“Rattle” — Advent Ghosts 2018

IMG_5863

 

Rattle

 

First appearing to me when I was a child, it rattled past the ornament box I’d come to claim from a dark corner of our garage.

Only bones. Its back curved gently along the spine, its toes landing with a soft tap as it walked, stilting, no skin on anything. Even the tail was bare, white, hard.

It had a shyness mixed with urgency, wanting something. 30 years later I still don’t know what.

Part of myself moved with that creature.

I never told anyone. Alive and not.

It still comes when I call. I don’t talk about that, either.

###

This is an exactly 100-word flash fiction piece for a tradition of writing ghost stories on Christmas Eve. We acknowledge a sinful and hopeless world, and welcome the dawn in full awareness that Christmas day brings us light.

Advent Ghosts 100 Word Storytelling is put on by Loren Eaton at I Saw Lightning Fall. See other entries there.

Note: I regret being unable to provide attribution for the photo. This is as close as I could get to the source.

Camaraderie and Creepy Conceits: Advent Ghosts Storytelling 2018

light lantern

Shared Storytelling: Advent Ghosts 2018 by Loren Eaton

“We hardly look at the stars anymore or even the lanterns we hung centuries before to blot out the night from our sight. The wind whistles down empty city streets whose cratered and pocked surfaces betray their long lack of use. Commerce of both the legitimate and illicit type takes place in the light-strung skyways linking the megopolis’ highest spires or in the metro tunnels beneath the ancient pavement or through the indecipherable network of hand-carved caverns chipped out by generations of subterranean squatters. But only the moneyed or mad or desperate or damned venture out much anymore. Even infants get socketed, and once you’ve pegged in to the Lattice, slipping the thumb-sized plug of hyperconductive alloy into the surgically installed socket between your C1 and skull, then you see it. The vast digital distraction sends its digital shivers shuddering down your nerves, a distraction bespoke and beautiful—at least until the signal bleeds or the power grid surges. Then the lights go out, and a district seems to shudder, to rouse itself, to move as a great beast wakened from slumber. Doors open onto balconies. Blinking forms peer out into hallways. Children scamper off into the shadows, scavenging up scraps with which to mock physical forms of their digital simulacra. And wide-eyed, jack-scrambled wanderers stagger this way and that, saying they saw those crude golems move.

People laugh, shift uncomfortably, and try not to admit to themselves that there seem to be more children frolicking in the gloom than they’d initially noticed …

Welcome to Advent Ghosts 2018, the ninth annual shared storytelling event at ISLF. For more than a century, the days preceding Christmas have been a time to swap spooky tales, building camaraderie around creepy conceits. So we write . . .”

Join us here tomorrow for Esse Diem’s offering this year, then swing over to Loren Eaton’s blog, I Saw Lightning Fall, to find links to all the 2018 stories!

“It’s Not Mama” – Advent Ghosts 2016

dark

 

It’s Not Mama

 

When she was out of town, he slept with Jack..

An unexpected, steady thump. Had she made it home? Christmas Eve. Flipping on the light, he rolled over to see the last wag. His companion’s body went rigid, he lifted his head, his ears flat against the skull.

Beyond the window there was no car. No footprints. No one. Just the snow.

“Quiet, baby. It’s not Mama, yet.”

The animal stood, emitting a nearly silent howl, sound he felt in his stomach.

Jack leapt off the bed, his face to the wall. His trembling body was the only sound now.

###

This is an exactly 100-word flash fiction piece for a tradition of writing ghost stories on Christmas Eve. We acknowledge a sinful and hopeless world, and welcome the dawn in full awareness that Christmas day brings us light.

Advent Ghosts 100 Word Storytelling is put on by Loren Eaton at I Saw Lightning Fall. See other entries there.

Bring on the Ghosts: Advent Storytelling 2016

Welcome to Advent Ghosts 2016, the eighth annual shared storytelling event at I Saw Lightning Fall, Loren Eaton’s blog about “narrative, genre, and the craft of writing.” For the uninitiated, Advent Ghosts seeks to recreate the classic British tradition of swapping spooky stories at Yuletide. However, instead of penning longer pieces, we post bite-sized pieces of flash fiction for everyone to enjoy.

Ghost Winter Flower by Henrik Thorn

To learn more about this tradition, read the article here about this “lost tradition.”

This is my fifth year writing for Advent Ghosts. In my first year I pulled some edited lines from a ghost story I wrote about meth addiction. It is called “The Escape.”

In 2012, I decided to try Loren’s model of writing one piece inspired by secular Christmas traditions, and another from sacred texts.

Unwanted explores the terror we feel when an unexplained and damaged presence penetrates the safety of our families and our homes.

For Later is my take on what I’ve always seen as a poetic and disturbing element in the gifts of the three kings to the baby Jesus.

I again used a sacred story’s inspiration for 2013’s “Vacancy.” I’ve always had a fascination with the innkeeper from Jesus’s birth story. I fantasize about a moment in which the larger narrative clicks for him, as it did for shepherds and kings.

