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Archive for the ‘Beginnings’ Category

It’s the last day of February, which means it’s the last day of my self-imposed project to write the beginning of a new story every day for a month. I’ve written the beginnings of twenty-eight different stories this month! Feel free to look through the archives to see them all. Now here’s the final story starter!

_____

“His wrists hurt,” I said. “It’s like a… tightness on the skin of the wrists. Almost hurts enough to be a friction burn.” I rubbed my wrists. They had no marks on them, no sign of abrasion, but I could feel the sensation clearly.

The detective nodded to me, and turned to his junior officer. “The victim may have had his hands bound,” said the detective. The junior officer scribbled notes furiously. “Or it could be something else….”

The detective looked back to me. “Were they bound behind him or in front?” he asked. “Can you tell?”

“I can’t tell,” I said. “There’s no pain in his shoulders.”

The two of us and two other officers were in the woods outside of Chester County. We had found a child’s shoe in some mud and leaves. It may have belonged to the victim, Justin Witherspoon, an eight-year-old boy who’d been missing for three days. Justin Witherspoon may have been the sympathy target—the one whose pain I was feeling, thanks to my ability.

I am Kayla O’Hara, and when others feel pain, I feel it too.

“Kayla,” said the detective. “I’m sorry to have to ask you this. But would you say you’re feeling any other kinds of pain?”

“No,” I said. “Wait—augh.” I closed my eyes and gritted my teeth from the pain. It felt like I just got socked full in the gut. “Abdomen,” I grunted. “Sharp blow. Not a fist. Maybe with an implement. Maybe a… club or a… boot or something.”

The detective frowned. The junior officer continued to scrawl notes.

I don’t feel pain that’s right in front of me. My ability doesn’t work like that. If you stabbed yourself in the eye, standing right there in front of me, I wouldn’t feel it in my own eye socket. Not directly. Not right away. The sympathy pain takes a while, and it has to be strong. I only feel the pain that is strong enough that it’s able to be absorbed into the victim’s surroundings.

Like that spot in the woods outside of Chester County. There was definitely pain in that place. And I was feeling it hard. I rubbed my sore abdomen, even though I knew I wouldn’t show any bruising there.

“Poor kid,” said the junior officer, half under his breath.

“We don’t know it’s him,” the detective snapped. “Could be a kid playing in the woods. His friend ties him up. He falls and gets the wind knocked out of him.”

The junior officer nodded, scolded. He resumed his writing.

My ability is only to feel the pain. I don’t feel other things about the person. I can’t be sure who they are. I just know how they hurt.

_____

Well, that takes us to number twenty-eight. I’ve enjoyed this project. It was definitely tough to make time to sit down and get to typing every single night. And it was never easy to come up with story ideas, particularly after the first week or so, once I had run out of ideas I already had in my head.

The exercise was a good one. It got me writing every day to a certain word count. It got me churning through way, WAY more story ideas than I would have in just one or two brainstorming sessions. Having to make sure they were new story ideas made me work to dodge what I had done before, which made me push a little farther and work a little harder to come up with something that felt original. That part worked well.

Of course, one consequence of this project is that I’ve now got a whole lot of very unpolished writing out on the Internet now. A lot of people (including Vladimir Nabokov) say that’s bad form. Well, maybe Vladimir can join me the next time I do a Story Starter Month.

Next, I plan to go back through this month’s stories and comment on them. I may gather up my thoughts in another blog post. Maybe one of these story starts will feel attractive and promising enough to me that I’ll turn it into a short story or even something longer. We shall see.

For now, I’m going to go reward myself with a little ice cream and some mindless entertainment. Hope you enjoyed Story Starter Month!

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The month of beginnings is almost to an end. This is day 27 of my 28-day project of starting a new story every day–and blogging it right here. If you’re ready for today’s story starter, here it is. If you’re not ready for it, apologies, because I have no way of detecting that using this website.

_____

James Thacker awoke, wheezing into the breathing mask. A green glowing line zigzagged across a display on the machine next to his bed. He didn’t know how to interpret the number, but the doctors had said it wasn’t good. He knew he was dying.

He turned his eyes the other way, toward Noelle. She had bit sitting at his bedside every time he awoke.

