slowly resumed its regular pace. Careful and calculated, he smeared the filth about his cloths and skin, and stole away down the dark alleys towards a beggars’ lane where he fell asleep among the homeless.

He woke the next day to a soft repeated tap against his foot. Standing above him was a man, no older than twenty summers, with short brown hair and a genial smile, dressed in a robe of soft lavender color.

“What’s it? What do you want?” groaned the halfling.

The man never dropped his soft smile. “Hello. I’ve been looking for you. No, don’t worry, not like that. You can relax. I come on behalf of the Order of Bokonon.”

“The fu- who? Listen, I don’t hold to any orders, borders, or robe folders. There are plenty of other people here you can preach to, so, if you don’t mind.”

“My master informs me you’re to serve a matter of great import and in a fortnight’s time, would like to welcome you to our temple personally. Where you will receive answers to any and all questions.”

“Didn’t I tell you, I’m not interested.”

“Ah, but you have reason to be.” With that, the man produced a rolled up piece of paper from his sleeve and handed it to Coldin.

Coldin snatched it from the man’s hand and unrolled it. He gave a short gasp. It was a wanted poster with a depiction of his face on it and a generous sum posted as a reward for his capture.

“The man hunting you is quite resourceful and his reach extends far in this land. This opportunity offers much, but with it, a chance for escape. Here, as a measure of good faith.” The man in lavender discreetly handed him a pouch of coin. “Use this to quickly clean and supply yourself. In two week’s time, at dusk, come to the Temple of Bokonon in Tallin.”

Coldin’s eyes didn’t leave the poster. When he looked up to speak, the man was gone. Thoughts rumbling in his mind, Coldin quickly calculated his odds.

“So then,” he sighed to himself, “to the City of Temples.”

END

The Take: This was cool to come back to. It was THE FIRST character backstory I EVER wrote, so it’s a fun look back in time. A little over-complicated? Yeah, in parts, but overall it worked. Unfortunately, the player for whom it was intended wound up not becoming a part of the main group (I legitimately forget why, but I’m going to safely assume a manner of failure on my part), but I trust the bad guys here were going to come back with a vengeance.

Anyway, take it easy, keep safe, enjoy life, and I’ll catch you all Tuesday!

Ciao, for now.

A Baby Bird

It’s hot in L.A. I’m walking down the sidewalk with the sun tingling my scalp through my hat, and the sweat tickles the center of my back with every other step. The wind picks up, the palm trees sway, and in the distance the city buzzes.

There wasn’t a shine, a movement, or anything in particular that drew my eye, but I happened to see a baby bird. It was there, on the sidewalk, under a tree. It was so small, so fragile, and its chest rose and fell so quickly with its tiny breaths. Its feathers were small and sparse, and there were small red lines on its body that were probably cuts or scratches. I look up at the tree, and I have to squint my eyes, but I think I see the nest. A timeline of events begins to puzzle its way together into one of two possibilities.

The first, is that a hot, summer wind came along and swept this bird out of the comfort of its nest before its time.

The second, is that it was old enough – it looks big enough to be that old, maybe; but what do I know? – that it was time to learn to fly. And when its mother made this young chick fly, it wasn’t ready.

Either way, it wasn’t ready.

I look back down to the baby bird on the sidewalk. I don’t know what to do. I hope it isn’t in pain, though it probably is. I hope its mother will come for it, though she probably won’t. I hope for some reason to think it might heal, though I’m not sure there is one.

Briefly, I look around for something to end its life with, but quickly realize I don’t have the heart to mercy-kill it, even if it would be a kindness. There are no rocks, no bricks, only my shoe and I can’t bring myself to do that.

So I do the only thing there’s left to do.

I take the scrap of a paper cup lying nearby in the shade of a parked car, and scoop its limp, pulsing form off of the hot sidewalk. I place it a few inches to the side, out of the sun, in the shade of the tree. I take a moment to wish it well – the lone favor of a passing giant – and keep walking, praying it knows comfort in its last hours.

Later on up the sidewalk, I stop again and think about that baby bird. I look up, and a few moments later see no fewer than half a dozen black birds flying overhead from an unknowable origin to an unknowable destination. I small chuckle tells the lesson: We symbolize birds for their freedom, their gift of flight, and it’s usually with jealousy. But rarely, I think, do we consider the cost, the gamble they make when they’re young, and what should happen if the gamble goes poorly. I realized then and there how common a story it must be, to be a bird that never gets to taste flight. Somewhere in that feeling was a mix of respect and admiration for both: for birds whose wings we hail, and those whose wings never spread more than once.

Later, while we’re leaving the city, stuck in the usual, infamous sea of red brake lights, I see the Hollywood sign in distance.

And I chuckle again.

FIN