Tag Archives: short story

A Piece of Dead Poets Society Fan Fiction

It is the year of Our Lord 1959 and my son has committed suicide.

My wife sobs in our bed, where first she felt the spark of his life kindled within her.

He ended his life because…

Please allow an aggrieved father a moment to compose himself. To write in haste would be to let the my flood gates open. Composure requires time, so please allow me a few extra words and a few extra seconds.

My–my son has committed suicide. Reason, that tower, threatens to crumble; my heart quakes the foundation, pounds mortar and brick and thought into dust–choking me, blinding me.

I descend and walk cautiously into a forest of exposed nerves. I tread carefully betwixt these raw, these weeping trees. A branch grasps at me and I stumble–“Father, you are a good father, but you work too much.” His face, so young…

My vision grows dark. Yet still, I must not lose myself here in this Wood of Suicide. I must not make the same mistake as my son. I must persevere; I must understand.

I did not understand him. I did not pay close enough attention. Where was my mind instead? Wandering down corridors where ends meet; single-minded, I forgot that others existed around me, other minds for whom I worked, for whom I breathed…

He killed himself because he felt trapped, by me and therefore by life itself. He was seventeen, that age where one is neither man nor boy; too old to take paternal diktats at face value, too young to rationally refute them.

He killed himself because I would not let him act in the school play. By extension, I would not let him be himself. That is the immediate cause. And being immediate creatures, that is all his friends will see or understand. That is likely all they will ever see. I am a monster to them, an abyss. The stings of their gaze–hateful eyes–humble me still, though the funeral is long over. I pray they do not stare overlong at the abysmal thing that I have become, lest in their hate they become like me, like I was: uncomprehending. They do not understand, as my son did not understand, and as I did not understand.

I would not let him be himself. What was he? Adventurous, restless, smart, something of a dreamer–qualities not unique in any young man filled with potential. It is such qualities that grant happiness to some, sadness to others. Why did they throw my son into the abyss?

These qualities knocked themselves against my stern Realism. Please, I hope my tears have already convinced you that I write no apology for myself. It is a mere statement of fact, or near to one as a man can manage. My son was a dreamer; it is a father’s duty to understand and cultivate his son’s dreams, but equally so must he also temper them with his experience, such as it is.

What have I experienced? In my youth I was very much like my son. Is that so very surprising? What could he have become, had he only lived a few more years; I spent so much time as a young father dreaming such castles in the air for my son’s future. What I dream now–

My youth was that of the 1920s–a time for dreams, for adventure, but also a time when dreams withered in excess. I reached economic maturity right as it all came crashing down. My son knew nothing of such hardships. I strove earnestly that he would never have to.

I do not claim this as a mistake. I worked hard to let him have a better life than I, and  will die believing this to be the right and honorable thing to do. What went wrong?

I dream of dungeons now, sunken in the earth, far forsaking the castles of my youth.

My son killed himself because he felt trapped by me. He felt trapped by me because somewhere along the way I grew not just stern, not just stoic; I became callous, towards my son, my wife, myself. I thought only of the future and narrowly, economically, trammeled by the dollar: my professionalism roared, drowned out all other sounds. Cacophony to mute, everything to nothing…

At some point, I forgot the sweet laughter of my son as he pretended to be Lindbergh flying across the ocean, and thought instead only of how he would provide for himself and his family when he was no longer under my protection and tutelage.

I reiterate: this was a noble goal. A father ought make sure his son is ready to take on the Great Wide World. But to what end? I toiled that he might never face the hardships I faced. Did I ever stop to consider that, in doing so, he would face different traumas altogether? I believe this to be common to all human experience. Pain is contextual. Human life is a series of yearnings, never truly satisfied. In striving so hard to make sure his life was economically stable, I starved him of something else entirely.

I did not understand the pain he endured. Further, I did not see that in his pain, in his youth, he did not understand all that I did for him, all that I had been through, all that I was. He did not see a human man striving for his child; he saw a tomb growing darker with each passing day. He did not see the castles that I dreamed for him, only the dungeon of our home. Is it any wonder that at some point he sought to free himself from being buried alive?

I let myself die, and because of that my son killed himself. Call him misguided; call his solution an overreaction. Fair enough. But was it fair to him that I placed him in such a situation in the first place? He can never learn from his mistake, and though I continue to live I can never really learn from mine.

He was our only child.

 

Trees, a Short Story

The rot had taken eons to putrefy the innermost sections of Charles Oldbranch, the great tree, but at long last the eons had passed and the rot had conquered. A grotesque splitting, crashing, echoing collapse  verified this for all the world to see, admit as fact, and act accordingly. And act they did.

