Tag Archives: fiction

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night

“It was a dark and stormy night.”

I typed that line at the top of the page. Then I leaned back in my chair and just stared, stared at the sheet of white paper peeking out from the top of the typewriter, mocking me.

“’It was a dark and stormy night.’ Is that all you can think of? How about a flash of lightning followed by a slow roll of thunder across the dark sky, wind blowing through the trees, the rattle of windows, the sound of rain hitting the roof, yes, lots and lots of rain?”

I tore the page from the typewriter in frustration and anger, crushed it into a ball and tossed it in the direction of the waste basket. It hit the wall and bounced off, missing its target to join the many other wads of paper scattered about. I reached for a clean sheet of paper and fed it into the typewriter.

I turned the roller until a small portion of the virgin paper emerged above the keys. I sat up straight, took a deep breath, and prepared to type.

The keys sang out: click, click, clickity-click, click . . .

I was composing a short story, a great piece of literature, perhaps a great novel in its infancy.

I paused and looked at what I had written: “It was a dark and stormy night.”

“Hemingway could do better.”

“Hemingway does not impress me,” I replied. “If your intent is to mock me, you really must do better than Hemingway.”

“Hemingway won the Nobel Prize, or have you forgotten?”

My frustration with my own lack of creativity was increasing.

“I am sure that even Hemingway had dry moments from time to time.”

“Dry?” I answered with a note of contempt in my voice. “He drank more than that big fish the old man in the boat claimed to have caught. Need I warn you,” I continued, “you can be replaced?”

“With what, a computer?”

“And why not?” I asked. “Technology is everywhere today. Why even books are digitized.”

“No great writer ever used a computer,” my antagonist continued. “And may I add, no lover of books would ever read one on a screen.”

I folded my arms and stared down at the typewriter.

“Now, put some mood music on the phonograph, pour yourself a drink, and get to work.”

I ripped the paper from the typewriter, crumpled it, and tossed it on the floor with the others, and placing a new sheet in the typewriter, I began to type.

“It was a dark and stormy night.”

Until next time, be good to all God’s creation and always walk under the mercy.

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And the Winner is . . .

Those of you who read my blog are aware that I entered a short story in NPR’s contest, “Three-Minute Fiction:  Round 8.”  As expected, my story, “Return to Brighton Manor,” was not chosen as the winning entry from among the more than 6,000 short stories submitted.  Nevertheless, I had fun writing what was only my second attempt at fiction.  I am looking forward to entering Round 9 in the fall.

Author Luis Alberto Urrea was the judge who made the final selection.  He read more than a hundred of the stories, himself.  He was assisted by members of several writing workshops and university writing programs.  All of the stories were read, yes even mine, by some courageous volunteer. 

The winning submission is “Rainy Wedding” by Carrie MacKillop of Charlotte, Vermont.  Listening to it read professionally by Susan Stanford on NPR’s “All Things Considered,” I can see why it was chosen.  I love it.  

I find it interesting that Carrie MacKillop does not have any formal training in creative writing.  She has a bachelor’s degree in English UCLA, but failed to be accepted into their creative writing program.  I’ll bet they now wish that they had made a different decision.  I wonder how many agents have called her, since she was announced as the winner.

I do hope that she will write more.  Luis Alberto Urrea predicts that she is America‘s next great writer.  Perhaps.  She is off to a good start.

And so I say congratulations to Carrie MacKillop.

To listen to “Rainy Wedding”:   http://www.npr.org/player/v2/mediaPlayer.html?action=1&t=1&islist=false&id=153115410&m=153152952

Other entries considered exceptionally good can be read on NPR’s webpage:  http://www.npr.org/2012/05/20/153115410/three-minute-fiction-the-round-8-winner-is

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Mr. Hopper (Part 2): A Short Story by Paul R. Waibel

Monday was a particularly beautiful fall day.  The sky was clear, and the air had that wonderful cool crispness that made one feel alive and fresh.  “A perfect day for a walk in the park,” Alex thought.

