Thursday, January 21, 2010

"The New Place"

Update on the writing competition I spoke of earlier: I decided to post Crazy Brave (pops) and The Good, The Bad and The Stanley (pops), since I could enter two pieces (and I suppose it increases my chances of winning). There are half a dozen competitions with deadlines on January 31st, so I've got some formatting to do between now and then.

I didn't write this story from personal experience, but please don't consider it disingenuous. I put a lot of thought and consideration into it. I've seen friends go through this situation before, and through that experience I hope I captured the appropriate tone.

"Starting Over"
Aaron Matthew Smith- January 2010

The dirt on my face itched, and I couldn’t scratch it.

“Callie,” I called into the kitchen. “Callie, come scratch my nose.”

My daughter, all long skinny legs like her mom, loped into the living room in jeans that were too tight for a fourteen year old. I’d told her that before, but now was not the time to start up that argument again. She scratched the tip of my nose, then nudged my bandana back over my sandy blonde hair. I gave her a wink that she repaid with a smirk, and I continued into the bedroom.

The queen size mattress was bare, and sitting on a box spring that was sitting on the bare carpet because we hadn’t bought a bed frame for it yet. I placed the box of clothes onto the floor next to the bed, then stood up and stretched. I groaned, and then scolded myself for making the old lady noise. I would not allow myself to feel old. Not today.

When I walked back into the living room, I found Callie using one cardboard box as a chair and a second as a table. She had opened the kitchen supplies and was making two peanut butter sandwiches.

“Ooh, sweetheart, don’t sit on that box,” I shooed her up even as I gratefully took the sandwich she handed me. I found the folding card table and chairs that we’d made it out with and set them up as she attempted to un-squash the box she’d sat on. I glanced up at it, and immediately wished I hadn’t. Gary and Alison’s stuff was written on it.

“Oh, not that box,” I signed, and slumped into one of the folding chairs. Callie looked up at me, then glanced to the side of the box. She sat down in one of the chairs. The two of us ate our sandwiches in silence for another minute before she said,

“I don’t know why you don’t just throw that one out.”

I glanced up into her sandy brown eyes, the same eyes her father had, and felt a weak smile crawling across my face.

“Honey…” there was something I wanted to say, but I had no idea how to put words to it. I looked away from her.

“I’m serious, mom. You don’t need that anymore.”

“Callie, your father…”

“Is a dick, mom.”

I had to smile at that. She had more of me in her than I liked to admit. I walked to the box she’d been sitting on and opened it carefully. Callie had packed it- I hadn’t wanted to look at any of the things she put in it. At the very top of the box, atop an old tablecloth, was our framed wedding picture. The glass was cracked.

“Oh,” I said, taking the item gently in my hands. I didn’t feel the tears on my eyes, and I didn’t give them permission to fall, but the next thing I knew they were dripping onto the golden frame and my nose was running.

I sniffed and wiped my nose on my sleeve, which caused a huge sob to bubble up out of my chest. I felt the dust, makeup and tears mixing on my face. My shoulders bobbed, and I clutched the frame to my chest. I sat on the carpet in the living room and sobbed.

My face felt hot- in the back of my head, I was ashamed that I was crying over him again. Hadn’t I’d sworn I was finished with that? I clenched my teeth, my breath coming in hissing gasps. A warm arm wrapped around my neck, and I felt Callie, my teenager, holding me against her chest the way I’d held her when she was a child. I couldn’t help but laugh at the image, though the closeness brought a thankful hiccup of joy to my lips.

“Mom…” Callie said, her face just a little red. She was better at fighting back tears than I was. “I can’t blame you. I mean, look at your hair. I’d be crying too.”

I laughed, a deep stomach laugh this time, driving away the last of my tears. “You shut up. It was in style. And so was that dress. With the sleeves, good god, I looked awful.”

“You looked beautiful. You look beautiful.” Callie amended, taking my face in her hands and forcing me to look directly into her eyes. She smiled, and I mimicked it.

