Sunday, July 30, 2006

Love: The extremes of Human emotion and relationships

“This thing called love” is a central theme in some of my stories, because in runs the length and breadth of the human experience. As a writer, I often find it interesting to explore the ways in which we humans can interact on a romantic level. In the words of singer Al Green from the song Love and Happiness: “Love and happiness... something that can make you do wrong, make you do right...”

Love will make you sacrifice your own life or to kill a bunch of innocents; to be self-less or selfish; ad infinitum… In other words you can weave any human emotion or even several into a love story. It can be happy or tragic or both. No boundaries, I like that.

Also, love stories allow the writer to throw together the most unlikely characters to form relationships. Love transcends race, religion, ethnicity, economics, language, age, politics, etc. When that special something clicks between a male and a female, the various jumble of laws and traditions scribbled by mankind over the millennia give way to the superior laws of God and Mother Nature allowing pure attraction to occur at the basic level. Writing stories developing such characters and their interactions and trials and tribulations with the world around them and with each other is both engrossing and challenging.

So I implore you: conjure two characters and add a spark; then let love lead the way!

Thursday, July 20, 2006

August Adventure - revised

This is the updated revision to a story that I earlier presented on this blog. The story was inspired by a picture posted on The Clarity of Night. See August Promise for the picture.

Thanks Flood for your constructive comments about verb tense and character background issues. I hope that the updated text is an improvement.

August Adventure
Robert H. Ball, Jr.

(all rights reserved)

My name is Gary Baker, an office-man comfortably at home in a concrete jungle. My thirty-something six-foot athletic build betrays my preference for the couch rather than the playing field. I’m more at ease exploring the innards of computer code rather than adventures in the woods, ball courts, or even just hanging around the water cooler for that matter – a loner type. At ease with my fingers firmly grasping my remote control with over two hundred channels at my command. A TiVo® is nearby to keep those favorite shows ready for reliving at a moments notice. Occasionally I perform the inevitably painful ritual of courtship with the opposite sex always with the same predictable tragic end. My only ongoing social interaction is with my faithful dog Max. Only rarely do I venture from the routine of apartment to office and back routine. This is the story of one such brief foray into the world beyond that gray flat realm of southeastern Michigan.

My mid-sized sedan sails down the two-lane highway chasing the sun in its westward journey. The early afternoon shadows are stilted; the air is heavy with super-heated humidity, though the sky is clear. The car’s windows are down – my dog Max, a large male black Lab-Shepard mix is leaning out of the passenger-side window, nose taking in the unfamiliar wild smells of nature, basic smells igniting baser instincts. The wind whispers though my ears and hair with seductive musings of wild mysteries, nostrils flaring. A city-man, and a city-dog, in a city-car: bound for adventure up north. I brake the car as we approach the beckoning Paul Bunyan sign at the entrance to a local nature trail and gift shop.

Here in Michigan’s upper peninsula the wilderness is often just around the corner. In August, nature’s growth is at its zenith with each living thing straining to suck up every possible measure of growth and strength in defense against the inevitability of winter. A winter where snowfalls are measured in feet; where wind-chill factors rarely creep above zero; relentless take-no-prisoners weather extending from late fall well into springtime.

Take just a few steps off the pavement and suddenly all signs of civilization disappear like here in this dense forest only a few feet into the trail off of the parking lot. The old growths of Northern White Cedar and Eastern White Pine meld together to block out the light even when the sun is at its zenith only yielding a hint of its presence as a fuzzy glowing orb barely discernable through the green canopy. It’s only slightly cooler within the trees where the warmth of summer is barely restrained by the dense growth on the upper tree limbs.

The heavy air seems to fill my pockets as well as my lungs. It clings to my clothes like a jumble of small weights collectively surrounding my body with insistent tugs making it hard to walk as I attempt to move deeper into the trees. Making it hard to breathe, hard to see, hard to think clear thoughts. Like traversing an ancient sea floor in an old-style diving helmet with accompanying bulky suit, air tubes and weighed boots.

As I make my way tentatively into the woods along the well-worn path, the shadows deepen and the light becomes even dimmer. My thoughts also darken slowly descending down an obscure, dank mental corridor as my mind fills with primitive smells; with strange sounds muffled by the sticky ambiance of nature’s past. The atmosphere and visualization act as a hallucinogen causing the devolution of the mind to quicken. Thick fog gathers in my brain and shrouds any spikes of rationality that attempt to rise up out of the murky mindscape weighing them back down into a primordial abyss. My city-nature is slowly transforming into a prehistoric stream of consciousness, older than the first cities, or the first cluster of straw huts, back to the times of caves. A time where grunts instead of language serve as communication and where fire is still worshipped and feared.