“Hey,” he said. His voice was so hoarse he didn’t recognize it. “What’s the… latest.”

Noelle’s smile was thin and her head was cocked to the side. Tears brimmed in her eyes. “Well,” she said, gathering herself. “The doctors say there’s a chance, if you keep up your strength. The drugs are attacking the pneumonia but your lungs are under a lot of—strain.” She sat and looked at him. Her lip quivered slightly.

“Have I told you today,” James croaked, “how beautiful you are.”

Noelle pressed her lips together and looked up at the fluorescents. A tear dropped onto her clasped hands.

Through his exhaustion and a constant, itchy feeling of near-drowning, James felt something he hadn’t felt in a long time. He felt gratitude. He felt a quiet appreciation for the life he had lived, radiating from within his broken body. He wondered if this was what all dying men felt. He wished Noelle could feel it the way he was feeling it. He extended the fingers on his hand nearest her, and she clutched it in both of hers.

“I thank you for this time,” he said to her.

“Oh James,” she said.

Her phone rang.

“Shit,” she said, fumbling to find the phone in her purse and shut it off.
“Take it,” said James.

“No, I’m not going to take it,” she said, rummaging.

“Take the call,” he said, his meager voice fogging up the breathing mask. “I’ll… be here.” He grinned with his eyes.

Noelle scowled, but she found the phone and answered it quickly. “Hello,” she said.

James watched her eyes as someone talked to her. Her eyes were the same as they had been when they were kids, when she was just twenty. They were full of life and wisdom and love. The skin had wrinkled all around them, but their color was unchanging.

“Yes, this is she,” she said. “Listen, I don’t have time to—“

James remembered walking her to her dorm. Autumn leaves were falling on the interlocking patterns of the bricks of the quad. The wind brimmed with winter, and pushed a lock of her hair across her cheek, hiding a smile.

“Are—are you sure?” she was saying into the phone. Her mouth was tight, her eyes scanning. “How do I… how do I know this is for real?”

“Who is it,” James murmured.

“How is it that you never—?” she began. “Uh-huh. What did you say your name was?”

James blinked slowly at his wife. Noelle’s mouth opened and closed, and her eyes darted to him. He knew that look after all these years. He knew what it meant. She was deciding whether to tell him something. But he knew she would tell him if it was right for him to hear it.

“James,” she said finally, taking the phone from her ear. “I have someone on the phone for you.”

“Who?” he asked.

“It’s your… son.”

James didn’t answer. He just listened to his wheezing breaths and the soft murmur of the machines around him, and searched Noelle’s timeless eyes.

“James,” she said, holding the phone out to him. “You have a son.”

_____

See you tomorrow for the last story starter of February!

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It’s still Story Starter Month, meaning that I have to come up with the beginning of a new story every day this month. It’s nearing the end of the month. Here’s today’s installment!

_____

Cole hated the bar scene, because everyone hated the bar scene. And yet here he was, and yet here everyone was.

“Hi, I’m Cole,” he said to one nice-looking girl, half-shouting over the music.

He got nothing but a quick once-over and an eye-roll. No matter—there were more fish in this cramped, overloud little sea.

“Hey, what’s up?” he asked another woman.

She got up and took her drink elsewhere. Cole was wondering if the universe kept score, and whether the gigantic zero next to his name on the cosmic scoreboard was something he should be taking personally.

He went for broke with the next one. “I am looking for female companionship,” he half-shouted into her ear. Maybe the simple desperation tactic would seem funny.

It didn’t. She made a scoffing noise before presenting her determinedly uninterested shoulder blades to him.

“Whatever,” said Cole, shaking it off and turning away, before it looked too much like he was trying too hard.

The rest of the bar was looking grim. It looked like a hall of distorted mirrors from the carnival, with grotesque and uncaring faces swimming all around him. Typical Saturday night.

But then he saw her.

She was cute. She didn’t look hammered. And she was sitting at a bar table alone, apparently finding something interesting about the wall next to her. There was something about her—had he seen her here before?

He approached.

“Hi, I’m Cole,” he said. “Have I seen you in here before?”

