It is hard to believe that I am going to be the first to post any sort of information somewhere, but it seems necessary since I am a part of a “how to write short stories” course and I am complaining in public of “lack of confidence to show my stories”. Please do consider this as an extreme act of bravery (a word that is not by accident often a synonym of stupidity). I hope I have not missed some sort of Facebook discussion (I do not have profile) in which you all have decided not to do this, because I really want to read your Entry Challenge stories (of course do not feel obliged in any way if you do not feel like sharing). Have in mind these three things while/if reading mine:
1. This is the first story, aside from the foreign language classes in high school (“Who is your best friend and why?” and “How was your summer holiday?”), that I have ever written in English. (Don’t be terrified I do read a lot in English)
2. I have noticed recently that I somehow take exaggerated compliments better than honest critique (this is a joke). You can give any sort of feedback if you want. I will forever deny that I cried over it. :-D
3. I realized that I would get the best of this opportunity if I actually share… short stories. So here, we go…
“It’s actually the Milky Way, said John.” He repeated the sentence slowly, while looking at her with suspicion “That’s it? Your topic?”
“That’s the catch line of the entry challenge,” she answered touchily
“Any other requirements?” the question was more of a mockery.
“Nope.” she nodded. “Just one phrase. Pretty much the same requirement that you have on women for falling in love with them.’’
“It seems more mysterious and complicated that way.”
“Don’t be an ass!” she exclaimed. “I might like the conception, after all”
“Well, the truth is that it opens a lot of doors for Ray Bradbury kind of short stories but…You prefer the style of his long books, as much as I know…”
“True. I considered all possible ‘bypassing the task’ maneuvers…But I cannot come up with an idea that’s worth the time.”
“What are you going to write about?” This time he asked with a serious tone.
“I simply might end up writing about you and this conversation. You should just mention my catch line once in whatever context. I will call you John from now on. It will be a sacrifice in the name of fiction…”
“I already mentioned it.” He looked through the window. It was around five o’clock, but the cruel winter has its fail-safe ways of seeing the poor sun off. Because of this humiliating chase, the sky was bathing in pink and orange. Those colors, shaped as nail marks, made a clear representation of the sun’s rage and hurt.
When he glanced back at her, his face was different. “No one will believe you. It will not sound authentic. Most people don’t talk like this.”
“What do you mean ‘like this’?”
“They don’t quote songs and movies in a normal conversation.”
“We haven’t yet quoted a song or a movie, and we were talking for a while now.” she objected.
“This story is not over yet, right?” he smiled.
“Besides…everyone has his own idea of authenticity!” she pointed out victoriously.
“See, we already sound too sophisticated and philosophical to be true. You should be able to write about people’s little problems, and of course weather...Those are the most common and authentic kind of conversation. Especially in a train. Unfortunately, as usual you are jumping into the deep just from the very beginning.”
“I will not trick myself into relying on authenticity to make a story interesting.”
“Don’t be smarty pants.”
“Just so you know, the other popular train topic is unresolved personal issues.” She smiled.
“Is that what you’re doing,” he exclaimed with exaggeratedly devastated voice, ‘’writing about me!”
“Isn’t that what all writing is about?”
“You got your point.” he admitted defiantly, “Yeah, up to some stage…it is I assume. So where are we going from here?”
“I don’t know. Mind your own thought direction.” They both stayed silent for a while. Then she concluded:
“I guess the next thing I should do is ask you a question, huh? It will start a new conversation and will move the action forward.”
“Yes. Then you could tell me a story. One that will reveal who we are, and where we are going. However, be smart! Keep a secret up to the finish line. Make this story surprisingly weird, funny, or sad. You got one shot after all. Make them read, most importantly make them care. Don’t make your point too big, it will blow your chances by sounding unrealistic, at the same time, don’t write about nothing. You are not genius enough to win a Nobel price, relying only to the perfection of your style. There has to be an idea here, and at the end tell them something they did not knew.”