Robert Longbark, the sapling of one of the most successful of industrial families, was the first to act, prodded as he was by his towering, austere father Herbert. True to tree form, Robert made use of the newly available sunlight to feed his hungry leaves, to grow, to conquer.

But there were others, other saplings, members of other great tree families. The Stoneturners, the Deeproots, the Sundrinkers, even the relatively unimpressive Brownbarks all had saplings in the area, waiting patiently–always the operative word in tree society–for that old sod Charles to keel over and, at long last, die. Sun space was a precious commodity, a rationed resource; and the benefit of its warm light went to the most vigorous, perhaps the most duplicitous tree; to the sapling that not only made the first move, but managed, in the ensuing scramble for height, to grow quicker than his fellows. Competition was fierce and, for trees, rapid. It was also deadly, and a loss meant certain death.

That this cut-branch competition flew in the face of the tenets of tree religion mattered to no one save the ground-bound ferns that preached the sacred word. The commandments were four, and were as follows:

  1. Revere the sun, by whom life is allowed to flourish.
  2. Revere the soil, from whom life begins.
  3. Envy not the bark of thy neighbor but stand tall with him.
  4. Forget not thy roots.

They were, all agreed, noble ideals and worthy of consideration, but against the practical realities of survival, they meant nothing except perhaps as weak justification for the perpetual arms race of the young, the unending monopoly of the old.

Roderick Highbranch, the greatest industrialist of this present eon, whose rootsran deep and whose leaves flushed with colorful vitality, proffered a treatise on this very subject, the rustle of which reverberated throughout the forest. Like all tree literature, at least, all good tree literature, it was short, for trees spent most of their time growing or eating; practical, for they thought of little else besides survival; and memorable, for something had to be quite impactful if it hoped to register amongst the myriads that passed by such aged structures.

His treatise ran thus: “Here, for all to drink in, is the true meaning of the commandments we all hold so dear. I ask you, how can a tree venerate the sun most effectively? By warming his leaves by the sacred light. This requires height. So grow! How can we show our appreciation for the soil from which we sprang? By honoring the seed that we were; by flourishing in our maturity. So grow! How else shall we envy not our neighbors except by sticking to our own development; and how else can we stand with our neighbors unless we rise to the occasion? So grow! How must we remember our roots if not by making the most use of the nutrients with which they provide us? So grow! That is the sum total of my thesis, my philosophy, my success, a mere word: grow. So go forth, commit yourselves to thy sacred duty, honor the religion of our fathers, our fathers’ fathers, all the way back to the first pillar of our civilization. Go forth, brethren, and grow!”

A vigorous philosophy, to be sure, but competitive as well. Opportunity might have been equal, in the sense that an opening in the canopy could happen anywhere, but no two trees could ever have been considered equal in the ensuing struggle; one tree, whether the strongest or the luckiest, or maybe even the most rapacious, won out in the end. And the forest floor was littered with the remains of untrammeled competition and rivalry. But, industrious as these trees were, they cared not for such failures. It was height or it was nothing at all; grow, or be used as fuel by those with the capacity to do so.

It was a dangerous existence, a cruel existence, but the trees, or rather those who made it to the radiance of the top, would have it no other way.

Seated, a Short Story

Seat 4C was new, polished, virgin. The room around it was new as well; new construction, new paint, new stage, new philosophy. This was the auditorium of the new high school. It was to be a place of learning and discussion. It was to be a place where generations came to be forged.

Creaking open for the first time, the seat welcomed its first sitter, a snarled young man, assailed by anxiety, acne, by arrogance, impertinence, and fear. He fidgeted annoyingly, unable to get comfortable despite the seat’s best efforts. It desired only to content him.

The lights dimmed, and the presentation began. The assembly, the first in what was heralded as a new series of intelligent, thought-provoking lectures, was about the dangers of nuclear war. A short video of president Ford was followed by a speaker who bade the students to take seriously the possibilities of MAD, to work to a brighter tomorrow, to make sure that the human race continued to exist. The sitter seemed little interested in the substance of the speech.

Much to the seat’s disappointment, the sitters all seemed generally to be alike. They oozed oil. They smelled bad. They could not sit still. The seat wondered if this was the case wherever young people had to sit down. Quickly, then, the seat’s memory for sitters blurred and grew indistinct.