2014 found me writing about the last heartbeat of a last creature. As natural as it would be, the feeling of loneliness in even a non-human animal felt very real to me that year.

I took a break in 2015. Before Loren took the reins over the more graphic content, I was feeling out of place with the tone of some of the pieces.

But this year, I’m back. I love the restriction of the 100 words — no more, no less — and how it pares down the writing to something essential. No frills! Plus, there’s nothing quite like being part of reviving a lost or fading Christmas tradition to get my inner nerd all a-tingle. Charles Dickens, I love you.

Enjoy this year’s submission, which will post not long from now, and if you like creepy little tales be sure to visit Loren’s blog, too! Just when I think I’ve read the most shiver-inducing tale, they get, well, more shivery!

 

“The Last” — Advent Ghosts 2014

Photo by P. Koskela, Finland

Photo by P. Koskela, Finland

Earth was silent, dark, dense beneath the enormous frame.

Heartbeats grew further apart, the slight tremor of ice shards like glass in long lashes and shaggy coat. A dozen bitter winters, this the first when it is too much to stand.

Thump.

An eyelid raises, cracking its frozen seam to see a bright line in greenish-yellow against the sky’s ink.

No sound or scent of footed life, only the patient gathering scrapes of talon and wing.

The eye is open, the chest is now silent. He draws a breath.

The circle tightens. The sky’s line glows.

One soul rises, absolved.

###


This is an exactly 100-word flash fiction piece for a tradition of writing ghost stories on Christmas Eve. We acknowledge a sinful and hopeless world, and welcome the dawn in full awareness that Christmas day brings us light.

Advent Ghosts 100 Word Storytelling is put on by Loren Eaton at I Saw Lightning Fall. See other entries there.

River Town Holiday #buzznuggets!

Following are some of my favorite moments from the 6 stories that make up the book in which I have some short fiction, River Town. It’s getting some nice word of mouth and social media energy. Any part readers of Esse Diem would like to play in that energy is more than welcome!

Oh. and there’s this. River Town makes a nice holiday gift . . . You can buy it here. And if money is tight, you can follow the authors on Twitter. That’s like gold to us some days, too!

Hayden Lowe may or may not have killed a man out west. No one seems to know why he’s back in River Town, though his friend, Lillian Conley, is keeping a private journal full of clues. Will Captain JD Dawson lose his beloved sternwheeler, the Miss Jayne Marie, in a winner-takes-all bet? Julia Hubbard has a secret project, Andrew Wilson is plotting on the dusty streets of River Town, and what about that strange Dame Roxalana? There is more to Roxie than anyone is willing to say. The men in the coal mines around River Town seem to be developing a mysterious condition that no one can explain, yet everyone is whispering about it. Before all is said and done, each of these characters will intersect in unexpected ways. The resolutions are as suspenseful as they are satisfying. River Town is a collection of short stories set in 1890s West Virginia. The combined work of six different authors, the tales range from adventure to romance, from intrigue to fantasy. Each story stands alone, yet together they take readers to a time along the Kanawha River just after the Civil War when families were still struggling to recover and before the railroad came through the mountains. The river was the center of everything.

Every storyteller has his own style, her own approach, and a unique way of operating a character. To see the same characters driven by different people was like seeing the same person from other perspectives. The characters’ personalities were fuller and better developed. I got to know them better than I could have if they were all written by one author. I was hooked.

— editor/Author Eric Douglas

Rufus had a lot to say, but he’d only say it if he trusted you. That was the way of River Town in general.

— Author Eric Douglas

From “Hayden’s Return” by Katharine Armstrong Herndon (@kaherndon)

Hide in the woods?
For a minute he wondered if the Captain could get him off the boat without being seen. But then he remembered Jack had seen him, and the old woman, and probably someone else he hadn’t even recognized.
It was too late for hiding.

 

From “They Hold Down the Dead” by Elizabeth Damewood Gaucher (@ElizGaucher)

The two adventurers walked in silence for a few minutes. Then Hayden said, “You’re brave. I thought you were. I really came up here to find out if you want to see something I found, but it’s not for cowards. Do you want to see it?”
Lillian realized that, no, she really did not want to see something like that, but it was too late now.
“I’m not a coward, she said. “What is it?”

 

From “Racing Miss Jayne Marie” by Eric Douglas (@BooksbyEric)

Glancing up from his log book, JD saw Winthrop, the owner of the Miss Jayne Marie, standing on the dock with his personal secretary, Phiillips . . . “Phillips” was all JD ever heard Winthrop call the man. JD had never heard Phillips speak.

 

From “Being True in River Town” by Jane Siers Wright (@JaneSiersWright)

Dawson nodded. He was in Julia’s debt and it was clear to him she was about to call in the favor.
“I have another such student who needs to reach Parkersburg in order to catch the B&O train to Harper’s Ferry.”
“Why Parkersburg and the B&O? She could go south to Beckley over land to catch a train from there.”
“A southern route would not be the most convenient for this passenger, Captain.”