She was cold about it. She acted like she hadn’t heard, continuing to study the wall, even though he knew he said it loud enough. But he didn’t budge.

She looked like she came to a decision, and she turned to him. “I’m Lex.” She didn’t look him in the eye.

“Lex? Like as in, Luthor?” said Cole. “I mean, nice meeting you. Can I get you something from the bar?”

“No, I’m—no, thanks,” she said. She raised her drink slightly, as an afterthought.

She looked uncomfortable. His impulse was to relent, and leave her alone. But if he let a moment of minor discomfort stop him, he’s never get on that cosmic scoreboard.

“Mind if I sit?”

Suddenly she pressed her finger to her ear. Her brow furrowed, and then her eyes shot to his face.

“Oh,” Cole said. “You’re on a bluetooth?” She could have said something. Or maybe she was just pretending to get a call—he’d heard that one before.

“We have to, uh—maybe we should get out of here,” she said, grabbing his arm.

“Oh, okay…” Huh. Should he be feeling elation right now?

She abandoned her drink and pulled him by the arm through the bar. He tried to head toward the entrance, but she swiftly pulled him the other way.

“Let’s go out the back way,” she said, strangely cordial but urgent.

As soon as they pushed their way out the back entrance, into the alley behind the bar, the shots rang out. They sounded like firecrackers, coming from the direction of the bar, clearly audible over the muffled music. Cole could hear glass shattering. People in the bar screamed.

Cole stopped short. “What the hell?”

Lex grabbed his sleeve again. “Move it,” she said. “Go. Now.”

_____

Just two more story starters to go. Then I’ll take stock of how it all went. See you tomorrow.

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I’m still trying to crank out the beginning of a new story every day in February. Today I got a little farther than I expected. This actually might be a complete story–a very short story, but it stands on its own. I didn’t intend it that way, as this is Story Starter Month, not Story Finisher Month. But I just kept writing, as I’ve definitely learned that when you’re on a roll, you keep going. Hope you enjoy.

_____

“Try to breathe normally,” says a voice.

Normally is how I’m breathing. Isn’t it? What’s happening? Something’s wrong. Whenever someone tells you to try to breathe normally, something bad is going on. That’s why I’m breathing like this. Isn’t this a normal kind of breathing? God, my lungs feel like they’re the wrong size. Where am I? What’s wrong with my eyes? Am I blinking?

“Things went well, Oliver,” says the voice. It’s a woman’s voice. “Try to remain calm. Breathe.”

Wait. What went well? I can’t seem to ask, or they can’t seem to hear me. I can’t get my mouth to move. Can they hear my thoughts? I can tell there’s light, and figures are moving around in it. It’s blurry. My eyes are open, but it’s so blurry. My eyelashes feel wrong. My hair is tickling my ear. It’s grown.

“It’s normal to feel a little out of place, but you have nothing to worry about. You’ll get accustomed with time. Your heart rate’s a little elevated, though, so we’d like to give you something to calm you down now, okay?”

I can’t stop them even if I wanted to. Will I go to sleep now? But wait. What am I getting accustomed to? What happened? What have they done to me?

“Oliver?” asks the woman’s voice. “Oliver, your finger just moved. Did you do that? Can you try that again?”

Did I do that? Am I paralyzed? I don’t feel paralyzed—I just feel… numb. I feel like I’m floating inside my own body. All I can remember is teacups. Teacups with red roses on them. And my sister Hazel laughing. Hazel liked my jokes.

“That’s very good, Oliver!” says the woman. “You moved it again. Your right index finger, and your right middle finger too. That’s great. That shows the bonds are forming. Ahead of schedule, even.”

What bonds? What schedule? Hazel and I were at a café. The teacups had red roses on them. That’s where I remember them from. We sat on the street corner. What place was that? The sign was in cursive. I can’t see it in my mind.

“If you can remember what happened, Oliver, lift your fingers again.”

I don’t know what I’m doing to move my fingers. But I’ll just try to breathe, and relax, and let my fingers sit there, because I certainly can’t remember what happened. But something did happen—she just confirmed it. My ribcage feels wrong. I feel like my shirt has shrunk around my chest. This is all wrong. Something deeply wrong has happ—

“Good, Oliver. I’m glad you remember. Sometimes there’s some short-term memory loss after this kind of operation, which is normal. But you remember the accident?”

