30 or so Stories I’ve written in 2018 that have been rejected: Long Live The King

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I was stretching my hands to hit a C chord in the G position in the CAGED system. Something I’d seen a million times but never really knew what it was until then. My guitar teacher passionately waited for me to strum what would sound like failing out in guitar hero. I wanted to riff like Pat Martino in Sonny but I was a while away. He saw a red truck pull in the drive way behind me and dropped the hint for me to pack it up.

“I really think your not too far away from getting to were you want to be” He said.

I gave him look like he just shit his pants.

“I’m serious. Practice this week and we’re probably going to get into some blues next week. So it wouldn’t hurt to listen to some B.B. King either.”

I was still skeptical, but despite the sandals and socks, the man could play.

“I don’t think I’ve ever listened to B.B.King before, well at least a other than a song here or there. Got any good suggestions?”

He smiled and opened the door of his studio, signaling me to get the fuck out.

“Oh you’ll be in for a treat then. Live in Cook County Jail.”

I thanked him and walked out with my guitar case in hand.

The next day it poured outside and I was held up in the apartment. I played until I got hungry and threw on some B.B. while I prepped. The convicts boo’ed the jail staff for a few minutes and B.B. got into. The man came out swinging, literally. It was jumpy, so much so, my shoulders got into it during my carrot cutting. Almost as instantly as it began he slowed it down and whaled on one of the best, yet simplest solos I’ve ever heard.

The man screamed out every word, like a hot air balloon with a leak. It just poured out of him. I got goosebumps on “How blue can you get?”. The band stops and the man commands the room with

“I GAVE YOU SEVEN CHILDREN. AND NOW YOU WANNA GIVE THEM BACK!?!”

The crowed roared. I roared, knocking pieces of celery for my soup to the floor.

The more I listened the more I realized these weren’t just songs for B.B. I was hearing a man journey. I was hearing the pain of what it means to be alive sometimes. It wasn’t just the words or Lucille doing her thing. It was a summation of every thing. The rises, the falls, the screams, the whispers, even the pauses. He didn’t play with his head. It was all heart baby. And to this day,

I love every minute of it.

30 or so Stories I’ve written in 2018 that have been rejected: Eliot Smith (Self-Titled)

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Elliot Smith

Elliot Smith

1995 Kill Rock Stars

37:57

You wore a suit. At the time, I didn’t know you owned a suit, yet wasn’t surprised to see the jacket hang over your shoulders like it was stolen out of your dad’s closet.

Even when we moved in, I didn’t see a suit. We moved boxes and listened to Elliott Smith. His self-titled was your favorite, but Roman Candle was the only one not hidden in box. I had just gotten back from following Phish around the mid-west, and hated anything I couldn’t get stoned too. It took me several listens before I came around to liking his music.

The night you wore the suit, you stormed in the house with your work polo on, and played Christian Brothers off Elliott’s self-titled. The irony wasn’t lost on me as we tossed the brown bottle back. I tried to cheer you up about all the loss you suffered that week. We took shots and you spilled half the bottle of whiskey all over your grease stained denim. Looking back on it, I should’ve put it together when you uncharacteristically through a fit to your room.

I didn’t see you for a while and got worried. My shoulder forced your locked door open to the sound of Alphabet town. It was dark, but the orange pill bottles stuck out like a stop sign on your desk. You shivered as you tossed on the bed, forcing my gray windsor knot to unravel. I heard you mutter, “I’m sorry,” over Elliott’s harmonica. I ran over and called an ambulance.

I was relieved when you survived, but I knew I couldn’t live in that house anymore. I went back to college and we eventually lost touch. A few years back, I got a deal on Elliott Smith’s self-titled at the record store. Although it was one of the first records I ever bought, I have never listened to it once. It just sits in my closet, wrapped in plastic with my gray tie over it, and haunts me.

Drink: Christian Brothers straight from the bottle

30 or so Stories I’ve written in 2018 that have been rejected: On Call

 

We met in English class. Micah was a proper gal, that knew her way around a Neiman Marcus. It was light years away from my trailer park background but we shared a love of books. I fancied more Cormac McCarthy stuff, while she thought Faulkner was god. I gave her my number and told her to call me if she wanted to study. I never thought a girl like that would, but she did.

After that, everything happened so fast. We started on your typical college dates to the library to study. But it wasn’t long before we were that Facebook official couple on the couch at house parties. It was all going so well, until she showed me that double line on the First Responder Pregnancy Test.

