Sunday, December 23, 2012

Round Eye

This is my entry into the short story contest. We had a day to write a story nine hundred words or fewer that's based on the first paragraph. (So, they wrote the first paragraph, I wrote the rest.)

Round Eye

Growing up on a fishing boat docked in this small northwest coastal town brought stares from townspeople and jeers from classmates. She desperately wanted to escape but, with competitors driving down charter prices, she knew her dad would never be able to afford a replacement. As she sliced open the belly of yet another Salmon, her eyes widened and she dropped her knife...

She unrolled her sleeves and pressed them hard against her eyes to staunch the blood pouring from her eyelids. The cuffed ends of her white sleeves melted to red like snow under the urine stream of a kidney-trauma victim.

It had seemed as if she were out of her body, watching someone else doing the eyelid-cutting. That hadn’t happened to her since childhood, when she’d dream she was a hair stylist and wake up with a beautiful new coiffure, or a cattle rustler and wake up saddle sore with a handful of feral cows milling about in her walk-in closet.

She hopped into the life raft and rowed herself to the emergency dock of the closest hospital, some thousand meters downshore, where, half-conscious, she was taken in.

Voices floated about her.

“…a bloody travesty.”

“…love to find the back-alley quack who left her in this state.”

“…an indictment of our Orientalphobic culture in general”

“…admittedly, a textbook example of surgical excellence.”

It slowly became clear to Mina Kim, through the painful, bloody haze, that the doctors and nurses, though intolerant of the surgery itself, were in awe of its technical precision – the procedure had been performed to perfection.

As she lay convalescing, her sight as obscured as a cheap seat at a discussion on the history of Belorussian haiku, her mind wormed its way around, over, and through the question of “Why?” Why was it this Salmon who had pushed her over the edge? She hadn’t even gotten to Salome, that harlot who beheaded John the Baptist. And still to be done were the Samuels – there lay real terror – Beckett and Johnson and Davis, Jr. and Malone. She’d progressed through the Salmans without incident, even Rushdie, whom, years earlier, in a flight of Islamic fancy, she’d sworn to First Supreme Leader of Iran Ruhollah Khomeini to kill if she ever saw in person. But, no, it had been Salmon, desert-vagabond-turned-Palestinian-invader-cum-Israel-founding-father-cum-ancestor of Jesus, who seems to have refused to comply with God’s strong request that all conquering Israelis inbreed for at least 30 years by marrying the Palestinian Rahab the harlot, who catalyzed the self-cutting.

Sure, she was sick of quality-checking the anatomical authenticity of collectible figurines – who wouldn’t be? – but a lot of people were sick of their jobs, and surely it was in only a minority that this manifested itself through autoblepharoplasty.

She also hoped, with the hope of a small-town beauty who wanted more than to marry the high school football hero, that this would set her apart. In sharp (or, perhaps, smooth and curved) opposition to her peers, she now possessed the indulgent, luxurious almond-eyed beauty of the foreigner.

Ming-Ji Gal over in Mats Mats may be able to catch a baton in her teeth, thought Mina, but she has nothing that can compete with these ovoid orbs precariously placed on delicate cheekbones that balanced on her inverted sewing needle of a nose.

Yuki Fukimura up in Mukilteo might have the adorable, circular face of a child-drawn cartoon character, like pie you want to kiss, but her eyes were ever two knife-slits in the crust, sleek and intelligent and beautiful, but just so same-same.

Mina had long thought her only way out was by winning the Miss Raindrop Qualifiers. Surely the regional competition that lay after that would be filled with talent scouts. Her piccolo skills were the best they’d ever been, what with her solo in the senior recital nigh. She’d always been a charmer when it came to public speaking – people couldn’t resist the hint of a bawdy edge to her humor, especially when seasoned by the conspiratorial curve of her upper lip.

When her lids had fully healed, just a week before the MRQ, her friends, even her family, all agreed that she looked, at worst, different, and, at best, much more eye-popping than she had.

