Tag: Short Story

Isobel Swallows a Warrior – A Short Story (Previously Published in Nothing But Red)

I thought I would share a short story today. This was originally published in the anthology NOTHING BUT RED. The anthology came about after the brutal ‘mercy’ killing of Du’a Khalil Aswad. Joss Whedon wrote an essay on the incident on May 20th, 2007. Later, Nothing But Red was created. It contained the essay from Joss Whedon which can be read HERE.

From the NOTHING BUT RED website:

In April 2007, seventeen-year-old Dua Khalil was pulled into a crowd of young men—some of them family members. They proceeded to stone and beat her to death, a supposed “honour” killing for being in the company of a man of a different faith.

The police stood by and did nothing, and several members of the crowd filmed the incident with camera phones. You can find the video on both CNN’s website and YouTube (We have not linked to the video. A simple search will find it for you.).

One month later, popular writer and filmmaker, Joss Whedon, posted his complete despair and outrage on a fan-run news blog, Whedonesque.com. Among his words was a call to action. This is how some of us responded.

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Here is the story I wrote for the anthology. It was published in 2008.

 

Isobel Swallows a Warrior

By: Kevin Craig

Isobel has reached her breaking point. She watches the wipers’ valiant attempts at clearing the rain from the windshield as she wills herself somewhere outside the Denali in which she is trapped. It is futile. There is nowhere she can go to escape the voice of oppression sitting beside her.

“You never listen, Isobel,” Cal repeats. “This has been planned for months. Just because you don’t want to participate in the social events of my life, doesn’t mean you’re excused from them. You’re my wife. You will accompany me. It’s the way it will always be.”

Isobel attempts to hear Cal’s voice as only noise. She has become adept at tuning out the gist of his words; at hearing only his baritone drone. This ability saves her from the sting of many insults.

As the wipers continue to fight the deluge, she listens to the near-whisper of Dusty Springfield singing Son of a Preacher Man (“A radio is supposed to be background noise. The volume doesn’t need to be above three. Anything higher is excess.” One of the first Cal tenants; handed down some twenty years earlier. She has been straining to hear ever since.). Her finger itches to crank the volume; an action that would be met with dire consequences.

“Are you even listening, or are you proving my point?” In her head, Dusty is drowning him out.

“Isobel? Earth to Isobel.” The jab to the shoulder brings her back. “You’re going to act like a normal human being tonight. I work with these people. The least you can do is show them a little respect, for Christ’s sake.”

She rubs her shoulder and ponders Dusty’s words. Cal is the only boy who could ever teach her. There was a time–way back when–when she thought he was a sweet-talker, too. It seems she shares something with Dusty. She wonders if Dusty would allow herself to become a doormat to her preacher man’s son.

“Promise me that.”

“Yes,” she mumbles. “I always do. Your fetes are so incredibly stimulating—”

“Don’t get lippy, Issy. You’re going to ruin this for me before it even—”

“I’ll be your puppet, Sir Cal. Don’t worry.” Something in the hopeless way the windshield wipers struggle against the rain empowers her. She smiles, proud of her flippancy.

“Phhh. Some puppet you make. You’re as useless as feathers on a trout. I’d be able to control a puppet better.” Cal reaches for a cigarette and works at getting it lit. Isobel cracks her window against the smoke. “What the Christ are you doing? Can’t you see it’s pissing out?”

“You know I can’t handle the smoke,” she says.

You know I can’t handle the smoke,” Cal mimics in his mousy Isobel voice. “You’ll soak the seats.” Isobel reluctantly shuts the window.

Isobel shuts down and allows Cal to concentrate on his cigarette. She knows he is thinking about tonight’s Big Cal on Campus event; how wonderful he will be. She thinks idly about her children.

At first, she did the Cal experience for Cal’s sake. He was a sweet-talker. He seemed like someone she could love forever. As the tides began to turn—as the ugliness began to show through his rigid façade—she had found herself with child. First came Hennessey, and then Ben. With each rise in her belly, she felt a swell in her sense of hopelessness. With each child, Cal’s particular brand of Calness grew uglier.

But the kids are grown, a new voice in her head announces. What am I staying for now? She seems to search the rain for an answer. “We’re almost there.”

