Chapter 5 – January 1J

[This week’s challenge from The Daily Post is to write in the “gonzo journalism” style popularized by Hunter S. Thompson. My current project is not a first-person narrative (and I have no intention of changing my narrative structure just for this challenge), so I’ll attempt to meet this week’s requirements by emphasizing the subjective perspective of the principal character.]

Coach Dan took a step in Dr. Schmidt’s direction, touching lightly on the back of Jimmy’s bicep as he passed. Momentary resistance, then Jimmy rushed to his side.

Dr. Schmidt was talking to one of his students, Ed. Kept Rex from advancing to the state epee tournament last year. Ed’s sweaty hair was matted to his head, his breathing fast and loud. He looked confused, frustrated. “Thought that — was my counter-parry,” huffed Ed, waving in the direction of the fencing strip behind him, then raising a water bottle to his lips with his other hand.

“You were too close,” responded Dr. Schmidt, pointing with both index fingers at Ed. “You did not give ze director ze space to zee your parry!” Coach Dan remembered a cofmment Double-J had made last year, how whenever the coach of the En Garde! fencing academy got excited, he sounded like a second-rate comic hamming it up in a World War II parody.

Hearing the two men approach, Dr. Schmidt turned to face them. It wasn’t until then that Coach Dan had realized how correct Jimmy had been — the good doctor was very white today, from head to toe. Silver hair slicked back like a sheet of ice on his head; white coaching jacket with black stripes on the collar and sleeves; white undershirt, the En Garde! logo (foil, epee, and saber crossing blades over the school name printed in Old English script) printed in black on the chest; light gray track pants, with a double purple pinstripe down the outside of both legs; white sneakers, immaculately clean. Even his pallor seemed paler to Coach Dan today, making his long thin nose seem like a ski ramp on the side of a mountain.

“May I help you, Mr. Jacobs?” Dr. Schmidt sounded annoyed.

Ahuud — Coach Dan swallowed, clearing the mucus from his throat — “excuse me, I wanted you to meet my new assistant.” He looked to his right, saw that Jimmy had indeed followed him. “Jimmy — Dr. Schmidt.”

“Assistant?” Dr. Schmidt extended his right hand in Jimmy’s direction. “I did not know there were any fencing coaches looking for jobs in this area. Did you just move here?”

Coach Dan could feel annoyance emanating from Jimmy like halitosis, as he shook Dr. Schmidt’s hand. “I’m not a coach, and I wasn’t looking for a job. I’m a caterer, and coach here — ” he pointed with his left hand at Coach Dan — “he asked me to help with his team.” He leaned forward, looked squarely into Dr. Schmidt’s eyes, their right hands still firmly clasped. “You good with that, right?”

“Of course!” replied Dr. Schmidt, suddenly releasing Jimmy’s grasp and raising both hands in the air. His face beamed, like sunlight reflecting from a snowy field.

Chapter 5 – January 1D

[Today’s entry is the second of my contributions to this week’s challenge from The Daily Post.]

Double-J came forward, and without looking Rex could sense Kristof beginning to retreat, preparing for his counter-tempo attack. The ting of blades — a second ting — Double-J had parried Kristof, then landed his riposte to score his first touch.

Their bout moved quickly from that point, Double-J using a series of feints and disengages to further throw off Kristof’s timing. Having surrendered three straight touches and now trailing, Kristof abandoned his counter-tempo strategy and became the aggressor. Now it was Double-J who had his opponent playing his game, scoring a riposte off a desperate Kristof lunge with an ease that made his action looked choreographed. Kristof did manage to land a touch off a disengage, but then Double-J coaxed Kristof into attempting his counter-tempo attack once more. Double-J was waiting with the parry, and his riposte gave him the 5-3 victory.

A quick salute to Kristof and the referee, an obligatory shaking of hands, then Double-J, the thin black wires of his hair and moustache matted with sweat, turned to face Rex, who smiled in greeting. “So you figured it out.”

Double-J squinted. “Figured what out?”

Rex widened his eyes, waved in the direction of the strip. “The . . . the counter-tempo. You saw what he was doing, beat attacking off your advance.”

“Huh.” Double-J looked thoughtful, then proceeded to unhook himself from the cord reel. “That what he was doing?”

The tall teen looked down on Double-J, incredulous. “You don’t see? But you did the perfect response! How could you do that if you didn’t see what he was doing?”

Double-J looked up disdainfully. “Yeah I saw — just didn’t think about it.” He tapped his temple lightly, twice. “You’ve been doing epee too long — you think too much. I beat him by fencing like we were doing saber, going on instinct. Don’t think — just go.”