The night of the event, her fingers flew over the holes of the piccolo like indecisive bumblebees on amphetamines careening recklessly from one flower to another in a serendipitously stumbled-upon conservatory garden. The recuperation from the surgery had taken away her appetite, so her buttocks were dangerously slender. And her question was, “Can you be sexy and moral?”

She looked the judge in the eyes and asked, “What are you hoping I’ll say?”

She heard murmurs of approval and laughter from the audience. As she opened her eyes wide to expand upon her response, the stage lights assaulted her newly defenseless retinas like the Japanese Pearl Harbor. By the time her eyelids had covered the newly yawning chasm, her equilibrium had been irretrievably lost. She felt something hard hit, in quick succession, her elbow, shoulder, and head.

Right before she lost consciousness, she spied through barely parted lids the face of Yuku Fukimura, smiling like a Pillsbury Dough Girl. But the trauma was too much – as her new lids closed, she felt her chance for glory in at the Tri-state Regionals in Portland slipping away like the last bit of stage light.

Friday, July 13, 2012

What Remains

Rod and I wrote this eight-page script for the NYC Midnight contest, which gave us three days to write a romance that centered around retirement and involved a fireman. (Click on the title below to see the script.)

What Remains

Friday, March 23, 2012

Feedback on The Godbaby

Your feedback from the judges on your 1st Round story in the Short Story Challenge 2012 is below.  We hope you find the feedback helpful and hope to see you in our next competition!

''Godbaby'' by Matt McHugh  - WHAT THE JUDGE(S) LIKED ABOUT YOUR SCRIPT - There are some humorous moments in this story's unique approach to the ghost story genre............................There's some neat imagery in here--I'm thinking, in particular, about the line "An arm sat on a nearby bench, the area that had been ripped from the shoulder clearly visible, resembling a mass of melted earthworms." WOW! This was also a fun read, and atmospherically reminded me of that film from the 1980s, Coccoon -- old guys makin' trouble. Always a fun read.................................................   WHAT THE JUDGES FEEL NEEDS WORK - This story, especially its last section, unfolds at a very rapid pace. Both the horror and the comedy could be heightened by slowing down a little and reflecting on how the character react to the unimaginable events that befall them............................Opening a story with a quote is hard to do--I'd suggest better grounding, meaning the character needs to know where we are, who the characters are, and what the opening situation is so he can move forward...................…........................

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Rest Area 51

In the third (second-to-last, I think) round of this five-page-screenplay-writing competition, we were given the following:

Genre:  Sci-Fi
Location:  A souvenir shop
Object:  A pony

The resulting five-page screenplay should be in the given genre, take place mostly at the given location, and in it somewhere should appear the given object. This is what we wrote:

And here, in case you're interested, is the judges' feedback:

Friday, February 3, 2012

The Godbaby

I was given eight days and 2,500 words in which to write a story satisfying the following requirements:

Genre:  Ghost Story
Subject:  Trust
Character:  A baby

This is apparently what I wrote:

(And, if you want, after you read that (assuming you do), you can see what the judges thought about it here:

The Godbaby

"I remember back when I was a baby, there wasn't all this nefarious paedological activity," John said. "It would have been unthinkable! We were content with the fair, hard-won fruits of our honest labour, and the thought of organized crime even on the scale that you see in the rural preschools nowadays never occurred to us even in our most selfish dreams," Murray said.

The three men leaned back on their chairs. Then forward. Then back again. They were seated in identical rocking chairs on an innocuously located porch in a rural town in southern Iowa.

The men on the porch were well known to all of the residents of the town of Awoi, Iowa. John was tall and skinny. Murray was fat and bespectacled. Rainier was short, squat, and always wore a mesh Best Feeds hat. Backwards. Revealing his liver-spotted forehead through the arch.

John stood up, turned abruptly, and hobbled inside to get some water.

Then he hobbled back to his rocking chair and sat back down.

Ranier looked around the table, then said, with a slight smirk, "Everyone'll be there tonight, I reckon?"

