The Gift

Since everyone is doing a Christmas story, I thought I’d do the same. Enjoy.

Marcus Tillman smiled as he observed Kathryn opening her locker from afar. Kathryn Flowers, with her golden locks and pearly symmetrical frame. It didn’t seem fair to everyone else. And yet, Marcus believed it was destiny, especially since she broke up with Jesse Evans.

He had his proposal rehearsed. He repeated it to himself a hundred times until it was right. He was all set to go until Busby Barker jolted him from his dreamy glare. Kathryn strutted away from her locker.

“Whew.” Busby pushed himself away, fanning his hand.

“So, do you have it?”

Marcus pulled a sapphire box from his coat. He opened it, revealing a sterling silver necklace with a snowflake charm. The charm held a round sky blue stone in its center.

“Kathryn’s going to love it,” Busby said. “But are you sure you don’t need any help?”

“I’m fine,” Marcus replied.

“I don’t know. All that cologne you’re wearing reeks of desperation.”

Marcus sniffed around. He didn’t seem to care how much he lathered onto himself.

“It’s her favorite.”

“Ok, if you say so.”

Marcus closed the box and hid it in his pocket. The school bell rang.

“You’d better make use of those legs, Mr. Track Star.”

Busby jogged off. Marcus went the opposite way.

It would be lunch before he saw Kathryn again. She sat with the rest of the cheerleaders in the courtyard. Marcus squinted and popped his knuckles. He felt the perspiration in his hand stuffed in his coat pocket.

“Marcus?”

His heart best faster as every second ticked away.

“MARCUS?!”

He gasped at the second mention of his name. He turned to find Hannah Whistler shaking his shoulder.

“So when are you going to ask her?”

Marcus puffed his chest, then let out a blast of air. He relinquished his fists and shook his hands.

“Now,” he said. “Right now.”

But Hannah tugged his arm.

“Listen, Marcus. Don’t rush it. You gotta be smooth about it. Don’t let her see you sweat. It definitely doesn’t look good on you men as it does on us girls.”

Marcus shut his eyes and took another big breath. The bell rang, ending their lunch break. Kathryn and her crew split up to their separate classrooms. Marcus heaved once more and strutted out onto the court.

“Good luck!”

But he didn’t hear Hannah. He tapped Kathryn on her shoulder. She turned and immediately stepped back once she saw him.

“Marcus, hi.”

“Hey Kathryn. Mind if I walk you to class?”

“Umm…sure.”

It was perfect. Their classrooms were in the same building, on opposite sides.

“What’s going on?”

“Not much. Just getting ready for the holidays.”

“I know. It’s so crazy. I still have to shop for my little sisters. I have no idea what to get them.”

“They haven’t told you?”

“No, and I don’t know why. I’m the favorite sister.”

Marcus smiled as she spoke. He wanted to reach for her hand, but held back. Not before he gave her the gift. They stopped in front of Kathryn’s classroom.

“Well, I have to get going. It was nice seeing you.”

“Wait.”

He reached for her. Kathryn’s hazel eyes widened.

“I wanted to give you something.”

“Meet me at the parking lot after school.”

Marcus let go of her arm and she sauntered into her class. As the door shut, Marcus grunted in frustration. He couldn’t believe he let his opportunity slip through his fingers. But he released his fury with a burst of air. He nodded at her words. After school. It was perfect.

The final bell rang. Marcus beamed in delight. He rushed to his locker and retrieved what books he needed for homework. He shut the door and Hannah appeared.

“Jesus, you scared me.”

“I’m sorry.”

Marcus reached in his pockets for the box. Hannah shot a doleful look to him.

“Listen, Marcus. I don’t think this is a good idea.”

“Wait. You were all for it. What changed?”

“It’s just that I saw Kathryn…and…”

“What? She left?”

“No. I’m sure she’s at the parking lot. But she’s waiting…”

“Look, I gotta go. I’ll let you know how it turns out.”

