Mephisto's Toaster and Other Stories
897 words long
...but this was Meff we were talking about. How was I to know?
one of the other stories
Wait, what did I say? That I'd get any work done at all--on a Sunday? After roller derby? On the same day as the Superbowl?
Well, I did have one of those 25-minute commute talk-to-myself "freewriting" sessions. Trying to figure out what version of my story idea I wanted to actually accomplish here in 250 words. The idea has to do with locking souls in specially created security vaults for safekeeping, and what the failure state for that looks like. But is it one person--a mother protecting her child, like the infancy stories of Baldur or Achilles? Or is it a whole societal movement? When it goes wrong, is it like Wall Street crashing or like a prisoner breaking free? What's the narrative point of view--omniscient? close third? first? (It could even be second. I do second a lot. A lot of my colleagues say they can't stand second person, but I seem to be able to pull it off now and again.)
At 250 words, one is almost composing poetry. There are stanzas. I sort of wrote a draft of it out loud on my drive home. And along the way I discovered that this isn't random social commentary--this is a Meff story.
Remember Meff? He of the evil toaster (and other stories) and the skeptical roommate? Meff of the "Ooh, Lookit Inscrutible Me" persona? (I got his last name today. He came up with it himself: Underwood. He was going for some sort of "forest of the dead" theme, and it disappoints him that it only puts people in mind of typewriters.)
So apparently Meff is all "Let's go try it out! For science!" and his roommate is more like "Um, how 'bout not? Seriously, when have your ideas ever made my life better?" But he goes along anyway, if only as a witness.
This means I'm having second thoughts about whether the roommate--a Watsonesque figure to Mephisto's Holmes--did in fact "never see Meff again" after the toaster incident. Maybe that's just the last story in the collection, and this came earlier. In any case, the idea of a temporarily soul-less Meff is both intriguing and baffling, and I should like to find out more.
Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Wretchedness (5/5)!
Is it still Saturday? Whew. Made it. Here ya go: a story. Sort of. Sort of a story.
See, here's the thing. It's not complete. It's sort of an excerpt of a longer work that doesn't exist yet, and I don't really know anything about the longer work. So it's not so much a story as a scene, the scene that popped into my head when I began writing on a prompt about Human Versus Machine. It begins like this:
My alarm clock didn't wake me up that morning, but the smell of bacon did. Sadly, bacon is not a perfect substitute for an alarm clock. I was fifteen minutes late and losing time by the second. I bounded out of bed, threw on my grease-stained work pants and my bright red corporate polo, and hurried into the kitchen in hopes of snagging a few slices on my way out the door.
It didn't occur to me that this was an unusually early hour for Meff to be up and moving. It didn't occur to me that anything was unusual about Meff that morning. Unusually annoying, yes, as you'll see, but that's it. Yes, I was distracted, yes I could have paid more attention -- but you have to understand, we're talking about Meff here.
Meff was already at the table, six slices of bacon and a heap of white rice on his plate. "Help yourself," he said, his mouth full. "More rice in the pot there."
I noted the remaining four slices on their lard-absorbing paper towel. "I'll pass on the rice," I said. "Bread's more portable."
My roommate made an urgent "Mmmf!" noise, swallowed his current mouthful rapidly, and said, "Ix-nay on the ed-bray, bro. The toaster's gone evil on us."
You can read the rest of the scene here.
I think the rest of the story is from Mephisto's point of view. Or maybe it would be a series of scenes none of which are from Mephisto's point of view. Just a lot of unrelated witnesses to the moving trainwreck that is the life and adventures of Meff.
Anyway. I hope you've enjoyed this week. I have. Next week I really have got to make a sizable dent in the novel rewrite. Also I have a brand new short story draft I'm working on, which usually happens when I'm procrastinating on short story rewrites. I hope to get something completed and in the mail by the end of next week. (But then I hope that every week.)
Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Wretchedness! (2/5)
Today's offering is "A is for A is for..." It's either flash fiction or prose poetry, depending on how you count these things. This final version is dated October 1995, so I suppose I must have written it during college. I wrote it specifically for submission to a themed issue of a Pagan magazine -- the theme was "Songs of the Cyberpagans" or something like that; one of the submission requirements was to send manuscripts on 3.5" floppy disks rather than in hard copy. I never heard another word about it until some five years later when a friend spotted it in a back-issue. Either the editor had mislaid my contact information, or I'd failed to include it on the disk which got separated from the cover letter. The foreword that accompanied the piece made me sound very mysterious.
I'm not sure today whether I think the piece is successful or simply pretentious. I think I still like it, though.
Meanwhile, today has been a Wednesday. Wednesdays are difficult. Wednesday mornings, I have an hour-long show to record for the Audio Information Network of Colorado. And then it takes me about half an hour just to pull up the reading material first, employment ads from the newspapers of three broad regions of the state, each in its own tab, each collection of tabs sorted through to avoid reading any ads that are missing readable contact information, etc. etc. etc. By the time that's done, I've lost both time and momentum for writing. It probably doesn't help that I tend to play Puzzle Pirates while I'm reading, and I tend to keep playing after the reading is done.