Micah was only in her third semester of college, but it’s not like it mattered with the amount she went to class. This all happened so fast, I don’t even think she received a syllabus. I was in my junior year, and in an instant graduation seemed further away. She looked at me to say something. So I grabbed her hand and said the first thing I could think of.

“Let’s get out of here.”

She remained on the couch, so I grabbed the arm of her oversized gray sweatshirt and started walked. The keys clanked when I picked them up.

I chose a direction and drove it as far as the road would let me. Micah was silent. Only sound was the heater and the occasional wiper blades. It drove me nuts, so I put in a Kings of Leon CD.

“Are you hungry?” I asked.

Her eyes stared ahead at the passenger airbag sign.

“Yea” she whispered.

Sonic was close so I pulled in. She ordered a cheeseburger with a blue raspberry slushy and I pushed the limit with my Citi Card. The Grand Am was low on fumes, so I turned the car off. Micah rolled her eyes. I clicked the ignition to keep the heat going and she smirked. It was the first time her worried expression changed. We talked about our food until the courage came for the heavy stuff.

“Look I know we’re young, but I think we should keep it.” I said. “We could move to Phoenix. My parents have a place there, I’m sure they’d be willing to help us.”

The windows were fogged up, yet Micah still look out them.

“Yeah?” She said.

“Yeah, I could get a job working construction with my uncle. It wouldn’t be glamorous but it could work for now.”

She let out some air.

“You just got it all figured out. What about my parents? What do I tell them? They’ve never even met you!”

“I know. I know. It’s not an ideal way to meet. But I want this and I know it’s a lot to process right now, but think of baby. Our baby.

He moved the extra large cup from her grip and placed it in the cup holder. Then he grabbed both of her hands.

“I don’t care what she says. I love you. We can do this.” I said.

She looked in his eyes and took a deep breath. She looked scared, like she wanted to say a few more “what if”s but decided against it.

“Okay.” She said.

He kissed her on the cheek before turning the ignition. The wiper blades unlocked from the middle position and water flew in both directions.

#

Days went by, and I made the arrangement to move to my parents place. I told them everything and they were angry but understood. Micah was taking it hard so I’d show up with a gift at her place every time I came over. I’d bring boxes over too and we’d get to packing up her dorm room. She was quiet most of the time, still taking in the situation. The day before the move she said she was going to hang out with her girlfriends one last time. I let her go, as I had to pack my own things.

On the moving day, I swang by Starbucks to get her favorite, a double mocha with just a splash of almond milk. It was rainy and I almost dropped my coffee trying to open the glass door against the rain. I took the elevator up four flight to find a sticky note left on the door.

Tom,

I’m sorry. I wanted to tell you this in person, but I just couldn’t. I can’t do this with you. I moved home to figure this out.

Please don’t hate me.

-Micah

I pounded on the door out of reaction. I threw the coffee at the wall and started pounding louder, even yelling her name. Her neighbors started staring at me. Then I just ran. I didn’t know what else to do. I guess, I felt like if I got far away from the note, it didn’t exist. I sprinted all the way home. Once I caught my breath I called Micah’s like I was a telemarketer. Every voicemail I cursed, apologized, and pleaded until I wore myself to sleep.

Years have passed, and I’ve barely spoken to Micah. After a month of calls and letters, the restraining order came in the mail. I got the hint then. I eventually graduated I moved back to Phoenix.

The math tells me my boy should be around six but I don’t know for sure. I’ve never seen a picture of him. I just know he exists on paper because the child support keeps coming out of my check. I don’t even think he knows that I exist. That’s sad. He doesn’t even know where half of his features come from. My lawyer is still working on getting me some sort of custody. But it hasn’t been going well.

I’ve kept my phone number the same all these years, hoping he’ll call one day. It’s one of the things that keeps me going. Everyone I know hates unknown numbers. Not me. I get exited. I’ll even answer them at four in the morning. I can’t tell you how much it hurts when Comcast asks me to rank my internet service. My friends think I should give it a rest and I’m starting to think they’re right.

I’m always on call,

and it’s fucking killing me.

30 or so Stories I’ve written in 2018 that have been rejected: Why I Write

(For the record this isn’t a story and it was accepted. However after numerous failed attempts to upload and several emails to the editor, I ended up saying fuck it.)

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I suck at writing. I cheated on my spelling testing in the second grade. My reading comprehension is garbage. When I read fast, “wrods look lkie thsi”. In high school, I worked on a paper for two weeks straight only to get a note from my teacher telling me I didn’t even try. I scored a 2 out of 12 on the writing portion of the ACT. I got beat out for a non paid editors position for a small College newspaper by someone who’s first language isn’t English. All this begs the question, why am I writing this essay? Because I have to.

