Flash Fiction, Short Stories

A Dying Sun

dead-can-dance_Within-The-Realm-Of-A-Dying-Sun-There was a time when things were different.

That longing, because it was a longing, permeated through her skin and infected the air until she could bear it no longer. She opened a window, but only the last of the sunlight’s strength seeped in. The crisp, still air of a new autumn did nothing to abate the aroma and only reminded her of the short time left. She closed the window and hurried out the door.

She was all too aware of the cloaked figure that moved through her domain: a shadow that stretched out, growing longer on the ground as the days grew shorter. It lurked behind the sycamore trees, peeling the white bark off the trunk in large flakes as it closed in. It threatened her flowers, as it moved among the thorns. It lingered at her window, reaching out to her from under the cloak.

He, too, had reason to long. She heard him in the whispers that ripped through the branches and rattled the leaves. She felt the words gather around the hem of her skirt, making it dance around her ankles. Come back, come back, come back. They would be reunited again, but not today. She would not bear the burden of his impatience.

She tended her garden meticulously, harvesting the remaining blooms that withered in her hands as soon as she plucked them from the soil. The petals shriveled and curled at the edges, turning a darker shade before disintegrating to dust. She knew that even the ever-blooming grandifloras, the chinas, the floribundas, and the rugosas did not live forever…

There was a time when things were different.

There was a time when she took joy in gathering the flowers in the spring that her mother planted late in winter. In her hands, the fresh bouquet smelled of the earth perfumed by the sun. It was always the first gathering that smelled the best. It was the one thing she looked forward to each year, when the frost on the ground retreated and gave way to warmer days. It was a garland of perennials that would adorn her head on the day of her nuptial.

When she first saw him, he tried to seduce her from the garden. He stood tall. A smoldering figure ashen by the dust of his travels. He carried exotic fruits in a sack. He offered them to her, but she refused, never stepping beyond the roses that surrounded her. Each day he came and offered and every day she stood her ground. They danced this way all through summer and into the fall, until his patience had run its course.

She knew the moment she first caught a scent of his impending approach that she would have him. She imagined biting into his red lips and drinking in his bitter scent. This foreign thought shocked her and thrilled her. But she sent him away each time and waited for his return. For he always came back to seek her out until the day he would have her. She listened for him in the rustling of leaves and in the cooling warmth of the dying sun.

She longed for him just as she did the first time she gave in. That day, he offered her a fruit from his sack. It was heavy in her hand as she ran her fingers along the hard, leathery skin. He took it from her and dug his fingers into it and ripped it open. He raised it to her lips. She bit into hundreds of pleasantly acidic seeds, letting the juices drip onto her bodice from her red-stained lips.

Each year he claimed his queen from the realm above and seduced her with his promise. Each year, they sped off, hand in hand into the dark chasm, leaving behind a trail of death that waited for its resurrection upon her return the next year.


Flipping the New Wave

kroq5I recently listened to a countdown of the best New Wave hits starting from 101 down to the ultimate number one song of that period (starting from the late 70s to the early to mid 80s.) Of course, Best Of lists are subjective and we can argue that point until New Wave makes a comeback, but I was more than a little disappointed—especially with their choices for the Top 10 hits. I suppose I shouldn’t be too disappointed since the operative word in this case is “hit.” There’s no accounting for popular taste.

I grew up in Southern California and my musical guide through my adolescence was helmed by the world famous KROQ 106.7 FM radio station. Richard Blade, Jed the Fish, Freddie Snakeskin, the Swedish Egil, and Rodney Bingenheimer were the station’s DJs who curated a bevy of the best New Wave artists. Yes, they played the usual hits that are now a staple of the New Wave period. You can’t listen to a compilation CD of the best New Wave songs without including “Blue Monday” from New Order, “I Ran (So Far Away)” from A Flock of Seagulls, “I Melt With You” from Modern English, or “I Want Candy” from Bow Wow Wow. These are the songs that defined that period. They’ve even been featured in Saturn Ion, M&Ms, and Volkswagen commercials. But these DJs also had a sense of adventure and a lot of what they played on the air has now become somewhat obscure and forgotten for the causal 80s music listener.

Instead of rehashing the tired lists, I’m flipping the familiar with the obscure. I will point out some forgotten or little-known songs and artists from that period. I will not bore you with a rundown of what qualifies a song as New Wave, you can read about it here, but know that nobody will ever agree when it began or when it ended. The list is not in any particular order, so read on and chime in if you DO recognize some of these songs.

