More on Captain Cassie

I recently posted the seeds of a few stories. In that post, you’ll find a bit of information about a character named Cassie going on a mysterious trip and unexpectedly meeting her long-estranged father. A bit of the back story as to why Cassie would take such a trip can be found below. Thanks, as ever, for reading.

 


 

 

Covered in dust, one sneeze away from a full force bout of sobbing, Cassie filed and boxed the possessions of her newly former mentor. She had been avoiding the task of going through Nora’s things, but the unkempt appearance of the house had lured her. Cassie had come to trim the hedges, but stayed to sort through a lifetime’s worth of treasures and junk.

 

Keep moving, Cassie, she thought. Donate the clothes, pay the bills, and toss the food. She checked to-do items off her mental list as she worked. As long as she didn’t allow herself to remember why she was donating the maroon sweater that Nora had worn for Christmas dinner last year, she could keep her composure and efficiency.

 

No Christmas dinner, she told herself. Bills.

 

Cassie sat down at Nora’s desk. The broad surface was covered in a rugged terrain of stationery. She picked up a stack of envelopes, searching for unpaid bills and other financial obligations to settle up. In the stack of envelopes from the gas company and bank, Cassie found a plain white envelope. She removed the folded pages.

 

Dear sir or madam,

 

I have been a consumer of your product for several decades. Of particular note, I have been on a monthly subscription plan for the last 13 years. Unlike with many automatically renewing accounts, the reminder email that my commitment to your product would be cemented for another year and the debit from my bank account have always been sources of abundant pleasure to me. It is with regret that this letter, then, is not one of praise, admiration and thanks. Unfortunately, this letter is intended to register with you my deep dissatisfaction with a recent decline in your product.

 

Allow me to assure you, before laying bare your faults, that I speak not out of haste. As a years long, loyal customer, I have overlooked occasional typos or lapses in quality. However, as I have documented in the spreadsheet enclosed with this letter, the frequency of untenably shoddy work has become alarmingly regular.

 

Let me also put your mind at ease that I require no recompense. I do not ask for the return of my subscription fees, nor compensation for my time and energy. I merely seek to inform you, assuming such errors could only be born of naivete rather than malice, so that your publication may once again achieve the heights of its golden days. Oh, the entertainment! the hours of fun! to be had upon procuring your latest issue from the newsstand. It was truly a thing to bring friends together in earnest contemplation, to convene the family after the supper plates had been cleared.

 

My dear Editor, I beseech you to heed my admonishment. Several of your recent answers have left something to be desired. Often, while not technically incorrect, your solutions leave much to be desired with regard to an appreciation for nuance and connotation. Furthermore, a bright young friend assures me that, 20 Across, Antibody-producing white blood cell is not, as your publication maintains, macrophage. Imagine my displeasure to find that your answer was not only incorrect, but the correct answer was the far more mundane B cell.

 

It is with a heavy heart that I submit these concerns for your consideration. I hope that you will be able to rectify the situation and return to your former excellence.

 

Sincerely,

Nora Brubaker

 

Cassie put her head down on Nora’s desk, laughing and crying until her last reserves of energy were drained.

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My notebook

I bought a notebook to carry with me in grad school, when I was thinking about writing more but not actually doing it. For some reason, I still have this 1/3 full Moleskine notebook. It made the move with me between two different apartments in New York and now to my second (soon, third) place of residence in England. I dug it out this morning to facilitate note-taking and idea-jotting while I’m away from my computer.

 

After a quick flip through, it occurred to me that this notebook may be useful to me now in a couple of ways. Although I didn’t do any fiction writing back when I bought it, I did use the notebook. I wrote down phone numbers for babysitting jobs, addresses for sending items I sold on Etsy or postcards while I was traveling, and recipes. There are many random tidbits in that book, which give little glimpses into what was happening in my life.

 

The notebook is like a very sporadic, mini diary. And, now, those almost cryptic names, reminders, and appointments are great fodder for writing. Thinking about who or what I was referring to is tickling the little bits of my brain that come up with story ideas. More than that, imagining a similar diary or notepad for a character would be a great way to get a feel for his personality and habits.

 

Of course, there is also the original intent of the notebook. I wrote several pages of a new story in it today. I’m hoping that will become a regular occurrence. I’m still planning to use it to keep track of random details, as I previously used it. Perhaps it can be a mini incubator of current stories and those yet to materialize from the inspiring, mundane details of my life.

One “amazing” sentence

Just a day or two ago, I posted a link to a flash fiction challenge at terribleminds. Now, the instruction was to post an amazing sentence. I’ve aimed, at least, to craft a sentence that provides a sense of who is doing what where and how she feels about it, with a hope to pique the interest of a reader to know a bit more about all of those facets. Although I usually fall more into the contemporary fiction category, I like the idea of playing a bit with genre fiction in these writing exercises. Setting aside the expectation of amazing, here is that sentence:

 

Del’s stomach roiled as she accelerated away from the research ship, toward the long-abandoned Earth and the legend of the Steadfasters.

