You sit down on your favorite chair. The computer screen is blank. A story idea takes shape in your mind. You stare at the blinking cursor, wondering how to start. From somewhere deep in your psyche, the words begin to form. A few hours pass, maybe a few days, maybe several months, possibly a couple of years but you stumble along, make some corrections and eventually you reach the end. What a feeling when you tap the final letter, followed by the final period and the story is finished. You have created something. Polish it up with the help of knowledgeable people then give it to your readers in one form or another. Some will like it, others won’t, many will never read it and that’s okay. This is the wonder of writing.
I wanted to create a gift for my grandchildren, something that would be a part of me, something they could keep for a lifetime if they chose to. I decided on a series of short stories aptly entitled SHORTS. Volume 1 is for my oldest grandson, Matthieu. Following is a small taste of each story selected for my gift to him.
*The first story, The Ship Breakers, was conceived while I was researching information on the ship breaking yards of Bangladesh for my novel Dark Side of a Promise. What I discovered was at times unbelievable, heart breaking. The hardest and most unsafe work I could possibly imagine is accomplished for very low wages and yet, there is always people needing the work.
The story is about a fictitious tanker taking its final voyage and an imaginary family that might need the job of taking it apart.
The Neptune Giant is a VLCC, a very large crude carrier. When it was completed in 1979, it ranked among the largest oil tankers in the world. From bow to stern, 75 Cadillacs could park bumper to bumper. The crews used bicycles to travel the elongated deck. With a beam of nearly two hundred feet, five bungalows could be placed lengthwise side by side across the deck; her keel is six stories underwater. The raw steel is covered with over fifteen hundred gallons of paint. She’d been given a lifespan of thirty years; instead, she had sailed every ocean of the world, berthed at every continent, rode many storm’s fierce waves and trolled the endless seas for thirty-five years. Today is her final voyage.
Her last port of call, two weeks ago, was Saint John, New Brunswick, with two million barrels of Venezuelan crude. Now, the tanker cruises the Bay of Bengal at fourteen knots. At that speed she requires five miles to come to a dead stop. The ship breaking yards of Chittagong, Bangladesh, are only four miles away. The captain brings the ship to starboard, aiming the aging tanker directly at the muddy beach. The tide is high, which is necessary to allow the gargantuan machine to ground itself like an aged sea lion, as near to the shore as possible, where it will die.
The engine that powers the ship is eighty-nine feet long and forty-four feet wide with twelve massive cylinders – one of the largest engines in the world. It weighs two thousand metric tons costing more than the rest of the transport. Its thirst for fuel demands over fifteen hundred gallons of crude every hour. Its last chore will be to power the vessel onto the tidal mud banks, where humans who are dwarfed by its immensity will eventually take it apart, by hand, piece by piece. The work is extremely dangerous, with an exceptionally high mortality rate, and yet there is no shortage of men.
*The second story, Lloyd and the Baby, is about a man into his senior years finding an abandoned baby. One of my first short stories is called The Four Boxes of Memories and is about a man entering a nursing home and having to discard many of his belongings. He had acquired four boxes of mementoes or memories of his life. From that story I wanted to highlight one of the most important memories of his life and how it all began.
Lloyd Minister was fifty-five years old when he found a baby. For a man that had never been married, had never fathered a child, it was a traumatic event to say the least. Loneliness and confusion manifested by tiny wails and sobs, reverberated through the rooms where he discovered the abandoned child. When he entered the house, the whimpers he heard at first, feeble and uncertain, suggested that someone had left a pet behind. He had sworn out loud at their unkindness, scaring the tiny stranger above. It was then that he realized there was an infant upstairs.
There had been only a tincture of moonlight that night. Diffuse clouds bustled in the sky, dimming out the stars. Unable to sleep, Lloyd went to his back deck for fresh air. A slight breeze had carried the aroma of fields freshly mown, spiced with the dampness of the morn. It all seemed so familiar. His respite was disturbed by the moving shadow of a darkened truck pulling out of the driveway of his parents’ old farmhouse. The teenaged couple that were renting it were leaving in the night, stealing four months’ rent as well as some of Lloyd’s furniture. He guessed what was going on. He was crestfallen that the young people were abusing his trust. It hurt even more when a quarter mile down the road the vehicle’s taillights suddenly appeared.
He was chastising himself for being so naive when an eerie panic seized him; goose bumps prickled his tightened skin. He was immediately concerned that something was wrong at the house. He hurried back inside, grabbed his flashlight, and rushed across the field to find out what was wrong. All he wore on his feet were old thick wool socks he used for slippers. The sharp edges that carpeted the field once the hay had been cut jabbed at his feet and broke the callused skin in spots. He never slowed from the pain. His objective then was urgency.