I’m starting with Ultravox’s “Vienna.” For me, this song encompasses everything that New Wave stands for. It’s got the synthesizers, it exhibits musical complexity, and it features artsy lyrics. It’s a synthpop ballad of epic proportions. You can feel it build the melodrama in the music. The song is inspired by the 1948 film noir, The Third Man. [youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5U-NHTW2-Ps]

Freur only had one hit with “Doot-Doot.” I know very little about this band except that soon after, they recorded a soundtrack for a Clive Barker film and the lead singer and some of the band members went on to form the more commercially successful band, Underworld. All I do know is that Richard Blade once stated that it was the best make-out song. I took his statement to heart and tried it out. Indeed, it is a great song for making out. It’s very atmospheric, thanks, in part, to the sound of crickets.  Listen and decide.[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CA3mes5zFH8]

This next one was one of Richard Blade’s favorites. It became one of mine too. Slow Children is made up of Pal Shazar and Andrew Chinich. They released two albums and three singles before disappearing forever. I think Shazar’s vocals, though very similar in style and pitch, were overshadowed by Dale Bozzio of Missing Persons. I guess there was only room for one high-pitched, squeaky New Wave vocalist. Personally, I prefer Slow Children’s wittier lyrics. “President Am I” is one of the only three singles ever released by the band, who derived their name from Nabokov’s novel, Lolita.[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7402ddy7-HU]

A lot of the New Wave bands formed in art schools and Book of Love is no exception. You might recognize some of their music if you’re not familiar with the band. They’ve been featured in a John Hughes movie (Planes, Trains, and Automobiles), an episode of Miami Vice, and in Silence of the Lambs (band member Lauren Roselli makes a cameo appearance with Jodi Foster while their song plays in the background.) Their music, mostly dance/club hits, has been described as “forward thinking.” Their lyrics deal with gender roles, sexual orientation, and their song “Pretty Boys and Pretty Girls” was one of the first to openly address the AIDS epidemic. My personal favorite is “I Touch Roses.” Trivia: Band mates Ted Ottaviano and Susan Ottaviano share the same last name, but they are not related. [youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ivq0HeLVI8M]

B-movie (which has been called a “British futuristic New Wave Band”) originally released “Nowhere Girl” and it went nowhere. They revisited the song two years later, remixed it, and re-released it again and it became a big hit. The band didn’t have much luck after that and the only successful member is guitarist Paul Stratham, who collaborated with Peter Murphy on two of his albums. He also co-wrote Dido’s first single, “Here With Me.”  [youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jjW2P05Mi14]

The DJs over at KROQ loved to stir up controversy with the music they played over the airwaves. Songs such as Ogden Edsel’s “Kinko the Clown“, about a child-molester, Berlin’s “Sex (I’m A…),” exploring taboo subjects, raised a few eyebrows. The station even managed to piss of the religious right, that they held protests outside the station over the release of Josie Cotton’s “Johnny, Are You Queer?” (Read the excellent article about that controversy here.) But for me, it was The Suburbs’ “Music For Boys.” The homosexual undertones of the song were undeniable, if not a bit creepy in a tongue-in-cheek kind of way. Personally, I think it’s an indictment of certain organizations who have preyed on the young over decades – That’s pretty deep for it’s time. This band from Minneapolis, Minnesota didn’t have very much success, only scoring a hit later in the 80s with “Love Is the Law.” Incidentally, “Love Is the Law” was adopted as the theme song for the same-sex marriage movement in Minnesota in 2013. [youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PFzY9u_v8Ew]

One of the bands that embraced what New Wave really was about is Kraftwerk. I would even say that they were one of the bands that helped launch New Wave. They had been around since the 70s, producing a distinct sound using repetitive rhythms with minimalistic, electronic instrumentation and industrial influences. Their 7th studio album, 1978’s The Man-Machine, has been called one of the most important albums of all time. “The Telephone Call” was released in 1987 and some might say it doesn’t count as New Wave. I don’t think so. Kraftwerk pioneered the sound and even this late in the game, they still commanded the genre.  [youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4BQsJb7w83w]

New Wave music has its origins in the punk music of the 1970s. I’m including Time Zone’s “World Destruction” because it features vocals by Sex Pistols’ frontman, Johnny Rotten. It’s a nod to its origins, but it’s also more than that. Time Zone was one of Afrika Bambaataa’s many projects over the years. His message of social awareness and activism gave birth to the Universal Zulu Nation, a group of socially and politically aware rappers and his electro music influenced the development of the hip hop culture. [youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pPHDQLuZaGo]

