"Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door." The Statue of Liberty (P.S. Please be so kind as to enter through the proper channels and in an orderly fashion)

Location: Arlington, Virginia, United States

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

A Dark & Stormy Story

Hello. I decided to pursue my dream and be a creative writer, and I'm posting a short-short story I wrote. I think it has the potential to be expanded into novel length, or converted into a screenplay. I'd appreciate some feedback. What do you think, really? Be honest.

The Quaking

The fourth quarter was down to its last millisecond and, although we were down by five points, we had the ball at fourth and goal and could score six (points) in the next fateful play (and, btw, it was the State Championship, with many scholarships, futures, and reputations on the line, not to mention school spirit).

This was it: My whole life seemed to have been building towards this Do-or-Die, To-Be-or-Not-To-Be Moment.

I was the quarterback of the Scrankbury Knockers, the football team for Scrankbury High School of Scrankbury, Pennsylvana, United States of America, Planet...


Beads of sweat beaded up on my forehead (beneath the helmet, of course, but not because of it) and my heart pitter-pattered like a triphammer, but that came with the territory.

And in that last, irrevocable instant before the word "HIKE!" would determine the course of my life for the rest of it (and maybe then some, forevermore, in glory...or infamy), I looked over to the sidelines one last final time and caught a fleeting glimpse of Martha, my girlfriend.

Martha came from a family of Quakers but decided that she was agnostic and had embarked on a personal, spiritual journey that was essential to her personal fulfilment, growth, development, and actualization. Her mom and dad disapproved of that, but they were powerless to stop what was no less than a demiurgic, existential Urge that separated her from the sheeplike, obedient, and mindlessly conformist herd of lemmings that was not only her Luddite community, but humanity at large, and it was that independent, searching spirit that had attracted me to her to begin with, for my bourgeois paradise had become a...


And there she was, standing quietly, not quite aloof but neither assimilated, not quite separate but certainly not equal, either, among the cheering, screaming, rabid, howling and shouting spectators, some of whom wanted me to score and win, others to fumble and...


Others, I suspected, just liked to yell and make trouble (I knew the type well), but they were my masters, now, and I had to deliver (or undeliver, depending on who was or was not rooting for me, of course).

But lo (and behold), in that brief, shining instant, our (e.i. me and Martha's) eyes locked and a photonic bridge corded the two of us (almost umbilically, though not literally), and I saw her lips form the word:


"You can do it," she continued, "Do it, but not just for me, but for us, and the child to come, for thou hast impregnated me."

And I looked and noticed, beneath her simple, unassuming smock (a far cry from the ostentatious sea of pretentious fashion that she was immersed in) that her soft, white belly (Yes, I had seen that, and more...) bulged; but in the split percentile of a second between the epiphany and the gaping of my jaw behind the cage of my helmet's facemask (Time had slowed down to a tortuous crawl by then, you see, for obvious, reasons, and think about the connotations of "cage") I saw that she began to get jostled about by the noisome crowd that she was in the thick of (like a lost, little girl in a crowded subway station in NYC, surrounded by menacing strangers in trenchcoats who wanted to give her lollipops).

She got shoved; she got pushed...

And she fell.

"NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!" I bellowed, and, in a transmogrified, blistering rage worthy of the Irish hero Cuchulain (because my eyes peeped out and my hair stood on end, like his, though--once again-- beneath the helmet and despite my not being Irish), I suddenly wanted to rip off my helmet so (1) the whole world could see my disfigured outrage and (2) so I could swing it around and around by the chin-straps like a mace, go charging into the ravenous--no, rapacious--rioters and bash their brains in, one after another, because I realized, right then and there, that I was in love with Martha.

The mother of my child.

But it was too late for that, too late for everything, for in the next infinitesimal nanite of a nanosecond, the gun went off with a thunderous (and/or deafening):



Blogger John said...

