Auxonne, 1654

259words_01.jpgIn 1654, on a perfect spring day in Auxonne, France, Rupert L’Estrange — at last! — took his beloved Christina to bed. Without hesitation or fear, their exquisite bodies sought frantic pleasure atop white linens….until Christina’s husband stormed in.

“Philippe! No!” Christina cried as Philippe lifted Rupert off the bed and slammed him to the floor. He kicked him hard in the stomach. And kicked him again.

Philippe grabbed Christina by her thick black hair and struck her face. “No, Philippe! No!” Rupert struggled to his feet. He had to save her.

Christina looked at Rupert; Rupert looked back at her. Philippe saw in their eyes the unquenchable passion they had for each other.

Enraged, Philippe pulled out his dagger and slashed Christina’s throat.

At the site of her slumped body, Rupert let out a moan that came from deep inside his soul. Numb from sorrow, he didn’t even feel the dagger that Philippe drove into his side.

Death came in an instant. But his scream didn’t stop.

The sound of Rupert’s agony echoed in Philippe’s mind until he was driven to madness and hung himself from the highest beam in the stable.

Nearly 349 years later, a yowling little dog, a mix of fluffy and sweet, appeared on YouTube.

When the dog’s owners chanted “Rooo-pert, Rooo-pert,” the dog spun in circles, startled and scared, not sure what horror lived inside of him.

The dog howled. It wasn’t a dog howl, but the agonizing moan of a demon.

It was the eternal pain, the eternal scream of Rupert L’Estrange.

Fresh-Cut Flowers

259words_01.jpgEarly in the morning, Marisa sat at her computer, apathetically reading through the news feed pronouncements on Facebook. She stopped scrolling when she saw that the man she loved for oh so long had posted a photograph of a glass vase filled with bright yellow flowers. In the comment box, he wrote only one word:  Daffodils.

He used to buy flowers like those for her.

Throughout their years together, he had made sure that the vase on the table next to her side of the bed always had flowers in it. Lilies, orchids, mums, forsythia.

Now he bought flowers for someone else.

Marisa looked at the daffodils in the photograph — their saturation of color, the ruffled petals. She wondered how flowers themselves could look so absolutely happy, almost giddy.

Marisa knew that if she had seen this photo posted during the dark days of the past winter, she would have wept, sobbing sobs that would leave her feeling vacant and drained. She may have curled up in a ball, pulling her comforter over her head, abandoning all hope of surviving the big black sinkhole of pain that grew inside of her.

But that was then. The longer days of spring had arrived.freshcut

Marisa decided that the first thing she would do today was buy herself fresh-cut white tulips. She would carefully arrange the flowers in a glass vase and set them on the nightstand next to her bed.

The tulips would turn toward the sun, and each day, their petals would open wider, reaching out toward new beginnings.

Quiet in the Hills — A 259-Word Do Over

259words_01.jpgSpecial note: Yesterday, I posted the 259-Word story,”Tea with Sydney.” A friend commented on Facebook that it “Reads like the start of a murder mystery.” That comment instantly created a new vision and compelled me to write another story using the same opening lines but with quite a different ending. 

We rode the train through the Scottish Highlands to Mallaig, a storybook harbor town surrounded by a jumble of whitewashed buildings.

We missed the last ferry to the Isle of Skye. The man at the dock said, “Sorry. That’s the old schedule.”

Stranded until morning, we booked a room at an inn. The pub wouldn’t open for hours.

“Off for a hike!” Sara tallyhoed in her fake Scottish accent, waving her souvenir walking stick toward the hills that rose up behind town. Her need to make the best of things filled me with rage.

I once loved her joyfulness, spirit, and energy. Now, I hated her.

As we trekked across the countryside, she talked non-stop. “Look…sheep!” she exclaimed. “What a view!” “Flowers!” I usually could tune her out, but today the sound of her voice was unbearable.

In the middle of nowhere, we came upon a red public telephone booth. “Look at that,” Sara said. “Isn’t that odd? Take my picture!”

“How’s this?” She laughed with each new pose. “How’s this?” Every time I saw her open mouth in the viewfinder, I hated her even more.

I put the camera away and nudged her into the phone booth. “Shhhhh,’ I said, placing my index finger on her lips. I pressed against her and kissed her. Hard. It felt good to put my hands around her throat. She tried to scream.

The sun was setting. I would wait until dark to throw her body off the nearby cliff.

I looked out toward the sea. The only sound was the wind.