“Give the woman a medal,” Cal says. “Does MENSA know about you?”

“I was just thinking aloud.”

“Try not to make any mental breakthroughs like that tonight. They already think you’re weird. Don’t start talking to yourself.”

“I was making an observation.”

“And a fine observation it was,” he laughs. “Fine as rain.”

Isobel watches the wipers cut their rhythmic path across the windshield. She knows there is an answer to her problems right in front of her—she just can’t touch it.

If he lets me out at the door, I’ll stay. If he makes me walk in the rain, I’ll leave.

Isobel almost jumps from her seat as this thought occurs. She sneaks a peek across the void between herself and Cal, afraid that he has heard the ultimatum. He is finishing his cigarette, staring blindly into the road and savouring his superiority.

She wants to jump out of her skin. She feels as though a warrior has taken possession of her body and she tries desperately not to blink away this belief. She is afraid the spell will be broken, and with it her resolve.

Cal moves into a turning lane. They are at the Sienna Suites, the pretentious banquet hall where the pretentious soiree is being held. Isobel feels her heart in her throat. She is afraid he might not be able to resist the bright lights and showiness of the valet parking.

As they enter the parking lot she crosses her fingers, hopes for a miracle. As soon as the thought had entered her head, she knew she had wanted it more than life itself. Now she allows her future to rest on Cal’s next move.

“Like I’d let one of those punk-ass kids drive this truck!” Cal says to himself. Isobel waits for him to suggest she jump out.

If he drops me off, I stay with him. Her heart races and monarchs scratch the insides of her belly. They inch past the doors, past the smartly dressed, pimply teen-aged valets—past the security of knowing where Isobel will sleep at night.

In typical Cal fashion, he heads for the back of the lot. Isobel hears the tired parking-refrain mixing with her swirling thoughts of escape—Nobody’s denting these doors. This is a Denali, for Christ’s sake!

Cal pulls sideways into two spots, grabs a Toronto Star from behind his seat, unfolds it over his head and opens his door. He is running toward the banquet hall before Isobel’s door is opened.

She leaves the truck slowly, allowing the rain to soak her new Alfred Sung dress. Cal stops halfway, waves one arm impatiently while holding the paper above his head with the other. Isobel’s own arms begin to rise at her sides. She feels them lengthening—becoming wings. She looks into the night sky, allows the water to further soak her upturned face. She is unconcerned with running mascara and wilted hair.

She makes her way to the entrance and sees Cal waiting inside. His face is red with anger as he glimpses the damage that the rain has caused her. She smiles and waves. She splashes through a final puddle before allowing a tall dark doorman to open the door for her.

“What the hell took you so long? Christ, Issy. Now is not the time to get lost in that Dreamland head of yours. You’re soaked!”

She comes back down to earth just long enough to placate him with a few light words. “I’m in heels, Cal. It’s okay. I’ll just run to the washroom and freshen up. Wait here. I’ll be right out.”

“I’ll see you at the table. I’m not your Goddamn servant,” he snarls. “Wait here,” he says in his finest mousy Isobel voice. “That’s rich, Isobel.” He storms off, handing the doorman his dripping Toronto Star.

Isobel makes a show of walking towards the washrooms, in case he glances back. Her full-circle back to the door is almost a dance. She thinks of Hennessey and Ben—of how they will react to her spontaneous decision to flee. For a split second she thinks she will step back into her life. The resolve takes hold. The warrior in her belly propels her to the doorman.

“Can I help you, Miss?”

“Can you please call me a cab?” It is not Isobel’s voice that comes out of her tiny body. It is the voice of her swallowed warrior. She is leaving.

“They’re just outside. Follow me.” He cracks an umbrella and ushers her into the new and unknown. She puts one foot in front of the other, attempting to look like the sane, rational woman she is leaving behind.

An orange door is opened. She hears the thank you escape her lips. Her wet frame drops into the seat of the cab and she thinks she is smiling as the door closes.

Isobel stares forward, not knowing her next move. I’m leaving Cal. She turns to look at the back of the driver’s head. I’m on my way out of my life. I’m leaving Cal.

