Response to a request for submission to Writer’s Digest.

The task was to write a story given the following premise:

You’re on your way to lunch when you walk by a crowd of people staring up toward the sky. You look up and see someone at the top of a building getting ready to jump to his or her death. Quickly you realize you know this person—in fact, it’s someone from work. Something about this moment overtakes, so you rush to the top of the top of the building to save this person’s life

This is what I saw:

Rooftop

I drop my briefcase and the cardboard box I’m carrying. I rush into the lobby, the glossy marble floor, the stainless steel turnstiles, the mahogany security desk, all a blur. I’m overwhelmed with a feeling of purpose, I must get to the roof. The elevators would be useless at this time of day, they are notorious for being packed and slow with people filing in and out for lunch. I must get to the top. I don’t bother swiping my badge at the turnstile. I jump over like a ‘70’s TV policeman sliding across the hood of his car. I reach the door to the stairway before the firm’s rent-a-cop guard can stop me.

It’s only a five story building, ten flights of steps, I know I can run the whole way, I’ve been dutifully training for the company’s 5K at the end of the month; this is barely a workout. I take the steps two at a time, pushing people on their way down into the walls, into the railings, Bill Barista from new accounts gets slammed back into the third floor doorway as I rush past. I’m pulling myself up the rough steel rail as I leap from stair to stair, sliding my hand along it I can feel the heat building in my palm.

I reach the door for roof access and find it closed and locked.., from the inside. I push the release bar and the door doesn’t move, I push again harder, still no movement.

 The feeling of dread, of urgency has completely overcome me. My vision’s blurry, my breath hard and fast from the run and the inner urge to get to the roof. I kick at the door to no avail. I begin using my body as a battering ram and smash my shoulder into it over and over again. I can feel my bones bending from the force. I’m holding my left hand in my right and throwing my body against the door.

As I smash through the door, I hear a crack and a stab of pain in my shoulder, something’s snapped but I can’t stop now. I run across the black tar roof, swerving around duct work and metal pipes jutting through the surface. As I turn around the edge of the final red brick wall, I see…, no one. The edge is clear. ‘Am I too late?’

I rush to the edge, and peer over, I see the crowd looking up. Some covering their mouths in horror, some rhythmically chanting something barely decipherable, “Jum.-Jum.-Jump” echoes off the surrounding buildings. I look down and can recognize some of them even from this height. There’s Carl and Tom from my bowling team, Marsha from Human Resources who told me about the layoffs, Todd Thompson whom I had gone to lunch with, next to him I see a man I don’t recognize look up, then suddenly drop the briefcase and box he’s holding and rush towards the building.

Bozo Gets a Laugh

            Presidential spokesman Morris Weaver ended his statement with “And that’s the short and the sweet of it.”

            Without thinking, Entertainment Secretary Ronald Bozo blurted out, “Exactly the way I like my women.” It just came out; he hadn’t thought about it in advance, he didn’t know what Weaver’s statement would be. It just seemed natural for him to say it. To his surprise and delight, several in the sitting crowd laughed lightly and there was smattering of foot tapping. Bozo liked it. It was spontaneous appreciation for what he had said. And although his position made him the country’s titular head of all things that were considered fun by a panel of government experts; movies, magazines, books, sports, recreation, and tax returns, he hardly ever had feet tapped for him.

            In their culture, foot tapping is the accepted method of showing appreciation of a well spoken statement or of a perfectly timed slip in basksoccball.

An unwieldy name for the particularly boring national pastime which; doesn’t utilize a hoop, isn’t solely played with the feet, and there is no ball used. Imagine an exceedingly slow paced version of checkers using over-sized pucks carried by miniature ponies. The most exciting bit of action occurred when a pony would defecate and the skate wearing pony wrangler slipped in it. The game is also not played on ice so the predictably clumsy skaters encounter additional duress when faced with a slippery pile of pony dung. Hilarity, and the only entertaining part of the whole affair, ensues.

