Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Traveling With Kids - In the Piker Press

Another fragment of my failed 2009 NaNovel has made its way back to life as a short story on the Piker Press.

A short, semi-autobiographical story of my first road trip with a child in tow.

Traveling With Kids

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Education of Fred - Writer's Round Table assignment

More from our new friend Fred. This skips forward in the story a bit, and just a bit of expository material - nothing to really advance the plot, as I have not yet entirely figured out what that might be! However, it fulfils the assignment:

Write a passage of 500-1000 words in which aspects of the person the protagonist once was (beliefs, ideals, hopes and dreams, lifestyle choices...) come into conflict with who the protagonist is now.

The Education of Fred
Fred worked late, alone in the lab before heading out the door. He was in no hurry to get back to his apartment; in fact, he chided himself once again for not taking the time to find a new place. None of the familiar places seemed friendly anymore, none of the old acquaintances seemed to want anything to do with him. Perhaps that explained his new habit of working late into the night, whether or not he had something pressing to finish.
Despite arriving home well past midnight, the landlady's lights were still on. Fred actually drove past the house once, like a skulking stalker, to see if she was still up. When he saw she was he parked his car at the end of the street and walked up the back alley to enter the house by the back entrance.
It was an old house, in its heyday it may have even been called a mansion. Now it was simply Miss May's Apartment House, as proclaimed by a hand painted sign wired to the railing on the front porch. Some shoddy carpentry and plumbing work had divided the house into five different apartments, and Miss May, the great-granddaughter of the man who originally built his dream home with his own hands spent her few remaining years haunting the lives of her tenants.
It was for this reason that Fred snuck in through the back door, opening and closing it as slowly and carefully as possible before removing his shoes and starting to creep down the darkened stairwell. He was about halfway down when the overhead light suddenly turned on, and Miss May's tremulous old voice startled Fred into dropping his shoes and nearly falling down the remaining stairs.
"You should turn the light on when you go down the stairs Freddy." Miss May remarked. "You might fall and kill yurself, and then how would I 'splain that to the cops huh?" Fred bit his lip in an effort not to retort angrily. He turned and looked up at the old woman, his heart still hammering in his chest as he pondered the most polite thing to say. He finally settled for the tried and true: meek and obedient. It seemed the most likely plan to keep from getting trapped in a conversation.
"Yes ma'am. You are right. I will keep that in mind next time. Good night Miss May." Fred mumbled, then turned and started back down the stairs. However, Miss May was not giving up that easily.
"Well, since I'm still up, I might as well get you something to eat. Come on up and make yourself comfortable. I have some spaghetti left over..." Fred sighed deeply and interrupted her, a bit more brusquely than he intended.
"Ma'am, it's been a long day, and I already ate. I just need to get some sleep so I can get up early in the morning. Thanks anyway." Miss May's face registered shock, and then suspicion. Her eyes narrowed and she cocked her head to the side.
"Freddy Mace, are you smoking that cocaine? You been spendin' so much time over t' the big city, I been wonderin' how long it'd be afore you fell in wit' bad cumpny. I'll have none a' that in my house, y'hear?" She shook a crooked old finger at him, her fragile voice shaking with emotion.
"No Miss May, I am not using any drugs, and I have not fallen in with any bad company. I just have a research project that I must complete for my Master's thesis..." Fred trailed off as he saw Miss May's eyes glaze over. She had no idea what he was even talking about, to her it probably sounded even more suspicious than "smoking cocaine". He sighed heavily again, and started to turn away. Miss May's voice stopped him.
"What's happened to you Freddy? You used to be such a nice boy, the kind of kid I could sit and have a conversation with. Then, you start hanging out with that uppity lady from the college, you close your garage and put your friends out of a job, and now you're keeping all kinds of late hours and driving back and forth from the city all the time. If you ain't smoking cocaine, what is it? Somethin' just ain't right with you anymore. You ain't the Freddy Mace I remember."
Fred stared at her openmouthed, absorbing her words and finally understanding her recent agitation with him. He still felt like the same person he had been a year and a half ago, the uneducated, illiterate mechanic from a small town. But he was not. He was a brilliant scientist who had catapulted through a four year degree in six months, and was now performing research for one of the leading physicists in the world in preparation for writing his Master's thesis.
Fred had definitely changed, and he wondered that it had taken a temper tantrum by a petulant old maid to show him just how much.

© 2010 Tyler Willson. All rights reserved

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Roger's Revenge - Writer's Round Table Assignment

Write a passage of 500-1000 words in which a character has a> less-than-pleasant encounter with technology.