Wednesdays this month are further limited because I've got roller derby practice from 6:30 to 8:30 PM. Anything I want to get done, I typically have to get it done before 5:45.
But today was even more of a Wednesday than usual. Everything took longer. The AINC reading took longer mainly because I kept stopping the recording to chat with some old friends on Puzzle Pirates (they're probably reading this now... hi there!). You can hardly blame me; I hadn't "seen" one of them in months and the other of them in years. It was good to catch up. Then, roller derby took more out of my day because I needed to bus-and-bike in. The car is in the shop, getting its engine replaced. Yes. John and I had been talking for the past couple years about how we really would rather replace the engine than replace the car, but not yet, not yet -- well, when the engine idles rough and occasionally stalls out at stop lights, and it turns out that at least three separate parts of the engine are to blame for it... well, it's kind of a hint. So the car's getting its clock odometer rolled back from 235,000 miles to 85,000, and I got my derby schedule pushed out by about an hour in either direction.
And now that I'm home, I'm not only the usual amount of exhausted from practice and sleep, I'm also hurting a bit. Yeah. Just this morning I was telling my Puzzle Pirates friends that I was glad to have picked up no new injuries in a while -- remember that, y'all? -- and, well, I guess the universe heard that too and said, "Oh, I knew I was forgetting something." See, when you practice giving and taking hits, you really need to keep your forearms clamped to your sides. This is not just to prevent yourself getting a penalty for illegal use of elbows or forearms. This is also for your protection. I let my guard slip, and for my sins I got a sharp shoulder jab in the ribs during a game of Queen of the Rink. I'm pretty sure it's just a bruise, but what a bruise it's gonna be! It's all achy when I laugh or move wrong or breathe too sharply.
You know what? This has been a whiny damn post. Here, let me apply the appropriate category label...
Anyway, I never got to the novel rewrite, and I only managed another 300 words on the project for Friday. I feel like I'm micromanaging the characters, trying to puppet them around so that their dialogue will contain this checklist of elements contrived during the first draft. It's probably time to step back, give myself time to just let the scene unfold in my head, and find out exactly how these characters interact when left to their own devices.
Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Wretchedness! (1/5)
- 1,400 wds. long
- 62,769 wds. long
- 314 wds. long
Today's contribution to the April 23 festivities is my short story "Passengers". You can read it here. (Just as a reminder, you can always click the title of a manuscript in the upper left area of the blog entry to see all blog entries related to it. Then you click "Read more here", if such a link exists, to read an excerpt or the full text, whatever I've made available.)
"Passengers" is another one that counts as juvenilia, if anything does. It's probably older even than "Rhododendron". Possibly. In any case, it, too, was also written during high school, though I can't recall precisely which year -- my notes say 1994, but my notes weren't written in the same century as the story itself, so, grain-of-salt time. In any case, it had to have been the year when Betsy Petersen taught my English class, because I remember someone who shared her class with me critiquing it.
It's like a deathless digital audio recording in my memory, triggered every time I reread (or think about) the line, "...and ties a special knot in her bracelet just for him." My classmate's grinning and saying, "That's when she's got him. She just pops him into her little jar!"
Or something like that. I have a tyrannical memory for conversation -- it forgives-and-forgets nothing -- but it is not infallibly word-for-word.
The line that stays with my husband and me, of course, is, "Everybody likes peppermints." We have been known to quote it at each other on the least plausible provocation.
The other event that dates the creation of the story is its sideways inspiration: my first solo cross-country bus ride. And even that I'm not 100% certain about, timing-wise. Again, though my notes say August of 1993, my notes came a lot later than the actual journey. I know this much: it had to have been after June, 1992, my third attendence at the ADVANCE summer program (a.k.a. "nerd camp"). That was the year I met a boy named John Little and roomed with a girl named Cat Bakewell. Those two would become my closest, dearest, and most lasting friends. (One of them even became my husband!) Well, either later that summer or in the summer that followed, it occurred to me I could take a Greyhound bus to Cat's home in Nacogdoches, TX (not to be confused with Nachitoches, LA) if she and her parents were OK with the visit. It took a lot of wheedling on my part to get Mom to grant the all-important permission (and pay for the bus ticket), but in the end teenage persistence prevailed.
Mom wasn't very happy about it. She was convinced that you meet all sorts of crazy people on bus rides. It would be years before I recognized this as class-and-race prejudice, but right away I sure recognized it as bullshit. If there were any crazy people on the bus, I determined, I would damn well be one of them. I chose my traveling wardrobe accordingly.
Put that together with the friendship bracelet I occupied myself with creating during much of the eleven-hour ride, and also with my seatmate who was not at all crazy but rather delightfully unconventional, and you've got the fictional character who opens the story.
But we can't just go living in the past here. There's writing to be done in the here and now. Today saw about a thousand new words on the rewrite of Like a Bad Penny, and a solid, carefully chosen 300 words or so on the very short story I hope to offer up for your reading pleasure on Friday.
And there you go.