“Looks like you got a drenching,” the cabby says, pulling her back into the world. There is music playing softly, almost inaudibly.

“Just a little rain,” says the new voice that Isobel is trying on for size. “Could you please turn the music up? Music should be heard.”

“Certainly. And where are we going tonight?”

She looks to the ceiling and then closes her eyes. “Anywhere but here, driver. Just drive.”

THE END

Sun’ll Come – A Short Story Originally Published in the WCDR Whispered Words Anthology

Thought I’d share another piece of found writing today. I wrote this piece in about 15 minutes. It was the deadline for the WCDR Whispered Words Short Story Contest…and I wanted to get something in. Mostly, I was thinking I’d support the organization that has done so much for my writing career. I really didn’t think anything would come of the entry. I had procrastinated to the finish line, and time was ticking away. WRITE-SUBMIT-READ. That was the genesis of this piece. To my surprise, it made the anthology! This was published in 2011.

The subject matter is a little delicate. It’s a story about sexual abuse…but it’s not very blatant about the subject matter. It’s written in dialect, and from the first-person POV of an 8-year-old boy.

Before we go to the story, if you’re in the Durham Region area–or the GTA, for that matter–it would be worth your time to look into the WCDR!

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Here it is:

Sun’ll Come

Momma said Angie had to go be with Gramps on accounta Gramps’s glaucoma. But I know in my heart that’s not what the truth of it is. Angie didn’t like Gramps enough to follow him around for all eternity just so he won’t bumpity bump into tables and trip over curbsides. Angie didn’t like Gramps none at all. She just died ‘cause she died. That’s all there is to it.

Besides, if her eyes was so good and twenty-twenty and all that, she wouldna walked offa that rock and into the falls way she did. Angie been spending her whole waking life trippin’ and fallin’ over things. If that Jesus fella thought he’d better get a body up there to help ole Gramps walk around inside all that Heaven, you’d think he’d pick a somebody who didn’t always hurt theyselves just walkin’.

Angie mighta even done it to get away from all the badness, too. I know I been thinkin’ ‘bout that Heaven place and wonderin’ if it be the place for me and all that too. I just don’t know if I’d have the courage Angie had to walk off the world and into all that water, way she done.

Angie always protectin’ me against Daddy, saying, “boys don’t need no trouble way you got trouble. Don’t forget, Toby, it’s a secret you keep to save yo’self. Ain’t got nothin’ to do with helpin’ Daddy. We don’t evah needs to be helping out Daddy.”

I’m sure she’s up there in the Heaven place thinking she left me down here t’meself with all this trouble, and now times two without her to share it. But she just couldna tooken it no more. She didn’t fall down those waters for the fun of it, nor did she trip. And fo the love of Jesus Please-us, she ain’t never done a thing for Gramps but complain about the smells of his feet when he kept them too close to the fire and they got all the stink all cooked up to fill the house. No. She just hadda ‘nough of Daddy. One can take only so much ‘fore they crack like glass. You whisper all yo life and soon enough it comes to a scream and you ain’t never able to stop it then. Only thing left is ta flung youself from the falls and hope the landin’ take ya to Jesus.

Angie gone now almost a year or so. I remember when she whispered in my ear at night, “Toby, everything’s gonna be ok. Sun’ll come, Tobs. Sun’ll come. Always comes the next day and takes the night away.” I remember the tickle on my lobe ‘cause her mouth was too close and the wetness of her words ticklin’ down deep and cold. I sure did like that. It calmed me down sompin’ awful.

Now I’m eight I can take after my own self, but I sometimes ask Momma maybe Gramps done need another hand to walk him through all that Heaven. She just say, “Don’t leave me, Toby. Don’t leave yo Momma with that man. That’s not fair or right. We in this ta-gether.” I don’t know why I has to be in it with her. I didn’t choose him. I didn’t make the marriage agreement with all the death-do-parts and no-mans-put-us-unders.