“Thanks,” I said quietly, standing from my place on the floor and placing the picture on the card table. “Agh, jeez… I swore that wouldn’t happen anymore.”

“And it won’t!” Callie said. She spread her arms and turned around in the bare living room. “Look at this! A place to ourselves! We don’t have to worry about that anymore.”

“Yeah,” I said, and suppressed the urge to look at the photo again. “God, I can’t believe it’s all finally over.”

“No, it’s finally beginning.” Callie replied, and I turned to see a fierce smile on her freckled face, her straight teeth bared. I walked to her and put my arms around her.

“How the hell did you get so strong?” I asked as we hugged, biting back another sob.

“I had a lot of practice,” she whispered, and added, “and a good role model.”

“Good role model?” I chuckled, and ran a hand through my own sandy hair, and was suddenly reminded of the gray I’d spotted last week. “I thought I taught you better than to sit on boxes. You cracked my picture frame.”

“Yeah, I did, but not by sitting on it.” I pulled away from her and studied her face. “I punched it. While I was packing it. I didn’t think you’d be upset about it.” I laughed again.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

"Twilight" Review, part 2

Okay, I've been found out. And, since I have more sense than Tiger Woods, I think it's best if I just come clean right now before any more damage is done to my character.

I'm actually reading Twilight because of a girl. There, I said it.

I was making fun of Twilight long before I first cracked the cover on the book. My girlfriend, who has read and is a fan of all four books, insisted that I read the books so that I could at least make an educated criticism. My previous reasons are still valid and true; but, I admit that my girlfriend was the initial factor.

That said, let's begin the second part of my review!
I last left off at the beginning of Chapter 6- "Scary Stories". I'm still not finished with the book. I've made it to Chapter 13, "Confessions" (I took a break to read something else for a while, cleanse the pallet). For part 2, I'd like to focus on the relationship between Bella and Edward.

Pg. 103, 104: "Where do you think you're going?" he asked, outraged, He was gripping a fistful of my jacket in one hand....He was towing me to his car now, pulling me by my jacket. It was all I could do to keep from falling backward. He'd probably just drag me along if I did. "Let go!" I insisted. He ignored me....I stood by the car, fuming...."Get in, Bella." I didn't answer. I was mentally calculating my chances of reaching the truck before he could catch me...."I'll just drag you back," He threatened, guessing my plan.

To be completely honest, I'm a bit disturbed that so many teenage and pre-teen girls have read this book, because odds are more than a few of them want similar relationships for themselves. Let's keep reading. On pages 214 and 215 Edward goes through the following spectrum of emotions:
  • He sighed, brooding
  • His eyes were suddenly fierce
  • He exhaled angrily, and looked away
  • He watched my face with enjoyment as that slowly sank in.
  • The corners of his mouth turned down in disapproval
  • He smiled teasingly
  • He smiled at some remembered joke
I'm no therapist, but abusive and controlling tendancies plus rampant mood changes are what I would consider red flags in a relationship. So why in the world is Bella interested in him at all?

Pg. 256: His white shirt was sleeveless, and he wore it unbuttoned, so that the smooth white skin of his throat flowed uninterrupted over the marble contours of his chest, his perfect musculature no longer merely hinted at behind concealing clothes. He was too perfect, I realized with a piercing stab of despair. There was no way this godlike creature could be meant for me.

Oh! I get it now! The lesson here, ladies, is this: It doesn't matter if your boyfriend is controlling, abusive, or experiences turbulent mood swings as long as he's pretty enough! The More You Know!

Also, the shirt described above is a woman's blouse. I have no idea what Meyer was getting at by having Edward wear it.
(image source:,cropped)

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The fiction writer's dilemma

I have a delima, and I need some help!
There's a writing competition at Coffee House Fiction in which I would like to participate. The guidelines are only that it has to be an unpublished piece of fiction no greater than 3500 words. My problem is that each and every piece I've posted to this blog fits that description. So I have NO IDEA which piece to submit!