I stated before how much KROQ was influential in bringing attention to these New Wave bands to listeners who would never have otherwise heard of them. And by KROQ, I mean Richard Blade. And by influential, I mean that a lot of the bands he played on the air (most of them from Britain) flew half-way around the world to say good-bye and play a couple of their signature songs at the farewell concert. But to my knowledge, only one artist actually pays tribute to KROQ in song. Nina Hagen’s “Universal Radio” is a nod to KROQ in Los Angeles. Hagen is a German singer and actress and was an opera prodigy by the age of nine. She is probably best known for the disco/punk/opera “New York New York.” Her sound is dissonant–ranging from guttural to soprano. [youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UumdRAzqfTU]

Hagen’s quirky style is synonymous with this genre, so I can’t end my list without including at least one novelty song… And there are many. Someone stated that New Wave is nothing but novelty songs. It’s hard to argue that point when you consider that some of the more recognizable bands have written more than their share of novelty songs. So I dug a little deeper. I came across forgotten bands such as Angel & the Reruns, Maurice & the Cliches, Ian Dury & the Blockheads, Barbie & the Kens, Holly & the Italians, and pretty much any band from the 80s with “…& the…” in their name. But after careful consideration, I leave you with a song I still hold near and dear to my heart… The band: Killer Pussy. The song: “Teenage Enema Nurses In Bondage.” Lead singer Lucy LaMode self-described “whore” public personal sang about bowel movements, STDs, dildos, and masturbation, while remaining a virgin during the height of their success. She didn’t do drugs and had her first beer at the age of 26. [youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e5ep8jp2zkQ]


A Closed Circle

father-and-son-lionsSpring, 1995. The spiral tubes and breathing machines. The ICU and the specialists. The spinal taps and blood tests. They will become a litany of memories… But not for me. For my mother and my sisters, yes. And especially my father—although I will never ask. But it will end there. My mother will speak of it only once, just a couple of months after I awake from a coma. In an indirect, roundabout way, in an inopportune time when I’m driving us home, waiting at the intersection for the light to turn green, she will tell me what he told her to tell me. I will already know. And she will quantify his words with her own.

“Whatever you’ve done,” she’ll say, “It’s in the past. Isn’t it?”

“Yea.” It’s the only lie I’ll utter that day.

That last part will read more like a command, than a question. A statement that doesn’t want to know the truth. It will be guided and sealed by her faith. We’ll speak around in circles about fathers loving sons… No matter what (italics her own.)

June 24, 1994. The lights fade out in the movie theatre and with it the chatter from the children scattered through the auditorium who are here to watch a new Disney film. I’m probably the only adult unaccompanied by a child. That doesn’t bother me. It doesn’t even cross my mind. All I know is that as I watch the opening montage, I begin to cry. By the end of the sequence, when the title card announces The Lion King, I’m a blubbering mess and I don’t understand why.

April, 1972. His genes have been passed on to me through the process of biology. I pictured him holding his firstborn son in his hands for the first time; a proud father at twenty-two years old. I’d like to think that at that moment, he transferred all his hopes as naturally as he passed on the color of his eyes, the stubborn trait, and the way my hair parts naturally to the left. These hopes are traditions passed on from father to son and on and on going back generations. An open loop, it unfurled like a newly sprout branch of a family tree added to the many branches that came before. I’d like to think that he cried tears of joy, because I’ve only seen him cry once.

*      *      *

A closed circle: an ideology that regards one as being “in denial” of their sexual orientation.

A closed circle argument is one that is unfalsifiable.” These claims are usually faith-based.

Memories from the outside, looking in. I don’t remember the spinal taps or the specialists that saved my life from spinal meningitis. I remember the crying at the Circle of Life, sitting alone in that movie theater. Time marches across life, leaving in its wake a trench of memories that we can mine some time in the future. I think of the closed circle and the command in the form of a rhetorical question. She tells me of how my father cried in the hospital room and how it scares her to see him cry like this. I remember back to my childhood seeing my father at the wheel crying in the parking lot of the cemetery where my grandmother is buried. The circle of life closes and reopens. And I realize that I, too, will close the circle when I remember that I am the last of the family name. Yet, even that is an argument that is unfalsifiable.

*      *      *

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When in (Left of) Rome

loud neighborsHe read the email from our landlady. It was a threat of eviction. “Oh hell no,” he yelled. “Who does that bitch think she is?” He referred to the next-door neighbor who just moved in two weeks ago and whom we had yet to meet. Apparently, we were being too loud—definite grounds for eviction.