The park was large and hilly, with numerous trees.  Benches designed for comfort and aesthetic appeal were strategically placed throughout.  In the center of the park was a lake, the habitat of an assortment of ducks and Canada geese.  Around the lake and meandering among the trees was a wide paved path connected to The Pines by a short, narrow path, much like the access to an interstate highway.

The whole scene reminded him of an Impressionist painting, perhaps a Monet or Renoir.  As he walked from The Pines to his favorite bench in the park, he imagined himself stepping into such a painting, becoming a part of the peace and tranquility so beautifully captured on the canvas by the artist.

He liked to sit on a bench—“his bench”–located under an old oak tree on a hill overlooking the lake.  During the summer, the tree’s foliage provided shade from the sun.  In the winter, the absence of leaves permitted the warmth of the sun’s rays to reach the bench.

He especially liked the spring.  As the days lengthened, the grass turned green and tiny buds appeared on the branches of the trees.  Slowly at first, and then like the burst of cannon fire in Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, or the “Hallelujah” chorus in Handel’s Messiah, the whole park seemed to awaken
from a long sleep.  The air filled with the sound of birds singing, children playing, and the aroma of blooming flowers.  Spring was Mary’s favorite time
of year, too.

Today, as he walked slowly to his bench, he thought of how fall was so different, and yet so much like spring.  The grass was no longer as green and fresh; the leaves on the trees were turning color and beginning to fall.  He imagined an artist standing before a canvas with his pallet of colors in one hand and his brush in the other.  Would he include the figure of a short, elderly man with rounded shoulders, a tweed cap, and a cane in his right hand walking through the park? Would the artist be able to communicate in paints on the canvas the emotions Alex felt?  In the future, when people looked at the painting hanging on a wall, would their attention be drawn to the figure in the painting?  Would they wonder who he was?  What was he thinking?  Where was he going?  Was he just walking, walking and thinking?

When Alex arrived, he brushed the fallen leaves off the bench and sat down.  He placed his cane firmly between his feet and placed his hands, one on top of the other, on its curved handle.  He sat there looking straight ahead.  Now and then a leaf would break free from the branch that had held it in place through the summer, and gently float down until it came to rest on the bench beside him. One landed on his cap, another on his lap, but he paid no attention; he
continued looking straight ahead.

A pageantry of memories flowed through his mind, memories of past joys and sorrows, images, sounds and smells, a montage of a lifetime.  “And what was the purpose of it all,” he wondered, “to find oneself alone on a park bench, waiting for the last act of life’s drama?”

For the residents of The Pines, much of the time was spent in memories of the
past.  And since the past could never be relived, such memories were always bitter-sweet and accompanied by a longing for the inevitable transition from the present to the future.

He noticed that the play of the afternoon sun on the lake created an illusion that was almost hypnotic.  As the water moved ever so slightly, the reflection of the sun on its surface appeared to sparkle, much like it did on a field of fresh-fallen snow in winter.

Alex stared absent-mindedly at the horizon across the lake, where the top of a faded green hill touched the light blue sky.  He saw a figure emerging above the horizon across the lake.  At first he saw only the stranger’s head, then a little more, until he stood fully erect, silhouetted against the sky.

The stranger stood still for a moment, looking across the lake in the direction of where Alex was sitting.  After a brief pause he began walking down the hill towards the lake. He did not walk as if in a hurry to make an appointment.  Nor did he appear as if he were merely strolling through the park with no particular destination in mind.  Rather, he walked at a steady pace, neither
glancing to the right nor the left, as if following a predetermined path to a
specific destination.

Alex watched the figure as he walked down the hill to the lake, and then proceeded around the lake.  After rounding the lake, he turned and began ascending the hill to where Alex sat.  All the time, Alex remained seated, his head still facing the lake, and his hands folded one on top the other on his cane, rooted firmly between his feet.

When he arrived at his goal, the stranger did not speak, or otherwise acknowledge the presence of the elderly man on the bench. He quietly sat down on the bench, staring straight ahead as if looking into the same time tunnel as Alex.