Tea with Sydney

259words_01.jpg

We rode the train through the Scottish Highlands to Mallaig, a storybook harbor town surrounded by a jumble of whitewashed buildings.

We missed the last ferry to the Isle of Skye. The man at the dock said, “Sorry. We’re not on the holiday schedule now.”

Stranded until morning, we booked a room at an inn close to the harbor. The pub wouldn’t open for hours.

“Off for a ramble!” Sara tallyhoed in her fake Scottish accent, waving her souvenir walking stick toward the green hills that rose up behind the town.

We trekked across the open countryside, the terrain alternating between steep climbs and flat expanses with rocky trails. The last thing we imagined we would discover was a red public telephone booth. But we did. Nearby, there was a cottage painted sky blue; the front door, orange; the window trim, bright yellow.

@Binski/Dreamstime.com

@Binski/Dreamstime.com

Sara took a picture.

From behind the cottage, a lanky old man appeared. One very large sheep lumbered along beside him.

He sized us up. “Yanks?” he asked.

“Yes, sir,” I said.

For a time, we stood together and looked out toward the sea. The only sound was the wind.

“He’s called Sydney.” The man nudged the sheep with his knee.

Agreeable, Sydney inched closer. We hesitantly patted him, then grew braver and burrowed our hands into his woolly coat.

“He’s Mac,” Sara said, pointing at me. “She’s Sara,” I said, pointing back.

“Care to come in for a cuppa tea then?”

Feeling lucky, we followed him and his pet sheep into the little blue house.

 

The Next Big Thing Is a Collection of Little Stories

Thanks to indie author Lindsay Edmunds via Christa Polkinhorn for inviting me to participate in a round-robin “blog chain” called The Next Big Thing, in which authors of various stripes preview their current works-in-progress by answering some pre-set questions. So, here goes...

I’m taking this opportunity to go on the record that I will indeed  — at long last — complete and circulate a short story collection in the summer.

The stories have been stewing in a big pot of procrastination, apprehension, avoidance, exasperation, and struggle. I’ve recently added some freshly chopped audacity and am hoping that it turns out to be delicious.

Here are my answers to Christa’s Q&A:

What is the working title of your next book?
The working title is Men With Long Hair. I’ve been told that the title sounds a little too Fabio for what it is, a collection of stories with touches of magical realism. Nonetheless, I feel attached to using Men With Long Hair.

Where did the idea come from?
I have been writing short stories for many years, and I could see connecting threads in a number of them. To make the connections stronger, I’ve rewritten the stories and then I have undone those rewrites…again and again and again. It is a work in progress, that’s for sure.

What actors would you choose to play the major roles?
That’s a tough question since these are stories and not a novel. But I suppose I would choose a strong yet vulnerable female lead of the Ellen Page type, paired with confused, troubled, and dreamy male actors who look fabulous with longish, shaggy hair — think Orlando Bloom.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
A woman consistently finds herself in odd situations with inappropriate men.

How long did it take to draft the manuscript?
It’s been an on-and-off process covering about ten years.

Will it be self-published or will you be represented by an agent?
I’m going to self-publish it as an e-book. I don’t want to shop it; I want to share it while I’m feeling the courage to let it live on its own.

What other books are similar to Men With Long Hair? 
I am inspired by story collections like Italo Calvino’s Difficult Loves. Note the word “inspired.”

What other elements might pique the reader’s interest?
The character of Gina has emerged as the key connecting female in the stories. She falls in love with one man who turns into a llama. Another love interest spontaneously combusts.

The first paragraph of one of the stories, “The Diner,” was included a number of years ago in an issue of the Mississippi Review that featured 147 first paragraphs of short stories. Here it is:

Gina held out her hand toward Marshall so he could see it shake. Her foot twitched beneath the table. Her heart pounded. Inside, her chest felt thick and muddy.

________________________

OTHER WORKS IN PROGRESS FEATURED IN THIS BLOG CHAIN:

Visit Lindsay Urban’s blog at Writer’s Rest to learn more about her new novel, CEL & ANNA: A 22nd CENTURY LOVE STORY.

Visit Christa Polkinhorn’s blog at Christa Polkinhorn Bookworm Press to learn more about her new novel, EMILIA.

Visit Susan Eisenberg’s blog at Unsynchronized Passions to learn more about her next novel, LUCKY FOR YOU.

Other participating authors:

Elizabeth Egerton Wilder

Linda Cassidy Lewis

John Cammalleri

Annie Acorn 

Darlene Foster

Check out hashtag #BlogNextBigThing on Twitter to find more author blogs about works in progress.