We looked at each other disbelieving what we just read. For noise? This would not do. In all the years living in Los Angeles (Hollywood) noise complaint never even crossed our minds. Tenants grew concerned if they did not hear noise coming from next door. This was an insult. We were threatened with eviction on a monthly basis for important things, like rent. Noise pollution was beneath us. Except, we didn’t live in Los Angeles anymore.

But, this is a story of how we met a next-door neighbor for the first time ever. Noise did bring us together, but we didn’t meet her until four months after her initial complaint, when we, again, received another eviction threat from our landlady for the same complaint. The Neighbor, as we have christened her, is an older woman with medium length gray hair. We hardly cross paths, but when we do, we both divert our eyes as if the air in front of us was so engaging that we noticed nothing else. I wondered if she, too, came from a big city, but then again, someone like that wouldn’t bother with petty complaints.

Now, it must be understood that we weren’t worried about actually being evicted. We were well within our rights. In fact, we adjusted our already normal volume levels so that we had to squint to hear anything. Still, the complaint was logged and it was about to escalate.

I suppose the underlying issue wasn’t that we were unreasonably loud, but in reality, we were inconvenienced: we were forced to meet our neighbor. That’s something you just… Don’t do. In a city of over 3.8 million (the 3.51-square-mile Hollywood neighborhood, alone, boasts about 80,000 people), you have to be extremely careful whom you let into your guarded life—and that includes neighbors. You never know what kind of wackos are out there.

So, I wrote a friendly letter on the insistence of the landlady who changed her eviction tune once we talked to her and she was aware that we were schooled on noise ordinance. It took our neighbor four days to respond.

The meeting went well. In fact, it was quite painless. She was a good hostess with a pleasant demeanor, but she didn’t offer us a drink. But considering the nature of this meet and greet, I let it slide.

Then, it occurred to me: We were the wackos to this guarded neighbor. We became that which we feared the most. But we’re working on it… Together. We’re not bad neighbors at all and while we can be malicious within our almost-private four walls and can call her everything under the sun, her name is Anne.


Not Quite Ready For That Close-Up

alto-nido-hollywood-sunset-blvdFrom the Sunset Blvd screenplay

Slow dissolve to:

Hollywood, seen from the Hilltop at Ivar & Franklin Streets.

Joe Gillis (VO)
I was living in an apartment
   house above Franklin and Ivar.

Camera pans toward the Alto Nido, an ugly Moorish structure of stucco about four stories high.

Actually, it is six stories high. I know because I lived there for two years. Just as the screenplay describes it, the Chateau Alto Nido sits at the top of the hill. The basement and the first and second floors are below street level, which places the lobby on the third floor. We lived on the second floor and, for the most part, it confused first-time visitor when they headed up, instead of down to get to our floor from the lobby.

For fans of the movie, a trip to Hollywood requires a visit to Joe Gillis’ apartment, just a block from Hollywood & Vine and the Capitol Records building. Just turn north on Ivar Avenue and follow the Walk of Fame. The Alto Nido was populated by struggling writers then, and still is now, although famous stars of long ago lived here, too. Claudette Colbert called this place home in the 1920s. Lila Leeds almost died here. It is rumored that Elizabeth Short, the Black Dahlia, stayed here.

Despite that, the irony of the reality wasn’t lost on the screenwriters (including director, Billy Wilder.) The script describes it as an ugly structure and if they meant that as metaphor, then it was an indictment of the city of Hollywood as an opportunistic industry.

We ended up moving in, after a series of fortunate coincidences. It was a concrete affirmation that we were well on our way towards attaining the goals we set when we first moved to Los Angeles more than ten years ago. We knew what moving in would represent as struggling artists.

When I finally gave up our apartment at the Alto Nido, my partner was three months into his eight-month contract at one of the nation’s oldest and most successful Shakespeare theatre companies in Oregon. I stayed behind to wait for him, but the luxury of a struggling writer was getting too expensive. He didn’t take the news very well. “I didn’t get to say good-bye,” he said. He meant the Alto Nido. He meant Hollywood. He meant our goals.

Last week, we re-evaluated our goals over Chinese food. At the end of our meal, we cracked open our fortune cookies and mine read, “With integrity and consistency, your credits are piling up.”

Standing atop of that hill on Ivar and Franklin, one can be seduced by the promise of a Hollywood ending. It can dilute integrity as the struggle stretches on for year. Joe Gillis certainly had none and look where it got him.


Essay prompted by this photo prompt from Write On Edge
Essay inspired by this photo prompt from Write On Edge

Flash Fiction

Murder at Dawn

copyright-erin-learyThe rays of the sun cut through the mist, forcing its retreat. Wounded by the oncoming light, the mist leaves behind parts of itself. The dampness on the ground, the droplets on the tree limbs: dismembered parts reminding the world that no crime shall go unpunished.