Turning a look of curiosity on him, she said:
“I want to know something, and I think that’s my final chance, to find it out.”
“You can bet about it!”
“Why have you hated talking to me so much?”
“Your face was showing some sort of repulsion, every time I have started, or at least tried to start a conversation with you? I wonder why, I wanted to talk to you so bad, back then.”
He looked at her, this time with disappointment.
“Repulsion? Never. It was fear. You misread it six years ago,” he grinned, “you will misread it again today. Anyway if I explain more, this will become too much of Bergman’s dialog”
John made a long pause. “Whatever story you write, make it believable. Fiction should at least partly represent reality.”
“Should it, really?”
“I think so. Make the reader walk into your character’s shoes. A good story reveals how human beings genuinely are, what they truly feel and think.”
“Mm…Thank you for your advice miss Austin.”
He did not replied.
“How about using my imagination to create whatever I want, instead?”
“You can use that famous tool of freedom, called by many ‘imagination’” he said mincingly, “and be wise at the same time.”
“Like this for example?” she pointed through the widow, “Look, quickly! You are going to miss it! It’s Orion Nebula…”
The sky was purplish red now. He exhaled:
“But of course…What an interesting notion of measure and distance you have…Orion Nebula, where the stars are born. “
“And through the other window you can see a zoomed out view of some mysterious spiral shaped galaxy…What could that actually be?” She winked at him.
“It’s actually the Milky Way.” Said John.
“Thank you!” she nodded, vigorously “It seems so small right now. Everything.”
He understood what she meant.
“You need a big God? “ John asked jokingly
“I believe we both do!”
“See I’ve told you we’re going to have a song quote by the end of this”
“We have some more time till the end…,” she noted
“You’re right. So far you’re doing a pretty good job distracting me from what will fallow.”
“You know, I made this painting based on a song that he wrote…”
“Oh, come on, it’s been six years, now. Get over it!”
“I just don’t think you’re right for him…”
“An interesting way to express your thoughts on the matter…”
“You’re simply not good enough, I think.” John looked at her with childlike curiosity.
“And do you know what I think?” She sounded dead serious “I think that he loves me. And I don’t blame you, dear, for running like you did, all these years. I would probably do the same, but I am standing on that porch waiting and screaming out for too long. So pay attention now, because we have already lost too much time with your nonsense”
“You know what they say -time is made of smoke, only fools know what it means.”
“Fair enough, it was your turn to bring a profound quotation into this mass. But I won’t leave until you come down stairs.”
“Haven’t you consider that perhaps this never ending chase was the spark for all you do?”
He did not look towards her while saying this. There was only a shadow of a smile on his face.
“Okay, okay. Tell me about him.”
“It is not about him, the story I was telling. It is about a picture I painted, over some lyrics of his song. The phrase sounded like that: “She was looking how people pass each other on the street.” I pained a lot of abstract silhouettes, but only two central figures walking in some sort of early morning fog on a harbor promenade. Dimmed light of tormented occasional street lanterns illuminated the alley. On the background, there was an allusion of the sea. The sea hidden behind massive blocks, made of granite, with only a small staircase clumsy carved in the stronghold.
When I finished the picture, I felt there was this story in it that only I knew. In this place, wherever it was, lived a sculptor, who decided to carve the stairs in the granite, so the people could appreciate the beauty of the sea while passing by. In addition, they could climb up the stairs and walk on the granite. What a view! It seemed far better than seeing gray matter along the way on the alley. And the citizens were contented. It was a pleasant change, but…”
“But what?” John asked intrigued
“One day, two kids-a boy and a girl, enchanted in some game, fell from the granite platform and drowned”
“And of course, the craftsman was send in oblivion.”
“That’s the interesting part. I think not. I think nobody reproached, even the parents of the dead children.”
“What does this story means to you?”