After a few long moments—or perhaps just a minute, Alex spoke.

“I’ve been expecting you.”

Neither one looked at the other, but continued looking straight ahead.

“You might have come sooner,” Alex continued, as if asking a question rather than making a comment.  The tone of his voice had a note of disappointment in it, or perhaps even sadness.

“Everything occurs according to its purpose, its meaning,” the stranger replied.

Alex had a lifetime of questions, and now it seemed was the time to ask them.  Would he be given answers, or would his questions be met with silence?

“Purpose?  Meaning?” asked Alex.  “Are you implying that there is a purpose to everything that happens in a person’s life, that life itself has some meaning beyond the moment?”

“Yes,” the stranger said, “nothing exists without purpose, without meaning.”

“Was there meaning in Willy’s death in a pointless war? Was there meaning in Mary’s death, leaving me here to wait all alone for my own death?  Does life have any meaning?”

“The individual life is the most meaningful of all that is,” replied the stranger,
not so much as if answering a question as stating a fact.  Then he continued.  “All wars are meaningless distractions, but no one’s death is in vain.”

“Do you mean to preach to me?” asked Alex.  “If so, . . . .”  He did not finish his
sentence.  He expected the stranger to interrupt him, but he did not.

Neither spoke.  They sat side by side in silence.  Then Alex continued, “I have
seen much, too much, of death in my lifetime. I have seen mothers bent over the bodies of their children, their hands clasped together, their faces turned up to the sky, eyes filled with tears and asking over and over, ‘Why?’  ‘Why?’  ‘Why?’”

Alex sat, nodding his head as if deep in thought.

“Silence,” he said softly, “only Silence.”

Then the stranger spoke, “All the suffering and death would be meaningless, if as you suppose, there was no one there to hear, no one to see the tears or feel the anguish of abandonment, if in the end there was only a cold, dark silence.  But it is not so, for death was conquered by death, and where death once reigned, hope now reigns.

“You speak of God.”

“Yes.”

Alex turned his head and looked at the figure sitting next to him on the bench.  The stranger turned and looked into Alex’s eyes.

“It’s only at the end of life’s journey that one fully understands the path taken.  Only then do the answers to the questions of why and what for become clear.  Until then, the pilgrim can only see in part.” Then he added:  “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.”

They sat there looking into each other’s face as if communicating by thoughts only.

After a few moments, the stranger stood up.  He turned and faced Alex.

 “Is it time?” asked Alex.

“Yes!”

Alex stood up, and the two companions walked off together, retracing the path by which the visitor came.  When they reached the crest of the hill on the opposite side of the lake, they paused.  Alex turned and looked back across the lake.  He saw the figure of an old man sitting alone on a bench.  His hands were folded, one on top the other, on a cane.  His head was resting on his chest, as if he were sleeping.  He then turned back, and the two slowly disappeared over the horizon.  In the distance Alex could hear the faint sound of music and voices, as if ahead they were celebrating a wedding.

(Copyright 2011 by Paul R. Waibel)

Until next time, be good to all God’s creation, and always live under the mercy.

A Short Story

This is my first ever attempt at writing fiction. I wrote it more as a challenge to myself, than for any other reason. Whether or not it is any good, I will leave up to you, the readers of my blog, to decide.

I will post the first part today and the second part tomorrow. Why two parts? I thought you might be more likely to read it, if I did not dump the whole thing on you at one time. Also, if you are bored by the first part, you need not bother with reading the second part.

So, get yourself a fresh cup of coffee and couple biscotti, relax, and peak into a day in the life of “Mr. Hopper.”

Mr. Hopper
A short story by Paul R. Waibel*

Monday began like any other day for Mr. Hopper, except for the brief encounter on his way to the dining hall.

As he walked slowly down the hall, he heard someone say, “Good morning, Mr. Hopper.”

“Mornin,” he replied, instinctively, and continued on his way.

Such casual greetings were not at all unusual. People often greet each other, even if they are total strangers. No one expects an honest answer, much less a conversation, only an acknowledgement.