Okay, just kidding. The reason why there are so many things that are just plain WRONG--and God-AWFUL-- about this short-short, on so many levels, is because I wrote it earlier today on a whim for the purpose of entering it into a "Bad Writing" contest.

Think you can beat it? :)

7:14 PM  
Blogger Kelly said...

Glad you clarified it was for a "Bad Writing" contest...cause I am sure you could do better than that. I have read enough of your posts to know that.

The whole part of about his girlfriend's background...[shakes head].

Now, lets see what I can do...

8:11 AM  
Blogger John said...

No, please, spare me.

9:37 AM  
Blogger Kelly said...

Yet, you did not spare us. ;)

10:19 AM  
Blogger John said...

Omigod, Kelly, "Yet, you did not spare US?"

Okay, that was pretty cringe-worthy, but not as nauseating as "The mother of my child."

10:33 AM  
Blogger Kelly said...

Is that a challenge?

10:47 AM  
Blogger John said...

I really don't think that "The Quaking" can be surpassed in badness. And please don't try, because if you do manage to write something that is even worse than "The Quaking," I'm going to be sick.

11:19 AM  
Blogger John said...


2:40 PM  
Blogger John said...

Tell me the truth, Kelly, if I didn't tell you that I made this intentionally nauseating, would you have told me, "John, this really sucks"?

If not, that would make you a Type A liar, as discussed in a recent post. ;)

4:33 PM  
Blogger John said...

P.S. The "hint-hint" was an invitation. Go ahead. See if you can make me cringe with the most annoying short-short story you can cook up.

4:37 PM  
Blogger Kelly said...

Truth be known, I was going to say something about that paragraph about the girlfriend's background. It was too much information and was not necessary for the story.

I read through that paragraph several times trying to figure out WHY in the world you would go into so much unnecessary information.

By the time I got to the "Mother of his child" part I was pretty much disconnected from the story.

I have read and reviewed a story or two.

As I said, earlier, you are a much better writer than this.

Would I have told you that you "suck!"...not likely...I would have said, as I did, that it was not up to what I would expect from you.

oh and dear other half gave me a link for you...

Amateur to write my own...awful mess.

5:38 PM  
Blogger Kelly said...

Okay, John, this is what I came up with. I am sure, given a bit more time, I could do a better, ahem, worse job....but I have better things to do with my time.

School Daze

Mr. Rand who had a nasty nasal problem which would later be cleared up with surgery of which he would talk continuously and monotonously in the middle of the year stood before his fourth grade class at the beginning of the school year, but little did he know that this year in which he spent very little time in the class room letting his students run wild while listening to old Elton John records would bring about his termination as a teacher in this school that was named for a founder of their town.

The class which had boys and girls who had suddenly figured out at the age of 9 or 10 that they weren’t as icky as they had thought when they were the year before because Andrea who dared to wear a mini-skirt to school was causing a commotion among the boys. Her mom did not know that she had worn the skirt to school because she had hid it at Belinda, her best friend’s house, though she really wasn’t her best friend but only pretended because she always had an older sister who had a copy of teen magazine though the magazine was taken from her older sister without her knowing that it was missing.

Andrea would regret wearing the mini skirt that day because as she was going back to Melinda’s house to change back into the clothes, her mother, who worked as a telemarketer and wasn’t home much in the evening but was home on Friday nights so that her ex-husband could come get the girls to spend the weekend with him, thought she was wearing to school. She regretted wearing it because as soon as she walked into her best friend’s house she saw a man standing in the doorway. She saw the cold hard black metal barrel of a gun.

Yes, a gun—a gun that would change her life in a very gunny way.

7:10 PM  
Blogger John said...

That's pretty bad, but it's not half as cliche'd, bathetic, absurd, illogical, or in poor taste as my masterpiece of badness "The Quaking" is.

What stands out as the main feature of badness is your run-on sentences and contempt for periods, which is indicative of a spastic, impatient and undisciplined mind posturing as unbridled brilliance.

So. You're making fun of me.

8:10 PM  
Blogger John said...