"What if something unforeseen happens?" Murray asked.

"Murray, we've come all this way," Ranier said.

"But what if it does?"

"Well, then, you're just gonna have to trust me," he said.

Murray looked at him. "OK," he said.

John just grunted and took another swig.

"Good," said Ranier, nodding slowly. "Good."

The night hung heavy over the town of Awoi, Iowa. The three pillars of the community made their way down the street from John's house, carrying their provisions in carpbetbags. Three sticks. Three bags full of any and all baby-protection paraphernalia an old man might need. And three mouths dry as bone, three bodies as jumpy as newborn bunnies, three heartbeats fast as scat improv.

They'd been planning this outing for weeks, and each of them had filled his free time dreaming up any eventualities they could conceive and plotting counter-attacks.

And if any of them slowed up as they turned the corner of Dove Street, the ancient house at 11662 finally coming into view, no one thought the less of them for it.

For years now, the townspeople had wondered what went on in the mysterious manse at 11662 Dove. It was officially listed as belonging to Infantry Inc., a laundry service out of Dover, Delaware. John had researched the company exhaustively and found nothing to indicate it was anything more than a shell corporation. A photographic map search of the given area on the internet clearly indicated the address listed as its headquarters as a warehouse with "For Rent" signs posted on it. On one, someone had spraypainted an "s" over the "n" and then added "Gump" underneath.

Consistent with the head office, no one was ever seen coming or going from the premises on Dove. Occasionally, a light would be seen on inside behind the drawn drapes, but no one could recall seeing any beings in silhouette. Not even Murray, who'd staked out the site overnight, though he feared he'd probably slipped into unconsciousness a time or two, especially since he awoke in the basement of the house in question with his fly unzipped, having dreamt he was going to his own bathroom in his own house.

This was how the gang had discovered their in.

Ranier felt no need for confirmations of the fishiness of the situation. His gut told him the whole thing stank to high heaven, and if time had taught him anything, it was that his gut was more reliable than any piece of evidence or law of science.

As John and Murray were psychologically reconciling their needs for preparation with their increasingly urgent hopes that any irregular activity at the house would, like most exciting things in life, turn out to be pure fantasy, Ranier's exhilaration matched his certainty.

Despite the fact that Ranier had twice returned to the house since Murray's inadvertant discovery and both times found the back door to the basement unlocked, John and Murray both held out hope that this would be the time it didn't open.

But it did.

Despite being the one most certain there was something to be wary of, Ranier walked in as if he owned the place. It was furnished, and clean. Otherwise, there were no signs of life.

"Y'see? I knew this was all in your head," John said to Ranier as he made his way to the stairs.

The first floor matched the basement - everything in order, everything clean, no sign of habitation. John determined the most comfortable-looking couch was the one in the living room and sat down on it.

"I think I've seen all there is to see," he said. "Now, I'm going to sleep."

"John, as usual, your evaluation exhibits the measured, objective thoroughness and patience of a Christopher Colombus," Ranier replied.

"I think this is more of a Stanley/Livingston situation, Ranier," said Murray. "Clearly, no one's been in this place for months."

Ranier licked his finger, ran it alng the top edge of a bookshelf, and held it out toward his companions.

"Then where's the dust?" he asked.

Murray was stumped to silence, but John answered, "There's got to be a maid."

"I've never seen a car parked here," Ranier said.

"Maybe she's dropped off and picked up," Murray offered. "Or takes the bus."

"We could have done all this hypothesising from John's porch," Murray said, tossing his stick-and-bag into the corner. "I'm going to investigate."

"You go ahead, and call me if you need help separating the normal from the boring," John said, lying down on the couch.

Murray sat down in the Laz-Z-Boy, saying nothing.

The next thing Murray knew, he was being shaken awake by a hysterical Ranier, until John threw a pillow that smacked him in the back of the head.

"Calm down, will ya'?" John mumbled from the couch.

"The bathroom! You have to come see the bathroom!"