No. No. I don’t remember any accident. We were at the café. What the hell happened? I remember the teacups. I remember Hazel laughing.

“Good! That’s good. Now—this is very important, Oliver. Do you remember what we asked you? About the operation? We told you we could save you with a very special kind of operation, but it would require some difficult choices.”

Oh God. Oh God. I don’t remember any of this. I can’t see anyone—it’s still so blurry. What have they done?

“Good. Oliver, your heart rate is still elevated more than we’d like. It’s normal to be upset. But we need you to breathe and calm down as well as you can. Stress can harm the connection to your new home. Do you understand?”

Understand? How could anybody possibly understand any of this? What could she mean by all of this? I remember something—no. I remember her scream. Hazel screamed. A car out of control, slamming up over the curb. Teacups. Shards of shattering porcelain teacups flying through the air.

“Okay. Well, that’s enough for now. Rest now, Oliver, and we’ll talk more about it later. You’ve made terrific progress. Your sister would be proud.”

Footsteps across tile. A door closing. I’m alone.

Hazel—Hazel was screaming. She would be proud? Oh God, she’s dead. The car smashed across the sidewalk of the café. Teacups. That’s the last thing I remember. Hazel must be dead, and I’ve survived.

I still can’t see. I realize I can feel, though. I’m moving my fingertips, and I can feel them brushing against the material of the sheet. I’m in a hospital bed. I can move. It feels strange, like I’m moving a puppet.

Oh God, Hazel. I’m crying, it feels like. I can hear soft, childlike sobbing. Is that me? I sound so strange. My hearing is strange. My sister is gone. I can’t believe this is happening. I want to wake up.

My fingers brush up against something in the bed. A hard plastic object. I can move my hand well enough now to move an inch and reach for it. Glasses. They’re the frames, like Hazel’s. They’ve put Hazel’s glasses in my bed, by my hand. As I cry, I can hear her voice. Don’t cry, Hazel. I’m so sorry. I should have died, not you.

My fingers curl around her glasses. My fingertips tingle with the sensation. They’re the only thing that feels familiar. Their shape is reassuring.

I have an impulse to put them on—and in one motion, my body responds. My arm bends at the elbow, bringing the glasses to my face. It’s a sloppy motion, but I get them on. They feel at home here. It’s like I can be closer to Hazel this way.

I realize they’re helping me see. The blurry shapes are clear now. I’m in a hospital bed. There’s a blue curtain surrounding the bed, and medical machinery at my bedside. There are fluorescent lights above me.

But my vision has always been perfect.

I can’t make sense of it. My hair tickles my ear as I move my head and look around. It’s grown so long—how long was I unconscious? I have to know.

I can only move my arm clumsily. I lunge for the nurse’s call button, but I only sweep away the curtain. I can see beyond my bed now, into the room.

Suddenly I’m looking at Hazel. She’s in a bed across from me, our feet pointed toward each other, each sitting up in bed looking at each other. Her head from the glasses up is wrapped in bandages. Oh thank God, Hazel.

But she’s wearing her glasses too. That doesn’t make sense. My head twitches.

Hers does too.

I realize. I’m looking in a mirror. My brain is behind Hazel’s eyes.

I flash back to the café. The car hit me full in the chest. It covered me, engulfed me. I heard Hazel scream. Then her scream was cut short.

There were forms. I remember now. I couldn’t sign them—I couldn’t move. My body was destroyed. I would be a vegetable. Hazel’s body was intact, but her brain had been ruined by a shard of glass through the ear. They had said she was a match. They could do an operation. They had high hopes for its success.

I move my arm across the bedsheets. It’s not my own arm—it’s Hazel’s arm, with her soft skin, her peach-fuzz arm hair, and her tender fingertips.

Oh God. Hazel. I’m so sorry.

_____

That’s it. I haven’t done any polishing on this, so it’s pretty raw. Felt fun to write though, and good practice. Remember:

“A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.” – Richard Bach

See you tomorrow for the start of another story!