Man and beast, trudge along the path ever deeper into the wild. Suddenly Max lunges toward the base of an old pine tree, barking and jumping up, tail extends in an upward turning arc, hairs sticking straight out. His teeth are bared and growls now emanate from his taunt jaws. I follow his gaze and see a small brown furry creature with a long thick tail and big peaked fox-like ears staring down intently, eyes darting back and forth between the dog and me. A rational thought briefly flashes into my brain: “it is some type of weasel creature, an American sable”, I conjecture while visualizing the animal pictures posted on a kiosk at the start of the trail.

Then my mind regresses back into primitive thoughts, and archaic needs. A layer of sweat coats my skin. My nostrils inhale deeply of the forest air attempting to pick up the animal’s scent. My ears strain to catch the sound of the small beating heart. Digestive juices ooze into my stomach creating an aching hunger sensation. I gage the distance between the small creature and myself attempting to discern my chances of grasping it with an out-stretched hand. However, after a few seconds of attempting to stare us down, the diminutive creature scurries up several branches, then jumps to the adjoining tree and disappears into the dense foliage. After staring up intently for a couple moments, Max is finally satisfied that the creature has shown sufficient respect, lets out a couple of triumphant barks, then continues on down the trail. With a chance at capturing and devouring the small mammal gone, my senses edge back a few notches toward normal, yet acidic fluids still gnaw at my stomach.

Just as we were both settling back into the humdrum rhythm of the woods, the bushes over to the left of the trail abruptly erupt with an explosion of bursting branches, flying dirt, leaves and a variety of winged bugs.

The suddenness of the activity causes Max and I to stop dead in our tracks, but not to retreat. My already heighten sense of awareness expands to yet another level causing the action to take on a surreal slow-motion aura. I observe Max slowly rearing back as a 250-pound whitetail buck emerges from the center of the flying debris. The momentum of the deer’s lunge carries it up and over the dog. The buck’s head gazes downward displaying its three point antlers, wide eyes and pulsating nostrils. Max and I both turn our heads following the creature’s trajectory. The deer lands about eight-feet beyond us sending a cloud of pine needles and dirt airborne in all directions. We catch a glimpse of the buck’s erect white tail as it pushes off from the ground with its sweat-soaked muscled hind legs zigging right, then zagging left, finally disappearing into the trees beyond, leaving behind a trail of dust and the din of shrieking frightened songbirds.

As the sound of the retreating deer is absorbed into the denseness of the forest, silence gradually returns. The dog’s panting can now be heard, and the reverberation of sweat dropping to the ground from my forehead can almost be discerned.

The brief respite is broken however, by the sound of muted grunting coming from somewhere beyond the ruined bush. The dog is first to bound to the other side of the shrubs and immediately lets out a couple of loud barks. I follow the sounds, rushing around the broken greenery.

Minding its own business as it ripped apart an old rotten log jammed full of tasty grubs, the large male black bear had inadvertently spooked the buck whitetail that had wandered into the small glade. The deer reacted by frantically darting off back into the bushes. In a reflexive but belated gesture, the five hundred pound bear had reared up on its hind legs and turned toward where the deer had disappeared only to be confronted by yet another annoyance in the form of a solitary male human accompanied by his yapping hound. This was simply too much for the thickly furred beast and it bellowed out a roar to announce its frustration.

Tripping on some broken tree saplings, I stumble into the glade, right knee scrapping along the pine needle littered ground. Looking up, I’m suddenly confronting a large black menacing creature looming directly in front of me.

The sight of the towering bellowing beast silhouetted against the glare of the naked sun beaming down unobstructed into the clearing has the effect of an ice-cold bucket of water flung upon my now fragile psyche, washing away all thoughts of primitive essence, of unbridled devolution, of base instincts. Although the bear is actually about five to six feet tall on its hind legs it looks like sixty feet to me. The modest roar sounding like a deep exhale followed by three clacks has the effect of the wail and clatter of a runaway freight train engine on my disintegrating alto ego.

The smell of wild berries and larval grubs emanating from the bear’s breath is taken for carrion and blood by my swelling nostrils.

The city-man re-emerges along with an engrossing chilling fear. The fight or flight psychological reaction such an encounter typically elicits easily decomposes into the pure need to escape at all possible speed, at all possible cost. I quickly yield ground in such a haste as to simply disappear like a magician’s assistant on some bizarre stage setting. Fear envelopes me like a second skin, pressing against my whole being squeezing out any lingering thoughts of the hunter instincts of long ago.

Max half-heartedly attempted to strike a defensive posture to protect his master. However, his owner has been stuck with total fear and had broken into a full run, arms flaying about back in the general direction of the parking lot.

The dog was eager to turn and follow, not staying long enough to see the bear lumbering off in the opposite direction apparently just as frightened by the confrontation has the human.