Chapter 5 – January 1C

[For today’s post I am once again incorporating The Daily Post’s Weekly Writing Challenge into the flow of my current project. This week’s challenge is to write a cliffhanger, “a post that will leave readers waiting for more.” That more will come tomorrow.]

“Saw his bout with Jen.” Rex flicked his head back, in the direction of Double-J’s opponent at the other end of the strip.

“Who won?” Double-J sounded indifferent.

“They were tied at 2, then he got the last three.” Rex lowered his voice. “Watch his — ”

Beeeehhhh. Double-J followed his abrupt, guttural dismissal by stepping past Rex. “I’ll figure it out.” He stepped to the center of the strip, raised his foil for the referee’s weight test; a moment later he then tested his foil against his opponent’s lame, an action mirrored by his opponent. The lights on the scoring machine lit correctly, and at the referee’s command the two fencers stepped back to their starting lines, quickly saluted each other and the referee, then donned their masks.

“Fence.” Double-J advanced quickly on his taller opponent, stopping when he reached lunge distance. Another quick step forward — Double-J’s opponent didn’t flinch. Another step — the opponent retreated, Double-J advanced again, began to lunge — the opposite foil flashed, kissed Double-J’s foil, the tip then landing on the shoulder.

Counter-tempo. That was what Rex had been trying to warn Double-J against, the strategy that this opponent (Kristof?) had used to beat Jen. Not the first time Double-J had turned down assistance, probably wouldn’t be the last.

The two fencers traded off-target hits, then Kristof scored again off a retreat. Double-J turned, dark murmurs seeping from the cold gray metal of his mask. Rex caught his eye as  he returned to his starting line. “Watch — ”

Shut up.

Rex turned, shaking his head. He knew from watching the earlier bout that Kristof wasn’t skilled enough to beat Double-J on a level playing field. But Double-J’s impatience was playing right into Kristof’s game, and if he let his anger and frustration take over he was likely to continue this misplay.

Rex scratched his chin. He could blurt out his advice now, and hope some rational instinct in Double-J would take heed. Or he could let the bout play out, allow his friend and teammate to go on his own, as he typically preferred. Perhaps he’d see what was happening, respond effectively. Or perhaps he’d continue charging forward, right into his opponent’s strength, straight into an avoidable loss.

“Fence.” Double-J advanced quickly, Kristof waiting at his line like a man with all the time in the world.

Claude and Fraud Do Something 1U

[Another week, another writing challenge from The Daily Post. One of the options for this challenge is to write “a character study of one person, told through snapshots of their December 23rds.” As usual, I’m working this in to the flow of my current project.]

“Perhaps we should go back to our apartment,” said Fraud to Claude.

Claude shook his head. “I don’t think that is a good idea. You’ll just sit back in your green corduroy recliner, put your feet on the matching ottoman, and read your newspaper.”

“What’s wrong with that?” asked Fraud.

Claude rolled his eyes. “Because every evening when I arrive at the apartment and take off my beige jacket with the hood that doesn’t fit my head properly, that’s what I see you doing.”

Maude, who spelled her name Maud but pronounced it as Maude, interrupted. “Every evening?”

“Yes!” insisted Claude. “Every evening since last December 23.”

Maude looked confused. “What happened last December 23?”

“There was no newspaper delivery that day,” explained Claude. “There was a big snowstorm the previous evening, and everything was shut down the next day.”

“So what did you do on that day?” asked Maude, turning to Fraud.

“The same thing I do every December 23,” explained Fraud.

Claude blinked, then glanced at a wall calendar he remembered seeing when they had walked in to the coffee shop. The date on the calendar was December 22. Claude stared back at Fraud. “You actually do something every December 23?” Fraud nodded. “I didn’t know that.”

“We’ve only shared an apartment for a year and a half,” explained Fraud. “Last December 23 was the snowstorm, so it was a coincidence that you didn’t see me doing what I normally do on that day.”

“But why December 23?” asked Maude.

“Because it’s two days before Christmas.”

Maude shook her head. “But what — ”

“Who cares?” interrupted Claude. “What I want to know, what is really important, is — ” Claude stood up from his stool, leaned over the table towards Fraud — “what is it that you do every December 23? What are you going to do tomorrow?”

Fraud smiled. “I am going to do nothing. Every year, on December 23, I’m going to take the day off from reading the newspaper.”

Claude and Fraud Do Something 1O

[This week’s challenge from The Daily Post is to identify “three original details from encounters during your day or your week,” then write a paragraph using those details. I’ll deviate from the assignment by not constraining myself to a paragraph.]