The day grows and the sun sweeps through the land, drying the damp ground, cracking the soil, and destroying all evidence of the crime it commits at the break of each dawn.

As it does, a decaying hand emerges from the sediment betraying a mortal crime.



Friday Fictioneers
Friday Fictioneers


A Gem Among Minerals

Image Source
Image Source
Image Source

He didn’t exactly hand it back to me. He threw it at my face with a flick of his wrist. At least, that’s how I remember it. In reality, it was a combination of the two actions. He went up and down each aisle, returning each assignment to its respective student. The class was alive with anticipation. It was the final assignment of the year. When he got to me, he paused briefly, dangling the stapled sheets of paper over my head. He started to place it on the desk, but at the last minute, he decided to just let it go. The sheets swooped in an arc and settled on the veneer surface of my desk. On the upper right hand corner, in blue pen: C-. I could have lived with that grade, if not for the words scribbled beneath it, in a spidery, almost illegible writing: Uninspiring story. Writing is not for everyone. You should reconsider your choice of becoming a writer.

That declaration was the final assessment of my work in the Advanced English class. Each assignment I turned in to Mr. Linares was met with a curt response. With each backhanded feedback, I did my best to please him so that he might at least see a glimpse of talent, but that never happened. Perhaps he was right because that final assignment, a short story based on fantasy, had been a failure in his eyes. Who was I to argue with an expert? I looked up to him like a hero who had succeeded in the field I wanted to pursue. He was supposed to encourage the fledgling writers under his care.

This was my senior year in high school and I was in the prestigious pilot program of the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program. I was proud when I was accepted, but now I wondered if they had made a mistake. I changed to an undeclared major the following Fall and then proceeded to fail miserably.

 *        *        *

Mr. McGinny handed back my final in Physical Geology. I could tell he was disappointed in my grade: F. I can’t say I didn’t earn it. I couldn’t care less for striated minerals, igneous rocks, or diorites and I put little to no effort into it despite the fact that I needed this class to complete my required courses. I was surprised when he said that he would give me a chance to retake the final considering how openly uninterested I was in his class. H knew it, but he said that he enjoyed my mid-term research paper on the trickle down effect of sediments. “Your paper was the most entertaining research paper I’ve read,” he said. “Have you considered taking an elective course in Creative Writing?”

Suddenly, this teacher whom I dismissed as irrelevant brought back my long-dead interest in pursuing writing as a viable career option. He was the flint that re-ignited the dream that Mr. Linares, who was supposed to nurture it, had stamped out seven years ago.

They say you should never meet your heroes. Sometimes they disappoint. I add this: Don’t limit your pool of potential heroes. Sometimes they come out of unexpected places… Like a gem among minerals in a sedimentary rock.

If only I had retained information from Mr. McGinny’s lesson on how to distinguish a gem from a mineral. I must have. I got a B+ on my final the second time around.


Your Memory Is Who You are Now

a book insideOver the past summer, I was introduced to a fascinating development in the study on the biological functioning of the brain: Memories change every time we remember an event. When we recall a past event, we aren’t recalling it back to its origin, but, in fact, we’re recalling the last the last time that we recalled that event. Click the link for the full article in Psychology today here.

“The past is a foreign country: They do things differently there,” says L.P. Hartley. This got me thinking about penning a memoir of sorts.  Therefore, I took to blogging.

The Goal:

I’m giving myself this year to write enough material to write a complete memoir that will be less of a play-by-play of the writer growing up, but instead, will paint an emotional portrait of the writer. (It feels odd speaking of myself in the third person, like peanut butter sticking to the roof of my mouth when the words come out.) I plan to post three new blog posts each week. The content will be written as straightforward first-person personal memoir, as anecdotes, and as creative non-fiction. The key word there is creative. How I will accomplish this will depend on the nature of the memoir. Check out my “about” page for more on this here.

The Experiment:

I took to blogging because, frankly, it’s a lot faster to develop an audience. I like the interaction and it keeps me focused on my writing if I know I have a schedule of posts to deliver on a weekly basis. If I do it on a weekly basis with regular feedback, I can stay focused on developing the memoir. The essays that will go into the memoir will be determined by:

  • The amount of likes for each post; and
  • The posts with the most popular or the ones that produce the most conversations

It’s going to be a full year of writing, unlike I’ve ever done, and I can only hope that this experiment will be a success. In between new writings, there will be extensive editing.

As with any experiment, it has potential to succeed or to blow up in my face. Either way, it’ll be a learning experience.