Reaching the edge of the tree line just before the lot, I stop, attempting to re-gain a semblance of composure – mind gradually returning to its normal city-oriented nature. I am still sweating profusely and have a bad case of the jitters. I look back to gratefully see my dog coming up to my side. I rub my aching arms and cheeks that have been scratched and bruised by the branches of bushes and trees that I careened through during my hectic retreat. I notice that Max is limping, with a large thorn caught in is front left paw. Thankfully there is no sign of the bear.

Stepping out into the parking lot bathed in sunlight and warmth has a calming effect. Reaching my car, I pop open the trunk and pull out a first aid kit and attend to Max. The dog offers up his injured paw and holds still as I gently pull out the thorn, swab the wound with antiseptic lotion and awkwardly wrap it with gauze. Max then limps over to a shady spot of grass and lies down. I proceed to attend to my own wounds, using first-aid wipes to cleanse the scratches on my arms and face, then dabbing some antiseptic cream into the deeper cuts. The stinging sensation caused by the wipes and cream help to further clear my head of primeval notions.

About a half hour passes as I recline on the grass next to Max resting my aching and weary body and mind. As I look up a kid wanders over to stare at me. The little boy starts to pet Max on his forehead, and asks: “Are you the guys who scarred the bear?”

“I beg your pardon?” I respond in a strained dry raspy voice.

With that, I slowly stand up, put my paraphernalia back into the trunk, open the passenger side door and call out: “Max, come here.” The dog slowly gets up, limps over to the car and after a few moments of hesitation, weakly jumps up into the car just barely clearing the sideboard, struggles up on the seat and curls up against the seatback. I gently close the door, slowly walk over to the driver’s side in measured steps and ease in behind the wheel. Giving the boy, who is still staring at me, a brief nod, I start up the vehicle, slip the gear into Drive and slowly pull out of the lot heading east toward the Mackinaw Bridge our connection back to the good ole lower peninsula and home.

After putting the wilds of the U.P. in our rear-view mirror, we make a pit stop at a rest area along the highway after sunset. Max stays in the lighted grassy area and takes care of his business without delay. Back in the car, he keeps his head propped up on the window ledge awaiting the reappearance of his master from the men’s room. Upon my return he accepts a pat on the head then curls back up on the seat with his head between his forepaws. I sag into the driver’s seat, both hands on the steering wheel, eyes focused on the road ahead. Windows are rolled up with the air conditioning blowing out a cool comforting man-made breeze, and the cruise control is set. A city-man and a city-dog in a city-car are deep in thought about their respective positions on the big over-stuffed comfortable couch in front of the television back in civilization, still a few hours south on Interstate 75.

The End

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Nuisance story now availalbe on Amazon contest

My short story, "Nuisance" has been accepted and will be availalbe on Gather.Com for a period of fourteen days. Please take the time to read the story and rate it, comments would also be appreciated. To view the story use the following link:

Thank You.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Nuisance short story preview

I just submitted my short story “Nuisance” to the Amazon Gather.Com short story contest
Click on the link below for contest rules:

Included below is a couple of paragraphs from the story “Nuisance”.
Total story word count is 4566

Yesterday Joe had taken a scarf, but left it on the seat in the car. Today, the long red and black knitted garment was wrapped around his neck with tails flapping against the back of his jacket. His head was bent slightly down, and he half wondered what the wind-chill factor was, but really didn’t want to know. This was one of those days that you just wanted to get the walk over and done with. Even the squirrels had sense enough to keep under cover. Also, no sign of his fellow traveler, again probably the mark of more sense on her part!

As he finally got back to his car, he saw that nuisance dog off to the side curled up on a mat of leaves sheltered from the unrelenting wind. It raised its head and looked at him, but didn’t try and get up. Joe looked back at the animal and saw that it no longer looked well groomed or energetic but had a run down bedraggled appearance. This time he didn’t feel any anger or annoyance, just a tiny bit of pity. “It looks like it found a respite from the biting wind anyway,” he thought to himself as he unlocked the door and slipped in behind the wheel. The interior of the car felt instantly warm in comparison to the chilling wind. As he drove out of the parking lot, Joe again glanced over toward the animal, which had put its head back down into the cushion of leaves.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Haiku attempt

After visiting Flash Flood's blog today, I just had to take up his challenge to publish a Haiku poem. See my links list for a link to the Flash Flood site. As I understand it, Haiku is a Japanese form of poetry constructed around the following rules:
1. The poem should be three lines long.
2. Line One should have five syllables.
3. Line Two should have seven syllables.
4. Line Three should have five syllables.

Ok, so here is my attempt:

Oh by the way, the theme was supposed to be "Writing".

Words ooze from the pen
Splash then freeze a thought expressed
Then edit, revise