P.S. Please thank Mr. Kelly for the link. I think I've found my niche. ;)

8:13 PM  
Blogger Kelly said...

"What stands out as the main feature of badness is your run-on sentences and contempt for periods, which is indicative of a spastic, impatient and undisciplined mind posturing as unbridled brilliance."

Now that is one scary sentence.

8:26 PM  
Blogger John said...

P.P.S. I think the background of Martha was quite necessary for character development and to give the story more depth and drama, and, most importantly of all, to explain why she said "Thou hast (impregnated me)."

Bad writers often take up a lot of the reader's time by trying to justify a niggling point that could just as well have been left out but is left in out of some obsessive neuroses that then forces the bad writer to cater to its existence by building superfluous material around it (or, ah, so I've heard; don't look at me!).

Also, what's a good story without religious and cultural conflicts, like the ones a good Quaker girl might feel in a secular society, especially when she's sleeping around and gets knocked up by the quarterback for the high school football team, the Scrankbury Knockers? ("Knocked up"/Knockers, get it? Is that brilliant, or what?)?

A bad story, that's what.

Ironically, however, including all that not only failed to make it a good story, but only made a bad story worse, and much worse than yours, so I win. :)

Don'y get me wrong, yours was pretty bad, too. You get lots of points--er, I mean lose points, which is good-- for your closing adjective of "gunny."

That not only made me flinch, but even made me angry, which is an excellent reaction to reading an intentionally bad story.

The political intrigues of teeny-bopper girls and their mini-skirts and "running wild with Elton John records" and teen magazines also made me clench my molars and fists, snap my pencil with my thumb (which actually drew blood), and make my head tremble.

I must confess that I felt a slight churning in my stomach, but I'm afraid that you failed to make me vomit, which would have given you Victory.

The abrupt appearance of the "cold hard black barrel of a gun" into a world of Melindas, Andreas, miniskirts, bubblegum, and Elton John was jarring by its incongruity, but, by that point, I must confess that I welcomed it, so you lose points there (by winning them).

Unless it was all was some kind of veiled--perhaps unconscious-- allegory on the Obama campaign, in which case it's brilliant, simply brilliant (and quite provocative), which means you definitely lose, because it's good! :)

8:54 PM  
Blogger Z said...

John, I followed you home from FJ's blog and am glad I did!
and BOY, am I relieved that you were kidding with this piece! I sighed a sigh of relief (sort of your beaded into beads, I think it was?) Still, I don't think it's bad enough for a bad writing contest, no offense!!!! ("the mother of my child" was a real low point, if that's any consolation!!!)

Also, I love your masthead with the Statue of Liberty quote...and wondered if you ever saw the cartoon I LOVE, from years back, showing the Statue standing there in all her welcoming glory, with the caption "I said 'give me your huddled masses, not your befuddled asses.."

Good to be here! Z

9:02 PM  
Blogger Kelly said...

"So. You're making fun of me."

Now there is an idea...

9:03 PM  
Blogger Kelly said...

An Obama, I need to go back and read it to see if, somehow, in the back of my mind, [oh this sentence is coming out badly]

rephrase: An Obama allegory, hmmm, well...

I was so rattled by your story that I couldn't possibly think of national politics.

Yes, John, your story was really bad, but I have heard far worse.

BTW...this is all going to give me nightmares tonight ;)

9:15 PM  
Blogger John said...

Welcome, Z. Glad you liked it.

Yes, "The mother of my child" line was my masterstroke, a virtual finger that presses down on the back of the tongue to stimulate the gag reflex.

No, I never saw that Statue of Liberty joke, but it's quite apropos.

9:17 PM  
Blogger John said...

B"TW...this is all going to give me nightmares tonight ;)"

Wow. I'm really good. I mean bad. I mean...!

9:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This subject of this thread is precisely what you end up with the moment you delete "core" from the curriculum.

At least Joyce allowed the reader to experience his own epiphanies.