There are no genre limitations. I have pieces that I'm more fond of than others, but I'd really like some input on this. If you have a personal favorite or a piece that you think is stronger than the others, please let me know so I can take it into consideration. Just reply to this entry, or get a hold of me via Facebook (if we're friends), or via Twitter @FedoraFugitive.

Thanks in advance for the input!

Monday, January 4, 2010

"Crazy Brave"

Well, I survived the Christmas holiday season, and if you're reading this I suppose you did too. I horrified myself this year by becoming the person I swore I'd never be- I actually said "Christmas is so hectic this year, I can't wait for it to be over." In my defense, I went home to my parents, whose house was without power for ten days, and then met my girlfriend's extended family. So, yes, just a little hectic. But, I actually had a lot of fun.

Well, enough about my life. Here's a story I wrote this year that I had a lot of fun with. I don't get to use the childish side of my brain a whole lot, so I really enjoyed writing it.

"Crazy Brave" (about 1400 words)
August 2009
Aaron M. Smith

“…and that was when, BANG! The door slammed shut behind them!”

My sister Shelly’s eyes were the size of silver dollars. Teddi was sitting up in her sleeping bag, zipped up all the way; only her face from the nose up was visible. I smiled discretely at her. I brought the flashlight up close to my chin, casting weird shadows across my face in the blue dome tent.

“What happened then?” Shelly said in a tiny voice.

“They banged and banged on the old door, but it wouldn’t open,” I dropped my voice for effect. “And suddenly, they heard someone shout, ‘Who dares to enter Witch Annie’s home!?’” Teddi momentarily buried her face completely in the sleeping bag. When she pulled her head out again, her blonde hair was poking every direction.

“Then what happened?” She squeaked.

“Nobody knows- some say the kids broke out one of the windows and got away. Some say Witch Annie cooked them in a big pot and fed them to her rats. And some say that to this day, you can still hear their screams…”

A neighbor’s dog barked all of a sudden, and all three of us cried out; I coughed, hoping desperately that Teddi hadn’t heard me scream like a girl. She’d crawled entirely into her sleeping bag, though- no chance of that. Good. For a moment, the three of us looked warily around at each other. Crickets and frogs chirped and sang in the summer night outside. It had to have been after midnight.

“I don’t think I can go to sleep,” Shelly said at length. “Tell us another story Woody.”

“I’ve told you three already,” I said.

“So? We like them.”

I grinned. “You like getting scared out of your brains?”

Teddi’s head bobbed insider her sleeping bag.

“Okay, fine- but I want another oatmeal pie.”

“Ooh, me too,” Teddi chimed in, the fear of the last story forgotten.

Shelly began digging through the provisions we’d stashed in the tent; flashlights, sleeping bags, pillows, blankets , Shelly’s stuffed bear (that’s nine-year-olds for you), some magazines Teddi had brought along with that vampire guy on the front… but no oatmeal pies. Shelly looked up at me, her face ashen. “I can’t find them.”

“What do you mean, they’ve got to be here…” I paused. “…unless we left them outside.”

As if on cue, the neighbor’s dog began to howl. A cold chill ran beneath my Fallout Boy t-shirt.

“…well, go on, go get them.” Shelly said to me, after a few moments of nervous glancing.

“Me!?! Why should I go get them?”

“You’re the boy!” Shelly said, as if it was obvious to anyone with a brain. “And the oldest!”

I was about to point out that I was only a few months older than Teddi, because I’d be turning eleven in November, but I couldn’t; if I did, I’d look like a wimp. On the other hand, if I didn’t, I’d have to go out there. By myself. In the dark.

Sometimes, being a boy sucks.

“Okay, okay,” I said. Teddi looked relieved; evidently, she was afraid I was going to send her outside after the snacks. I unzipped the nylon tent wall and peaked out; it was pitch black outside, except for the glow of the porch light from mom and dad’s house, maybe a hundred yards away. The grass glimmered with fallen dew.