            Developed by a Department of Entertainment committee that found, through a particularly ill-worded survey, that people in general like ponies and pratfalls. It was also decided that people almost unanimously do not like to lose. The actual rules of the game are so unwieldy that no one person knows all of them and several are in direct contradiction to others that were developed by a separate committee tasked with the same project. Scoring can be done in so many different methods that every game played results in a new record for a high score; all of them a tie. For every point a particular team scores, the opposing team receives two. The game continues until time in the three concurrently played 12 and half minute quarters expires. At this point if the scores are not equal, the winning team has a ‘Score Tax’ assessment equal to the number of points to make them so. The end result is that every team in the league is always in first place. At the end of the season, all the players are named MVPs, and due to a typo in the planning committee’s official rules document, the ponies are slaughtered, Bar-B-Q-ued and served on platters made from the pucks they were forced to carry during the matches.

            The game was introduced during the early years of the extremely popular National President Janice Huffinstone. President Huffinstone was presently seven years into her second life term after being re-elected a year and half after her death. This rather unusual outcome was due to the absolute mistrust of any other candidate nominated for the position. Although not listed on the ballot, she was written in by 80% of the voting public and 113% of the rest of the population. Although they have no voice in the elections, their feelings are tracked for survey purposes. And since in the eyes of the government they don’t really exist and don’t have any of the rights or benefits of the registered citizens, their exact numbers are only estimated and therefore 20% more of them cast ballots than were thought to actually exist.

            The announcement that Mr. Weaver had just finished making; to which Mr. Bozo had mentally gone off on the previous tangent, was regarding the late and current President’s term. He had pointed out several issues that had come up because of the President’s health. Mainly that she had none, she was an inanimate figurehead. Literally just her head was all that was left.

When she was re-elected, her body had been exhumed and plans were made to send her to the finest taxidermist in the land. Unfortunately, and ironically for Ms. Huffinstone, because of regulations that were signed into law by the late Ms. President, no tax-payer funds could be spent without a process for the work to be given to the lowest bidder. It was a good law in theory, not so good in practice. Since the land’s best taxidermist was also the land’s most expensive, the bid was won by a vendor who sub-contracted the work out to several smaller taxidermy shops resulting in her body being shipped out to various overseas companies with mixed results. Again, literally mixed results.

The final straw to her post-animate dignity was the fact that the President’s remains had to be classified as cargo. “Regulations apply to everyone” she had said. This policy came back to bite her in the ass when the shipment containing, ‘Lower Abdomen. Rear Sub-section’ was ripped open and devoured by a load of hungry Dachshund puppies that escaped their cage on the long flight back from an underpaid sub-contractor. Because these various sub-sections were shoddily preserved and ill-fitting when reassembled, after 7 years of being taken apart and put back together, most of her parts were lost or broken in shipment. Ultimately only her badly decomposed and unrecognizable head remained.

In more practical terms, the Press Secretary announced, “Due to the President’s inability to sign or Veto any bills that were passed up from the legislature, no new laws have been enacted in almost a decade. In fact we’ve had to convert the Capital mansion’s master bedroom into a file room to hold them all. The time has come for us to hold a new election.” He closed with the comment about the ‘short and sweet’ which brings us back to Ronald’s quip about women.

Unremarkably, his comment wasn’t meant as humor. The Entertainment and Tax Secretary’s wife was known by all to be a very well mannered and even tempered woman standing less than five feet tall. He really did like them short and sweet. Never the less, the audience chuckled at the remark, and since he was used to only receiving grief for all his hard work arranging movies about tax returns, concerts about tariff laws, and science fiction and romance novels about the intricacies of corporate levies, he took the compliment. He had finally gotten a laugh.

 

Response to a Friesenpress.com writing submission.

The task was to write a story about a photo they posted of a young Asian woman wearing a wedding gown sitting next to some train tracks. Her expression was non-discript. She was just sitting staring off into the distance. This is my story of what I saw:

                                           Montana-Spring 1880
  As she waited for the train to arrive, Chizuko thought about her life and the choices she made to be here. Not just physically waiting to stop another train, but where she was in her life.

  Today was her twenty-second birthday, and if successful this would be her eighth train robbery in a dozen tries. She made the choice to join Jesse and his gang two years ago when they visited the whorehouse where she had been held captive. She remembered looking into his soft blue eyes when he told her, “I’ve been with many woman; white, colored, Injun, none have the fire for life that you do. I’m takin’ you wit me.”

  She recalled the smell of the gunpowder as he killed the guards and shot the brothel’s madam in the chest where her heart should have been. They’d been on the run from white man’s law and the Triad’s death squads ever since.

   Her introspection was interrupted by the familiar vibration of the train tracks beneath her.