Somebody needs to put stream of consciousness out of its' misery...

5:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

...but I will shamefully admit that both stories were diverting in an infinitely digressional sort of way...

5:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hate Aristotelian writers. A pox upon all modernisms!

6:00 AM  
Blogger nanc said...


i just rewrote the entawr story! and was fully prepared to tell you it's awful.

you rurnt it for me!



6:41 AM  
Blogger nanc said...

p.s. it's becoming increasingly difficult to keep you a secret.


6:43 AM  
Blogger John said...

You all are invited to take a shot at it right here. It can be the first paragraph of a novel.

7:08 AM  
Blogger nanc said...

i ALREADY write poorly enough, thank you!

stop baiting me...hehehe...i have no room for MORE complexes...


8:09 AM  
Blogger Phelonius said...


Honestly, John, I had to think you were kidding from the start. I loved the graphic, btw....

I will see if I can beat this......

8:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Looks like you've the beginnings of a modern Scriblerius Club here, John. Just remember to steer it's style AWAY from new Grub Street, else it'll be unlikely posterity will much enjoy your memoirs. ;-)

9:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Of course, there's nothing like a good satire to convince the seldom-washed to take more frequent baths. Bon chance with the writing, Tiresias.

9:38 AM  
Blogger Phelonius said...

Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you a story called "Dawg (or, The Alternative Lassie):

1:11 PM  
Blogger Phelonius said...

Dawg (or, the Alternative Lassie)

As was his habit every afternoon in the sleepy little hamlet of Bloogerville, Little Billy was down by the pond. With the amber sun setting gently down in the shady vale, casting its light into soft hues that reflected off the mirror surface of the small pond, Billy sat on the shore contemplating the things he had brought. He had managed to get there with his cane pole, some worms, a hook, some line, something that used to be a sandwich in his back pocket, and a 50 gallon drum of confusion.

After some number of days of experimenting, Billy had managed to figure out that somehow the line AND the hook needed to be attached to the pole, but the exact order and sequence of these events was as uncertain to Billy as Skakespeare would be to his dog, and they both read at the same grade level. After some trial and error and a few painful hook extractions, Billy was pretty sure that the worm had to come next, but exactly how THAT was supposed to work was becoming frustrating. It seems that no matter how much Billy tried, he could not convince the worms to hang on to the hook.

"C'mon, yer dagummed dummy wurms!" He murmured between his teeth, which is how people murmer, unless they do not have teeth, like Billy's Uncle Tummy. "How do ya get anywhere's or hang onta anything when ya ain't gots no derned hands?"

"Now hang onta the dern hook!" he hollered.

Carefully dangling the worm over the hook he dropped another one.

"Ploop!" It landed next to the other five or six worms in the pond that had not yet sunk to the bottom.

Several fish popped to to the surface to happily enjoy a worm or two, and somewhere, in the foggy recesses of Billy's brain, another thought scrambled to get to the train of thought and connect the fish, the hook and the worms all together. Once again, the train was too short and Billy was not fast enough. What did arrive at the abandoned station was anger.

"That Uncle Tummy beens lyin' to me agin!! You cain't get wurms ta hang onta a dern hook! I Orter take this here stick and an' wrap it aroun' his throat!" he screamed while throwing the remaining worms, kicking his feet in the dirt, and whipping the fishing line with the hook in it at blazing speeds around his head. With a sudden 'snap' the line quit moving while the hook lodged, once again, firmly into Little Billy.

"AAAAHHHHH! Gol-derned dummy hook's dun stuck me again!", he wailed, thrashing around and trying to see his back pocket, where the hook now resided.

On the far bank of the pond, Litte Billy's dog, "Dawg" was carefully watching. Actually, Dawg was paying scant attention to Billy's distress, as this was nearly an hourly thing, and he was quite used to the commotion of being around Billy. What had caught Dawg's attention was the little girl in a sunday dress that had wondered down by the pond, and there were seemingly no adults to be seen. She was a very young girl, and she was singing a happy song to herself as she picked a bouquet for her mother. With mounting horror, he watched the little girl edge closer and closer to the edge of the pond as she picked little flowers and little plants, singing about her mother and flowers.