I ain’t never signed on to do the things with Daddy that he always be asking me to do. Tellin’ me to do. And that whisky breath near enough to make me drunk and stupid just like him. I know Angie be up there in Heaven some nights shoutin’ down, “Sun’ll come, Tobs. Sun’ll come. You just wait and see.” But it ain’t never come no more. Not with her not here to help fight him off when he get like that. He has more hands than a octopus. He just take what he want from ole Toby now. I been sleepin’ in the closet, but he know where I’m hidin’ mostly. He know where to find ole Toby when the Devil got him all liqueured up and ready to play with fire. Hands movin’ so fast, cain’t hardly keep them offa me.

I just have ta remember to whisper this stuff to no one and wait for maybe Angie’s words to brush past my ear like a tickle and tell me everything be okay in the mornin’.

Momma says Daddy’s gettin’ all better lately. Been smiling and even one time with whistling when he comin’ in from work at the mill. But she just foolin’ herself way she always done. He ain’t nothin’ but evil. Nothin’ good comes from a man who done that to his own kids. That’s what Gram once said ‘bout ole Gramps ‘fore he up and died off like bad wood gone to rot. Yeah, Angie gonna follow that man to help him from fallin’ up in Heaven. I believe that like I believe the day’ll come when Daddy get’s all better. Ain’t never gonna happen.

I know what. If I ever decide not to fall down those waters, I ain’t never gonna do that to my kids. Ain’t wantin’ my boy to get told in whispers that the sun’ll come up in the mornin’ and take all that darkness away. ‘Cause that’s a lie and nothin’ but. The sun comes up. It does. But it ain’t never took the darkness back. That’s there always.

Even Angie knowed that all those things she said to make my days go better were nothin’ but whispered words. Whispered words that tickled my ear and made me just for a second giggle and forget. I think that why she done it all the time. Makin’ me tickle was her way to take away the madness and make it all more better. But it ain’t better now. Not with Angie gone ass over the teakettle over them falls. I ain’t even got her whispered words on my earlobe no more. I only got myself. Then, that all I need. Sun’ll come, Tob.

 

 

CHILDHOOD SEXUAL ABUSE OR SEXUAL ABUSE HELP?

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The Wild Side: A Life Without Wings

In the latter part of 2007, I entered a contest at the writing site, Absolute Write. The prompt was to write about a song that changed your life…and you could write fiction if you wished. I went with ‘fiction’ that was a thinly veiled slice of life. They say there is truth in fiction. We sometimes get ourselves and our own lives entwined in the fiction we create. Probably the case here. (-; I didn’t win the contest, but I did get the JUDGE’S CHOICE AWARD. I kinda think that’s a bit better than winning. (-;

As it was about Lou Reed’s wild side…I thought I would hunt that story down and post it here today. Lou was an icon of the crash and burn decade of the 70s. Loved his work. R.I.P.

The Wild Side: A Life Without Wings

By Kevin Craig

A song can sometimes bring you back down to earth. Often, it’s the songs you least expect that eventually have the heaviest impact on your life; songs that have been there all along, sitting latent in your consciousness…waiting.

When Marci came to the hospital to visit me, I had already completely given up on life. I was ready to call it quits. The purpose of her visit was to sway me away from the precipice at which I had arrived, but the moment I saw her enter my room I turned to face the wall. Making a cocoon of my blankets, I barricaded myself against her will. Had I been paying attention, I would have seen that she came bearing music. Marci knew the omnipotent power music had over my mind, body and soul and she wasn’t afraid to use it.

“Please look at me,” she said after a moment’s silence. Receiving no reply, she sat in the contoured plastic chair at my bedside. “I’ve got all day. I can wait.”

I lay there festering in anger, willing her to give up and leave like the others before her.

“I brought something for you,” she said. I heard scraping and the metallic shriek of the bedside table’s drawer being opened. The pitter-patter of things falling into the drawer followed. She was sweeping the table clear.

I then heard a barely audible click and recognized it as a ghetto blaster’s tape player being activated. The squelchy silence that followed informed me she had made the tape herself.

“Holly came from Miami, F L A…”

I arched my brows in confusion. I always liked Lou Reed, but I couldn’t figure out why she chose that particular song to play to me. Obviously she was trying to rescue me but that song held no weight with me. We had danced to it in the murky Toronto underground clubs, but it had never been more than background noise to me; excellent background noise, but noise nonetheless. I was baffled that she would pick that song to reach out to me.