He gave her a peck on her cheek and rushed out. The parking lot was on the back side of the school. Marcus ran as fast as he could, weaving his way through the student body. He saw Kathryn sitting on the hood of her car. Marcus brushed his shirt down and ran his hand across his short hair. He let out a breath and walked across the street until he saw Jesse Evans approach. He saw him pull something out of his pocket and Kathryn clasped her hands in shock. His body started to shake. She hopped, then leaped toward Jesse and they exchanged a long kiss. He shuddered as his destiny wrapped herself in her on-again boyfriend. He walked back across the street. His head lowered, he didn’t notice Hannah at the corner.

“Marcus. I’m…I’m sorry. I tried to tell you…”

But Marcus walked past her, his box still in hand. She followed him to the courtyard where he stopped in front of a trash can, still shaking. Hannah screamed as he raised his hand.

“Wait!”

The voluminous voice startled Marcus. He turned and saw Hannah sticking her hand out. She approached him and spread her arms out. Marcus didn’t understand why, but he approached her and she hugged him tight. His sobs turned to full-blown cries. She caressed him as he released his tears.

“It was supposed to be me. Not Jesse.”

“I know.”

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Reflecting on 2017: An IWSG Post

Good day, my writing and blogging friends. It’s the first Wednesday of December. (Hard to believe.) And as with every first Wednesday, it’s time for my Insecure Writer’s Support Group post. Now before I get started, I have to thank the IWSG Administrative Team for allowing me the opportunity to share and encourage fellow writers. To be honest, when someone encouraged me—I forget who—to sign my blog up for this group, I had my doubts. I wasn’t sure how encouraging I would be seeing how I struggle with the writing process. I’m still learning things about the evolution of the writing process. I’m finding myself having to refresh myself on numerous factors of storytelling. And I’m still learning things about myself as a writer. But in writing these posts, the biggest I took is that not only am I encouraging others, but I’m being encouraged. And we all need encouraging once in a while. So thanks to the administrators for allowing me to share what I’ve learned in my writing journey this year, and I hope to continue to be a source of encouragement in the years to come.

So, now on to this month’s question:

As you look back on 2017, with all its successes and failures, if you could backtrack, what would you do differently?

This came at the perfect time. I’m using the majority of the month to go through my Evernote notebooks and Pinterest boards. During this time, I’m thinking about all the goals I set for the year; about the reasons why I succeeded or failed to meet those goals. I usually reserve that post for the end of the year, but now is as good a time as any.

2017 was a mixed year. It was a year where I decided to expand my horizons in my writing. But like with any endeavor, there were setbacks. And there were things I wished I could have done differently. It seems pointless to be thinking about what I could have, would have, should have done. Especially for someone like me since I can obsess over failures more than successes. But there’s something to be said of being honest with yourself. While I have things I wish I could have done differently, it’s important for me to highlight my successes. So, let’s go.

Let’s start with Project Blacklight. This year, I added two serial blog posts. The IWSG being one. The second being the Weekend Coffee Share, where I create posts about events around my personal life. I interjected writing into the mix. Just recently, I found out the mediator shut down the Weekend Coffee Share postings. But I thought of opting out of the posts anyway because I don’t want to go into too much detail about what goes on in my life. I’ll still offer tidbits on the most relevant events of my life. Content-wise, there’s nothing I would have done differently. In terms of the blog as a whole, I wish I would have chosen a different name. It’s a moot point now, but I wish I could have given it more thought.

Next, social media. It’s not so much about what platforms I joined. It’s more about being more active. On Facebook, for example, I joined a new writing group. The 365 Writing Club. To do so, I had to sign up for their challenge. The idea behind it was to encourage and enrich daily writing habits. I say that it has worked out well, even though I didn’t write every day. And there were periods of time where I recorded consecutive zeroes and debated among myself on whether I should be a writer. Another thing I wish I could have done differently. But I got a lot of support from fellow members and administrators. And I’m seriously considering joining next year’s challenge, upping the word count goal to 500.

On Twitter, I joined the Flash Fiction Hive. I’ve talked about this group on several posts. Even shared some of the stories I wrote based on the prompts offered. The group went live in August and they post a month’s worth of prompts every other month. The best thing I’ve gotten out of the group is the writing hashtag games throughout the week. It sounds silly, but I thought I couldn’t do them because I didn’t have a WIP that involved the theme. But I didn’t need a WIP to participate. I wish I knew that sooner.