Thinking quickly, Dawg decided that he had to do something, or the girl was going to fall in the water. Putting on his "happy puppy face" Dawg trotted near to her and gave a playful "Yip yip!" In puppy/little girl speak, that means "Look at me! I am cute and cuddly and I want to play!" It worked. It worked way too well.

"Oh lookey!! PUPPY!!" sqealed the girl and she charged straight at Dawg. As she was charging, her foot caught on a root, she tripped, rolled, and then went straight down the embankment into the pond.

If Dawg had had the ability of speech, what he would have said was not for mixed company. Thinking about his options, Dawg knew immediately that he would need help to get the girl out in time. Slowly, and with great dread, Dawg turned his head towards the only other human at the pond besides the little girl.

He had to get Little Billy to understand.

With the doggie equivalent of a sigh, Dawg let out a long howl and started to bark as loudly as he could.

On the other side of the pond, Little Billy had managed to get the hook out of his backside, but in doing so he had tangled himself in the fishing line, and for a boy whose greatest challenge was untying his shoes at night, this presented another travesty to waste his time.

Looking up at the commotion that Dawg was giving, he shouted "SHUT UP you mangey ol' houn'! Cain't you see I'm all twangled up over here?" Dawg looked down into the water at the desperately struggling little girl, and back over at Billy. Still barking at the top of his lungs, Dawg began running over to Billy.

Billy was unwrapping the last little bit of twine off of his ear as his dog reached his side of the pond.

"Bark bark bark, bark!" said Dawg.

"Whut in tarnation's gotcher all stirred up? Shuttup willya?" shouted Billy. Dawg looked at Billy and looked at the pond, and he began running in between Billy and the pond, trying desperately to get Billy to start following him.

"Oh," Billy grinned," I know! You is wantin' summa that there 'nanner, ketsup and sardine sammich I dun made." Billy reached behind him and pulled out of his back pocket a great nauseating blob that immediately began draining between his fingers.

"Hmmmmm," he said,"I thinks I dun put too much ketsup onna dern thing."

Dawg rolled his eyes and practically screamed. Launching himself at Billy he used his teeth and grabbed a great chunk of Billy's pants and began trying to drag him around the pond.

"GOL-DERNED CRAZY MUTT!!" hollered Billy, "Let go a me! You gone nuts? If'n you wuz that hungry I could fedja a while back!"

Dawg stopped. He let go of Billy. This was the time, he knew, to pull out all the stops.

He got directly in front of Billy, and using his right paw he tapped the ground in front of Billy. As Billy's eyes grew wide, Dawg began by scratching a perfect oval in the sand. Then, in the middle of the oval, he carefully scratched a stick-figure of a little girl in the middle of the oval. Then, by dragging his paw in the sand and walking backwards, he made a line from the oval in the direction of the pond, and finished it by putting an "arrow tip" at the end of the line. Dawg walked back up to Billy and he barked twice, expectantly.

Billy, astonished beyond his wits, which was not terribly far away, said "I gots me a gol-derned artistical type dawg!"

He happily sat down beside the drawing and began scetching a stick picture of his house in the sand next to Dawg's map. In frustration, Dawg began to jump up and down barking and howling.

Billy said, "Yea! See? I kin dun draw things inna dirt jes like you kin!"


On the far side of the pond, Dawg heard the shouts of adults and kids.

"Sherry! Sheeeerrrryyyyyy!! Where are you girl?"
"Sherry! Come here to Daddy! You aren't in trouble! Where are you?"

And finally: "Mom, I heard a dog barking down here by the pond, and Sherry is in the water!"

Dawg watched with horror, and then relief, as they dragged the body of the little girl out of the water, and then he heard the little girl sputter and cough, and she began to cry.