Roger's Revenge

"Mako Corp., this is Bill."
Bill answered the phone while continuingto type with one hand.
"Bill, this is Molly at the front desk. The Xerox repairman is here,but I can't get a hold of Roger. Do you know..." Bill cut Molly off impatiently.
"Yeah, Roger's out today. He filled me in already. I'll be up therein just a second." Bill slammed the phone down and finished a rather bitter e-mail to the manager of a user who had complained that her e-mail was not working.
"Stupid users..." Bill mumbled to himself as he locked his computer and stomped out of the office.

At the front desk a rather frumpled old man stood chatting withMolly. He was wearing a ridiculously large overcoat that trailed its fraying edge on the floor behind him. His thin, gray hair waved a friendly greeting at everyone who passed, and his bleary yet friendly eyes looked almost cartoon-like behind a pair of glasses which had to be at least a quarter-inch thick.
"Hiya there! Name's Harold, from the Omni Office Equipment Repair company. You must be Roger..." Harold held out a hand towards Bill who pointedly ignored it.
"Roger is out today, follow me." Bill said, walking brusquely past Harold whose hand was still extended in a friendly greeting. His friendly smile remained fixed as he bent to pick up a toolbag that was even more tattered (if possible) than its owner and shambled after theBill.

Bill arrived at the copy machine a full minute before Harold, whose relaxed pace included time for a friendly greeting for each and every person he passed. Bill stood waiting, impatience evident in the tense set of his body and the frown on his face. When Harold finally arrived, Bill showed him the problem then walked away without a backwards glance. Harold stared after him for a moment,a bemused grin on his face. Then, shaking his head and shrugging his shoulders, he set down his toolbag, removed the oversized raincoat, and began disassembling the copier.

Two hours later, Bill’s phone rang again right in the middle of analyzing the event log on a server to find the source of an irregularly occurring network error.
“Bill, this is Molly, the Xerox guy is finished, but he needs you to sign his work order.” Molly’s voice was hesitant; she hated calling Bill.
“You can sign it, just make a copy or something to verify that damn thing isn’t jamming anymore and sign the damn thing. I don’t have time to do everything around here myself!” Bill snarled into the phone. Molly persisted.
“He insists I can’t sign it, he says it has to be the person who requested the work.” Bill thought he saw an opening here.
“Well then, he is out of luck isn’t he? Roger is out today, and can’t sign it. So he will have to make do with your signature or come back tomorrow for a signature.” He slammed the phone down without waiting for a response and turned back to the event log.

Not a minute later, the phone rang again.
“Bill, this is Kevin. Molly needs you at the front desk to sign the repair guy’s work order.” Bill’s eyes narrowed angrily. It was just like that stupid receptionist to go over his head and call his boss. No way he was going down that easily though.
“Kevin, that old idiot needs Roger’s signature, not mine. He can come back tomorrow and get it. I am in the middle of...” Kevin’s calm voice cut through Bill’s excuse.
“Bill, do you really want Xerox to charge us for a second service call just because you don’t want to come to the front desk? I am not sure that would be a wise use of your budget...” Kevin left the unspoken threat hanging, and Bill had to admit defeat.
“Yes sir, I will be right there.”

When Bill arrived at the front desk, Molly and the old man were laughing at something, and Bill felt a fist clenching around his stomach. He just knew that they were laughing about him, that Molly was telling Harold how she had just gone over Bill’s head to get him out there. Indeed, when they caught sight of Bill, Molly flushed a deep red and suddenly became serious. Harold on the other hand, continued braying laughter even as he reached his hand out to Bill again.
“Boy, I’ll tell you Roger, this girl is one of the sweetest things I have met in a long time! I wish I had the time to stand around talking to her all day long!” Harold turned and winked at Molly, who ducked her head and pretended to be looking something up in a binder on her desk. Bill ignored the proffered hand again, and glared angrily at Harold.
“Where do I sign?” he hissed through clenched teeth, his anger and annoyance washing off him in almost tangible waves. Harold was completely unaffected.
“Well, I have to show you that the copier is in proper working order first, don’t I?” Harold’s hand was still held out in front of him, as if he expected Bill to suddenly have a change of heart and shake it. Bill didn’t.
“I don’t have time to follow idiots around all day to check their work! If it is not in proper working order, you can simply expect a very nasty phone call to your supervisor!” Bill looked over to Molly,who was watching out of the corner of her eye.
“I know how to go over people’s heads just as well as other people around here...” Molly blushed again, and returned her focus to the binder. Harold’s demeanor was absolutely unchanged.
“Well, if that’s the way you want it Roger, I guess that’s the way it goes. Sign here...” Harold indicated a piece of carbon paper on the reception desk. Bill scribbled madly then turned and stalked away. He heard Harold remark to Molly just before he turned a corner:
“Wow, I remember Roger being much friendlier!”