And finally, let’s talk about my writing. This year marked a big deal. I wrote some stories outside my genre. This is such a big deal. I felt locked in Contemporary Fiction. But after some encouragement, I took the plunge. I drafted a few stories in fantasy and sci-fi. But the one thing I regret was relying on other writers for inspiration. By that, I mean I posted polls on Twitter for what my next story should be about. I lacked a lot of confidence to come up with a story and I wrote them to please them, not myself. I wish I was more confident in myself to create the stories I wanted to write. Now, that’s not to say I didn’t appreciate their input or their encouragement. But I needed to stand on my two feet. Write what I felt gave me the best joy, even if I didn’t know all the rules.

Second, I set a goal this year to start submitting stories to contests and magazines. That hasn’t happened. I came up with a lot of excuses as to why it didn’t happen.

The fees were too expensive.

I didn’t know anything about the theme.

There were too many ways to interpret the theme.

I didn’t have the right software.

Over and over again, the same excuses. Truth is I could have submitted something, as long as it was polished to the best of my abilities. And even then, I used that as an excuse. But the biggest thing that stopped me was me. I was afraid to fall flat on my face. I’m someone who doesn’t like to admit faults and shortcomings. But everyone has them. Everyone is going to fail. Not every work that’s published is going to be the best. There will always be critics.

I’m still trying to get those realities into my head. I’m not going to be the best writer in the world. There will be others better than me. And that’s the biggest thing I would want a do-over. I would tell myself to not worry if I get rejected. It will happen. But at the same time, I would tell myself that it’s worth it to become a better writer. And that’s the end goal: to become better and better with each story. Not perfect, but better.

If I had to define 2017 in one sentence, it would be, “I tried something that scared me.” Now yes, there were some things I didn’t try. And sure, I had moments I wished I could backtrack and change some things around. But overall, I’m proud of myself. And that’s the important thing of why I did what I did this year. I wanted to say I did this, I did that, and it felt so good. Whether it was writing so many words a day or writing outside my comfort zone or being a voice of encouragement even though I had doubts myself. I set out to become a better writer and I feel I’m on the right track heading into the new year.

So, how about you? What are some of your successes in 2017? What’s something you wish you could have done differently? Let me know in the comments.

Until next time…

A Handbook for Parenting (Not Really): A “Jax Can’t Talk” Post

I have to say that being a parent is the hardest thing in the world. Anyone who says otherwise is fooling themselves. There are days where I wish I had a handbook for parenting. I’m someone who can follow directions well when I have them in front of me. But when it comes to parenting, no amount of visual aids can prepare you for every situation that will arise.

Today, my wife shares about her week and reflects on her parenting journey thus far. I hope you enjoy.

https://jaxcanttalk.wordpress.com/2017/12/04/parenting-doesnt-come-with-a-handbook/

The Stranger

Interesting tidbit about this flash fiction piece. I got the idea from a prompt I found on Pinterest. It was originally going to be a scene for a short story, but I couldn’t get the story to work. I wanted some sci-fi elements into it, but I couldn’t pull it off. I deleted the prompt from my board, but the idea stuck with me afterwards. So I decided to rework it as a flash fiction piece. It may not have the sci-fi element I wanted, but I felt proud seeing this story to the end. Enjoy.

“Luna Transport Z52 to West Gate. Luna Transport…West Gate.”

Reception started to fade an hour before sunset every day. But the stranger didn’t need the radio. He shut it off and climbed to the perch on the West side of the wall. He scanned with his binoculars the broken road that stretched beyond the canyon. The sky turned crimson as the sun began its descent. As the stranger scanned the vast wasteland, he saw billows of dust kicking up along the road. It had to be Luna Transport Z52. The stranger signaled the operator to launch the siren.

The stranger watched the transport speed toward the fortress. He noticed more dust clouds heading in the same direction.