No, nobody is forcing me to do this. I like to write, so that’s what I do. But this doesn’t make me a “writer”. That’s a word my Aunt uses at Thanksgiving to talk about the novel she’s worked on for ten years. To me those are just six, ego boosting letters, that give other people permission to be a dick at a workshop. I don’t need anyone’s permission. Honestly, I don’t give a fuck if you read this or not. To me, the act of writing is it’s own reward.

So what am I trying to accomplish? Wow, talk about a tough question. I feel like most people would say something along the lines of “I want my voice to be heard.” That’s a solid reason. Everyone wants to leave their mark on the little planet. And now with all these technological avenues it’s easier than ever. But that’s not me.

See, you have to understand this wasn’t ever the plan. I was a failed musician who bitched in notebooks and found relief. I’m an avid online dater who uses imaginative language to set himself apart. I’m an Engineer who sends daily project updates with a story arch. So what am I trying to accomplish? Shit, I don’t know. Writing chose me, not the other way around. I’m just playing the hand I was dealt.

I submit my work because it keeps me honest. The longer that something stays in the drawer, the more my mind will play with it’s value. Idea’s aren’t stocks. They’re for everyone. Why not submit? There’s nothing to lose. Getting a gently worded letter by an overworked, underpaid editor doesn’t mean that was a bad idea. It just means I believe in it. That’s all.

Plus, my goal isn’t to write one great piece, it’s to get better at the craft. So when I get a rejection I know it’s time to turn up the heat. I’ll sit down and ask the tough questions. How bad do I believe in this? How many red-eyed nights have you stayed up pushing that pen around? How many early mornings have I gotten up to edit? How many rejections have I received this month? This week? I already know the answer to all of these questions, and it’s not enough.

It’s funny but when I think about it, everything has been right there in front of me the whole time. It always has bee. The feeling of accomplishment when I finish a piece. The smile I get after writing a great sentence. The focus I get after a rejection. All of it is right there and no one can stop me to go after it. So I ask myself again, how bad do I want it? Bad enough to take a break from my fiction writing to type of this essay? Bad enough to get goosebumps on the first draft? Bad enough to red line two drafts this morning? Well, I don’t know about anyone else but I want it bad.

…And that’s why I write.

30 or so Stories I’ve written in 2018 that have been rejected: Sweet Sixteen

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They met hours earlier, at a bar. Vince was in L.A. for work and heard about a Ping Pong tournament from his concierge. He never could stomach the hard stuff and drank Smirnoff ice. Sarah was a mid-western girl who moved with big dreams. She was celebrating getting her first role, a commercial for Beats by Dre and couldn’t stop staring his way. They officially met after Vince lost the championship game. She bought him a cold one and they hit it off, when he joked about going home and listing to the Smiths.

“I have a better idea” Sarah said. “Follow me”

They jumped in a cab and a few more drinks later, Vince was slipping his shorts off in someones make shift grotto. It was some house in the hills that Sarah seemed to know, yet they still jumped over the fence to get in.

“Just jump in,” she said as she held her head above water. Although the lights we’re dim, it was easy to see the water in the cave was deep. Vince slid his underwear off near the pile of clothes and the ping pong paddle he stole from the tournament– his consolation price– then barreled his way in. Water blossomed everywhere.

Sarah laughed. “See, doesn’t the water feel great?”

“Fuck no, it’s cold!” He said, shivering on his way up to the surface.

“Don’t be such a wuss!”

“Ah hello, I play ping pong and drink Smirnoff, remember?”

Sarah swam closer to him. She rubbed his arms underwater to warm him up.

“Is that better you poor baby?”

“A little bit.”

“How about this?” Sarah moved in and pecked Vince on the lips.

He pulled back and looked in her eyes.

“That’s a step in the right direction.”

“Glad to be of service here.” she said.

Vince looked around taking in all the ambiance. He had never been in a real grotto before, but was getting the feeling like this was as close as he might ever get. The rocks felt real, the water glowed off the moon light. The lights were the only thing that felt out of place.

“Who’s place is this again?” Vince asked.

“It’s a friend of my uncle’s. He’s in the music business. Apparently he got banned from the Playboy Mansion, and decided to make his own grotto.”

“Oh wow.” Vince said, “So he just lets you come in here whenever you want?”

Sarah tilted her head. “Ah look at you, you’re scared.”

He glanced down at the bottom.

“Little Vinny is scared.” She continued.

“Vinny?”