Not an hour later, Bill’s phone rang again.“Mako Corp, this is Bill.” He answered tersely. The troubleshooting of the server was not going well, and he was still in a bad mood from being bested by Molly earlier.
“Bill, it’s Kevin. That damn copier is on the fritz again. Did you check it before the repair guy left?”Bill felt his blood pressure boiling, and for a few seconds, he could not even formulate a coherent response. When he did, it was a string of curse words that he knew his boss would not enjoy hearing, so he bit his tongue until he regained control of it. Finally, he was able to stammer a reply:
“OK, I’ll take a look at it.” The words were bitter and dripping with acid, but Kevin seemed not to even notice.
“Next time, make sure you check the repairs before you sign the workorder.” Kevin’s even voice said, and then the line clicked as he hung up without waiting for a response.

Bill sat at his desk, pondering several different possible courses ofaction. Most of them were intensely satisfying to consider, but with consequences that Bill was not yet willing to face. Eventually, he took a deep breath and pushed back from his desk, resolved to find a new job as soon as possible. A minute later, he was standing in front of the copier tapping madly at the touch screen display. When he had finally found the error code he needed, he opened the doors and peered inside at the complicated mechanism. He immediately noticed a frayed red wire sticking out from the midst of the various gears and levers that made up the copy machine.
“I knew that old fool was utterly incompetent. I will have him fired for this...” Bill thought as he reached out and grasped the wire.

Molly looked up from her computer monitor as the lights in thebuilding dimmed, and from somewhere across the cubicles she heard a loud sizzling sound followed by a loud pop. The lights came back to normal, and Molly shrugged her shoulders and was about to return to work when she heard the first scream.

Across town, Roger sat at a table in a nondescript diner on the wrongside of town. He slid a thick brown envelope across the table to anolder man with thick glasses. The two said nothing to each other as the old man glanced briefly at the contents of the envelope, then bent down and placed it in a tattered old tool bag at his feet.

© 2010 Tyler Willson. All rights reserved

Friday, January 8, 2010

A Sonnet? No, Seriously!

I was digging through some old poetry to submit to the Piker Press, when my wonderful wife said: "Why are you submitting that old stuff? Why don't you write some new poems to submit?" Well, that was a good question. Why not? I think because my poetical muse has gone on a permanent vacation. My life is too easy now, not enough pain to inspire poetry. Maybe I have grown up, and my taste in writing has moved on to more mature material. Or maybe these are all just excuses.
This morning she made me promise to write her a poem today. I thought about it once or twice during the day, but nothing came to mind. Then, when I got home from work I was working on my assignment for the Writer's Round Table and she asked if I was working on her sonnet. "A sonnet? Seriously? I have to write you a sonnet?" Of course I did... that was my punishment for taking all day long to write her poem.
So I wrote a sonnet. It reminded me of why I hate rhyming poetry, but it also reminded me that poetry can be fun.

I also remembered how much I love my wife, and how important she is to me. No matter how cheesy and overly sentimental this poem may sound, every line is true.

I hope you enjoy it too.

Sonnet Number One
In your face I see my life, my love, more.
In your heart I find my destiny too.
In your hands I feel safe, loved and secure.
In my mind life is empty without you.

When I looked for direction you found me.
When I hoped for a friend you were the one.
When I wondered what happiness might be.
When you gave to me new life in the sun.

How did I live before you came to me?
How did you bring me such meaning and joy?
How did your love change my life so fully?
How to express what so much I enjoy?

Each day I wake and thank God for your love.
Each hour I live like a gift from above.

© 2010 Tyler Willson. All rights reserved

Writer's Round Table

And you thought I had abandoned the RT forever! The assignment this week gave me a really great idea, however, I started late, and though I got the word count required, I didn't even get close to finishing the story. So, look for a continuation of what I have tentatively titled: Fred's Education.

But first, the assignment:

For Friday, write a passage of 500-1000 words dealing with a New Years resolution that succeeds, but with unintended consequences (timely, huh?). You may make these consequences good or bad, or some mix of the two.