  Looking over her right shoulder into the trees, she saw Jess and the boys mounting their horses and pulling the dark bandanas over their faces. It was time. She lay across the tracks facing the oncoming train.

 She spied the smoke and steam plume rising in the distance.

 She had loved the adventure and the danger she had been living with on the run, but she was also weary of it. Tired of the scorching days and freezing nights in the desert, rarely, if ever truly comfortable, never able to fully relax, to rest.

 The vibrations increased under her, she could now see the headlight beneath the plume.

  Secretly she longed for her days as a child in the camps of her fellow countrymen, building these same rails she lie across now. Yes it was too hot or too cold or wet or dry, but at least she felt safe with her family. She missed her mother, Chizu, and her three brothers. She never really knew her father; he was in and out of their lives until that day he ripped her from her mother’s arms and handed her over to the woman who ran the brothel. She remembers vividly the screaming, the tears on Chizu’s face, the fists of her father as he beat her down. Her mother on her knees pleading, arms outstretched, blood flowing from her broken nose.

  The train’s stack was now visible, the fat black ‘cow-catcher’ coming into view.

  Those early days in the house were hard. She was a slave to that evil woman. She was still too young to serve as a sperm depository for the wretched men who frequented the house as they passed through town, but she was old enough to clean up after them. The countless stained sheets and full spittoons, as awful as it was at least she had friends. The other girls were in her same position, enslaved for life with little hope of escape. They were sisters in pain and bondage.

  She could read the engine’s number now, ‘22’. How fitting she thought.

  The plan was the same as they had worked a dozen times before, it had not changed since the first time Jessie explained it to her. “When the train engineer sees you on the track, he’ll lay on the whistle and the brakes. Soon as that whistle blows, you look close at the tracks under the engine. Watch the wheels as he’s gittin’ close, if you see them spinnin’, he’s slowin’ down so’s you stay down.” His eyes were so beautiful, he was too young to be such a killer but she trusted him with her life. “If you ain’t hear that whistle or see them wheels slowin’, git up fast. He ain’t stoppin’.”

  ‘Erie’ above the number, ‘Pennsylvania’ below in bright red letters were easily legible.

  She could hear the engine now, <chunk-chunk-chunk>. She could feel the individual thuds of the steam engine laboring to push the train along its metal road. She did not however hear a whistle. She closed her eyes and thought of a night by a fire in the camp of her youth. No particular night, just a peaceful evening in her mother’s arms gazing upon the faces of her brothers. Where were they now she thought.

  The rails were digging into her ribs as they shook, <CHUNK-CHUNK-CHUNK> was almost deafening now. Faintly she heard gunfire in the distance growing closer. ‘Jesse knows’ she thought. ‘He’ll try to save me as he did from that hell of an existence in the rat and flea infested house in Tombstone.’ She knew that he would be too late, there would be no saving her now.

  “I love you Jesse,” slipped from her lips as all sensation stopped.

  She was young again, a child of 4 or 5. Throwing pebbles into a fire, watching the embers rise with the smoke as the stone dislodged ash from the logs. She was at peace.

Our Mom.

Our Mom.

  In the mid nineteen-fifties, before Dr. King had his dream, when America’s Camelot was just having its foundation poured, Colette Pelletier the daughter of a prominent Massachusetts physician met, Antonio Rueda the immigrant son of one of Colombia’s preeminent psychologists. They fell in love, married and settled down in a town in New Jersey so small their street wasn’t even paved yet. They had six children in that small house. All of us had everything we could ever need, a warm home, enough to eat, more love than any child could ever hope for.

  Throughout the tumultuous sixties, when the nightly news was filled with reports of the assassinations of great men and the daily body count of brave soldiers, we lived the American dream. As a family we had Christmas trees that we would plant in the yard come spring. So many birthday parties, they averaged every other month. We went to church every Sunday drive in movies and zoos. We even traveled to our father’s home to see where he grew up and to experience a culture that was so different than the one he chose for us to grow up in. We had every opportunity that any child could ever want for a bright future.