Perhaps it was only a moment’s curiosity, but Mr. Hopper paused. Steadying himself on his cane, he turned his head to see who it was, but he caught only a glimpse of the gentleman’s back. “No matter,” he thought, “just another unfortunate soul.”

For the past five years Alexis “Alex” Hopper had been a resident of The Pines, a retirement home for those fortunate enough to have more than just Social Security.

The accommodations were not luxurious, but neither were they uncomfortable. A small bedroom, a private bath with shower and tub combination, and a living room made up what he liked to refer to as his apartment. It was located on a long hallway. Along the hallway on either side was a succession of doors, each one opening to a similar arrangement of rooms.

Meals were taken in a dining hall. Most of the tables were round, some able to seat up to six individuals, others only four. Along the outer wall that was mostly glass were a number of small square tables, suitable for one or two guests. There were also some small tables along the inner walls or next to pillars, placed in such a way as to provide a measure of privacy for those who wished to eat alone.

The tables were covered with table cloths–usually white, but occasionally some pastel color such as light blue or green. In the center of each table sat a small vase filled with fresh-cut flowers. Around each table were straight back chairs, upholstered with a fabric that reminded one of a tapestry.

Each morning at breakfast, Mr. Hopper ate alone. He liked to sit at one of the small tables along an inner wall, somewhat isolated from the rest. Everyone seemed to understand.

He was, like so many of the residents of The Pines, an individual of habit. Every morning he ate the same breakfast—two eggs, scrambled well-done; two sausage patties or links, also cooked well-done; a small portion of fried potatoes or grits; two slices of toast with butter and jelly, preferably strawberry or blueberry; and hot coffee–medium roast, breakfast blend, and brewed just a bit strong.

Often, he would add a small bowl of fruit. He did not particularly like fruit in the morning, but Mary always said: “Alex, dear, eat some fruit. It’s good for you.” He would always smile, just as he did now, as if she were sitting across from him.

Breakfast was usually followed by spending the morning hours in his apartment. He was allowed a certain amount of what the staff called “personal things.” Space, after all, was limited.

In addition to the bed, more comfortable than he expected, there were a chest of drawers and a set of bookshelves attached to the wall. Beneath the bookshelves was a small writing desk on which stood a brass lamp. A comfortable recliner that could both rock and swivel completed the inventory of furniture.

On the desk in a simple frame was a photograph of Mary with their son, William, or “Willy,” as he liked to be called. Alex took the photo one summer while they were on vacation in Washington, DC visiting the Marine Corps War Memorial. There, frozen in time, were the brave Marines forever raising the American flag over Iwo Jima. The combined experience of visiting the memorial and walking between the rows upon rows of white crosses in Arlington National Cemetery seemed to have had a powerful effect on young Willy. As they walked back to their car, he announced: “I’m going to be a Marine.”

In a drawer in the dresser, among other mementos of his many years, was a letter from a Marine officer who commanded Willy’s platoon in Vietnam. He used words like “brave,” “honorable,” “proud,” “tough,” and, the highest accolade of respect, the simple words, “a Marine.”

Alex wondered if the officer who wrote the letter actually knew his son. Perhaps he was merely writing a letter that he wrote to the parents of all the young men in his platoon who lost their innocence as well as their lives in the rice paddies and jungles of Vietnam. He once overheard a retired Marine officer say that during the Tet Offensive the new recruits were dying so fast he never had a chance to learn their names.

Lunch was different from breakfast. Then, he was accustomed to joining a small group of friends. “Friends, you need friends,” Mary was always telling him. “Without friends, life has no meaning, no purpose.”

“Friends?” Yes, he agreed with her that everyone needed acquaintances, perhaps, but friends? It seemed to him that there was a difference between a friend and an acquaintance.

A friend was someone close, someone with whom you could be open and transparent. That is what Mary had been–a friend, the only friend he ever had.