She began to speak over the rumbling certitude of Reed’s hollow gothic voice.

“Remember how you used to tell me to take a walk on the wild side?” she asked. “Every Goddamn second you were saying that. Here I was looking like a frumpy nothing…no friends, no life. You saw something in me.”

I smiled, perhaps for the first time in the three weeks since Scott had jumped. I had forgotten how I had come to know Marci. How could I have done that?

I remained silent, staring obstinately at the wall. But I began to feel an awakening in my chest, perhaps a combination of Reed’s voice and the doo doo doo girls? Or maybe I could feel Marci’s reaching and an inner part of me—a hidden part not ready to give up—was reaching back?

“If not for you, I would probably still be living that lie,” she continued. “My parents always thought something was wrong with me. Imagine an artist and a museum curator having an uncultured daughter. They were perplexed until you came around.”
I thought she was trying to make me laugh. Everybody wants to laugh, even those of us who have given up. It’s an inherent trait we have no power against. But, still, I fought it.

“What are you doing here?” she asked, throwing me off. “I mean, that was the bender of the decade. You’re lucky you lived through that, man. What were you thinking?”

I fought against turning to face her, but I couldn’t fight off the tears any longer. She was getting to me. I hunkered deeper into my blankets, wiping the tears away in a way that I hoped she couldn’t tell they had fallen. But even as I wiped them, I felt myself hitching. There was no way she would miss that.

“Scott’s dead,” she continued. “I’m sorry you had to see it happen. I am. I really am. But he’s dead. You can’t bring him back.”

Through the sobs, I finally gave up my fight and spoke. “He had wings,” I mumbled through the growing lump in my throat. The explosion of monarchs in my stomach was fighting against the lethargy I had fallen into. I could feel the rumbling need to move; to flee. I edged against it, squeezing myself further toward the cold blue wall.

“It speaks,” she replied. “Your brother told me you haven’t said a word in the last week. He’s sick for you.”

“He had wings, Marci,” I said, ignoring her comment. “I swear to God. Before the truck, before the tumbling. Before the splat.”

I was screaming now.

She stood and reached over my bedrail. I felt her hands on my shoulder, at first just to be there, but then she tried to force me to face her. I fought against her tugs.

“Goddammit. Look at me,” she screamed. “I need you to face me.”

As we struggled, the song was drawing to a close. I loved the doo doo doo girls. How did he know to put that part in the song? How perfect it would make the song? How did he know? Music is just so beautiful when it’s right. The song was starting to have the desired effect on me and I resented it even more. When you’re sick, when you’re ill and wanting to die; you get so angry with anything that tries to destroy that feeling. You get so low that you like being there, you get comfortable in your misery and you kill to keep it.

“He flew,” I said. “You didn’t know him like I knew him.”

With a sudden punch to the shoulder she gave up the struggle and pushed me violently away. “You bastard!”

“He didn’t mean to do it, Marse,” I said. I had won the fight. I turned around to see her plunk back into the chair. “He was flying.”

“You can’t save everyone,” she said. Now I realized that she too was crying.

“I can’t live with this,” I said, breaking. “I see it when I’m awake and I see it when I’m sleeping.”

“He’s a rotten bastard for making you a part of it,” she replied. “I don’t care if he is dead. He’s a rotten bastard.”

The doo doo doo girls were making their final appearance. My favourite part of the song was about to play. I did love that song. I never realized how much until I found myself waiting for that part of it to come.

We looked at each other as the horns took over and rose above the rest of the music; she with her soft brown eyes, pleading, and me with a million miles of sorrow looking for somewhere to dump it.

“You’re the horns, you know,” she said as they built to a crescendo. “If anybody can be the horns in this song, it’s you.”

Sobbing, I reached out beyond my bedrails. Marci stood to receive me. She had finally breached the chasm that nobody else could breach. She had saved my life with a song. I didn’t know if I was starting my walk on the wild side, or ending it; but suddenly I felt empowered. If Scott could have wings, if only for a moment, then I could be horns. I could be lifted.

THE END

Walk On The Wild Side – written by Lou Reed

That’s that. Godspeed, Lou, baby…