 

Here’s hoping the sentence accomplishes a bit of what I set out to do. Have a look at some of the other interest-piquers at terribleminds, and let me know if you’d read on in the comments.

terribleminds flash fiction challenge

Chuck Wendig’s blog has provided a lot of the motivation to start writing again. I found it originally by using StumbleUpon, killing time while I was supposed to be writing my dissertation. If you haven’t been to his site yet, check it out. He’s funny, profane, and full of interesting words- in both his fiction and writing advice.

 

The challenge this week is as follows:

 

“This week’s challenge is deceptively simple.

I want you to write one amazing sentence. A sentence that is part of a larger story but is not itself a story — a sentence that makes you want to read forward and backward, but is itself a capture of the tale. Just a slice.

(And then, next week, folks will choose a sentence to build an entire story around.)

Write one sentence — no more than 100 words, please.

Drop it in the comments below.

And that’s all you need to do.

But make that sentence as amazing as you can make it.

Go.”

 

I will post my sentence back here, as well as in his comments. Let the musing begin.

Bits and bobs

Below are the starts to three separate stories, each inspired by a writing prompt. I apologize for the unfinished nature, but one of my earliest goals with the blog is to just keep the writing momentum flowing. Thanks for reading, and please drop any thoughts or favorites in the comments section.

 


 

 

Apocalypse just sounds so final

 

“Apocalypse just sounds so final, you know? It’s not the end. Everything will just be different now,” Cat said.

 

Jillian shrugged. “The end of life as we know it has always ranked pretty high in the List of Undesirable Things.”

 

The two women sat on opposite ends of a designer knockoff couch, tastefully upholstered despite its discount origins. Covering the ground was the cheapest rug from a middle class pricey home decorating catalogue. The sunlight was taking a turn for the dusk. In the dim light, it was easy to overlook the ever thickening layer of dust accumulating on the carpet and the sweat stains growing on the sofa cushions.

 

Cat pushed up off the couch, an elderly Bucket taking her first creaky steps after years abed. “We still have electricity. And hot and cold running water. We better shake a leg. We’re burning daylight here.”

 


 

 

Jess and Vicki

 

Jess tapped her fingers on the desk in front of the keyboard. There were dozens of mandatory questions remaining to be answered before her dating profile could go live on the site. She ticked off answers to several multiple choice questions, then turned to Vicki.

 

“Vick, would my body type be curvy or a few extra pounds?” Jess asked. Although she had half turned to face her friend, her left hand maintained its insistent tapping.

 

Vicki shook her head. “Other options?”
Jess glanced back over her shoulder at the monitor. “Nothing else seems appropriate. I guess curvy is a positive spin, at least.”

 

Leaning over Jess’s shoulder now, Vicki read through the options. “Not that I don’t think you’ve got some delightful curves, but I recommend you click average and move on. You’ll have photos. Get to the interesting bits.”

 


 

Captain Cassie

 

Cassie cursed her carryon, doing its best impression of a grocery cart with one wonky wheel, as she made her way to the arrivals area. The bag at least had the virtue of weighing next to nothing. After all, what does one pack when traveling internationally to meet one’s anonymous sidekick and start a life as a superhero.

 

Patting her pockets, she located the passport tucked into a back pocket. I curse you too, she thought. The little blue book, with its inspiringly patriotic design, was a one-way ticket to the epic non-EU line at passport control. Cassie came to a stop near the luggage carousels to put her passport in a more secure location.

 

Looking up from her shoulder bag, she made eye contact with a man across the arrivals hall. He waved and her shoulders sagged. Oh, great hairy balls, she thought. Her father started moving toward her, revealing a teenage girl trailing behind him.

 

“Oh, great hairy balls,” she said.

 

As he reached Cassie, her father started and then curtailed a handshake. A hug, some 18 years after their last meeting, was never on the table. He smiled, looking older- of course, 18 years! than Cassie remembered, but not old. And so familiar.

 

“Cassie,” he said, his shoulders moving in an uncertain shrug.

 

The teenager popped up a hand in greeting. “H’lo,” she said. “I’m Cassie.”

 

Cassie, the older Cassie, the original Cassie, looked back to her dad. After a moment of open-mouthed indecision, she said, “Are you frakking kidding me?”

Untitled

The following is a flash length story that has been living on my laptop for a year or two. It may spread its wing and find a longer format, but she’s short and sweet for the moment. Please feel free to drop any thoughts or suggestions in the comments.

 

The first minutes after a four year-old boy goes missing in a department store are surprisingly ordinary. After the escalation to panic, however, a missing boy stills the makeup brushes and mutes the soft electronic beeps of the cash registers. Even the voice calling for Calvin to meet his family at the information desk was dull in Kelly’s ears. Her mother’s grip was tight on her right arm and Doug’s hand was sweaty in hers, but her concentration isolated her from even those discomforts. Kelly stared straight ahead and counted the dizzying seconds she held her breath.

 

“Kelly,” Doug said. His small voice broke her concentration.

 

Doug raised their clasped hands and Kelly followed his pointing finger to her mother’s rigid face. She lost count, but she didn’t take a breath.