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It’s getting on toward the end of the month. Not too many story starters left to do. Here we go.

_____

“Reports of the crisis keep rolling in,” said the news station on her phone. “Stay tuned to KOPV and we’ll have the complete story.”

Mansfield gave her phone a slight shake and it threw the news over to the television. The screen, decorated with a huge pink art deco bow, came to life, showing images of rioting and looting downtown. A graphic in tall, impactful letters whooshed onto the screen: NANODISASTER. Mansfield muted the display, but the news anchor kept mouthing the situation, his perfectly coiffed hair staying snugly in place as he nodded with emphasis, smoke and flames coiling behind him. She wondered if this would cancel school.

The tile floors creaked as she crossed into the kitchen. Her parents had been vintage collectors of 1960s Americana, and had prided themselves on their replica kitchen. It had black-and-white checkerboard tile and a diner booth instead of a kitchen table. The years had not been kind to their collection, but it still retained its model-perfect charm, still laid out in the same way as they had set it up when Mansfield was a toddler. It was a shrine to a bygone time period, she thought, but really it was a shrine to them. Her mother, Irina, was slowly eaten to death by cancer. And her father, David, had gone inside himself somewhere, lost to his job and to his inability to connect.

That left Mansfield, their eldest, and Bogart, her elfin little brother. Everybody agreed that Bogart had all the looks—all “the glow of the family,” they said. Mansfield wondered what that meant about her. No one ever said she had the anything of the family. But after Mom passed away and Dad stopped talking to them, she had to provide.

The TV showed footage of a downtown office building that looked like it had been eaten by cartoon termites. A fine dust flowed around the building. Graphics to the side of the live feed showed informatics about the costs of the disaster, a topographical map, showing how far the building was from Mansfield’s house, tappable links to further information, and a few ads for law firms that were presumably located inside that building.

Eggs sounded good, Mansfield decided.

_____

I like the name Mansfield for the daughter of some 1960s Americana freaks. It’s nicely ambiguous — it reads as fairly masculine on the page (“MANS field”) but it has this over-the-top Hollywood bombshell connotation if you know the reference.

I’m still having fun doing these story-starting exercises, but I’ll be glad when I can think past the beginning for a change. See you tomorrow for another story starter!

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I’m writing the beginning of a new story every day (well, every night–I have a day job) in February. It has to be at least 250 words and it has to be all-new, according to the rules I set down for myself last month. It’s going well. I’m up to twenty-three of them now. Only five to go. Ready for today’s (tonight’s) story start?

_____

“You said he came into your store often?” asked Detective Bryant.

The hardware store owner took off his cap and scratched between the few wispy gray hairs as he nodded his head. “For tennis balls,” said the man.

Detective Bryant looked up from his notepad. “Tennis balls?”

“Yessir. Just about every day, he’d come in the store and buy more of ‘em,” said the man. “Three or four tubes at a time, right up until the other day.”

The man glanced in the direction of the victim’s house. It was just down the block, on the opposite side of the street. The branches of a huge, century-old oak tree obscured the view of much of the house, but from where they stood, Bryant and the man could see the ring of yellow police tape around the front porch.

“Well, up until Monday, I guess,” said the man.

“Did he ever give any reason for buying the tennis balls?”

“No, I don’t reckon so. We had no reason to ask—we just made sure to stock ‘em. Guess I thought he just really liked tennis.” The man gave a tiny shrug.

“How many tennis balls would you say he bought from you?”

“Oh, hundreds. Maybe thousands. Did you find ‘em in the house there?”

“I don’t know yet. I’m on my way there next,” said Bryant. A frown passed over the hardware store owner’s eyes for a moment. “Do you have sales records, in case I might want to check over them?”

“We only keep ‘em for a month, but I could dig up what we have.”

Detective Bryant nodded and slapped closed his notepad. “Thank you for your time, sir.”

“Well, glad I could be of help,” said the man. “Come on back if you need anything else.” He glanced down at the house one more time, and then jingled his way back inside his hardware store.

Bryant walked down the street toward the house. It loomed larger and larger as he approached it, and the sad state of its peeling and faded lime-green paint became more and more evident through the foliage of the oak.