She thought for a while. ”I am not sure. Probably that no one cuts a branch that makes a shadow.”
He was looking at the fast changing landscape. ”Everything has its price. The signs say we’re close”
“Since when do you believe in signs?” she asked laughingly
“No, I don’t read those things anymore”
“What kind of things do you read? Or lately you’re on writing and writing alone? Why do you want to participate in this thing? To prove something to me?”
“Maybe. My main reason of writing at all-to tell some things about people and particularly you. And to tell people and particularly you about some things.
“You miss our conversations.”
“There was never conversations. It was always me listening. Obviously, now is my only chance for revenge.”
He smiled.” I will never read your story.”
“The saddest possible scenario for any story, according to Stephen King“
“But does it really matter? Somewhere in the Milky Way you’ve said what you needed and probably somewhere there I truly heard you.”
“Do you believe in that?”
“Why not. It’s the Milky Way, actually,” said John, “where all the magic can happen. We can believe whatever we want, as long as we don’t know anything for sure”
“We are almost there.” She replied
“Yeah. We seem to be travelling with the fastest train in the galaxy”
“I have to ask, was the situation a classic fight club scene in a bar, or have I mistaken you for drunk brainless bully?”
“I thought you’d never ask! It was pretty much that. No mistake. Only I wasn’t drunk and I let him throw the first punch.”
“Well, then untraditional type of bully.”
“He was killing her, night after night. That last time he had beaten her almost to dead.”
“Great way to interfere,” she remarked sarcastically, “stop me if I am wrong. According to you the only sure way of not letting her go back to him was if there was no him?”
“Yup” he confessed unexpectedly calm
“She’s a bitch anyway.” “I know.” “And still? She asked. “And still.” He nodded. “Why am I here? Why didn’t you choose her to escort you? And besides I thought they only ask you what do you want for the last dinner…Should I say supper?”
They both smiled.
“I didn’t thought you have all kinds of wishes fulfilled by the authorities.” “Why have I choose you? I guess Henry Lee, from that story made a mistake.” Long silent pause. They were staring at each other.
She coughed and said uncertainly
“I think you should have used your wish to wish for more wishes.”
“They didn’t bought it!”
“It is not fair to tell me this now.”
“You are such a bastard!” She laughed nervously, “I was waiting for this most of the best parts of my life, and I get it now? Now? Late as ever John!”
“Oh, no. I am beyond late.”
He thought of something and then asked, “You know what I have chosen?”
“I thought you’re gonna let it be a surprise.” “They will shoot me.”
“Nice. Quick and painless” she said businesslike. “Yeah. There was a list of 134 options. Can you think of so many ways of mercifully killing someone?” “I cannot think of five. I won’t.” “Really? I am sure you did” he seemed confident in his conclusion.
“Okay. Yes, I hoped you’d choose this.” she said silently “Have I disturbed you with my final will?” “Until that special Henry Lee reference, it was just a torture, but after it, this completely wonderful experience became more of a trauma. Before it even ended.” “You could have said ‘no’” “To you? Would you say ‘no’ if the situation was the other way around?”
Pause. “The travelling back will be the hardest part. Try not to sink in nostalgia, okay?” “Fuck you.” she said calmly, “You’re just a person. You’re not irreplaceable.” “Have fun, trying to convince your gentle soul of this.”
She smiled. The train stopped. “Listen, about your story…There’s this Kusturica movie called The Milky Way. I once watched it in Italian while I lived in Sardinia. I was learning the language back then and I was regular visitor to the local summer movie festival. I didn’t understand a word from any movie I have watched but this one I was convinced that I am going to watch again. So one Friday night it was on the Television. Translated, thanks God. At the end of it, I turned the TV off and I said to myself: So, that’s actually the Milky Way!” said John
“Nice. I can work with that.”
He laughed. “You ask me to put it in a context, so I did.”
“Yeah. Now it is my turn, to do the same with our conversation.”