“Vinny. King of the ping pong nerds, and lover of all Smirnoff Ice.”

“Well I caught you’re attention.”

Sarah smiled.

“What can I say, I go wild for a man who air guitar with a ping pong paddle.”

“Lucky for you I still kept Lucille.”
“Lucille? You named the paddle Lucille?”

“Oh yes. Want to know why?” Vince said. He floated away from her and swam towards the pile of clothes. Droplets of water fell all over the rocks beneath him as he pulled himself over the rocks. He picked up the paddle and held it towards the waist of his naked body.

“Cause when I first Met you Girl,” Vince sang out. He inserted guitar noises at the appropriate times with his mouth.

“Baby you were just, Sweet sixteen.”

“Oh my god, I love B.B. King,” Sarah added as he continued to play the ping pong paddle.

“You just left home woman, the sweetest thing I’d ever seen!” Vince sang. Something about that moment made Vince want to yell it all out, like the King of the Blues himself. Just then a light shined on in the distance. Vince and Sarah froze.

“Who’s out there?” a deep voice followed.

Vince looked at Sarah. “Who is that?”

Sarah dove in the water towards the clothes. She pulled herself up.

“Fuck, I thought they were gone.”

“Who is that?”

“I told you my uncle’s friend. Come on, We got to go!”

The voice yelled again as they both grabbed their clothes and ran for the same piece of fence they climbed over previously to sneak in.

“I thought you said he was cool?” Vince said.

“He is. …But not to strangers sneaking in his yard.”

They both laughed and rushed over the chain link. They sprinted towards the road looking for somewhere they could put their clothes on. It would be a night neither of them would forget.

30 or so Stories I’ve written in 2018 that have been rejected: When We Were Six

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He pounded on his younger sister’s door until his index knuckle cracked. That finger started doing that after his sister slammed him in that fence, all those years ago. He shook out his hand and knocked again. He heard the brass lock click and paused. His shoulder rested against the side of the house and he shook his hand once more. The door opened like a sloth, but he expected that.  Sarah had been through a lot in the past couple days.

She kept a stale face and didn’t say anything. She left the door open and walked down the hall. It was noon on a Wednesday, yet she was still wearing pajamas. One of her pink slippers was halfway on her foot, exposing her dirty heel, as she stepped into the kitchen. He followed behind, noticing the coat rack with her blue Arctic jacket– overkill for a Texas winter. Below it still laid the matching gloves, alpine climbing harness, and bag filled with various camp supplies. Everything was unmoved from the last time he visited, when they had their last argument.

He entered in the kitchen. She was standing with her arms cross by the pantry. Her hair was messy in the same way he use to do before family pictures. He knew she hadn’t been outside since the funeral, and was surprised to see mascara still stained on her cheeks. He pulled out a chair at the table.  She noticed him check out the climbing stuff and attacked before he could sit down.

“Go on, say it!” she said.

“Say what?” he said.

“Tell me to get rid of the gear out there!” she said.

He adjusted himself in the wooden chair.

“I’m not here for that,” he said.

She took a few steps closer. She rested her hip against the stove, and crossed her arms again before chiming back in.

“So, why are you here then?”

“We’ve been trying to call you since …you know-“

“Michael’s death. You can say it.”

“Okay. Yea. Since Michael’s unfortunate death,” She rolled her eyes as he continued.

“I just came over to make sure you were alright Sis. Mom tried to call you, Dad tried to call.”

A laugh burst out of her mouth.

“We both know Dad didn’t try to call. He hated Michael! He couldn’t stand him. He’d tell me all the time he hated our climbing adventures!”

He let out a little smile and looked back in her eyes.

“Okay Sar, you got me there. But he still loves you and wants to make sure you’re alright.”

She peered away into the microwave on the counter, as if she was waiting for popcorn to finish. Time paused. He jumped back in to fill the silence.

“Are you okay?”

She took a deep breath.

“Am I okay?”

Her volume rose at the end of the sentence, like she was gearing up for a street race.

“Do you know what it’s like? Do you understand? LOOK AT ME!”

She pointed to her face.

“I was SUPPOSE to FUCKING be there next to him climbing, OKAY? I was suppose to help him tie his harness. That’s what good wives do. Do you get me? We sacrificed weekends, holidays, hell, your son’s birthday party! All to Tackle Everest!”

She stood up straight and walked towards him. Her head tilted as she used her hands as exclamation points.

“And for WHAT? For me to get sick a few days before and not pass the physical. Y’all can chalk it up anyway you want, but I already know it! I KNOW IT’S MY FAULT. I SHOULD’VE BEEN THERE!”