 

“Answer the policeman, Kelly,” her mother said. The blood was pounding in Kelly’s ears and iridescent pearls blurred her vision. Her mother’s renewed grip twisted Kelly’s shoulder into a shrug, although she hadn’t even heard the question.

 

The policeman asked again where she had last seen her brother. Kelly finally took a breath to answer. She didn’t think she’d gotten past 40 seconds.

 

 

At seven years old, Kelly was the oldest sibling and frequent champion of games of her own devising. She squinted against the sun reflecting off the above-ground pool’s surface, surveying the potential contestants. Doug, only a year younger and her stiffest competition, was just learning to swim and hated pool games. “Okay, you guys,” Kelly said, “we’re gonna have a competition.”

 

Calvin was treading water with assistance from the edge of the pool. “Yeah,” he said, undeterred by his dismal competition record and deficiencies in water sports.

 

Kelly turned to Doug, hand on her hip though submerged to her shoulders. “The competition,” she said, “is who can hold their breath the longest.”

 

Shaking his head, Doug pulled himself up onto the pool ladder. Kelly rolled her eyes and turned back to Calvin. “Ready?” she asked.

 

Calvin nodded, waved to their mother through the kitchen window, and dipped below the water level as he released the wall. He bobbed back to the surface, laughing. “Wait! Kel, what do we get if we win?” he asked.

 

They usually played for choosing the Saturday morning cartoon, but Kelly upped the ante. “You can win one wish,” she said. Doug started to protest, but Kelly cut him off. “It’s just like a birthday wish, so it comes true as long as you don’t tell it.”

 

Kelly deputized an unwilling Doug to keep count and dropped underwater. She kept her own count and opened her eyes when she got to 60, expecting her victory to be clear. Calvin was flailing, eyes squeezed tight, suspended just below the surface.

 

A few more seconds passed before Kelly, startled but still counting, moved toward Calvin. She stopped as Doug splashed into the pool to drag Calvin to the edge.

 

Finally, Kelly surfaced to fill her lungs. “Seventy-four seconds,” she said. She calculated as she swam over to Calvin, who was coughing as snot and chlorinated water streamed out of his nose. “That’s one minute and twenty- I mean, one minute and fourteen seconds.”

 

Calvin, perched on the ladder, nodded and patted Kelly’s cheek.

 

 

Kelly sat next to Doug on a stool at the perfume counter, watching her mother pace as she talked on the phone. Kelly knew Grandma was probably on the other end of the line, but her stomach tightened into a knot.

 

“I hope it’s not Dad,” she said. Her voice was a whisper, but Doug turned to her.

 

“Don’t you want Dad to come home?” he asked.

 

Releasing Calvin’s hand to fold her arms across her stomach, Kelly scowled. “Dad’s never coming home, Doug.” When Calvin reached his hand back toward her, she shrugged him off.

 

 

Their mother squatted next to the pool, roughly toweling the already dry Calvin. “Are you ok?” she asked. Calvin nodded, but their mother was already looking at Kelly. “You’re supposed to look after your brother,” she said.

 

Doug nodded, Calvin’s small purple fingerprints starting to show on his arms. Kelly folded her arms across her stomach.

 

“Grandma can’t be here all the time, and we can’t afford- It’s just the four of us now. You have to help me out,” her mother said.

 

Kelly looked at Calvin. “He’s ok,” she said. “We were just playing.”

 

“We have to take better care of each other,” her mother said. She picked Calvin up and carried him inside.
Following them with her eyes, Kelly placed her hands on her hips. “He’s almost five,” she said.

 

Doug and Kelly pulled the ladder out of the pool and stretched the cover over the top. After putting the inflatable toys away, they went inside to discover that Calvin, seemingly recovered from his dunk, had chosen the dessert for the night.

 

Kelly didn’t get in trouble, but the doting attention her mother paid Calvin left her cold. Doug received the hero’s honor of choosing a video to watch after dinner. Kelly refused the ice cream for dessert and went to bed early, pretending to sleep through the bedtime story.

 

Looking around the room after the lights were out, Kelly, the clear winner of the game, made her wish. They were her own rules and she knew it wouldn’t come true, but she couldn’t help how she felt. I wish Dad came back, she thought. I wish it was me and Doug and Mom and Dad.

 

 

Kelly closed her eyes, counting breathless seconds. Even with a fast count, she couldn’t make it to seventy-four seconds. Kelly squeezed her eyes tighter and, armed crossed over her stomach, clutched fistfuls of her shirt. She could only hear the thudding of blood in her ears as she approached her record. Doug, once again, drew her back to the surface.

 

He tugged her arm and she looked up to see her mother running down the center aisle. Calvin was being carried toward her by a second police officer.

 

Calvin chose ice cream again that night, and Kelly let him choose the bedtime story as well. He seemed so unaffected, so ordinary, though, as did the sad woman whose dead battery had prevented her from getting Calvin out of the mall parking lot. Kelly wondered why no one appreciated the extraordinary effort to look after him. He shouldn’t have wandered off. He was almost five.