“We need three more volunteers from our audience!” announced Maude (who spelled her name Maud but pronounced it as Maude). Now that the music had stopped, Claude (whose name really was Claude, although Maude called him Fraud) had stopped dancing, while Fraud (who Maude called Claude despite the objections of Claude) stood waiting for the next thing to happen.

A man in the audience raised his hand. His thin black hair was parted from the right side of his head to the left, and Fraud saw a beam of light shining against the slim line of the man’s exposed scalp, an island in a sea of hair. “You sir!” Maude called to the man, who stepped forward from the crowd. “And what is your name?”

“Please call me Shelly,” said the man as he walked forward, the line on his scalp seeming to widen as he approached Fraud.

“I’ll volunteer,” came a teenaged girl’s voice from the audience. She had a loop of metal, a ring, attached through her left nostril. Her hair extended from her head in spikes, Fraud imagining that it looked like a medieval weapon. “You can call me Sherry,” the girl said as she stepped forward.

“And how about you, sir?” Maude pointed to the elderly man she was speaking to. The man’s white hair was tossled in curls, looking to Fraud like a hastily decorated cake. “Will you participate in our spontaneous creation of the mind?”

The elderly man shook his head. “Yes I will,” he said, and walked into the center of the circle formed by the audience that had gathered around Maude, Claude, Fraud, Shelly, and Sherry in the parking lot of the bank that was still not open.

Claude sighed like an elementary student about to admit that he hadn’t done his homework. “And what is your name?” he asked the elderly man.

“Shevvy,” the man replied, then raised a wavering hand high in the air. “Not Chevy, Shevvy. I am not a car — ” he brought his hand down, began pointing to his chest — “I. AM. A. MAN!

Claude and Fraud Do Something 1G

[I’m resuming my effort to incorporate The Daily Post’s Weekly Writing Challenge into the flow of my current project. This week’s challenge is to incorporate multimedia components into my writing, which gives me the opportunity to conduct an experiment I’ve been eager to undertake.]

Fraud was still sitting in his green corduroy recliner reading his newspaper when Claude walked back into the room. He was carrying a tablet computer. Claude was carrying it, not Fraud, who was still reading his newspaper.

“We can use this to write our story,” said Claude, holding up the tablet to Fraud. “How should we begin?”

Fraud put down his newspaper. “I have an idea,” he said, holding a hand out towards Claude, who handed him the tablet. Fraud held the tablet close to his face with his left hand, and with his right index finger punched on the surface of the tablet several times. Claude walked behind the green corduroy recliner and watched the words appear on the tablet:

“‘The Sign Said Walk?’ What do you mean by that?” asked Claude.

031 (2)“That’s the title of the story you want us to write,” replied Fraud.

“Well now, I wasn’t expecting such a quick response! Well then, what’s the significance of the title?”

Fraud shrugged. “I don’t know. Just sounds like a good title to me.”

“But what’s the concept behind this story?”

“I don’t know. All I have is the title and the first three lines.”

“Ah! And what might those three lines be?”

Fraud resumed tapping on the tablet:

Claude touched Fraud on the shoulder. “Wait, wait, you can’t use your own name in this story.”

“Don’t worry, we can use your name for another character later.”

“No, no, we can’t do that either. Don’t you see, we can’t write about us, we need to establish characters who are substantively different from ourselves. It’s called aesthetic distance, and we need it to give our characters freshness.”

“Whatever you say,” said Fraud.

“Let’s call this first character Bob, all right?’

“How about Marie?”

“Oh, so we’re giving our character a sex change, eh?”

“I don’t think she’ll mind.”

“And the rest of the story, so far?”

Fraud resumed tapping on the tablet:

Claude read the words Fraud had written:

The Sign Said Walk

Marie was walking down the sidewalk when she came to an intersection. She looked up at the street light. The sign said ‘Walk’.

Bark Bay

[This week’s writing challenge from The Daily Post is to give life to a character that’s been lurking in my imagination. An idea instantly came to my mind, but it requires a departure from my usual strategy of incorporating the weekly writing challenge into the flow of my current project. For this challenge, I want to return briefly to my novel and explore a “character” I’ve been meaning to develop — the town of Bark Bay. For those who are new to this blog, my novel is about a group of high school fencers in a small Northern town. One of my ambitions in the novel has been to make this town function as a critical supporting character in the novel, to have it interact with my principal characters in a way that reveals their nature. This week’s challenge seems the perfect opportunity to explore this concept. I’m also going to depart from my norm by breaking my entry into two posts so that I can meet both objectives of the challenge — first, to provide at least five different background characteristics, and second, to use the character I develop in a scene.]