He lifted to his feet and grabbed her arms.

“Don’t do this to yourself Sarah!” he said.

A tear ran down her face as she tried to look away from him. She snorted a giant gob of snot and freed her arms.

“Don’t you tell me what to do! You and your fucking high horse! You don’t know! Just. Just. JUST GET OUT!”

She punched his shoulder. It was like they were six again and he stole her teddy bear. Get out! Get out! She kept screaming. More punches flew into him and he just stood there. Tears broke out and all words were stifled. She collapsed into his shoulder. He started patting her back. No forethought as to why, just a reaction. He looked up at the white kitchen ceiling.

He didn’t know what to do in this situation.  All his life, he barely knew what to say to his sister. They had only really started to get alone once Michael came in the picture. He liked Michael. The guy understood Sarah, which was weight off his shoulders. But everything was different now. No more avoiding this.

Sarah wept harder. He wanted to say something, anything, but decided against it. Instead, he kept rubbing her back. He figured the words would come when he needed them.

The Dead Man

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This is a story about a dead man, although he’s not dead yet. That part happens later.

No, at the beginning he was driving his new Porsche down the Florida Turnpike and I was sitting next to him. We’re really getting after it. I mean we were weaving in and out of cars like Dominic Toretto. We were going so fast, I could barely hear Journey over the sound of the wind. The palm trees dropped out the rear view mirror like Paul Bunyan was working. That fast!

Now, I’m from Idaho. We don’t drive like this. Even when I lived in Miami, I didn’t drive like this. I fit in with all the other snow birds going 65 in the middle lane. So here I am in the passenger’s seat, just clutching the ‘Oh Shit Handle’-begging the Dead Man to slow down. But he laughed and kept on cruising. Hey, that’s the Dead Man for you.

We met years back at a car show when I lived here. I held an unlit cigarette in my hand while I scoped out this GTO. It was a gorgeous machine. The dead man came up to admire and asked me if I have a light. We talk about the car for a few hours, and the next thing I know, we’re meeting up for drinks once a week. I meet his family, and he gets invited to my wedding. Sometimes you just click with people.

Anyways that day in the Porsche, I was just visiting. The dead man really wanted me to come down. He said he had to see in me in person for this one. Needless to say, I was shocked when he showed up in the 911 Porsche at the airport. That was his dream car! I couldn’t believe he bought it! I jumped in and we took off down the Highway.

“So you hungry Jeff?” the Dead Man said.

“Yea, I’m starving,” I said.

We exited the highway and I finally let go of the roof handle. I guess I felt safe with the slower pace of traffic or something. We drove around looking for a good spot when I saw a Halal Guys. I couldn’t wait anymore. We had to stop. At that point, I was way past the stomach growls. The Dead Man just shook his head and we pulled over.

Now at the restaurant he started acting a little funny. It’s like he’s got something to say but there’s a clog going on upstairs. His blue eyes start shifting around and he starts using his hands a lot to talk. Finally I say something.

“You doing okay man?”

“Not really, I got something to tell you.” He took a deep breath.

“I have stage three lung cancer.”

Wow. I mean talk about out of left field. The Dead Man and I talk a couple times a month. This never came up once. It’s like I didn’t even know the man, and he gave the toast at my wedding! I wanted to ask him all the usual worry questions, but what came out wasn’t anything close.

“So, is that why you bought the Porsche?”

He laughed. He had that kind of laugh that made it okay not to answer the question. We finished our lunch but it was quiet. I don’t even think the fans in restaurant were on anymore. We got back in the 911 and took off down the highway. Hauling ass of coarse.

This time on the Turnpike was different . I didn’t grab the overhead handle like before. The speed was just an afterthought. I didn’t even flinch when a little custom Civic tried to play with us. I mean I should’ve. Looking back, I can’t believe I didn’t say anything. It’s completely unlike me. Maybe if I did, the scene would’ve been different. But then again, maybe not.

The Civic pulled up to our left and honked. The driver flipped us off and juiced it.  The dead man just smiled and the 911 chased after him. I flew back in the seat. I’m pretty sure my eyes were glued open. As we caught up to him, the Dead Man started flipping him off. And that’s the last thing I remember before the crash.

After that, I woke up in hospital bed wearing a gown and covered in stitches. My wife was beside me. She grabbed my hand and told me everything. How the semi truck in the left lane next to us blew a tire. How it fishtailed into our lane. How the custom Civic driver saw the whole thing and called 911. And finally, she told me how Jerry was thrown from the driver side window,

and was pronounced dead.