We’d pitched the tent just past the edge of the backyard, in a copse of trees at the foot of a forest that my family at least partly owned. Our campfire circle still smoked, but the fire had long since gone out. I looked, but didn’t see the cakes anywhere.

I reached back into the tent, grabbed a flashlight, and climbed barefoot out of the tent, stalking the twenty or so feet to the cooling ring of stones. It’s only a story, it’s only a story, Witch Annie isn’t real, it’s only a story, I told myself. Across the hollow, the neighbor’s dog began to howl again, and I froze. I covered up the moment of fear by looking around the camp chairs for the box of cakes.

“Do you see them?” Teddi called in a shouted whisper from the tent.

“No.” I hissed back. “Are you sure they’re not in the tent?”

“Positive!” Came Shelly’s voice.

“Maybe they’re at the picnic table,” Teddi said.

My heart dropped into my stomach. I turned around.

The picnic table was a full thirty feet behind the tent, farther into the woods. Dad had clear cut the area last summer, so we could have a place to sit when we had family barbecues. But now, the picnic table didn’t look like anywhere I wanted to sit and eat watermelon. In the inky shadows behind the blue nylon dome, I couldn’t even make out the table.

I could’ve gone back into the tent, said no oatmeal pies tonight girls, told them another story, and let that be the end of it. Heck, after another story, they’d be so scared that they probably would’ve forgotten all about the cakes.

Then I looked back at the tent, and the blonde haired, blue eyed Teddi peering at me from the door flap. Her eyes were wide; she was watching to see what I was going to do next.

I couldn’t chicken out. Not in front of her.

I gripped the flashlight so hard that my hand hurt as I trudged past the tent, well out of the meager light cast by the house. The grass was wet, cold and slippery under my feet, and it was taller here; my mind conjured up hideous, gross things underfoot that I crushed with each step. I shuddered, and was thankful that I was past the tent now.

Until I heard the window unzip; I knew they were watching me.

There was the table, twenty feet away now. Something moved in the woods to my right, a shudder of trees and brush. I dashed to the table.

Five feet from it, my flashlight went out.

The girls screamed, and the hair on the back of my neck shot straight up; I didn’t stop running until I collided with the table, knocking the wind out of my lungs. I doubled over against the wood, my hands slapping the uneven tabletop- and my fingertips brushed flimsy cardboard, damp from the dew. I grabbed the box of oatmeal pies and turned, my feet slipping and sliding on the wet grass.

Whatever was in the woods shifted again, just as my feet slipped out from under me and I landed flat on my stomach on the damp ground, right on top of the box of cakes. My skin prickled, and I imagined all manner of monsters and vermin climbing up and over my back. I rolled and squirmed and swatted as Shelly and Teddi continued to scream from the open tent window.

Finally I made my way to my feet, squashed box of oatmeal pies tucked against me like a football. More noise from the woods, on both sides of the clearing this time; the dog howled, and combined with the shuddering of the underbrush around me, I pictured an entire pack of hell hounds, or vicious monsters with huge claws and teeth and matted fur, or Witch Annie herself come to drag me back to her old haunted house.

An alarm in my brain rang furiously, my instincts screaming at me to run; I could see the silhouette of the tent before me, a black half-circle protruding from the ground like some horrible blister. I ran, and I could feel the breath of monsters and beasts on the back of my neck. I didn’t realize I was screaming until I’d reached the tent and clambered back inside, yanking the zipper closed as soon as my feet cleared the nylon door.

We all sat in silence in the tent; the only sound was our heaving breath, ragged from fear. My shirt and jeans were damp and covered in mud and grass clippings. The box of pies was on my lap, wet and crushed but recovered; in silence I turned the box upside down and dumped the cakes onto the tent floor. I took one and, without a word, tore the cellophane wrapper off of it and took a bite. It was the sweetest thing I’d ever eaten.

Teddi watched me with huge blue eyes, wonder on her pretty face.

It had totally been worth it.