Ranier's look, as much as his words, made it clear that they did, in fact, have to see the bathroom - he had the wide eyes of someone on too much methylphenidate and the agitated manner of someone on...well, too much methylphenidate.

"Are you on methylphenidate?" Murray asked.

"This is not a joke!" Ranier half-screamed.

"Come on, Murray, you know Janice threw out his stash after he stayed up that night organizing their DVD collection by release date."

"If one of you doesn't come with me this instant, I'm bringing down what's up there. And I don't think you want that."

Ranier took a step toward the stairs before Murray got up to join him. As John put his head back down on the pillow, Murray pulled the pillow away.

"If I'm going, you're going," he said.

The two of them followed Ranier up the stairs. Outside the bathroom door, Ranier gave them each a sincere look and exhaled melodramatically, then turned and opened the door.

It was a normal bathroom, as clean and tidy as the rest of the house. Murray and John exchanged glances, but Ranier was already on his way into what looked like a steam room.

Murray and John followed. Right as they reached the door, Ranier flipped on the lights to reveal piles of body parts. The head of an old woman who'd lived down the street stared at them as if she'd just shouted "Bingo!" An arm sat on a nearby bench, the area that had been ripped from the shoulder clearly visible, resembling a mass of melted earthworms.

In the far corner were a congregation of torsos, some arms and a stray leg or two were stashed underneath the bench on the far wall, and what looked like a few toes lay just beside the doorway.
When Murray realized the sound he'd been hearing was John running away, John was already out of sight. Murray followed out of the room, down the stairs, and back to the living room where they'd left their gear. Ranier followed after them, more slowly.

"Oh my God! OhmyGodOhmyGodOhmyGod!" John kept repeating as he fumbled to put his blanket back in his carpetbag.

"We have to call the police," said Murray.

"We have to get out of here," said John, as he fumbled more ferociously with the blanket, and the remainder of the goods in his carpetbag fell to the floor.

That's when they heard a noise in the basement. And froze. Then, following Ranier's lead, they grabbed their sticks and bags and hid behind the couch as the slow, light steps got increasingly loud.

Finally, four toddlers carrying a bassinet, each holding one of the legs, emerged from the stairway. They walked into the kitchen and set down the bassinet in the middle of the room. In it was an infant sucking on a pacifier. He was clearly the leader.

Ranier's brow was moist as a spit rag. Murray had soiled himself. And John cowered in the corner, fervently sucking his thumb.

All of the children stood (or did their best to try to stand) in a circle around this Godbaby. He seemed to be communicating to them by sucking on his pacifier. He varied the rate and pitch, and the babies occasionally nodded in unison.

The moment had come, Ranier knew. It was time to live your life to the fullest, as the GeriaTricks commericials exhorted the likes of him. He went into his deepest baritone, the long sound waves too low for the babies to hear, and, though they'd run through this scenario only once, half-heartedly, when Ranier was too drunk to be resisted, his compatriots creaked into action.

Ranier slipped slowly but quietly into the hallway and thence up the stairs. He winced as the top step creaked under his weight, but comforted himself with the thought They're toddlers - it'll take 'em forever to climb all those steps.

Murray stayed low and rolled out of sight behind the couch, the contents of his adult diaper forming a new working mold of his buttocks with each rotation.

John pulled his thumb from his mouth like the the pin from a grenade. Just as with riding a bicycle, he found, you never forget how to be a soldier - his 'Nam training came back in a snap. He'd taken evasive manoeuvers and positioned himself in a shadowed corner of the basement right  before the munitions squad exited the armory. His hand still dripped from his quick visit to the bathroom. The squad, of about half a dozen, came wobbling by, cocking rifles and dragging ammo. As he fought hard to swallow his disgust at their freshly powdered scent, he noticed the female drop something, and he silently reached out and picked up the slimy piece of detritus.

He waited until the enemy line had mostly disappeared up the stairs. As the final toddler neared the doorway, John did his best to clear his mind of all worry, then flicked the chosen object of distraction in the direction of the kid in the rear of the group with the gear.