  At the beginning of the next decade, one that would determine our destinies as young adults, Papa passed away leaving our mother alone. She was left with six children far from any family from either side. The oldest son was entering his teenage years; the youngest was just into grammar school. I can’t speak for any of my siblings but to me I don’t think I missed out on any of those things that I could have wanted. We still had Christmas and birthdays, still went to church on Sundays. We had food, shelter, and we always felt the love of our mother. A woman who had to handle six children who as we grew, learned that having one parent meant that we had more freedom to get into trouble and that sometimes didn’t appreciate the things we had or how difficult it really must have been for her. Through those years Mom still found the time to provide opportunities for us to be exposed to new things.

  She wasn’t the kind of mother who would just send us off to keep us occupied; she was involved with us. She was a scout mother, she taught CCD and French in the school. She got us involved in the Monarchs, and volunteered to help and travel with the corp. She became known as Ma to everyone, not just her six children. She had so much love not just for us but for everyone she met. We had kids from the Fresh Air Fund come stay with us so they could experience another way of life. We had wayward friends of ours stay with us because they had nowhere else to go. She adopted a skinny 16 year old kid from the Monarchs so he could have a safe place to live. His brother and his crazy dog even lived with us for awhile. Through all this time, the family fights that teenage children get into, the crashing of the family cars and unending trips to the supermarket to keep us fed, we knew she was there to take care of us.

  To me it seemed a normal way to live; I never felt I was missing anything or deprived of a family life. I was so young when Papa passed away that I didn’t miss him being there. What I do remember of him was that he was either working or in his recliner watching TV, he wasn’t a dad who played catch or went fishing with us. Mom was always there for anything we needed so when he was gone I still had her, so nothing was really that different. My brothers and sisters probably have different feelings about this time but at my age and where I was as a person, that’s the way it was.

  I know there were times when Mom didn’t have time for us individually so some of us may have felt deprived of something, but I knew it wasn’t because she didn’t want to be there; she had to be strong for all of us collectively. It helped me become independent and to make do with what I was able to get. By the time I entered my teenage years she was working as a nurse in a retirement home and in our high school. We always knew when she was at the school because our friends would ask for permission to see the nurse so they could go see Ma. She was even loved by kids who had no idea who our family was.

  In my senior year of High School, she met John. All I knew about him was he had been a Marine Drill Instructor, worked for AT&T, and had two children of his own. Mom and Big John were married and he and his children became part of our pseudo Brady Bunch of a family. They then had a child of their own to bring the total up to ten. Although the oldest of Mom’s seven were now technically adults, we all still were there as a group living together and counting on Mom’s love and support for us whatever we decided to do. Some of us continued our educations, some went on adventures and traveled, a couple stayed home until they started families of their own. I’m sure we all made some mistakes, some small that are funny now in hindsight, some that changed the course of our lives at the time and brought us where we are now.  No matter what we did, we all knew we had Mom at home even if it was just to do our laundry and raid the fridge for some leftovers. Mom would always be there for us. We could tell her what we were up to and she’d be proud and supportive no matter what the dilemma or situation.

 When we started having children of our own, we knew we had to be there for them. To show them new things and to let them be involved in whatever they wanted to try. For even if they failed, they knew we were there for them just like Mom was. To let us try something else, to find our way.

  When our little brother died it was hard on all of us. Even though Annmarie was the youngest, Ton was the baby. He left a wife and young son, even in Mom’s grief she never left us feeling that we were loved any less. I hope she knew that we were there for her, that we loved Ton and even though we all had lost a little piece of our family, we were still there for each other and would never forget him.

  Now our kids are having kids, they are being given chances to experience things we could never have dreamed of. I hope they’re told about their Great-Grandmother, that they know their mothers and fathers learned from the children of a Mom who was there for them. A woman whose heart was so big she had to go out and find more children to look out for. When others may have curled up and quit, or moved back to more familiar surroundings, she cared for and loved her children to make them the best people they could be. She showed us to take what you’re given and make the most of it. I hope she’s was as proud of us as her children, as we are to have had her as our Mom.

  We’ll miss your presence in our lives but will never forget what you meant to us and the way you loved us and touched the lives of everyone you met.

Wayne Hills first post

 90% of what I write is done on a Blackberry as I commute to and home from work in New York City,

 I’ll post full stories and pieces of larger works as I write them. Feel free to share but please do not plagiarise. It’s the 13th commandment, after ‘Thou shalt not leave beer in a mug whilst departing a bar’, and ‘Thou shalt not give a Cuban cigar to a novice.’

Enjoy and comment as you see fit.