Five Important Characteristics of the Town of Bark Bay

Location — Bark Bay is a small town in the northern United States. The majority of the town’s population of 8000 live within a few miles of the intersection of the Indian and East rivers (the East River continues downstream of the town). The intersecting rivers form a fairly deep inland river bay that has served several purposes in the town’s history.

Name — the town received its unusual (some, especially the town’s younger residents, would call it unfortunate) name at the time when it was a booming lumber port in the early 19th century. To feed the town’s mills, tree logs were cast into the Indian and East Rivers, and would partially erode by the time they reached their destination; the shedded bark floating at the top of the bay quickly became the town’s distinguishing characteristic.

History — archeological evidence and surviving oral history indicate the area around the intersecting rivers was home to several different Native American populations for at least three hundred years before European traders arrived in the early 1800s and quickly drove out the natives (some through land purchases, others by force, but most by disease). The lumber industry brought the town instant wealth, but suffered a devastating financial collapse by mid-century; wealthy sportsmen then swept in and transformed the town into a sailing port. The Great Depression of the 1930s caused another transformation; most of the wealthy who weren’t ruined soon left, and a hydroelectric dam erected upstream of the East River nearly emptied the bay. Several companies set up factories in the town during the economic boom after World War II, but nearly all have abandoned Bark Bay and relocated to more profitable areas.

Physical Description — evidence of the town’s numerous transformations can be found everywhere. Upstream of the Indian River is an abandoned Native American village that has remained virtually untouched for two centuries. The rotting remains from the bases of wooden piers, exposed after the East River dam emptied the bay, can still be seen. Buildings and roads, many thrown up quickly during one of the town’s many spasms of economic growth, are arranged throughout the town with no seeming plan, as if they were scattered by giant children abandoning their toys.

Greatest Fear — the town realizes it is heading towards another transformation. Population has slowly but steadily decreased since the last factories departed, and the town’s steady stream of summer tourism revenue is being threatened by a proposed bridge which, if built, would create a route that avoids Bark Bay. The town has faced many crises in its history, and has always emerged stronger. But there is concern that this time, the town may be facing a situation similar to that of the original Native American inhabitants, that the forces closing in this time are too powerful for the residents of Bark Bay to overcome.

[And tomorrow — a scene featuring Bark Bay as a character in my novel]

Summers 13D

[The theme for the latest Weekly Writing Challenge from The Daily Post is about leaving traces, artifacts which are later found and compel their discoverers to trace their history back to its source. I’ll once again work this challenge into the flow of the story I’m currently developing, and provide a summary of the story so far.]

Dr. Patel asked if everyone was there, and Gary replied that Arjie had texted him 30 minutes ago that he was leaving his apartment. “That means he won’t be much longer.”

Hilda pulled Dr. Patel to the side of the room, spoke to him in urgent hushed tones. Assuming her mother was speaking to the doctor about her, Jane turned her attention to Gary and Wings, standing under the large light fixture in the center of the carpeted dining room. He asked Wings about her dance career; Wings replied enthusiastically. Jane stepped forward to join the conversation, when an object on the wall caught her attention.

She squinted, focused on the object — a picture, no, a drawing. A cartoon, a caricature. Of Gary, an absurd exaggeration of his girth. Drawn by . . . her.

She remembered the caricature, from a Crasob Engineering company picnic, several summers ago, before they were acquired, before they had moved into the new building. They had hired a cartoonist. Gary was one of her last subjects, and even the cartoonist wasn’t happy with the result. Jane asked for the easel and ink, said she wanted to see if she remembered anything from her art classes in college. Five minutes later, she showed her work to Gary, who howled in appreciation.

Jane walked past Gary and Wings, came within inches of the caricature. She hadn’t known Gary had framed it, hung it on his dining room wall. But what suprised her even more was the thought that was now in her mind — the person who drew that wasn’t me, but the person I used to be.

Ever since that weird Monday morning last week, when she woke up into a world she didn’t recognize — a world with mobile phones and laptop computers she didn’t recognize, and without the transportation systems she did remember — she hadn’t come into contact with something she had created before that morning. Yes, she’d reviewed the CAD drawings she didn’t remember creating, but those all seemed like lines on a computer file, with nothing distinctive that would identify those as her efforts. But this silly little carcicature, of a morbidly obese Gary missing a tennis ball with his racket — this was created from her hand.