He'd imagined the object smartly striking the wall just behind the toddler's left ankle, then rolling down a step or three. Unfortunately, he'd overestimated how long it'd been since he'd toed the rubber, or maybe underestimated how different his chosen projectile was from a spit-slicked baseball.

Regardless, the chucked fup-pup struck the terminal toddler squarely between the shoulder blades.

"Shit!" John mouthed, as he sunk back down and hoped.

The rugrat was either braver than he'd expected, or stupider, John thought, as the kid turned and backtracked with nary a word to his platoon.

John leaned toward stupider.

The kid picked up the pacifier at the bottom of the stairs, turned it around in his hand, and then began looking around the room.

'kid wouldn't have lasted a minute against Charlie, John thought as he unfolded himself from the corner, clocked the kid over the head with a brick he'd pulled from the top tank of the toilet - Maybe the environment can save you, he thought - and dragged the knocked-out toddler to take his spot amongst the shadows, relieving him of the mini-arsenal he wouldn't be needing for a spell. Then, thinking better of it, he grabbed the knife off the kid's belt and slit his throat with it, darn near cutting all the way through.

"Just to be safe," he told himself.

You're just gonna have to trust me. Ranier's words rang in his ears as he stood behind the bathroom door. He heard the pitter-patter of little feet retracing the path he'd just taken. He could see their reflection in the mirror as they summited the stairs. One went left, and one came toward him. As Ranier craned his neck to keep them in the mirror, the floorboard beneath him creaked. They both came right for him. As soon as the second stepped beyond the door, Ranier kicked the door shut, grabbed the toddler from behind, and snapped his neck like a fresh carrot. He then swung the limp body as hard as he could, the feet striking the other toddler in the face. Ranier didn't know whether the kid went unconscious before a couple of his bloody teeth hit the mirror - all he knew was that, a second later, he had stripped them each of a knife and was slipping into the master bedroom.

As he lay there, he heard what sounded like a drunken army mounting the steps, mumbling, fumbling, and slowly advancing. Then he heard the sound of a gun cocking, and his stomach dropped. Then he heard a chorus of guns cocking, and his bladder evacuated. He was one man with two knives. They were a dozen babies with loaded guns.

They headed straight for him. He was done. He knew it. "I'm goin' out big," he thought, and, putting a knife in each hand, sprang up to charge.

The gunfire was immediate and overwhelming. He was surprised at how boring death was. He felt as if he were just standing there, in blackness.

Then, finally, he heard it - the voice.

"Ranier! Stop standing there like an idiot! Let's move!"

He opened his eyes to see John standing in front of him, a sea of bloodied toddlers in his wake.

"My God! John!"

"I know," John said, "Nick of time. You can thank me later. Let's go!"

The two ran down the stairs to find Murray at the front door.

"Murray! Let's move!" John shouted, dragging Ranier behind him. But Murray just stood there.

"It's OK," he said. "It's OK now. It's all over." He was looking toward the kitchen.

In the kitchen, in the bassinet, lay the Godbaby, a diaper strapped over his face, his sucking muffled and belaboured.

Then, before their eyes, the diaper dropped into the otherwise empty bassinet. John ran up the steps.

"They're gone! They're all gone!"

The three of them sat in silence, the sound of sucking nowhere to be heard.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


The most-recent 24-hour short-story contest gave 850 as the maximum word limit (although the following is 861, as I've made some post-submission additions) and the following as the prompt:

Blue ice stretched to the horizon, fading into the blinding rays of another waning winter sun. She shivered violently as the shifting mass groaned under her feet. She instinctively glanced down, looking for cracks under the transparent sheen. Suddenly, she tensed and dropped to her knees. Desperately clawing at the ice, she screamed...

So I submitted the following:


Blue ice stretched to the horizon, fading into the blinding rays of another waning winter sun. She shivered violently as the shifting mass groaned under her feet. She instinctively glanced down, looking for cracks under the transparent sheen. Suddenly, she tensed and dropped to her knees. Desperately clawing at the ice, she screamed, "Papa! Papa! Come home!"