Its memory for lectures, however, was a little sharper. There were several it would never forget. There was one about the dangers of fossil fuels, the evils of something called OPEC, and the desire for the whole world to embrace alternative energy; there was one about the imperialism of the Soviet Union; one about the prospects for peace with the collapse of the Berlin Wall; one about the dangers of drug use; about how to use the internet safely; about the threat of Muslim terrorism; about school shootings. At first 4C did not understand much of what was talked about, but over time its knowledge grew. As the decades passed, it became something of an expert in international geo-politics.

The years passed, the lectures changed, and the students remained the same. The seat noticed, with some confusion, that it didn’t matter what was being talked about; the sitters did not care. It reminded itself that it was but a lowly chair, that its view was narrow, limited. But after 40 years of sitters coming and going, it came to think its opinion on the matter accurate indeed.

In talking with its neighbors, its opinions were confirmed. Their sitters, too, could never get comfortable, could never pay attention; they slouched, dozed, sunk deep into their seats–all much to the seats’ consternation.

One day, after the end of an especially long assembly concerning the dangers of cyber bullying (4C never ceased to be astounded at the variety of topics that filled its auditorium), 4C found itself unable to return to its upright, resting position. Weeks passed, and the problem did not go away. Eventually, two burly men in overalls came to inspect it. They spoke in low voices, slurred by diets enriched by far too much red meat. 4C disliked seating such folk. They hurt.

Presently, however, it was concerned with what they were saying. They spoke of replacement. Whatever its diagnosis, the damage seemed to these two gentlemen to be irreparable. The seat would have to be torn out and replaced by a new one. The earliest this could possibly be done, they assured each other, was the beginning of next week. Four days from now.

4C trembled at the thought. It could not fathom what was going to happen to it. Where would it go? Who would sit on it? It creaked and pushed such thoughts off to one side. Desperately, it sought distraction from this existential crisis. It turned back towards the chief mystery of its long life, that of the human teenager. It wondered why, of all the important topics that had been covered here over the years, not one had drawn the concentration of anyone. More pressing matters nagged at the limits of the seat’s mind, but it brushed them aside, pondering instead the quandary that was the human attention span.

Three days later, in the quiet hours of the morning, 4C found itself prematurely torn from its universe. Two men came with tools. They showed no sympathy for the chair’s lost life; they did not bat an eyelash at its painful divorce. Unceremoniously, they wrenched 4C from its home of 40 years and carried it to the back of a truck.

They had caught the chair totally unawares. It had no time to come to terms with its life, with what it had done and left undone, with those it had seated and those left without a seat, with the great mysteries that it would never solve.

The afterlife was nothing like anything 4C had imagined. The air was colder. The world bumpier. The light varied and exceedingly bright. Then, all of the sudden, there was darkness. Then light. Then heat. Annihilating heat.

The Subway: a Short Story

The stomach and the brain process things a little differently. Consider a book you are not enjoying versus a dish that tastes awful. You could put the book down, of course, but somehow that seems wrong. You are compelled to finish it. “Maybe it will get better at the end. Maybe I just need some time to digest what’s been happening. I’ll finish it. Just another 100 pages to go. Fuck though, these characters are idiots.”

Try the same scenario with food. “My God, this stuff tastes like shit! Maybe it will get better as I go along. Should I finish? Perhaps my stomach will digest this hot garbage in such a way that I remember it more fondly afterwards…”

Sounds pretty ridiculous, huh? But that seems to be how things work. We are much more likely to finish a crappy book than a crappy meal. At least, I am.

“Why might that be,” I pondered to myself as the subway bumped beneath me. Why indeed.

I was just about to let the issue drop. “Whatever. Maybe inspiration will come to me in a dream. How many times has a solution presented itself when I wasn’t even thinking about the problem?”

And then flash! “The unconscious! That’s it!”

“What are you talking about?” I asked myself.

“It’s simple,” I responded. “Your brain has an unconscious component above which your consciousness is superimposed. Your stomach does not. It is just mechanical. There is no place for ideas to percolate and interconnect with other tidbits of crap floating around like there is in the brain. That’s why you can despise a novel when you finish it, but then a week later you realize that that nagging feeling you had upon finishing the damn thing was just the beginnings of a thought; and that that thought has now come to fruition; and that that thought is some revelation about how the book you thought you hated was actually fucking brilliant!”

“When has that ever happened to you?”

“Just last week I watched Once Upon a Time in the West and really didn’t care for it. But a feeling nagged me from the moment I finished. ‘Consider me,’ it whispered. ‘Consider me.’ It kept at it. Eventually, I relented, sat down, and rewatched the film. This time, I absolutely loved it. I’m not saying each instance of this is so extreme, but I think it’s an illustrative example.”