 

From “Hearing the Past” by Shawna Christos (@ywrite) of James River Writers, “Hearing the Past”

His hands shook as he hunted for the latch. Andrew tried to remember if it had made any sound when he entered ahead of his captor.
He couldn’t remember but it didn’t matter. He had realized there would be no turning back. None for the man his father had hired, and none for Andrew on his present course.

 

From “Wail” by Geoffrey Cameron Fuller (@GeoCamFuller)

At his oak desk in Mr. Winthrop’s house — for the last time, in all likelihood — Francis Treet Phllips swings the ledger closed and runs his palm across the aged leather. A full accounting. The pieces are all arrayed in their places, each and every one. To Mr. Winthrop, the game begins tonight, after the race, but Phillips knows it is already finished.)

 

Enjoy these snippets? Read more here: https://essediemblog.com/2013/08/14/river-town-buzznuggets/

Writing My Way Home: Silas, Swago, and The Farm Dogs

1950s, Swago Farm, Pocahontas County, West Virginia. Standing, Dennie and Hunter McClintic. Seated far right, Betty McClintic.

1950s, Swago Farm, Pocahontas County, West Virginia. Standing, Dennie and Hunter McClintic. Seated far right, Betty McClintic.

I have very specific memories of the first time I ever saw certain people. It’s an odd phenomenon in that I don’t know any reason when I first lay eyes on these folks why the memory instantly becomes fixed. In each case, however, such people become important to my life. My husband is one of these “fixed memory” people. I can still see him, opening a glass door and striding across a lobby with a scowl on his face.

Silas House is a fixed memory person for me, too, but it a different way. It was not Mr. House in the flesh, but his written words that fascinated me, became fixed. His environmental column in the New York Times, “My Polluted Kentucky Home,” reads like a creative nonfiction essay to me, more so than a national column of an environmental activist. And yet I can’t fully defend that perception. It is clearly an activist’s narrative. But it’s edgy, tight with a barely contained rage. When I read it, I can feel Mr. House holding it together as it tries to bolt out his control. The emotions and the realities behind “My Polluted Kentucky Home” are so muscled and dangerous, only a master of the written word could begin to manage it.

Silas House is such a master.

I referenced the column in 2011 as an inspiration for essayists writing about place. Going back to the column, I am reminded that every section is a gut-punch. Still, the paragraph that knocked me out 3 years ago remains the one that gets me now:

As a child I once stood on a cedar-pocked ridge with my father, looking down on a strip mine near the place that had been our family cemetery. My great-aunt’s grave had been “accidentally” buried under about 50 feet of unwanted topsoil and low-grade coal; “overburden,” the industry calls it. My father took a long, deep breath. I feel that I’ve been holding it ever since.

 

This physical experience of prolonged generational grief with no end in sight resonated in my heart. It took up residence there and made sense out of something, or at least started to make sense of something, that haunts me. I am a native West Virginian. My family has lived in Appalachia for generations, and I have struggled to find words for the experience of a rupture with the land that feels like a problem in my body. And it is exactly as Mr. House says it is. It’s a kind of inheritance. It was passed to me. And as in his narrative, it was not passed with intention so much as without choice. Some people call this Appalachian fatalism. I am still trying to understand what I will call it.

When someone puts words to your problem, he often shines a light on the way out. At the very least he allows you to see your problem in a new way. I wanted to know more about Silas House, and discovered his online literary publication, Still: The Journal. In this space, I found more expression of the more complex elements of Appalachia. I found images and words and ideas that reflected some of the layers that I know from growing up there. Much material on Appalachia traffics in stereotypes and simplicities. Still explicitly is not interested in stereotypes or cliches. It has a mission to illuminate what is real, and truly human, and intricate about this mysterious and hard place some of us call our native home. So I recommend Still to you without reservation, both for seeing something you may never have seen about this part of the world, and for some lovely art.

My essay, “Farm Dogs, recently received a Judge’s Choice honor in the Still 2014 Contest for Creative Nonfiction. A narrative with early drafts about literal farm dogs, this essay became something more human and more reflective of my own life’s unanswered questions. I remember sharing a draft in my MFA workshop, and someone saying, “This is great and all, but I still don’t understand why you went to this farm. Why did your family go there? What is this all really about?”

I was amazed to realize I had no answer. Back to the drawing board.

After interviewing my parents who are in their late seventies and mid-eighties, I discovered a huge hole in this story, one I’d never truly known about or understood. The interviews filled that hole, in part. Perhaps there are always spaces left open in our life stories.

And perhaps that is as it should be.

Thank you to my professors Eric Waggoner, Richard Schmitt, Carter Sickels, and Jessie van Eerden for your constructive feedback on Farm Dogs. Thank you to my MFA workshop colleagues Lara Lillibridge, Christine Roth, and Benjamin Bolger for reading and critiquing early wonky drafts of the essay. Thanks to Jeremy Jones for teaching a wonderful seminar on how to interview relatives about family history. Thanks to Karen McElmurrary for falling in love with “Farm Dogs” at first sight, even when it was just a wonky draft and full of holes. And thank you, mom and dad, for being brave enough to fill in the empty spaces in this narrative about a part of our lives. I love you.