Her cry was a barely intelligible mix of squeal and death moan. Tears burst from her eyes like boiling water from a geyser. By the time they hit the ground, their temperature'd chilled to ambient.

Her face covered in a mixture of tears, mucus, saliva, and sweat, she felt her head drop down into the snow, her neck too weak to do anything but guide the landing. Her arms lay slack by her side. The snow didn't sting or ache. Rather, it felt like the best pillow she'd ever known.

When she awoke, the temperature had risen by at least twenty degrees. Her limbs were stiff but fully functional. And she felt rested as she rarely had before.

When she finally managed to roll over onto her back, she felt a strange combination of intense heat and persistent pressure. Gnomes they were, with a capital (but silent) "G", although only at the beginning of a sentence or when part of a proper name. And what proper names they were:  Gnome Alaska. Gnome Agaciaparra. Gnome Ann Isanisland. Gnome Chomsky. The names seemed somehow familiar to her, yet she knew not how - she was certain she'd never before met a gnome. At least, not formally. However, there had been those crazy nights at the clubs, after her breakup with Petr, and one couldn't confidently dismiss anything as having not happened during that blitzkrieg she'd raged, armed only with alcohol and birth control.

Of course, she didn't know their names back then. It's not as if they wore nametags on the fronts of their vests. (They wore them on the back. Ha! Gnomes - can't live with 'em, can't kill 'em in a massive, orgiastic genocide. At least, not without some itch at the back of your mind born of fear of their supernatural powers. They're like indigenous peoples that way. Or gypsies.)

As she tumbled back onto her front, she realized these gnomes were weak. Extremely weak. Like babies who hadn't hit the gym in months, no matter how many times they'd paid lip service to doing so to their wives as they lay on their couches until 3 a.m. watching two Division 3 teams they'd never even heard of before play each other on a poorly lit dirt field surrounded by more cows than fans.

She also realized that the gnomes were pushing her back onto her front. She turned her head and saw why - the scalding sensation she'd felt, before the pushing had distracted her, was from a large fire the gnomes had made. In pushing her away from it, their backs were extremely close to it - so close, in fact, that, had she known they wore nametags on their backs, she would have wondered how they kept from melting. (A space-age polymer, she would later learn.)

All this is to say that she finally ended up on her other side, away from the fire. And it was from this relatively safer position that she began questioning the gnomes.

"Who are you?" she asked.

"Who are you?" they asked in unison.

"I'm Stephanie," she said.

"We're gnomes," they said, in trison. (The fire had thrown off their timing.)

"What are your names?"

They introduced themselves. Alaska was tanned, Agaciaparra was built like a stocky, power-hitting catcher, Ann Isanisland was the only one without glasses (for she was illiterate), and Chomsky just kept spitting (for his mouth was full of chew).

Stephanie liked them all immediately (except for Ann Isanisland - and it was thus Stephanie discovered that her jealousy of other females extended even into the gnome world). 

They helped her up and took her back to their hovel (beside which she built her own dwelling into which she could wholly fit.)

As the days turned into weeks and the weeks into months, she began to think, "This is strange - where I come from, a week is always seven days, and a month is always thirty. Or thirty-one. Or, sometimes, twenty-eight. OK. OK. And, once every four years, twenty-nine. But never a week!" But this was gnome time, and much like party time, temporal perceptions were challenged and new understandings reached, but almost always with a concomitant hangover.

The five of them became bests of friends (even Stephanie and Ann Isanisland - after all, girls got to stick together) and worsts of enemies - when Ann Isanisland saw Alaska coming out of Stephanie's domicile one morning, groggy and half-dressed, she didn't speak to Stephanie for almost a year (which was really only a month and a half, but it kind of felt like a year). 

However, when you're stuck with people, you learn to get along. Or kill each other. And gnomes are semi-immortal, so Stephanie learned to deal with it.

And they all lived happily ever after.

Kind of.
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