She thinks this is the place she dreamed of, but those may be the wrong mountains. A dictator hangs from the bridge across the River Honey, so named because it accumulates deep yellow soil as it meanders through the valley. The color of autumn, the river is to remind her of the calendar thinning. The river is hers, and the dead dictator, and the rich valley that narrows between the mountains' jagged walls. She cannot be certain about the mountains and turns her painted pony toward the steep trail, willing to risk it all at the top of her new home.
All night they stood in the pasture, lined up as though preparing for a battle charge. First light, they began falling, one by one, not in sequence, but in proximity, sometimes onto the body beside it. The line of cows withered. So many died they all couldn't be buried before the gas inside their stomachs turned the bodies onto their backs. Legs reached toward the sky. No one knew why the cows began dying. Tests failed to explain the deaths or odd death behavior. Those of us on burial duty worked around the clock until all the remains were gone.
Hole In The Sun
He read that a hole is growing in the sun and tries to not think of rivers. When he closes his eyes in hopes of sleep it is mere seconds before rivers flow. He watches the tiny eddies lap the small stones. It is never a rapid river and for this he is grateful, but now he knows the sun's plight and it is his duty to think of its wide wound. He promises himself he will ignore the slow, dark water when he closes his eyes, that he will dream instead of a fire making heaven with a drum.
It was while washing his face in the white tin basin, standing on the horizon of his exhaustion, that He saw He2. Taller, stronger, and much better rested, He2 gave He a long look, then smirked. Is this what you've become, He2 asked? You should have followed my suit. He started to protest. He was not offered the same opportunities. He was first, here to make the way. He2 showed He his palm. It's too late to argue, He2 said. Go rest your sagging bones. He turned his back to the white tin basin. He2 never spoke to He again.
He built a cabin across the river too small to house more bodies than one. After treks to the ship to bring up supplies, he closed the door and turned to the arms of nights as black and long as his blade was bright and quick. He thought of night, sitting in the dark, and longed to see it unadorned, saw instead a quarry filled with emeralds and rubies. The wife he will never marry is there with the children he will never hold. If only the dark was left an empty space, but nothing, he knew, is left unfilled.
I am the cheapest psychiatrist in Brentwood and am seldom invited to the best parties. I am aware it is tough to be cheap when everyone is rich. Sometimes I want to yell into their faces as they sneak in the backdoor as the chauffeur slips away. Their cheapness, when they have more money than they will ever need, is symptomatic of why they never listen to me. Why they come to their appointments and ramble on about their lives and ignore everything I say. How can I help that every word I say begs them to please go away?
I Never Knew
“Tilt back your nose,” my uncle said. Blood ran in two streams across my upper lip and down the sides of my mouth. “You're always staring at the ground. That's probably why the punk popped you.” His lips were squeezed shut. He had been in two wars and one prison. When he died his friend Alejandro knelt by the casket. His tears fell to the floor. My mother stared at him. Her lips pressed so tightly together they made a single line. Then she looked at me and said, “It's good he's dead. His life made up too much.”
What I note about all of these is the assured certainty each sentence conveys. No hesitation or apparent ambiguity, just that this is the way things are. I just don’t see very clearly what he sees. They all made me think, but it will take more thought than I have at the moment. I hope others can help me.
The Die In sounds like an appropriate echo of our pandemic, the assumed protective array of might followed by death.
He2 strikes me as a doppelgänger dispute, though I can’t see the result of whichever wins. Maybe neither.
First Settler evokes an early Spanish quester for New World wealth, realizing its search fills the void that might have included a family.
Hole in the Sun still mystifies me though the water/heat tension reminds me a bit of Frost’s Fire and Ice.
Brentwood Shrink feels familiar since I live fairly close to LA’s Brentwood, and immediately recall the saying that free or cheap anything decreases motivation, here to work toward healing. Yes, they should go away since there’s no sacrifice at stake.
What the N of I Never Knew didn’t know eludes me, unless as the N’s mother says the old man tried too much for others.
Somehow I skipped Wrong Mountain (Hello Freud!) but will leave it for others,.
Thanks for reading. I appreciate what you say. Getting the tone and narratives together in these short pieces is very much like writing poetry. They are poems more than fiction. I think everything you said is true. "I Never Knew" had been accepted by a journal so I'll have to wait to fix the problem you pointed out. It's still too subtle.
I'm working away on these pieces and your feedback is helpful.
Yes, this is very much like writing poetry. I suppose one could say it is prose poetry. I like the limitation to 100 words.
I like them all and see a thread that ties them together. Dystopia. Or dreaming. Or isolation. All three. Water runs through them all too (I think).
Great stuff John and certainly poetic. If you wanted, you could incorporate line breaks to add a charge to the meaning, I think. I like poetic structure better than paragraph structure.
I think The Die-In might be nice to start with the sentence "No one knew why the cows began dying."
Anyway, you sparked one out of me — here it is:
We took the pink pill and broke it to pieces, then swirled it in warm water and gulped it down, thinking it would activate its effects more rapidly, and it worked. Within minutes my vision was altered and there was an imbalance to everything. I felt, not heard, a hum and my thinking focused beyond what was there and into the heart of why I wanted to go there in the first place: to see what I could not see. To be under the influence and go with the flow of it. There was no danger. Even when things peaked I knew I would come down, refreshed from the trip.
Thanks, Jim. I enjoy writing them and am slowly accumulating what I hope will be a novella made of 100-word story/poems. The only way I can do it is to get out of the way and let a narrative emerge. I've written several more since posting these. I would post more but the fiction board here gets so little attention it isn't worth the effort.
I like what you've done in your example. Maybe having a little story, narrative is helpful to you as well. I don't know if you're a jazz listener and know that the old-time greats would talk about a great solo told a little story. Like that. You may want to consider doing more.
One central thing to them is there is no room for long sentences the explain actions or motives, etc. Such as your first sentence. Everything in that sentence needs to be made into an image of some sort. Consider doing the entire thing as an action. One suggestion is to start with the end. The opening sentence could be "There was (is?) no danger." Then the pill is dropped and make, don't tell, what happens.
You probably weren't looking for critique. Couldn't stop myself. I do think, and hope, it's helpful.
Creating a story out of stories is among the projects that I've tinkered with, so knowing that you have something similar in mind (though your conception of story is clearly different than mine) prompts me to think my comment may be helpful after all.
I've been wondering what makes each of these a story. It's not necessary, of course, that the answer to that be any traditional definition of "story"--and I'm not asking you to answer the question for me--but as a reader, I want to understand how the novella defines story, so I can appreciate each story's success as the novella builds.
Thanks, Max. Sorry about the long delay. I have not worked on this project in a while. Hope to return to it soon. Your questions are the ones I ask myself.
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