Monday, September 27, 2010

Ghost story and video

Yesterday, while Dr. Mom took the kids to an apparently awesome indoor playground, I used my alone time to write a short story and submit it to NPR's Three Minute Fiction contest.  The rules were that you had to start and finish the story with lines provided by the contest's judge, the critically acclaimed and widely admired Michael Cunningham (whose work I've never read), and the story could be no longer than 600 words (which is a great exercise in self-discipline for me).  I've never tried to write a spooky story, but based on my wife's reaction ("Mmm-hmm, it's pretty good") I'm pretty sure I'm destined to be the next M. Knight Shammalammadingdong.


“Some people swore that the house was haunted,” Rodney said, “but I didn’t give a rat’s ass.”

“But now…”

Rodney interrupted him.  “I don’t know.” 

The two men were old, with barky faces and rough hands. Rodney had iron-colored hair and a mustache the same yellow-brown as his fingers.  His eyes were wet and baggy, and his eyebrows looked like thunderclouds.

His friend wore a stiff baseball hat with a picture of a crane on it.  I hadn’t heard Rodney talk to anyone in years. 

“I don’t know.”  Rodney got quieter now.  “There was something about that place.  I just couldn’t do anything with it.  Nobody could.” He swirled the whiskey in its short, heavy glass and then swallowed it like that was his job.

“I know,” his friend said.  “I heard the stories.”  He drank his whiskey.  “Seems like every sub you had on that job lost his ass.  Nice-lookin’ house too.”

“Should have been a money-maker.  Now it’s settin’ there rottin’.”   Rodney filled his beer glass.  “Like me.”

“So, what’s…I mean…what’s the ‘real story’ you were talking about on the phone?”

“Aw, hell” Rodney said.  “You know about…” He pulled his sleeve up to show a ragged white scar across the inside of his wrist.

“Yeah, you told me…” He grabbed Rodney’s hand and whistled softly.  “Your saw kicked back on you, right?”

“Well yeah, that’s what I say.  But it didn’t…it wasn’t just a freak accident, like I told everybody.”  He took a drink of beer.  “Sure wish I could smoke in here.”

“So…what was it then?”

“Well, I was working nights by myself ‘cause I was losing my ass on that house.” His friend nodded.  “I’d drink some beers…do other stuff too…just to keep goin’.  And I saw some things.  A couple times.  But I just thought, you know, stress or whatever.

“So I’m in this little nook upstairs.  All cluttered.  No room to work.  It’s like a kid’s…like a playroom or something.  Wasted space.  And I’m cuttin’ a two-by-eight--a twelve-footer--for a header.  I’m gonna make it into a closet. 

 “And I see somethin' out of the corner of my eye, on this old trunk.  Just like I have before.  Except this time, it don’t disappear when I look over there.  This time it stays.

“And it’s a little kid, man.  A little girl with curly blonde hair, settin’ on that trunk, swingin’ her legs and thumpin’ her feet on it.” 

His friend swore quietly.

“I’m freaked out, you know?  Panicking.  But I’m halfway through the cut and my saw’s bindin' up.  I can’t let off the trigger ‘cause then it’ll kick back for sure, you know what I mean?”  His friend nodded.

“And I’m lookin' at this little girl, and she just stares right at me.

I could tell that the other man thought Rodney was crazy or drunk by now.  He was caught up in the story, but I could tell, just like everyone else, he thought it was all Rodney’s fault.

“And then I swear…I swear it, man.  She reaches out and grabs the other end of the board and bounces it up and down.”

Sometimes I feel sad for Rodney, even though it really was his fault for being greedy.

“And that’s when the saw kicks out.”  He raised his right hand up high and brought it down on his left wrist.

I had tried to warn him.

“And the saw damn near cut my hand off…”

He should have stayed out of my room.

“...and nothing was ever the same again after that.”

If that wasn't scary enough for you, check out this video of Butterbean and Cobra haunting our bedroom while playing with enchanted breastpump parts.  The spectral (if somewhat mechanical) music in the background is Dad playing "Capricho Arabe."


  1. M. Knight Shammalammadingdong you just may be!

    Thanks for the video of the girls, cheered me right up and the music was an added bonus.

  2. So sweet, I LOVE the guitar. I can't wait for the three of you to start a band.

  3. AWWWWWW that was the cutest video I loved it!!! Also lovely guitar accompaniment, and the story was enjoyable with a nice twist, like Corona with lemon. I'm always a sucker for guys talking construction. Your construction-themed stories are some of my favorite. You should publish Don't Let the Right Hand Know on here. I read it years ago and I still remember it.

  4. Brave! Brave submitting your work to NPR (I liked the ghost story, writing fiction scares the hell out of me, so bonus fear factor). Brave, also, submitting your curtains to the twins. My twins would have smeared undesirable body fluids on the curtains before you could find the next guitar chord.

  5. I like the revelation of who the 1st person voice is. But why was Rodney being "greedy"? And where is this taking place? Where is the ghost kid observing the two old guys? They don't seem to be in "that" house.

  6. @Nubian--I'm going to start making all my blog posts creepy with twists! Glad the girls cheered you up.

    @Steamy--Our band will be awesome. Guitar, flute, and cello, and we will only play chamber music from the Renaissance. We will be called "Viscera Smoothie."

    @Anisa--Thanks! (Aren't you supposed to be writing an essay, by the way?) I thought about posting that old story, but I re-read it a while ago and it didn't seem nearly as awesome as I thought it was when I wrote it. It needs some work.

    @Nicole--Having twins makes you fearless! Or reckless.

    @Troutfang--Trout, Trout, Trout. Can't you see that the ambiguous location challenges the commonplace that ghosts are somehow restricted to their earthly homes? The ambiguity makes the reader interrogate his own assumptions about the both the spirit world and the physical world, and the false dichotomy between the two. It's postmodern. You wouldn't get it. (Also, when cutting it from 1000 words to 600, I guess I eliminated any hint of setting. They were supposed to be in a bar.) Rodney's greedy because he wanted to remodel the house and sell it.

  7. That story made too much sense and was too coherent to be an M. Knight Shamalamabama.

    And now I can't sleep.

  8. I loved the way it ended - good story.

    Shamalamadingdong. Snort.

  9. Hey that was good, keep up the good work on your stories.

  10. nice blog . . .
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