But that hand belonged to the woman she was before Monday. A woman who, according to the claims of Gary and her mother and all her friends in whom she’d confided, had been an adept CAD operator, had been perfectly comfortable with the telecommunication technology she now found so alien, had owned the car she didn’t recognize for years. And the woman who had drawn that caricature wasn’t just living in an entirely different technological world, she hadn’t experienced many of the life-changing events that were to come. Jane studied the caricature again, and wondered again if the person she was now could honestly take credit for the work of her younger self.

A ball of light shown on the upper corner of the picture glass, grew larger, then disappeared. The sound of tires on pavement — Jane saw Gary turn from Wings, head towards the front door — “That must be Arjie.”

Summers 12B

[Another week, another challenge from The Daily Post — pick a song and write about it. Once again, I’ll work this challenge into the flow of the story I’m developing.]

Arjie looked up in the direction that Jane was pointing. “I don’t see anything.”

Sitting across the polished wood restaurant table, Jane frowned. “The music. Listen.”

Arjie tilted his head up, focused above the muttered din of silverware, footsteps and conversation. He heard violins, playing a slow melody, almost sorrowful. “What is that, a funeral?”

Jane reached over, slapped the side of his head. “Just shut up.” She sat back, looked up in the direction of what she assumed to be a speaker — and began to sing softly.

Eyes full of sorrow, never wet
Hands full of money, all in debt
Sun coming out in, the middle of June

She looked at Arjie, smiled at his incomprehension, then continued, lifting her voice —

Everyone’s gone to the moon

“Oh.” Arjie sounded relieved rather than pleased at his recognition, like he had been reminded of a dentist appointment. “They really need to get some modern music in this place.” He drank from his beer again, nearly emptying his glass.

Jane laughed. “My father loved that song.” She looked down at the table, felt Arjie’s gaze fall on her. “Used to sing it all the time, when I was a kid. That’s how I know the lyrics.” She looked up, caught Arjie’s eyes. “I don’t even know who — ” she suddenly looked to her left, pointed — “hey Brad!”

Arjie turned in the booth, saw Brad approaching the table. Brad removed his wool hat, his long hair rising in its wake, then falling after an audible spark. He looked down at Jane blankly.

Jane pointed up at the speaker. “This song — who — ”

“Jonathan King.” He spoke in the voice of a three-time returning champion gameshow contestant. “1965. British Invasion, one hit wonder.”

“Jesus.” Arjie shook his head, raised his glass to his chin. “They really need new music in this place.”

Summers 11B

Today’s post visits the Daily Post’s Weekly Writing Challenge once again. For my first time visitors, I try to work the challenge into the flow of the narrative I’m currently developing. At the moment I’m working on a short story called “Summers” — this post will include a summary of the story so far.

Sitting on the couch in Jane Summers’ apartment, Wings scratched the side of her head, and stared back at Jane inquisitively. “So — what’s this other thing?”

Jane shifted uncomfortably in the chair across the coffee table from Wings. “It’s . . . not something I really can talk about now.”

“That’s bull.” Jane looked up at Wings. “You can talk about anything, girl, you just don’t want to.”

Jane shrugged, leaned forward in her chair, towards Wings. “All right, you got me. But I still don’t want to talk about it.”

Wings sighed, her lips curling down in frustration. She grabbed the bowl of chili from the coffee table, quickly shoveled two spoonfulls into her mouth. Jane looked down at her bowl, still untouched, and decided that she wasn’t quite hungry yet.

Wings swallowed. “You want some advice, girl?”

“I think you just gave me some.”

“What’s with all the damn secrets?” Wings lifted her arms, hands up to shoulder height, palms up. “You’re telling your story about being from another world — ”

“It’s not another world.” Jane sounded disappointed, like a teacher repeating a lesson to a difficult student. “When I woke up that day, I was in the same world I remembered.”

“Except you didn’t remember smartphones or laptop computers anymore, and you kept looking for this Unirail thing you think we all use.”

“We do all use it.” She jabbed a finger at Wings. “Even you — you love Unirail!”

“OK!” She waved a hand dismissively over the coffee table. “What I was saying was, you’ve been telling that damn story to everybody it seems, and if you ask me there can’t be anything else you could say that would sound more unusual. But this other thing, it’s clearly bothering you, you keep it in, hold on to that secret. I just — don’t get you, girl.”

Jane nodded, looked down at her chili bowl. She still didn’t feel hungry. She thought about the information she was withholding, about Brad’s proposal. She agreed with Wings, that it was dangerous to hold on to this secret, especially with her mother, who thought highly of Brad, coming into town that evening. And yes, she trusted Wings, knew she could be trusted with this secret. But not now. Jane knew she was responding from a foolish sense of pride, but she couldn’t bring herself to seem that she was following Wings’ advice.