“Hey,” the operator yelled, “there are leeches surrounding the transport. We have to—“

The stranger raised his hand. He unlatched the case and flung it open. A plasma rifle lay nestled between the cushioning. He plucked the rifle and the silencer from the case and assembled his weapon.

The siren continue to screech. The stranger slung his assembled firearm across his back and climbed to the top of the gunner’s perch. The canopy shading his dark skin. He shook off the desert camo cloak, revealing a torn olive tee. He aimed his silver rifle at the transport and the surrounding dust clouds. He spotted the leeches. Creatures with the head and smooth skin of a hammerhead and the compact body of a boar. They ran with the speed of a stallion.

He found five of these leeches running along both sides of the transport. He turned his rifle to the leeches to the right. He breathed out as he squeezed the trigger. A pellet of energy shot out of the turret, striking the leech through its cranium. It stumbled for a moment before it fell to its death. The stranger cocked his rifle and aimed at the second one on the right. He fired again. This shot zoomed into its chest and it rolled a few yards before it collapsed. He then turned his attention to the pair on its left. The further one leaped onto the transport, fixating its sickle-like claws on the trailer. He knew he had to work fast. It would only be a matter of time before they ripped through the trailer. He cocked his rifle and rang out a shot. It hit its paw. He fired a second shot that rang through his mouth as it screamed. The transport was two thousand feet away. The last leech altered its course, running up a hill. The stranger had to time his shot just right. As the last one leaped, he fired. The pellet zoomed across the sky and burrowed into the creature’s skull. It dropped onto the trailer, then keeled over.

The stranger lowered his rifle. He turned the radio on.

“Luna Transport Z52 to West Gate. We are in the clear. Repeat, we are in the clear. Tell that stranger we owe him one again.”

My Writing Christmas List

We’re thirty days away from Christmas. (Hard to believe.) And by this time, kids and adults are compiling their Christmas lists. So I am going to give you my list of things I want for Christmas. And if you didn’t guess by the title, everything will be writing-related. Now, this is only a wish list. I don’t expect to get any of these items. But if there’s anyone willing to gift me any of these items, “Thank You” will be in order.

In no particular order…

  • Apple iPhone X. Let’s go ahead and get this out of the way. I debated, and still am, on whether it’s worth getting the iPhone X or the 8 Plus. Either will fulfill my wants for more memory and a bigger screen. And either will have multiple uses besides using them for my writing and note-taking. The biggest questions come to cost and use of features. Am I going to use all the features that the iPhone X is offering? Will I sacrifice having the latest, greatest phone for ease of use? And what about the price? Am I willing to sign my life away—not that I already am—to have a phone that will be good until the newest model is announced? On a couple of occasions, I thought I had a definitive answer. Not so much now. But I have some time before deciding.

  • Bluetooth headphones. I like listening to music when I’m writing or doing anything else like outdoor chores or working out at the gym. Wired earbuds are a pain and I don’t keep up with the cushions on wireless earbuds. So I think having headphones will be better for me. They’re more comfortable and most will allow you to answer phone calls. Beats are the go-to, but there are others that are as good and cost less. I’m open to anything.

  • Writing Craft Books. I’ll be the first to admit that I need help with the writing craft. I get that books can only get you so far, but any help is welcome. Now I can compose a list just on this item alone, but I’ll list the books that are the most sought after. On the top of my list is The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. Ever since I learned of its existence and reading about how it’s helped so many writers. I can’t imagine not benefiting me. Next is Stephen King’s On Writing. The quintessential guide to the creative process. I used to have this book, but I gave it away. I want it back.

  • Writing Prompt Books. Like the craft books, I can compile a list based on this item. I research a lot of prompts on Pinterest and subscribe to a newsletter that posts new prompts every week. But having a book will be a boon. Will I use them all? Maybe. Maybe not. But it will get me thinking outside the box.

  • Short Story Collections. I like reading short stories as much as I like writing them. And The Pushcart Prize and The Best American Short Stories are the best out there. There are others like the O. Henry anthology. And there are collections by various writers that are on my list. What makes these collections and anthologies so great is that while they cannot possess the depth of a novel due to its format, there’s the potential of reading memorable characters and awesome storytelling. And I want to learn from as many writers as possible so that I can create memorable stories of my own.