"Oh thank God, " said a woman that was evidently girl's mother, "she is going to be ok." The woman began to weep. The men carefully wrapped the little girl in a blanket and they picked her up to take her home.

Dawg let out a couple of yelps for joy. One of the men across the pond said "That must be the dog that Tommy heard a minute ago."

"Why that's nothing, then," said another, "that's just Little Billy and that moron dog of his playing on the other side of the pond."

Dawg just looked at them. Then he hiked up his back left leg, and peed all over his map of the pond.

1:11 PM  
Blogger John said...

Pretty good, James. I'm serious. And that's why you lose, because, however annoying this or that character, name, word, phrase and story itself actually are, and how anti-climactic and tasteless the final, urinary ending is, it's actually a pretty well written story about a very stupid boy and his very smart dog with an actual happy ending, all operating in a coherent universe without too much offense to the laws of nature or morality.

In fact, with good illustrations and a little tweaking here and there, it could even make for a good children's book.

There is actually an endearing quality to it, or at least elements that are kinda cute, and I found myself worrying about character and outcome, which are the wrong qualities and emotions to evoke when trying to write an offensively bad story, so I'm afraid you lose because "Dawg" is not nearly as offensively bad as my nauseating "The Quaking" or Kelly's emetic "School Daze" is.

2:29 PM  
Blogger Phelonius said...

Well, I started out writing a really bad story, but when I got to thinking about the "Lassie" series, it just tickled my funny-bone. So a darker satire came out. I submitted it anyhow because I thought it was pretty funny in places. In my original conception, Dawg was going to eat the little girl, but I got to liking Dawg and just could not do that to him.

2:30 PM  
Blogger John said...

FJ, glad I could lighten things up.

Nanc: :)

2:31 PM  
Blogger John said...

James, that's exactly the bounds of decency you have to cross to make it a bad story. Your sympathies were transmitted to the reader and evoked the wrong reactions (e.g. likeability).

2:34 PM  
Blogger Kelly said...

Does this mean I am in second place??

3:26 PM  
Blogger John said...

Yes. The Quaker "Mother of my Child" Martha is, I daresay, more revolting than silly teeny-boppers Melinda and Andrea and their mini-skirts (but not by much).

The hillbilly dialect in "Dawg" kinda bothered me (in an elitist, Northeastern kinda way), but the little boy was too cute (in a Little Rascal ragamuffin kinda way) to condemn outright.

3:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The night was dark and dreary. The robbers were in their den. One robber turned to the other and said, "Tell me a story," and so he began.

The night was dark and dreary...

There... and plagiarized, to boot!

4:51 PM  
Blogger John said...

Hmmm. A very promising piece of literary garbage, methinks...

5:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

John - Pretty good bad- Are you familiar with the bad sex writing contest in the UK Literary Review? Some of it is funny stuff.

10:25 PM  
Blogger John said...

Is that Steve?

Anyway, no, never heard of it, but I'm sure it's a hoot. British wit and literary savvy is tops with me.

Take, for example, the incomparable, Seventeenth Century poetry of the great George Wither (a.k.a. "wretched Wither," as called by Alexander Pope).

Check out this stanza from his poem "I loved a lass":

She would me "Honey" call,
She'd--O she'd kiss me too.
But now alas! She's left me
Falero, lero, loo

And here's how how he described her footwear:

"The fives did fit her shoe."

"The fives?" Oh, right, the toes.

And then there was the bardess Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle. In 1667, Robert Pepys described one of her poems as "The most ridiculous thing that ever was wrote."

Here's a sample of her work:

"What is Liquid?"

All that doth flow we cannot liquid name
Or else would fire and water be the same;
But that is liquid which is moist and wet
Fire that property can never get
Then 'tis not cold that doth the fire put out.
But 'tis the wet that makes it die, no doubt.

All that just makes me want to buy a rope and start making a noose for myself.

Actually, maybe I can do better (i.e. worse)...

12:15 AM  

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