An acquaintance was different. An acquaintance was one with whom you chatted over a cup of coffee. You might discuss the weather, sports, politics, or even conspire to solve the world’s problems. You might exchange jokes or stories of past experiences. But you would not, could not, share personal thoughts and emotions with mere acquaintances. They must always be kept at a safe distance. There was a part of oneself, he insisted, that could only be shared with a friend. For him only one person could ever fit that description. That was Mary.

Among the residents were certain individuals who were, as he would say, “interesting.” He liked to have lunch with them. They met regularly at the same table. If one was late arriving or failed to show up, the immediate conversation was centered on the question “why?”

“Is he ill?”

“Has anyone seen her this morning?”

“Do you suppose something is wrong?”

Edna Taylor was a very proper person. She reminded him of Maggie Smith or, more accurately, “Elsa,” the character played by Maggie Smith in the movie “Tea with Mussolini.” She always sat with her back very straight, her napkin neatly placed on her lap. Her manners were impeccable. She always used the “right” piece of silverware in the “right” manner, and occasionally paused to touch her napkin to the corners of her mouth.

“Lady Taylor,” as Alex liked to think of her, often reminisced nostalgically about the many years she spent married to Henry Taylor. She prefaced her comments with, “I remember when Henry and I . . .” or “Henry would always say . . .” or “My late husband . . .” or sometimes simply “Mr. Taylor . . . .”

Alex remembered one incident when Edna was recalling a particular New Year’s celebration. It was the first New Year after the end of the war. She and her husband were living abroad in Paris. She described the evening as if it were recent, perhaps this past New Year’s Eve. When she finished, she was silent, her eyes watering, staring into space, as if back in another time and place.

No one spoke. They all understood.

Sandra Fleming was something of a mystery. She spent much of her life on the stage. She told tales of an exciting, fast-paced life among theatrical people. Unlike Lady Taylor, Ms. Fleming never spoke of her husband, if she ever had one. Instead, she recalled numerous romantic encounters with a host of men from San Francisco to New York to London.

Alex was not certain that everything Ms. Fleming recalled did, in fact, happen. One could never be sure if she was giving a performance or really recalling what must have been an exciting life. It didn’t really matter, he thought; she made her companions laugh, and that was always welcome.

Colonel Wilfred Cooper completed the foursome. The others always addressed him as “Colonel Cooper,” or simply “Colonel,” an honor he seemed to appreciate, even relished.

Colonel Cooper was not really a commissioned officer, although he was a veteran of the second Great War. The title “Colonel” before his name was purely honorary, one of those honorary commissions in the state militia handed out by Southern governors. As with Ms. Fleming, the Colonel was a storyteller. And, as with Ms. Fleming, one could not be sure that every incident he recalled necessarily happened as described. But, once again, the truth wasn’t as important as the story.

The Colonel spiced up his tales with a colorful vocabulary. He might, for example, refer to a character in one of his narratives as a “bloody fool,” or in the passion of the moment forget where he was and use the descriptive, “a bloody bastard.” When he did so, he added an apology for the benefit of the two ladies.

If the four companions were in a particularly festive mood, Colonel Cooper would relate one of supposedly many colorful encounters with a lovely young lady. When doing so, he was apt to dwell upon the physical qualities of the young lady.

Lady Taylor would feign righteous shock: “Really, Colonel!”

Ms. Fleming would laugh, and then looking directly at the Colonel across the table from her, she would say, “If only we had met, when we were both much younger.”

Colonel Cooper would straighten up in his chair, his chest expanded with pride: “It would have been my pleasure, Ms. Fleming,” he might say, the smile on his face enhanced by a wink in Ms Fleming’s direction.

With lunch over, the foursome departed to their regular afternoon routines.

After returning to his rooms for a brief rest, Alex normally spent the afternoon in the park that bordered The Pines, although it was not part of the property. It was a public park, very neat and proper, much like an English butler.

* * *
(Copyright 2011 by Paul R. Waibel)

Stay tuned tomorrow for the second and last installment. What will Mr. Hopper discover in the park?