  • Subscriptions to Literary Magazines. It’s one thing to learn from the best writers in the world. It’s another to discover and read works from local writers, whether first-time or seasoned. Georgia has some great literary magazines, like New South and The Georgia Review. I want a subscription to either one and, like the nationwide anthologies, learn what makes their stories special.

  • Writing Space. This may sound like an odd item, but hear me out. I live in a small house that’s filled to the brim with family and it’s always busy. Even when I have the time to write, I’m writing in the kitchen most of the time. And I don’t have the privacy I want and frankly need to concentrate on writing. I just want an area that’s designated for me and my writing. Someplace where people know that when I’m there, I don’t want to be disturbed, even if it’s for thirty minutes. And I don’t care if it’s at a corner of the living room. I don’t care if it’s in the laundry room. I just want a space that’s mine where I can write in peace.

So, there you have it. My writing wish list. Will I get everything I want? Odds point to “no.” But a writer can dream.

What about you? What are you hoping for on your wish list? Let me know in the comments.

Until next time…

Thanksgiving: Remembering the Past and Building the Present

This week, my kids are off for the Thanksgiving holiday. Good for them. I have to work Thanksgiving Day and the day after, A. K. A. “Black Friday,” so I’ll be having Thanksgiving a day early. But as I’m preparing the for the upcoming days of madness, I’m thinking about how Thanksgiving was when I was my kids’ age. It wasn’t always about retailers getting a leg up on the competition. It wasn’t about fighting other customers over something that stores probably had a surplus of. No, Thanksgiving was not the cash cow as it is now. At least, not as much back when I was growing up.

It may be hard to believe, but I remember a time when you really celebrated Thanksgiving. When stores were actually closed, or at least had shortened hours. Let me take you down my memory lane; to how I spent most of my Thanksgivings.

I remember waking up to my mom cooking breakfast for the three of us. Biscuits, bacon, sausage, eggs. My brother and I ate the biscuits and meat mostly. I remember Saturday morning cartoons broadcasting on Thanksgiving morning. (We didn’t care for the parades.) I remember watching TV most of the day while Mom was hard at work putting the finishing touches on Thanksgiving dinner.

Before moving to Georgia, I remember traveling to Illinois to have Thanksgiving dinner with relatives. I remember streets and parking lots nearly barren because everyone stayed home. By the time we crossed the Missouri-Illinois state line, my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins are already there waiting for us. I remember being so hungry because we really didn’t have lunch. While we waited for Thanksgiving dinner, we watched more TV. Football, mostly, with a cartoon or holiday movie sprinkled in during commercials.

When it was time, we gathered around a big table, and we each said something we were thankful for. (That tradition continues when my family moved to Georgia.) After prayer, we lined up in the kitchen, digging in to the cornucopia of Thanksgiving delights. Turkey, ham, dressing, macaroni and cheese, vegetables, cranberry sauce (the canned kind), and sodas. I remember eating with my brother and cousins. Christmas wasn’t a thought until about a week after Thanksgiving.

That’s what I remember about my Thanksgivings growing up. It was such a fun time for us. (Maybe not so much for my mom.) But as Thanksgiving loses its moments as a time for families to come together, I feel it necessary to hold on to those traditions. Since I work retail, it’s hard to celebrate Thanksgiving in the traditional sense, which explains why I’m celebrating the day before. And while we’re on the subject of being non-traditional, my wife and I have decided on a healthier spread for Thanksgiving. Am I going to miss a lot of the good from Thanksgivings past? Sure. But we’re striving to be more conscious about what we eat, and that means changing our diet. And it seems the kids are on board. But there is one tradition I want to continue: sharing one thing we’re thankful for. I feel it’s important to take that time to think about everything that we have and remember that we’re not guaranteed what we have.

So, thanks for letting me share my memories. I want to hear from you. What are your best Thanksgiving memories? What traditions do you have or want to start? Let me know in the comments.

Until next time…