*The third story, The Shattered Figurine, was conceived when I was thinking of what would a detective do if they discovered that the perpetrator of a heinous crime was someone they knew, someone they knew intimately.
Josephine Naylor, shoulders sagged, stares down at the frozen corpse. Even though rime disguises the otherwise naked body, the Detective knows it is the missing teenager. The remains are female, about five feet, maybe a hundred pounds without the frost. And the body had been left in the same position as the other victims, all three, face up, ankles and hands neatly tucked together bound with duct tape. The same parts are missing.
This regrettable murder left no doubt that the killer was the same person, based on the method of execution; forensics had confirmed that with the second body. A third cadaver had brought forth the criminal psychologists to graph out a profile that would tell what “type” of individual might commit such a crime. The scene before her is, therefore, extremely important, so she stands well enough away. She is still able to discern an unusual shape upon the victim’s forehead, which, once uncovered from its icy envelope, will likely prove to be a piece of broken crystal similar to those found on the pale dead skin of the other three bodies, in the same position.
Jo is standing at the edge of a wide field shadowed by alders and tall spruces that front the extended forest behind her. The rising sun is just cresting the pointed tops. The body is lying parallel to the tree line at the rim of the pasture. It’s early December. The night fog turned solid as the temperature dropped below freezing, cloaking everything in stark white. Jo is startled from her contemplation by the sensation that someone is watching her. She turns toward the open field, scanning the perimeter of the woods. Nothing moves; not even a breeze disturbs the black-and-white scene. A rise in the field blocks her view to the road and her car, but she would have heard a vehicle approach. The silence is intense, nature seeming to mourn the young girl’s death. Jo would definitely hear the crunching of the frost under someone’s boot.
*The fourth and final story, Two Grumpy Old Men Café, was a result of jokes made amongst friends that we should retire to somewhere warm and have a breakfast nook where we could hang out with our cronies, keep ourselves busy and out of trouble perhaps. Maybe do something worthwhile with the profits. The idea of a couple of retirees doing just that stayed with me until I decided that it would make an interesting story.
The TGOM café is open from 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. Monday to Friday for breakfast only. If the two Canadians that owned the place had to stay open any longer they wouldn’t be just grumpy, they’d be downright inhospitable. At 77 years of age, Wilmot Parker III is an avid golfer, not a very good one mind you; in fact his fellow hackers call him Trap. There is always enough sand in the cuffs of his golfing pants at the end of a game that management accuses him of trying to steal it. If he ever played eighteen holes under ninety, it was likely his turn to keep score that day. Nonetheless, he loves the sport and has to be at the clubhouse by 1 p.m. every day except Sunday, which is church day. He’d been a financial advisor most of his working life, a golfer for about nine years, a widower for twelve, restaurateur for three.
Clarence Jerome Parker (no relation), known as CJ, is 75 and has never been married. When questioned about his bachelorhood, his defensive phrase is “there are too many lovely ladies, and I only have one lifetime. It would be unfair to womankind for me to impose myself upon one partner for the rest of my life.” His afternoons are spent in front of his computer writing what he calls “smut novels” under the alias of John T. Boner. The series is a moderate internet hit, available exclusively on his web page. Other people manage the site now, but every day except Monday (restaurant accounting day) and Friday (happy hour day), he writes from 1 to 5 p.m. He’d been a building contractor for thirty-five years, a hobby writer most of his life, a restaurateur for three. He cooks the biscuits in the mornings.
Estero Boulevard in Fort Myers Beach is mostly deserted at 5 a.m. The café sits down a side street off the main road, third business from the corner. It’s tucked neatly between a family-owned hardware store appropriately named Family’s Hardware and a used book store called The Author’s Index, run by a retired couple from Burlington, Vermont. All the buildings are constructed of rust-colored bricks and flat roofs. The café is the brightest on the street. The brick is whitewashed under large tinted glass windows that are shadowed by a four-foot awning of wide black-and-white strips. The dark green letters TGOM dominate the center of the twenty-six foot canvas held taut by black wrought iron stays that had been installed by the former occupant, Mel’s Big and Tall, a haberdashery that suggested they “have you covered up to size 6X.” The inside had been gutted to expose the overhead metal joists and the raw brick walls when CJ and Wilmot bought the building four years ago.
SHORTS Vol. 1 is available at amazon.ca as an eBook for $0.99. It is also available from me in hard copy or directly from creatspace.com.
Vol. 2 will be available in September and will be dedicated to my granddaughter, Natasha.
Vol. 3 will be available in November and dedicated to my youngest grandchild, Damien. I hope you enjoy them.
Next week, please join me here at the Scribbler to read an excerpt from my guest author, Donna Glee Williams of North Carolina.