“But stomachs don’t do that?”

“Not at all!” I was ecstatic. “Not at all! They just accept material, break it down as they always do, and move on to the next batch of crap. There is no random connectivity. No creativity. It’s just a factory sack in the middle of  your body. I fucking hate it.”

At this point I was giddy in my seat, smiling at nothing and just generally happy with the turns my mind was presently taking. I giggled incessantly.

In hindsight, I can understand why the people around me might have been a little concerned with my behavior. At the time though, I was just too preoccupied with the revelation going on inside my head. It was magical!

A shadow darkened my world. I tried to focus my eyes once more upon the external. A large,  blur loomed over me. My eyes, in their haste, failed to discern what this structure could be. Then it spoke.

“Sir, my name is Officer North. Can I ask your name and where you’re headed today?”

A police officer. “Oh fuck. What did I do? What did I do? Why did he want to talk to me of all people?” My thoughts were frantic. And my eyes still couldn’t discern any features. I was talking to an amorphous entity, like all of policedom personified in one menacing avatar.

“Well, sir, I…”

“Speak up, son. Why so nervous?”

I cleared my throat. “Well, I. My name is Jerome.”

“Jerome what?”

“Jerome Pillovich, sir.”

“And where are you headed today, Jerome Pillovich?”

“I am going home, sir.”

“Looking pretty suspicious for a man who’s just going home. Why were you acting so strange just now?”

“Sir?”

“Just now. You were talking to yourself and laughing at nothing and fidgeting in your seat like you had a cockroach up your ass.”

“Oh.”

“Oh? You mean you didn’t know what you were doing?”

I laughed a little, involuntarily. My voice cracked. It wasn’t pretty. “I was a little preoccupied, sir.”

“With what?”

“My own thoughts.”

“Pretty vivid thoughts you’re having, I’d say. You on anything?”

“No sir!”

“Mind taking a blood test to confirm that, son?”

I realized this was one of those moments political science majors dream about, where a private citizen armed with just enough knowledge of his constitutional rights can tell a cop to go fuck himself and nothing will happen to him; where the cop has to begrudgingly admit that, for once in his career at least, he failed in trampling over the rights of the little guy; where the young intellectual can go home and break open his Jefferson or his Foucault or whoever and read them with pride and say to himself “Yes, I know what you mean. I was there in my own little way. I fought the good fight. And I won.” I realized that in an intellectual flare, which dissipated into black the second I remembered that I had a very good reason for getting home; that the cop was very large, or seemed so; that he probably had very menacing weapons upon his very menacing person; and that I wasn’t a poli sci major anyhow. I’d never even graduated college.

So I told him the truth. “I’d rather not sir. You see, I have to get home on time today. Otherwise my dog will shit all over the carpet. I know how he gets, you see.”

“Dog, huh. What’s his name?” He sounded like he didn’t believe me.

“Josef Goebbels.”

“What?” He couldn’t decide whether to laugh or scream. A natural response.

I smiled as friendily as I could. “You’ve heard of him?”

“I watch enough History Channel to know the name. What the hell possessed you to name your dog fucking Josef Goebbels?”

“Wasn’t me. I found the dog at the pound. He was already used to it, so I was kinda stuck.”

“And you adopted him anyway?”

“He was just so forlorn. I couldn’t say no.”

“I see.”

I, too, began to see. The cop finally came into focus. He was a larger man, but not so demonic as I had originally been led to believe. His hair was retreating before an annexing forehead. His belly bulged. He looked tired. He also looked like he was thinking. I had never seen a cop look like that before. I was dumbfounded. Guess you could call that irony. I sure did.

“Listen,” he said at last, “I’m going to let you off this time. I know what dogs are like when they’re from the pound, how temperamental they can be, and how much more work you have to put into them to make up for all the abuse. I get that. Just, for Christ’s sake, in the future, don’t act so damn goofy, especially not on the subway. You know how people are these days, right?”

“I guess I do, sir. It’s just, I was so excited.”

“About what?”

I told him about my revelation. I don’t know what I expected him to say, but I what did I care? I was just happy finally to be telling someone! It had been burning a hole in the back of my brain ever since he first approached me. When I was all done, and out of breath from all the excitement, he took a long, thorough look at me and then laughed.

“That’s all you were carrying on about?”

I frowned. He did not understand.

“You have it all wrong, bud. The stomach and the brain aren’t any different. Think about it.”

“How do you mean?” I stuttered, my eyes narrowing in suspicion.