Fred penciled the title at the top of the page, his tongue sticking out of the corner of his mouth in concentration. He sat back and looked at his title. Something in the back of his mind told him that something was not right about it, but he shook the thought from his mind and went back to work.
That annoying voice in the back of his mind told him once again that the words he wrote were not quite right. Of course, that was kind of the point wasn't it? Fred was tired of people treating him like he was mentally deficient just because of the way he spoke and wrote. He knew he was at least as smart as the folks that came into his garage to get their cars fixed. It was easily apparent that he was smarter than his the guy who did his books for him. Even though Fred had no idea where to even start checking to see if anything was wrong with how he managed Fred's money, he was convinced that the garage made a lot more money than he saw in his bank account. That was another reason for Fred's resolutions.
Fred dropped out of school in the fourth grade when his Dad put him to work in his auto-repair shop. Fred had a natural talent for fixing anything mechanical, and his Dad had a serious distrust of the "brainwashin'" going on in the red brook schoolhouse in town. "I ain't never suffered for not going to school." He was fond of telling anyone who would listen. Fred's mother was the only reason he made it as far as the fourth grade, and once she died Lyle quickly took advantage of Fred's natural talent. Fred didn't entirely mind, he loved tinkering and what fourth grade boy really wants to be in school anyway? Twenty years later, Fred's reading and writing ability had not progressed much beyond what he had learned up to that point. He fully understood that as a result, there was an entire world out there that was utterly closed to him, and he was tired of wondering how to get in.
The auto-parts distributor in the next town had been a good friend of Lyle and Fred, and so he didn't mind putting forth the extra effort to look up the part numbers for the parts they ordered. However, when he retired and sold the business to a national chain, Fred found himself confronted by unsympathetic telephone operators who didn't know a catalytic converter from a hole in the ground. They refused to take his orders unless he came up with the correct part number, and so Fred had to hire another employee to order parts for him. Another person who looked down their noses at him as they pretended to respect him to his face but made jokes about his intelligence when they were getting drunk at Sherman's Pub on Friday nights.
Fred's list was complete. He sat his pencil down and picked up the paper. He knew he had a lot of hurdles to overcome to accomplish his goals, but he was determined to prove that he was as smart as anyone else in this crappy town. He was going to relish being able to prove that Duane was ripping him off, and he was going to take a picture of Susanne's face when he told her that he could order his own parts now.
The next day as Fred sat in the office of a guidance counselor at the local community college. She was examining the results of his placement test with a furrowed brow. "Fred, you say you haven't been in school since fourth grade?" April Summers was the kind of guidance counselor who was perennially disappointed by the narrow-minded bureaucracy of a small-town community college. She truly cared for her students, and did her best to give them the best advice she could, but the administrators of the college could care less what was best for the kids, they cared about their federal funding. And federal funding required students with high test scores. Not students like Fred.
"Yes ma'am, my Dad never sent me back to school after my Ma died, said I would learn better in a man's world. But I learn good, I mean quick, I mean..." Fred blushed. He knew exactly how he sounded, but he lacked the knowledge to sound any different. April looked at him sympathetically but shook her head.
"Well, you see Fred. We have to ensure that the students who sign up for our classes have a certain level of..." she paused, searching for a kind way to phrase this. "...ability. You understand that this is not a measure of your intelligence, or your worth as a person, it is just..." Fred interrupted her.
"Ma'am, you don't need to put me in the hard classes. I just want to learn how to read and write more so that I can manage my own shop. I am tired..." He paused again, not wanting to get angry in front of this obviously kind woman. She nodded in understanding.
"Fred, I completely understand. However, a college is not really the place for you to start. Let me give you the name of a friend of mine over in Lakeland. He teaches some free classes at the community center there for adults like you who just need a bit of help to improve their skills." April started writing on a sticky note but Fred stood up.
"Thanks ma'am, but I don't need no charity. I have enough money to pay for my schoolin'. I'll just..." April interrupted him.
"This isn't charity Fred. Just because it's free doesn't mean its for people without money. And I am sure that he would be happy to accept a donation to his program if that will make you feel better about it." She pulled the note off the pad and held it out to him. Fred considered it for a moment before hesitantly taking it. His pride and his self-doubts put up a mighty fight for dominance, but eventually were beat back by his desire for improvement. "OK ma'am. When I am finished there, can I come back and take your test again?" April smiled broadly and nodded her head.
"I am looking forward to it Fred!" She stood and shook his hand, then watched as he turned and walked out of her office.

(To be continued...)

© 2010 Tyler Willson. All rights reserved