He pulled back, stepped past, and then reattached the police tape and went to the door. He turned the knob—unlocked—and the door swung open.

Ordinary entryway. Linoleum floors that needed sweeping. No pictures on the walls, Bryant noticed. He stepped down the entry hall into the main area of the house.

The space opened up into a massive central room. The ceilings towered two stories above the dark-stained wood floor. All the furniture had been cleared out of the space, leaving the room bare and echoing—except for what was on the floor.

Arranged on the floor, in some kind of intricate geometric pattern, was an array of what must have been over a thousand neon-green tennis balls. Each of them were balanced carefully on small paper cups turned upside-down. It looked like it had taken days—weeks, months—to construct the pattern. Bryant wasn’t even sure how anyone could even move among the tennis balls if any of them had to be adjusted.

Then he noticed that, here and there, a few of the tennis balls were missing. The pattern was broken in several spots. As he looked, Bryant realized that a few of the tennis balls had fallen off of the paper cups and were resting on the floor next to them.

Out of place. Out of pattern.

_____

Another fun one to write. I had started out thinking that this would be the story of the guy who went to the store every day and bought the tennis balls. But I had a brainstorm that it would be more interesting to find out about that guy from an outsider’s perspective. Why does he do the things he does? What’s going on with him? So of course he had to die, so the secrets could die with him — and then it becomes Detective Bryant’s problem.

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No time for blabbing! Straight to the story!

_____

Ben had work in the morning—or more accurately, it would be having him. His day would devour his soul with meeting after meeting filled with the scrutiny of all the senior vice-muckety-mucks. He really shouldn’t have been texting this girl. He should be sleeping, getting his Executive Power Rest for all of his Executive Power Meetings. But things with the girl were going well lately, and Ben was in cautious optimism mode. Plus tonight she was having this problem with her mom that he was helping her through, and it was just nuts how their senses of humor felt like a fitted pair together, and something about her hair made him do these big stupid sighs all the time. But he shouldn’t have let the conversation gone on this long or this late.

He also shouldn’t have been at the zoo, long after closing, using a stolen zookeeper’s key to unlock the marsupials enclosure. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.

Bzzz. He peeked at his phone again.

“So anyway Im not sure what I shld tell her,” the girl had texted in glowing letters. “Its like, if she wants to be part of my life I just want her to say that. Did I tell you she flaked on the dinner I planned?”

Ben let the door latch behind him and crept into the zoo enclosure. He was coming in from the back way, an access that the zookeepers used that wasn’t visible from the viewing area.

But it was visible to the animals. He saw about ten pairs of eyes looking at him. Which marsupials were nocturnal? He froze. He glanced down at his phone and let his thumbs whiz across the tiny keyboard, flashing his eyes up occasionally to watch the animals. The phone’s backlight dazzled his eyes.

“Holy crapcakes,” he texted. “You need to stop putting your emotions on the line for her.” Send.

All he needed was a photo. He couldn’t shoot it from here—it had to be one of those photos where you hold the phone at arm’s length and shoot back at yourself, with your other arm around your buddy. Except that the buddy had to be a kangaroo.

He waved the phone around, trying to shine its bluish backlight on the Australian creatures before him. He only got vague, moving shadows out of the deal. The animals didn’t budge. Judging by the height of some of the reflective, liquid eyes, some of them belonged to climbers like koalas or cuscuses. Or maybe that’s how tall kangaroos were. He wasn’t sure.

Bzzz.

“Heh, yeah, I know,” she texted. “Its just hard. Weve always been like this. Hey listen.”

That was all of her message for now. She must be composing more.

He knew he should either be in bed or be more attentive to the conversation. He just needed to get that photo. It was “probably the last” piece of humiliating evidence before Ben would be allowed into the Explorer’s Society, a secret league of overeducated idiots that he was less and less sure he wanted to join.

He could hardly see anything here in the back of the enclosure, after midnight, on the day before his massive meetings. And that’s when he heard a low, throaty, aggressive rumble come from one of the animals.

Bzzz.

_____

I, too, should be sleeping. At least I’m not stepping my way through piles of kangaroo dung while I should be sleeping.

See you tomorrow.

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