“Did you like beer the first time you tasted it?”

“No.” I said, dragging out the syllable in obvious doubt.

“But you kept drinking it, right?”

“Uh huh.”

“And eventually you learned to like it, I’d wager.”

“Not all kinds, but yeah, I like beer more now than when I first tasted it.”

“And you don’t think that that’s your stomach’s very own ‘unconscious’ doing things when you’re not looking? The brain and the stomach both percolate themselves away. They both do stuff without us even realizing it. Your distinction is total nonsense. Can’t even say the stomach has its own unconscious, really. The body’s holistic, interconnected. And it’s all run  through the same processor. Leastways, that’s what I remember from the psych classes at the academy. Only interesting stuff they taught us there, matter-o-fact.”

My eyes were wide. I’d never considered that. Never considered beer. How could I have failed to consider beer?

“Plus, now I don’t do this myself mind you, but people do eat stuff they don’t like just for the nutritional value, you know, liberals and hippies and all those lovely people.”

I was heartbroken.

He put a hand on my shoulder. He could see the shattering results of his little psychology lesson. “Listen, this is how cults get started, bud. Someone gets too worked up about some half-baked idea, and they run with it right off a cliff. Stick to caring for your dog, huh?”

And with that he walked away, still laughing. I sat back in my seat and checked the time on my phone. Josef Goebbels would need to go out right when I got home.

Action: a Short Story

He felt her hand: cold to the touch. She had been dead for hours. Red hair covered her pale face. He displaced a few strands, revealing a set of bulging blue eyes, broken nose, bruised cheeks. This was no death’s soft repose. Something untoward had happened here. Rodrigo rose from the bed, his bed, and pondered.

Who was this woman? Why had she been in his apartment? And why was she dead? Mechanically, he rubbed the smart phone in his pocket; the wheels of his mind turned their slow revolutions. He should be anxious. He should be scared. He should call the cops.

A gust of cold lashed at his furrowed brow. He looked up and saw the bedroom window, smashed, the curtains in tatters. Broken glass lay scattered on the floor like so many puzzle pieces. But, sharp to the touch, Rodrigo could not even begin to fit them together. What had happened here?

He examined the corpse more closely. She was utterly naked. No ID, no nothing. Bruising lined her arms and stomach. Maybe she’d been brought here against her will? Seemed likely. Why wasn’t he more worked up about this? Why didn’t he seem to care that a stranger had died here; that she had been left here for him to find?

His mind wandered. Haven’t cared about work lately. Natasha’s barely been on my mind the last few weeks. Just don’t give a shit. Why bother?

His eyes regained their focus. A small puncture wound on her left temple caught his attention. His heart quickened just a little bit, his eyes sparking. Dried blood was visible in the matted hair. What thick hair she had had. Although it was still the property of the corpse, he noted. Such distinctions carried a mild amusement.

That’s how this scene appeared to Rodrigo. Mild. It had a mild taste to it. There was nothing vital about it. It seemed flat, run of the mill. What was so special about someone dying on his bed, as opposed to any other? What was so special about someone dying at all? It happened to everyone.

What was wrong with him? Why didn’t he care?

The sight of her wound had enlivened him for a moment. That was visceral. That was cause and effect. That was action. Was that what his life so sorely lacked these days? His existence was so passive. Hers had ended in the throes of action, if not of her own volition then certainly that of someone else. Someone was living a real life. Rodrigo wondered who that might be. What a luxury nowadays, to live rather than somnambulate.

But the woman neither lived nor sleepwalked. She had died, and continued in that vein–relentlessly. A foolish consistency, but one from which she could not be swayed. More idle thought.

Rodrigo, what are you going to do?

That’s a good question. Any idea?

Calling the police would be better than sitting beside a dead stranger, daydreaming.

That makes sense. But somehow I can’t bring myself to do it.

You haven’t been able to make yourself do much of anything these days.

That is true. Why do you think that is?

Stop it. Stop asking yourself a thousand questions. Act.

He still fingered the phone in his pocket. He took it out and stared at the lock screen. Another moment’s hesitation.

Do something.

He unlocked the phone. Dialed 911. Put the phone to his ear.

“Hello, 911. What is your emergency?”

There is a woman on my bed. I think she is dead. I do not know her.

“Hello, is anyone there?”

It looks like she might have been murdered. My window was smashed in as well.

“I can hear you breathing. Sir, do you have an emergency to report?”

“No.”

“It is a crime to prank call 911 like this, sir.”

“Sorry.”

The phone went dead.