Okay, gang…here’s your second duel of the season already. I burned a pretty good prompt on it, with no eye for the future. Oh well.
The prompt was to write about a protagonist who was a local hero, but is in reality a fraud that nobody else knows about.
The young reporter kept shifting her weight on the fold-out. She was probably nervous, Frank surmised, though the couch had thirty-eight years worth of lumps. She was definitely pretty. And sweet. He didn’t mind answering her questions.
“So, Mr. Callen. It was then you noticed the little girl by the river?”
He took another sip from his Coors Light. “Indeed. The bear was near twenty feet from her I reckon.”
“And you shot it?” She was eager. Most people by now let him tell the story.
“Right between the eyes,” he smiled.
“How was the girl…Luann, right?”
“Yup. Luann Reynolds.” He took another swig. “She was in shock. Her eyes had the look right after one comes across an apparition I suspect.” It wasn’t the most poetic line, but he had used it for thirty years now and it still worked.
“She couldn’t say anything. I just slung her right here over my left shoulder,” he pantomimed. “Walked right into town to see the doctor, then called on her daddy. That’s about all there is to tell. Last I heard she was some lawyer up in New York or something.”
“Yeah!” said the girl. “She’s real successful, too. I tried to call her for the story but her clerk said she was busy with a big case.”
Frank smiled, appropriately.
“Well, thank you Mr. Callen. Look for my story in the Gazette in a couple of weeks or so.”
“You can count on it,” he winked, then showed her to the door. He closed it behind her and slumped in his recliner.
“I never tire of hearing you tell that story.” His wife Gayle sat down beside him on the armrest and put her arm around him. Only this time was different. “Are you…crying?”
Frank put his beer down. “Gayle,” he started. “You know I love you, right?”
She clasped his hands and looked into his eyes. “Of course, dear. Now tell me what’s on your mind?”
“I…I can’t do this anymore. That whole story. Well it just ain’t like that. Ain’t like that at all.” He looked into her eyes for permission. She gave it. “I did go out hunting that morning like I’ve been saying. But I had caught three coons by nine o’clock. I went back into town to celebrate and had a few beers.”
He looked at Gayle. Sometimes he wished she was like the other wives who would interrupt him and never shut up. He knew he’d have to finish this story.
“I met a girl at the bar…oh hell it was Mary Beth Rockwell before she got married. We got to talkin’ ya know…and I don’t know what came over me but I took her down to those same woods. We headed down to the river for privacy, since nobody fished there or nothing. I swear we didn’t do anything that day, though I guess it doesn’t matter since I was going to. But before we could I saw the girl and the bear. Thing is though the bear was done already shot. Dead as a doornail. I guess some other hunter got it and the girl came across it. Alive maybe at first, I don’t know. But I ain’t done have nothing to do with saving her. Mary Beth just snuck back into town while I carried the girl back.”
Gayle was taciturn.
“I’m just an ol’ drunk,” he finished. “Not worthy of this town’s admiration, or Luann’s, or yours.”
He slumped back in his chair. He didn’t know how she’d react. He was too numb anyway.
“Frank,” she said. “Mary Beth told me years ago.”
“I forgave you long ago. And I know you’ve been faithful to me ever since. Either way I love you. I didn’t know about the bear being dead. Thank you for telling me. The way I see it, it doesn’t matter. You still brought the girl to her daddy. And she grew up viewing you as a role model. She’s a wonderful woman and her gratefulness is well placed. As is mine.”
Gayle kissed her husband, then sunk into his arms.
K: This dialogue is rather on the nose. There’s no tentativeness here, and no real feeling of dread for us because of the protagonist’s seeming lack of inner struggle before he just spits it out in the moment we meet the wife. As a result of this structure, I have a hard time believing a guy with this conscience kept it up all those years, and an even harder time buying that he gave it all up. These story beats could all work, but they’re very matter-of-fact.
MN – Man told a lie, but lives an honorable life. Indeed, it is that honor that makes the lie eat him up. It would have been nice if we’d maybe seen the “eating him up” part manifest itself, or a why to the reporter asking him questions now, etc. Those kind of elements might have given the character a little more roundedness. As it was, the characters were still very unique, without being caricatures, and your dialogue was excellent.
Willie rubbed one bleary eye with his hand and blinked with the other. He didn’t feel like blasting through the cosmos this morning.
“Major! Major!” they screamed.
How on Earth did they recognize him? He was even in his civilians. His hand slipped off his face and his lips squished up in sardonic annoyance, wondering exactly which branch of his service he’d confused.
Still, he fixed his face up with a large, plastic smile, and turned into the bright sunlight. A hand unintentional shot up to protect his eyes from the light
“Well, hey, kids!”
“Hi, Major Blastoff!” the two grade-schoolers squealed.
Willie laughed forcefully. “Yeah, yeah. I haven’t done that for awhile.”
They happily ignored him.
“I don’t see you on TV anymore!” a young, dirty child with scabby knees extolled. “It goes from Captain Jack, to Sniffles the Clown, then to–”
“Right,” he cut the child off, “right. I got a, uh, promotion!”
“Congratulations, Major Blastoff!” the other child said, running a finger under his running nose. “So what rank are you now?”
“Umm, still major,” he stammered, not expecting the question. “Just a different, err, platoon.” He winced at the error.
Both children cocked their head at him and raised an eyebrow. He almost laughed at the absurdity of it, but only wanted to get away.
“Well then, kids, Major Blastoff has important work to do. Have to keep the solar system safe from foes and fiends, you know.” In one motion, Willie tussled their hair, turned them around and gave a gentle nudge away from him.
Again, in unconscious synchronicity, both children turned their heads inward over their shoulders back at him. Each had similarly hurt expressions on their face.
Willie, with clenched teeth and a terse smile across his lips, nodded and awkwardly waved goodbye until the children left.
Once their conversation was out of earshot, Willie sighed deeply. His shoulders slumped several inches. Once they turned the corner, Willie turned around and walked through the door he had been trying to block throughout the conversation.
The residents in the dark and musty bar flinched against the sudden intrusion of light. Once the door closed roughly, they resumed their individual positions.
Willie made his way down towards the back, and sat in his chair.
K: This one works precisely in the way I wish the first one had – it allows the character to keep his secrets while we actually view the struggle within; we don’t know how Willie fell, exactly (though we could guess alcohol played a role), but this is a great scene to use for him, as the wide-eyed children have the most innocence to lose.
MN – Ooh, I love this. It isn’t the seediest downfall (neither of these stories are, really), but it’s exactly seedy enough for his particular brand of ill-deserved reverence. You did everything through show instead of tell, and the dialogue is spot-on. I want to know more about this guy’s background, his downfall, his future. What a fantastic story.
I think you’ve figured this out already, but both judges favored the story by erik.
Fifteenth Elimination from Spookymilk Survivor XVIII: Beau
On the upside, I won’t have a last-nameless person on the sidebar. On the downside, this means Beau remains one of the really great players who hasn’t won.
Beau and Shawn, I’ll put together the jury room tonight.
For the rest of you, a prompt is…hmm. I should come up with one.
…okay, gang, I thought of one. It’s due Thursday night at 10pm Central. My instinct tells me these won’t be done until the next morning because of my brutal schedule this week, but I’ll try.
TIME LIMIT: 40 Minutes
WORD LIMIT: None